The Extra 'Ingredients' In Used Cookbooks

Jan 11, 2018

A woman brought a book to the check-out table at the recent library book sale. “This book has been written in,” she said, pointing to the owner’s name in the flyleaf. She insisted she should receive a discount.

At the same time I was scouting the sale, delighted to find a few old cookbooks that had been written in. I treasure cookbooks with the owners’ comments. They literally bring another voice to the table.

Cucina Fresca was my first find. It showed signs of having been a well-loved cookbook. A recipe for soup elicited two check marks and a Yes, exclamation point, and then a whole lot of suggestions -- pasta, not rice; fresh tomatoes, not canned.

The owner of Amana Colony Recipes wrote that boiled potato dumplings would be better with 2 tablespoons of paprika, with a suggestion the dumplings are good with pot roast. This book is full of wonderful oddities, such as cotton soup, stewed squirrel, and dandelion salad. Found tucked into the front of the book was a bonus, a handwritten recipe card with Mary’s recipe for German fried bread.

Finding an old cookbook with comments is like having your mother and aunt in the kitchen with you -- and you don’t have to listen to either one. After all, these books are a reminder that recipes are only guides, and cooking is a matter of personal taste.

And the woman who wanted a discount for the book with the owner’s signature? Didn’t happen!

I’m Deborah Booth, and that’s my perspective.