May 13, 2009

OLD COOKBOOKS Posted by Lorraine (L.L.) Bartlett, and her cooking-fiend alter-ego Lorna Barrett Since I started writing the Booktown Mysteries, I’ve been collecting more old cookbooks than mysteries. Go figure! It’s also hard to believe, since I also like brand spanking NEW cookbooks with lots and lots of gorgeous color photography with beautiful photo styling. (I love to know what my food is supposed to look like—and be green with envy at the props they use, be it dishes, cookware, or cutlery.) Since my publisher likes its authors to include recipes in their books, I’ve come to appreciate my old cookbooks even more. I was cleaning off the shelves a few weeks back, looking for things for the library sale, and came across two cookbooks I didn’t even know I had. One was called “The Service Cookbook” by Mrs. Ida Bailey Allen, published (exclusively for F.W. Woolworth Co.) in 1933. It’s even got an NRA shield on the copyright page. (With its spiral binding, doesn't it looks like one of those church (fund-raising) cookbooks?) What a delight! Converting pounds to cups (depending on what you’re measuring), temperature guides for oven cookery, deep frying, and roasting. (I can really use that last one.) There are wonderful ads for things like Junket, 18 mackerel fillets for $2! Ah, the good old days. What I like about old cookbooks, though, is that the recipes have so few ingredients. How often have I consulted a new cookbook, ready to use up some chicken or beef, and find I don’t have even half of the ingredients they call for? (And when, in a recipe that feeds 12, they want a quarter of a teaspoon of something, I have to wonder if it’s really necessary.) Liver and Spaghetti Casserole. Creole Tripe. Sautéed lamb kidneys. Braised tongue. Fricassee of rabbit. Braised calves heart with carrots. Where would you find these recipes and/or ingredients today, eh? And the prep directions: Dress clean, and disjoint the rabbit, first. Or: Soak the tongue a few hours; drain; place in a kettle with pickle spice and vinegar; cover with water. Bring to a boil and boil for one hour. First of all, I refuse to eat liver in any way, shape, or form. Sautéed lamb kidneys? I can’t get a decent cut of lamb here in town. Our stores seem to carry rack of or leg of lamb and nothing else. Tongue? Well, you can get them in Tops, but only because it’s Buffalo-based where there are still a lot of people of Polish descent. Calves hearts? Never seen them—at least not in this country in this (or the end of the last) century. The other book I found was The American Frugal Housewife, dedicated to those Who are Not Ashamed of Economy, by Mrs. Child. (Apparently there was no need for her to be identified by her own first name. Glad things have changed in that respect.) It’s a 1972 reprint (actually a facsimile) of the 20th edition of the book, which was dated 1836. I haven’t gotten too far into it yet, but it’s really kind of cool, advising the average housewife to be thrifty. For instance, hand-knitted socks wear longer than woven ones. Keep those kids and elderly people occupied—thrust a ball of wool and some knitting needles at them, and keep them knitting and “employed” whenever they aren’t doing anything else. Or how about this: “It is poor economy to buy vinegar by the gallon. Buy a barrel, or a half-barrel, of really strong vinegar, when beginning housekeeping. As you use it, fill the barrel with old cider, sour beer, or wine-settlings left in pitchers, decanters or tumblers…” Can you say ICK really loud? There are also such helpful chapters as How To Endure Poverty. How’s this for a recipe: Cup Cake Cup cake is about as good as pound cake, and is cheaper. One cup of butter, two cups of sugar, three cups of flour, and four eggs, well beat together, and baked in pans or cups. Bake twenty minutes, and no more. (No oven temp. Why? These people were baking in wood stoves.) For cider cake, the cook was advised to “Bake till it turns easily in the pans. I should think about half an hour.” Okay. Some of these old cookbooks have pictures—albeit black-and white ones. All About Home Baking came from the Consumer Service Department of General Foods Corporation (1933—first edition!!!). Unfortunately, someone took an X-acto knife to some of the pages, so I have to be careful when leafing through it. (I found a copy in better condition, but gave it to my mother.) It’s marvelous! They really push Calumet baking power and Swans Down cake flour, and gosh, isn’t it amazing how both ingredients end up in nearly every recipe? What I also like about this book are the Menu Suggestions for meals “informally served by the fireside” or “a party for a little girl of boy” or “a smart serve-yourself supper.” (These are accompanied with more photos.) Have I actually made anything from these cookbooks? Um…not so far. If nothing else, they’re fun to go through—to see how many ways you can make Angel Food cake, or biscuits, or use up black bananas. For the most part, I prefer other people to cook for me. There’s a reason the most used utensil in many American households is the telephone.
A Librarian's Bag of Tricks posted by Jeanne Munn Bracken Regarding the title of this post, I am not referring to those mental tricks we librarians hold so dear: the multi-tasking, finger-flying retrieval of information from several websites and books (remember them?) simultaneously. I'm talking about the tools of our trade--real or in-our-dreams. The first item in my bag is one of those grabbers sold in special catalogs for handicapped people whose reach does not equal their stretch. These babies come in different lengths, in various permutations, different colors, and with a choice of business ends: suction cup?Pressure-sensitive tips to baby delicate items? Swivel tip? Folding or non-? Clip to attach to walker or non-? Locking device? And so much more. I actually have one of these behind my desk, the better to reach some books on high shelves without having to resort to those kick-step stools libraries are so fond of. Next, we need a basketball hoop installed above each wastebasket to make it challenging so patrons will actually aim at the trash can; our custodians would appreciate this, thank you very much. The library owns a laser penlight, but it's never handy when I need it. There I am, standing next to a much taller patron (that is pretty much Everypatron), who wants information that I know is in a book on the top shelf. "The red book in the middle, sir; no, the RED book. Next to the thick green one. To your left. To your LEFT." Shining a red dot on the book in question would save a lot of grief. This next tool will sound a little weird, but hear me out. We could use one of those mechanic's creepers they use to crawl under your car and fix stuff. We have to fix stuff, too, and it often involves contorting ourselves under tables or counters to reach the spaghetti-like tangle of wires, one of which has been kicked out of its plug, setting off the battery alarm. This would also be helpful in fetching books from the bottom shelves, the ones with call numbers or labels unreadable by folks wearing bifocals unless we're lying on the floor, prone, perhaps with one eye shut. They make those creepers in seated versions, too--close to the ground, with wheels to scoot back and forth, and with an attached shelf for tools. I could use one of those to zip along the shelves Our Famous Architect designed for under the windowsills--very attractive, not very accessible, at least without one's butt sticking up unprofessionally. The tool shelf would be perfect to keep pencils, pens, scrap paper, paperclips, erasers, and the like handy while roaming the stacks. And who wouldn't kill for a magic wand? So handy when the mom comes in at closing time to get materials for their kid's project, and they have to have three print sources, no encyclopedias, and it's due tomorrow. Yeah, a magic wand would be great. And while we're dreaming, let's not forget Harry Potter's Invisibility Cloak. Hey, I want one of those! I'd love to be able to sneak behind some of our more rascally patrons and catch them, either cutting the Absolut ads from the back of magazines or surfing the net: "Ahem: you're looking at WHAT on the internet?" without their having time to click on some innocuous email program as I approach. BWAAAA! As Spider Robinson once wrote, "[She] is one of the secret masters of the world: a librarian. They control information. Don't ever piss one off."

Lorraine Bartlett

Five women, five weekdays, many surprises.

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