Dirty Little Secret

I have an addiction.

Average housewife

What I look like when I cook

For some reason, I can’t pass by an old cookbook at a garage sale, flea market, used book store or secondhand store without picking it up. Flipping through the pages. Unfolding the hidden scraps of paper to decipher the faded penciled lines of a forgotten recipe (an amazing number of which turn out to involve Jello). All too often, I end up buying the darn thing.

Community cookbooks are the worst. I always think they’re going to be a treasure trove of cherished family recipes. The cold reality is molded salads, cheese balls and 8,000 or so ways to use Cream of Something Soup to fool your ingredients into thinking they’re something exotic.

Hint: exotic food does not often begin with a pound of ground beef and a can of cream of mushroom soup. Nope. Doesn’t matter if you stir in a whole quarter-teaspoon of garlic powder or a half-cup of water chestnuts. It’s still as exotic as Aunt Dottie’s bunions. (And why water chestnuts? They’re in half the meatball recipes ever written. Usually coupled with a daring dash of soya sauce.)

I don’t know where “The Pilgrim’s Cookbook II: Ye olde Recipes of Ye Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony and Marietta Colony” came from. I also can’t believe this is the second volume.  And yes, I typed the title exactly as it appeared. Maybe I bought it for my daughters, thinking there would be reproductions of Pilgrim fare. The first recipe is for Serbian Spinach and contains frozen spinach and “Velvetta” cheese, two ingredients I don’t think the founders of this country had access to.

Another one I’m culling from the collection is “Favorite Recipes of New York,” compiled in 1964. I almost kept it just for this photo.


Would a nice chicken from a nice family have to rely on so many gaudy accessories?

So someone out there thought that after you trussed and roasted your chicken, you needed to put frilly little anklets on it, garnish the bondage with a lemon twist, and stick olives into every crease. Sounds like a really bad date I had in the 80s.

I’m also jettisoning a book about Asian markets, the Midwestern Farm Bureau Family Cookbook and a handful of spiral bound community cookbooks.

This is not embarrassing. What’s embarrassing are the ones I’m keeping, including entire books devoted to Bundt pans, sandwich presses, fondu and pancakes. I treasure the Better Homes and Garden volume that my mother gave my grandmother for Christmas the year I was born, along with the first cookbook my mother bought for me, a compilation my cousin Hal made of his mother’s recipes, my Joy of Cooking, several Weight Watchers cookbooks (who am I kidding?), and a quirky little tome called Mood Food that tells you what to eat when you’re bored, depressed, tired, celebratory, hung over, amused, scandalized, up to late or just hungry.

And you’ll take my Alton Brown collection when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.






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12 responses to “Dirty Little Secret

  1. “Mr. Chambers…Mr. Chambers, the first page is just a collection of English words with their own translation. But the rest of the book…the rest of the book—It’s a cookbook!” (from the Twilight Zone’s “To Serve Man”)

    You sure that’s CHICKEN?!

  2. Bet you didn’t know I have a fascination with old cookbooks too. My favorite is The New American Cookbook published in 41 with such tasty delights as Calf’s Head or Turtle A La King. I will show it to you sometime.

  3. Nancy - Big Sister

    This is too funny…..I love your Blog sis…….you ALWAYS make me laugh and a great way to start my day…….
    I too was going through old recipes……you know those little pieces of paper you jot down when you’re visiting and find a recipe you like…..I have hundreds of those and was just saying I need to clean these out and organize the ones I want to keep……
    Keep up the great stories…..I love them

    Your Big Sis………..Nancy

  4. Donna Ross

    Hi M.B. My sister Becky sent me your way. She thought you might be interested in our family cookbook, Clark’s Kitchen. Until I have Wes print more, I only have one copy left. I will offer it to you at the family rate, since now I have a new blog to read! Like cookbooks at garage sales, I can’t pass up a good blog.

  5. I absolutely loved this post and then look what came in my Daily Writing Tips! The Universe is aligned!

  6. gr

    My son had a Native American project (8th grade) recently and as part of it he had to find a recipe for his assigned tribe and make it for the class. Jordan’s assigned tribe was Choctaw. Enjoy this recipe:

    Choctaw Casserole

    This makes a very large casserole.
    2 lbs. ground beef
    1/2 tsp. salt
    1/2 tsp. pepper
    1/2 tsp. garlic salt
    1/2 tsp. cumin
    1 chopped onion
    1can mild enchilada sauce
    1 can mushroom soup
    1 can cream of chicken soup
    2 c. grated cheese
    1 pkg. plain Doritos (sm.)
    Brown beef, onions and seasonings in skillet. Add sauce and soups. Layer in oblong baking dish, Doritos meat mixture and top with cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.

    • Because nothing says “Native American” like cream of chicken soup and Doritos?

      • gr

        Jordan found a Choctaw recipe for Persimmon Cake, but he wanted to BUY a persimmon cake at the King Sooper bakery and was more than irritated when I told him he couldn’t and he would need to actually bake his own persimmon cake.

  7. Sharon

    My first visit to your blog, M.B.! I love it! Do you have “Landmarks and Lemon Crackers”?

  8. I think I have a cookbook from every church in St Law Co – which is amazing considering my attendance . Love , love , love your blog !

  9. Amy

    From Cooking With Love, a community cookbook from St. Johnsbury, VT:

    Beat Up Jello

    1 pkg. Jello
    2 c. water
    Make Jello according to package directions. Cool Jello for 45 minutes in refrigerator. Beat up jello for 3 minutes or until the top is foamy.

    This gem was contributed by Allison Laramee, if you feel moved to send your thanks for her ingenuity.

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