Working in the used book store one day I came across a tiny little cookbook with a tattered cover. This particular book caught my eye because it said “more than 5,000,000 copies in use”…and that was as of the 1941 printing. I didn’t think 5,000,000 copies of anything had ever been printed as of 1941.
The book store was slow this particular day and flipping through the small, fabric-covered book, a story began to appear. Hand written with an ink pen in the next to last page was a recipe for Raise Doughnuts. I loved how old the handwriting looked and I especially loved that doughnuts were being enjoyed in 1941. I. love. doughnuts.
“Fry in deep fat 4 min”
I devoured this tiny recipe book not for the recipes, but for the little traces left behind. The drips, spatters and pools of ingredients on the pages made it clear which recipes were referenced the most. I imagined the owner’s name was something like Mabel, or Hazel, or Pearl or maybe Anna. Yes, Anna.
Anna made the Shrimp Patties at least once, and only on a special occasion. She would have read “be sure to remove small black intestinal veins which run down center back of shrimps” and probably had a stronger stomach than me.
Anna made something from page 36 and 37 more than once which would have been a fancy chicken dish like Fricassee Chicken, Chicken a la Stanley, or Chicken a la Providence. Sometime Anna cooked with her cookbook propped up because on the salad dressing pages a few of the drops went at least 3 inches directionally down the page. Pages 92 through 97 of the Pastry section were the most well loved in the book with endless remnants of cornstarch and flour. A ring of what looks like vanilla extract covered the Chocolate Chiffon Pie recipe:
There were various spills across the Nut Cake recipe and How to Prepare Cake Pans instructional page. A spot of what looked to be frosting was dropped right onto the words “very little at a time” on the Butter Cream Frosting Recipe. The Fudge Brownies and Brown Refrigerator Cookies page was the most used, barely hanging on with a rip through one side and into the center, and covered in sticky spills and powders:
She made one of the following: Eggnog, Lemonade, Barley Water, Oatmeal Gruel, Clam Broth, Beef Juice, or Beef Tea. I hoped it was just plain lemonade.
Never be cross or cruel
Never give us castor oil or gruel
Love us as a son and daughter
And never smell of barley water
-from Mary Poppins
Looking through Anna’s book I could also tell you what she never made: Sandwiches. The Sandwich section was pristine and untouched. The Canning, Preserving and Pickling section looked unused so she wouldn’t have made Cranberry Conserve or Pickled Peaches. I love the sound of those names.
I don’t know how Anna’s cookbook ended up in the store. I wish “Anna” had written her name in the cover so I would know her real name. I think it’s funny that she never wrote a single thing in the book except for that doughnut recipe. She never made any notes or folded down any pages. It could have been her only cookbook or one of many.
The original 1908 printing of the Rumford Complete Cookbook would have cost one dollar, about twenty five dollars today. 1908 would have been Anna’s mother’s version of a cookbook and it would have had things like Albumenized Milk, Potted Pigeon, and Invalid’s Tea. I still have my mother’s old Joy of Cooking Cookbook and I prefer the worn look of it over a new one.
Every old book kind of reminds me of the Velveteen Rabbit. Especially this one.
You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby.
But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.
― Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit
A random interesting fact: Although the cookbook is no longer in print, you can still buy Rumford Baking Powder, it’s still made by the Clabber Girl Corporation. It is an all-phosphate baking powder (containing calcium acid phosphate – no aluminum). Aluminum-free. Non-GMO. Gluten-free. Certified Kosher.