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What is a cookbook for?

October 17, 2008

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Purple kerosene lamps – south facing window.

At my house cookbooks are repositories of daily life, findings, and snippets of every day happenings.  A virtual mine of times gone by.  My mother never used a cookbook that I ever saw.  She had her recipes memorized, and would sometimes consult recipes clipped from the newspaper, or magazines.  She would buy cookbooks from groups that sold them as fundraisers.  I have her extensive collection of Grange cookbooks which I use all the time.  But, once in awhile she would pull out her cookbook that she started as a young woman.  It was a small, 3 ring binder, with notepaper.  It looked like it started out organized, with typewritten recipes, carefully indexed.  But, as the years went by, it became stuffed with clipped recipes, recipes written on envelopes or scraps of paper.  But, the most interesting thing to me, were the things slipped in that book that had nothing to do with cooking.  My sibling’s report cards, dog licenses, property tax bills, and hand written notes from people I never met.  She would dig out that book at Christmas time, and it was always kept in a drawer with the cookie cutters.  When I think back, I don’t know why she got that threadbare thing out.  It was stuffed in department store paper bag, that was so soft and worn, it felt like chamois.  The sack I guess, was to save that falling apart book, that really was part of her life.  It really meant nothing to me, but now when I look at that musty old bunch of papers, and then I glance at the kitchen queen with my own cookbooks stuffed full of stuff, I know why that book was more than just a bunch of papers. 

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“The cookbook”

Last week I visited a farm with a friend, who is writing a land use plan for the property.  It was a chance to see a farm I had only heard about, and was anxious to see.  The property is for sale, and when we arrived we checked in with the caretaker to let him know we would be walking around.  He has lived there for sometime, and proceeded to tell us about former uses of land while under his care, and then he told us the story of a man that was killed there in a tractor accident.  I had completely forgotten about the incident, and never had really heard the details.  But, he witnessed this, and decided to share the particulars with us.  We actually didn’t get the whole story, because he is Guatemalan, and spoke broken English.  But, we got the picture.  That story triggered this post.

Bee
Call Soderberg Beer parlor have him go over to the Legion Hall tell them to come quick
Frank is under the tractor Dead I think.  Get an ambulance Call Lloyd tell him to come quick

That is a note in my Mom’s cookbook.  I had never really noticed it before, and one day my Mom saw it, and told me the story.  I had always heard the story of Frank, a neighbor who was killed while farming.  But, it didn’t mean much – tractor accidents are all too common on farms.  The farm where Frank and his wife Lee lived is about a mile through the woods, and 5 miles by road from our place. 

My Mom worked for a Judge in town, who also owned a summer place out here, and he had mentored her since high school.   When you work in a law office, you are privy to all sorts of private things, and you are the confidante of many.

Apparently Lee was having an affair with Lloyd, a bachelor neighbor who lived the about the same distance away in the other direction.  And it appeared that poor Frank, who was to end up under the Fordson tractor, was the only person not in-the-know ;).  My Mom told me this story when I was an adult, and I couldn’t believe that Lloyd, who I always knew as the brother of my hero, Lorena, (our local famous cowgirl) had been a little wild himself.  Lloyd was always an old bow-legged cowboy as far as I knew. 

Lee didn’t know what to do, so she ran through the woods to get my Mom to alert the beer parlor guys to help??  No one was here so she left the note on the door.  Word spread quickly, and my Dad summoned Lloyd to console the “Widda Hen.” 

Lee and Lloyd never did make it official, and Lee sold the farm and adjoining timber parcel and moved to town.  Lloyd sold his farm, and moved to Nevada to prospect with his cowgirl sister, and the last time I saw him, he came back to town for the annual Pioneer meeting to do a show and tell with Lorena’s prize saddles, before he took them to the Cowboy Hall of Fame.

What an odd scrap of paper, with such a story. If my Mom hadn’t shared the intimate details with me, it would just be a scrap of paper, in a tattered old notebook, giving no hint of all the goings on in a small community.  I’m glad she told me… .

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. October 18, 2008 8:24 am

    I have a book just like that one, some stuff I know and other stuff is ancient history and I’d like to know.

  2. October 18, 2008 11:05 am

    Wow, what an interesting little piece of history. What treasures that cookbook holds.

    Thank you for sharing this, it was a great read.

  3. October 18, 2008 12:56 pm

    That quite a story, thanks for sharing with your fellow bloggers! It is great to know some history about the folks in your town.

