To Those That Cooked Before Us

     ~ This is a recycling of a previously published post that I am re-posting because I didn’t have enough readers at the time, and God Damn it, I want to know! 

     When I was little, I watched with fascination, as my mother, and grandmother, would swirl around their kitchens, baking, cooking, mashing, dicing, drinking, and smoking.
     I don’t recall my grandmother, Daisy, using cookbooks. She seemed to have it all in her head. 
     My mother, on the other hand, was a new bride and enjoyed following a recipe (she still does). 
     Neither one had a vegetable garden, but I know my mother made weekly trips to the village butcher, Lawson’s Grocery, and our local farm (to get the freshest products she could) because I often went along, over tar-n-chip roads, in the heat, windows down, with AM radio on.  
     Once home, I would peer over the kitchen counter, or sit on the stool, and listen to my mother and her neighbor friend, Barbara, swap stories about the dogs, or kids, or a husband’s bad behavior- and laugh. Big laughs as she unpacked.
     It all seemed so great. I couldn’t wait for my turn at being a grown-up.
     One day I asked my mother if I could have my own cookbook and start using the kitchen.
     Shortly, there after, she presented me with a gift I still treasure- Betty Crocker’s New Boys and Girls Cookbook . I was eight years old.
     Covered in a sturdy vinyl-sheathed cardboard, striped in yellow and white, it showed a really cute boy proudly holding a perfect chocolate frosted cake. Oh, I so wanted to share a slice with him (and maybe a kiss).
     The contents of the book were all illustrated, or photographed (in color!), and the instructions were simple and clear. 
     I swear I made almost every recipe within it’s 153 pages (and by the looks of stained page 57, the Bunny Salad more than once).
     The following summer, for my birthday, she gave me the Better Homes and Gardens Juniors Cookbook for the Hostess and Host of tomorrow
     It seemed so much more sophisticated- just like me (a year is a lifetime when your nine).
     It used words like ‘bouillon’ and ‘pare’. 
     I made my first ‘Speedy Chili…a zippy dish that originated in Mexico’, and ‘Tutti-fruitti-ice..tingling colorful ice-cubes’. 
     Fast forward 15 years. Now, I’m the new bride and I ask Mom to bequeath me her most treasured cookbook. She says no (of course- what was I thinking?) and instead gifts me the current edition of the same cookbook- The Settlement Cook Book. 
     Even though I have referenced it hundreds of times over the last 30 years- you know what? I had never really read it- about it- considered it’s origins. Until yesterday, when a friend asked me what my first cookbook was and I got to thinking about all of this. 
     It turns out that my edition was the thirty-third printing (and the last); and that the publication (and collection of recipes) were in response to a growing need in Wisconsin, at the turn of the last century, to assist a vast migration of non-english speaking people from Europe on how to become ‘American’ through classes (and publications) in English about citizenship, sewing, and cooking.
     All of these lessons were taught in a neighborhood house called “The Settlement”, sometimes using this book.
     Who knew? 
     It was right there in the preface, but I never looked, never cared. Shame on me.
     So I ask you- what was your first cookbook, or your favorite? 
     Do you know how it came to be, or the stories of the people who contributed? 
     Because I believe that fruit is sweeter, and the roast more rare if we know…

     who’s cooked before us.

The Settlement Cook Book
Simon & Schuster, NY
1976 Thirty-third edition

Given to me before my marriage.

Betty Crocker’s New Boys and Girls Cook Book
Golden Press, NY
1965 First edition
Better Homes & Gardens Junior Cook Book
for the Hostess and Host of tomorrow

Meredith Press, Des Moines
1963 Second edition

I thought the
Bunny Salad
was sooo clever.
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  • Elin Stebbins Waldal - What a great look back, I particularly enjoyed your description of the way your mother shopped for her ingredients; local butcher, farm…the car ride, beautiful.ReplyCancel

    • A Pleasant House - Thanks Elin! Those were great times. Too bad many of us don’t have those places to shop any more- the butcher, the baker the candlestick maker…ReplyCancel

  • donna - I have a vivid memory of using a collection of cookbooks with my mother: “The Woman’s Day Encyclopedia of Cooking”. We were practically nomads growing up and over the years the books slowly disappeared. One day, abut 6 years ago, I found the ENTIRE 12 volume set at a yard sale for just $1 per book! It was so cool to have my daughter create from it :0). Thanks for the memory :).ReplyCancel

    • A Pleasant House - Now this is the kind of story I was after! So happy you were able to find a complete set after all those years!!! I just love that most people have some kind of memory of a cookbook- or at least a kitchen memory. Thank you for sharing this Donna- I appreciate it.ReplyCancel

  • Sue - Betty Crocker is the only cookbook I can recall in our house growing up. Making oatmeal cookies with my Mom is a memory I have. When I was little I remember I asked her if I could shop for my own food. She gave me my own kitchen cabinet to store the food I picked out at the grocery store. I was in heaven.ReplyCancel

    • A Pleasant House - That’s so cool! Your own cabinet! My Mom never gave me my own cabinet, but she gave my Dad one- in the garage. HahahaReplyCancel

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