I have a very old cookbook that belonged to my Mom’s Mom, my Grammie Smith. It’s thick and well worn, and many of its pages have lost their glue, so they hang loosely between the blue cardboard covers. I keep it in the cabinet above my stove with my other cookbooks, but this one is special.
The title page reads “The American Woman’s Cook Book,” and cookbook is spelled as two words. It was published for the Culinary Arts Institute by Consolidated Book Publishers, Inc. in Chicago, 1941. When I turn the page, it has additional copyright dates of 1940, 1939, and 1938.
Looking back at my published memoir, I see that my Grammie married my Pop-Pop in April 1940, and she likely acquired this book around that time because she’s written her married name inside the book on two pages: Hilda Mae Smith.
I remember that the newspaper article from the Shamokin News-Dispatch said my young grandparents set up housekeeping in Treverton, Pennsylvania, just after the Great Depression.
When I was 19, I stayed with my Grammie for the summer in her home in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. I remember her telling me that when she was growing up, her family would often eat strawberry shortcake with whipped cream for dinner because that was what they had readily available.
I look through the cookbook’s index to see if there is a recipe for it, and on page 547, I find one called “Old-Fashioned Strawberry or Other Fruit Shortcake.” Good enough! Maybe I’ll have to make that, although baking from scratch is not my number one skill.
I look at the list of illustrations in the cookbook, and I’m impressed because many of them are double-sided and several are in color. On page 243, there are two recipes, one for Broiled Steak and one for Pan Broiled Steak. In blue ink at the top of that page, my Grammie had written “Good” to indicate that these were dishes she cooked and liked.
Seeing her handwriting, the same writing she used to write me letters when we lived across the country, makes me feel close to her, even though she’s been gone since 1996. I picture her as a new wife cooking these recipes and serving them on her pink Depression glass plates to my Pop-Pop.
There are oddities in this cookbook, which endears it to me even more. An unidentified dish in the Appetizers section looks like a layered cake covered in whipped cream, but it’s right in the middle of the recipes for canapés, and I suspect it’s some sort of meat cake and I can’t find the corresponding recipe.
I have used this cookbook. I’ve made herbal jellies from mint, sage, lavender, honeysuckle, and fruit jellies like raspberry-currant. And my homemade macaroni and cheese recipe comes from page 400. Like my Grammie, I’ve handwritten notes on several pages. This book is mine now, and one day when I’m gone, perhaps someone will enjoy flipping through its pages and trying new old-fashioned recipes, too.