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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Gray Matter: There's just something about those cookbooks!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

"Antiques and Collectibles" -- now there's a phrase we seem to be hearing a lot these  days. Perhaps that says something about  the fast pace of most everyone's lives. 

Younger people, looking at these reminders of a time when life moved less frenetically, seem to be fascinated.  Magazines, newspaper columns, and certain television shows all feed that interest.  I have loved and collected antique furniture forever -- possibly material for some future bit of Gray Matter. Now though, I'm taking quite a different tack.

While cleaning kitchen cupboards the other day, it struck me that I do have a great many  cookbooks.  Antiques?  Well maybe not. To be a genuine antique, they tell us, an item must be at least 100 years old.  Looking back, it sometimes seems that long ago when I was using  them practically every day.  But no, if I'm honest, they won't qualify.  Then how about Collectibles?  Hmm!  Oh yes, the gurus advise that  a valuable collectible must be in mint condition.  Mint condition my cookbooks are not!

My mother was not one of those truly old-school cooks who measured ingredients with her hands then added a pinch of this and a dash of that.  As a result, my culinary skills from the get-go were acquired by following the book.  My first cookbook, a wedding gift from my sister, was a copy of the classic "Joy of Cooking" by Irma Rombaur.  My basic skills were honed on her words.

Shortly following WW II,  "Betty Crocker's New Picture Cook Book" came out and it soon became my bible.  Through its frayed soiled pages the history of our eating habits can be easily traced. The Farm Journal publishers contributed vastly to my collection.  Their "Country Cookbook"  probably shows the most wear.  But following closely are "Busy Woman's Cookbook" and "Cooking for Company".  Those well-used volumes are littered with notes indicating favorites, variations I might have concocted, or preferred menu combinations.

Vogue Magazine readers today are familiar with Jeffrey Steingarten's fascinating food features.  Helen McCully, an interesting Canadian woman, was their foods editor  through the 50's and 60's.  Many of her pieces filled my clippings files and then, wonder-of-wonders, they published "Cooking With Helen McCully Beside You". 

First she assembled wonderful menus, and then came recipes for each dish. These were  accompanied by  little informative side-bars explaining new procedures or unusual ingredients on every page.  At the end of the book there was a wonderful glossary as well as a table of equivalent measures all of which I still reach for on occasion.

This seems to be turning into a two-part Gray Matter topic.  So for now, I will leave my Word Processor and turn to my Food Processor, with promises of more next time.  All of this is making me hungry!