My mother, to my knowledge, never bought a cookbook except the one compiled by Logan County Homemakers in 1947. The 1930 Ball Blue Book Perfect Mason canning guide included a few recipes, and food preparation leaflets were often distributed at homemaker club meetings, but her real reference cookbook was self-made.
As with everything else during the Great Depression years, you used what you had or did without. She found a school ledger book from my father’s chemistry class that he took a decade or so before they married and only about a third of the pages had been written on. The very next page following his penned notes from “Lecture 15: Manganese and Chromium” she headed “Lemon Pie.”
She gathered recipes from family and friends. Some are credited to my grandmother (her mother-in-law)—“Mrs. Bailey’s White Cake”; friend “Nell’s Coconut Pie”; and “Rachel’s Jam Cake.” A few recipes clipped from a farm magazine are pasted in, but most were beautifully and clearly written with pencil or a pen dipped in a bottle of ink.
She divided the book into subject sections, leaving an adequate number of pages in between for more. Under “Meats” she tells how to fry oysters rolled in cracker crumbs. The last line states: “Fry in very hot grease, have plenty of it.” That grease, of course, meant lard in whatever recipe it appeared.
The ingredient cream was what rose thick and sweet to the top of the bucket of milk stripped and strained from Old Bessie the day before.
Whenever eggs were an ingredient, the recipe instructions nearly always said to divide the yolks from the whites and beat them separately before folding into the batter. A heavy pottery platter was designated for preparing the whites that were whipped into high peaks with a flat whisk. No electric mixer was around to speed up the work.
The salad section included a recipe for mayonnaise also. If we bought Miracle Whip salad dressing, it was eaten most often spread on homemade yeast bread as the filling of a sandwich, delicious all by itself.
Time has yellowed the pages of the cookbook but the written recipes are still clearly legible. Every now and then there is a strike through and a slight adjustment made in the amount of baking powder or sugar, as she learned better proportions from her own experience.
A few darker yellow spots about the size of a sticky thumb are on pages that obviously were laid open the most. Stuck loosely in the back of the book is a separate sheet of paper with a recipe for a powdery mixture recommended to kill silverfish. I haven’t seen any of those tiny paper-eating critters for years, but I’ll continue to keep her eradication recipe just in case. I surely wouldn’t want them chewing on this precious cookbook.