  4. October 19, 2008 6:53 am

    You write such great posts…..

  5. October 19, 2008 7:19 am

    That’s a really cool story! It’s amazing what you can find in a family cookbook.

  6. October 19, 2008 2:03 pm

    What a great story!!!
    I love old cookbooks. I recently pulled my Gramma’s cookbook out and am still going through the scraps of paper. They bring back memories!
    http://justwanderingthrough.blogspot.com/2008/09/grammas-cookbook.html

  7. Judi In PA permalink
    October 19, 2008 6:35 pm

    Too cool of a story. Thanks for sharing! I reckon I better go through every scrap of paper from both sides of my grandparents and parents because God knows they were NEVER thrown out! And I know we have something juicy like that in those papers too, except it probably involves my grandparents, instead of the neighbors!

  8. October 19, 2008 10:50 pm

    What a great treasure you have … an instant link to the past of not only your family, but your community as well. What joy it must bring you whenever you discover one of these treasures, doubly so when you are able to learn the story behind them. My most favorite treasure are my mom’s cookbooks. Not so much for the recipes (although I value those, too), but more because they are the only copies of her handwriting that I have. When I see her handwritten notes, it’s as if she’s still here with me. Great post!

  9. October 20, 2008 1:23 am

    Nita, I’m having a reading glut of your posts. Your blog is better than seratonin ….. :)

    I love the stories behind the stories…LOVE this one you wrote about that piece of paper. I’m always struck how we leave clues and broken trails of our lives in so many inanimate objects. It’s strange…I actually feel the connection to past people in so many of them. I’ve even felt this in different parts of the world.

  10. October 20, 2008 4:17 am

    Wow, what a story from a snippet of paper containing a few frantic lines. You really could write a book on your town’s history (the good history, not the war hero stuff,but real people, real events).

    I so wish I had something like this from one of my grandparents. My family was more or less estranged on both sides, so I was not recipient of anything of my grandparents (I would have treasured a book like this). I actually barely knew the only living one (dead now) adn my mom’s folks died when she was very young.

    Great post!

  11. October 20, 2008 9:29 pm

    Yep, just inherited my nanny’s ‘cookbook’, looks like yours above! It is in a box in my bedroom waiting sorting–a winter task.

  12. October 20, 2008 9:30 pm

    Did you take a photography course (or your daughter?), or are you just a natural??? The photos on your site are simply stunning. I sometimes come to the blog and look at things I’ve already read, simply to look at the pictures again. Well done.

  13. October 22, 2008 8:21 pm

    Linda, it made me go burn my old love letters! ;) Ruth Less thinks we are older than dirt, I would hate to shatter her image of us.

    Tara, Kim, Three Collie, Blonde Duck, thank you, that story has intrigued me since I heard it. I can’t go by that field without thinking of it.

    Meadowlark, thanks I’ll check out your post. Makes me wish my cookbook wasn’t so boring.

    Judi, same here, I still have boxes of stuff to sort. Everything is so interesting. A good winter time project I guess. I love the old reciepts, seeing what was purchased and the price. It’s all very important to me now.

    Paula, I know what you mean, what a treasure you must have in the cookbook. Your mom would be excited about your blog I’m sure!! :)

    Robbyn, it is fun looking through all these papers. It fills in a lot of blanks for me, that would otherwise be just, well, blanks… Thanks for the seratonin compliment – I think.

    Gina, I would write that book, but my Mom already did that. She wasn’t lucky enough to have a word processor though, and she left out all this juicy stuff. She told me stories of the neighbor committing suicide and hearing the gunshot before dawn, and then when daylight came, and the word was out, she had to go and help prepare the body to be taken to the funeral home. Big price to pay for being the local notary public.

    Our family was/is the same way, if she hadn’t told me pieces here or there, I would really be in the dark. Some fences never were mended. My dad died when I was a child, and I often wish I would have known what to ask him about. His mom told him about seeing Geronimo in a cage in Texas, when she was newly here from Germany, and he told my brother that story, and my brother told me, so probably in each telling a snippet is lost. I’m grateful for even these scraps of the past.

    HDR – sounds like we have the same winter project. I need to put all the ephemera in some order and in proper storage.

    No, we have never taken a photography course, and we just got our digital camera last December. But, it is totally different than our old SLR. Thank you for the compliment!!

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