Thelma is a syndicated newspaper food columnist writing under the pen name of Mayberry Homemaker and former field editor for Taste of Home.
My inspiration for this article about collecting vintage cookbooks came to me because of a thrift store find I came across recently. While passing by several bookcases full of cookbooks, one of them jumped out to me as if saying, "Take me home!" The price was so reasonable at 25 cents that I couldn't resist. Little did I know what I would find inside this old cookbook.
Farm Journal's Timesaving Country Cookbook
The book is a hardcover, 1st edition printing of Farm Journal's Timesaving Country Cookbook. Published in 1961, it is in great condition considering its age.
Farm Journal Magazine was a periodical printed specifically for farm families. The publishers also printed a series of cookbooks that are still very popular with vintage cookbook collectors all these years later.
The title page of my newest addition to my collection is a sign of the times as it describes the contents of the cookbook as follows:
1,000 recipes and menus to help the busy woman please her family and friends
— Nell B. Nichols, Farm Journal Field Food Editor
After getting the book home, I discovered this delightful vintage cookbook is much more than 1,000 pleasing recipes as described by the Farm Journal Food Editor. The hidden story lies in the identity of the former book owner. On the inside cover is a handwritten name and address of a lady from Smithfield, Virginia. In addition, several pages have the corners turned down and checkmarks penciled in next to certain recipes as if giving me a list of the ones she tried and liked. Some of the recipes have notes of changes she made in the ingredients or directions.
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The most exciting discovery was a bookmark on page 56 as if it was the last recipe she looked at or maybe it was the one she referred to most often. Amazingly, this is no ordinary bookmark. It is a photograph of a young woman and an older lady dressed in what I would describe as "Easter finery" typical of the 1950s or 1960s. Both are wearing dressy hats and the older woman has on white gloves. On the back of the photo is written simply, "Mama and Me". There is no indication which one of the ladies was the cookbook owner but I like to think that "Mama" was the original owner who made the notes in the book and then passed it down to "Me". That thought just adds to my enjoyment of the cookbook and my desire to try the recipes that "Mama" recommended.
One of "Mama's" Favorite Recipes
As I perused the recipes trying to decide which one to share with you, I realized this would be a difficult decision because they all sounded so delicious and easy to make. The pages are full of treats like Cake Walk Cake, Pink Party Pie, and Raisin Griddle Cookies. Chapter 17 is all about "Food to Meet the Occasion" and has suggestions for what to do when it's your turn to have the club meeting, what to serve when a neighbor stops by for a cup of coffee, and how to bake an informal wedding cake decorated with marshmallows.
As I finished the last page of the cook book, I was still in a quandary as to which recipe to share with you. And then the answer hit me. "Mama" had written on the inside of the back cover "Chinese Sauce page 56". This was the same page where "Me" had placed the picture bookmark. So there was my answer!
Egg Foo Young With Chinese Sauce
- 4 eggs, beaten
- 1 one pound can bean sprouts, drained
- 1/2 cup cooked or canned chicken, chopped
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce (optional)
- 2 tablespoons salad oil
Combine all ingredients except oil. Drop by spoonfuls into hot oil in skillet; spread bean spouts gently with the tip of the spoon to cover the egg mixture.
Cook until the little cakes are set and brown on the edges. Turn and brown on the other side. Add more oil to skillet if necessary as you cook additional patties. When done, drain on paper towels. Place on a hot platter and serve at once with Chinese Sauce (recipe below). Makes 10 patties.
Chinese Sauce: Combine 1 1/2 cup chicken broth (or 1 1/2 cups hot water with 2 chicken bouillon cubes added) with 1 teaspoon molasses and 1 teaspoon soy sauce. Blend together 2 tablespoons cornstarch and 2 tablespoons cold water; add to chicken broth and cook, stirring constantly, over low heat until mixture comes to a boil.
Joy of Collecting Vintage Cookbooks
I'm sure you will agree that vintage cookbook collecting is a fun and interesting hobby. Once in a great while, you will come across a book with a special memento or note left by the former owner as if they were leaving it for you to find ... almost like a treasure hunt. I hope you will imagine a special story or circumstance surrounding your unexpected cookbook find and then think of that story each time you use the cookbook. After all, collecting cookbooks isn't just about the recipes. Sometimes it's about the story!
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© 2016 Thelma Raker Coffone