As a buyer, seller, sorter, and cleaner of used books, I've had the chance to think a lot about old things. Not just the books, but the trail of history they leave behind; odd bits of forgotten paper, unsent letters, lost photographs, even old recipes tucked away in a cookbook for safe keeping. I come across all these things on a day-to-day basis, and it's become a second job collecting and cataloging these items on my two blogs, Forgotten Bookmarks and Handwritten Recipes.
Looking over the collection, I can't help but wonder what draws us to these old things. For the most part, the author is unknown, the words unimportant - but for some reason, I haven't been able to part with them. I believe the reason I've held onto these bits and pieces of the past is the same reason you lean closer to overhear a conversation on the bus. Curiosity. It's tough to ignore that voyeuristic nature inside all of us. The old letters, notes, photos and other bits of ephemera provide a short glimpse into another time and another life.
Recipes provide something different altogether. If you have a cookbook in the house, chances are good that there's a an old recipe stuffed between the pages. Perhaps it's a brownie recipe from your aunt or the secret to Grandpa Joe's famous chili. There's a connection to the past in these recipes, like any other piece of found ephemera, but I can revisit that time for myself with a quick trip to the grocery store for supplies. A tuna casserole, a hit at the neighborhood block party of 1948, is transported through time to today's kitchen, ready for a second life. It will be tweaked and annotated and tweaked again, notes scribbled on the page before it is placed in a cookbook once more, ready for another hibernation and another rediscovery.
I think that's why I have held onto these old recipes. I had to do my part to keep the cycle alive.
The former First Lady's famous fudge finds a home in this Nabokov novel.
Four parts gin, two parts apricot brandy, one part lemon juice – a cocktail bearing The Little Tramp's name found in “Thesaurus of Humor" by Mildred Meiers and Jack Knapp. Published by Crown, 1940.
A different approach to the dessert favorite, found in Jonathan Lethem's “Motherless Brooklyn,” published by Vintage, 1999.
A recipe for pickled squash, found in the bullfighting novel “Horns of Ecstasy” by David Williams. Published by Beacon, 1961.
A traditional New England snack perfectly paired with a tomato bisque. Recipe found in “Good Housekeeping Cook Book” by Dorothy B. Marsh. Published by Good Housekeeping Book Division, 1962.
A short and sweet salmon recipe with a simple white sauce.