Old cookbooks

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(HOST) Lately, commentator Edith Hunter has been thinking about old cookbooks, and what the future may hold for some of her favorites.

(HUNTER) I sometimes wonder if I am going to outlive my cookbooks. I look at the shelf of old friends leaning wearily against one another. Many of them are really showing their age.

Armstrong and I were married in 1943, during WWII, and several cookbooks were wedding presents. Good thing, too. When I got married I could make a chocolate cake, and that was about it.

The most battered of the lot is held together by duct tape: The Good Housekeeping Cook Book, 3rd edition, 1943. It has 32 bright blue pages tucked in the middle. For 60 years I have turned to this section for the time tables for canning tomatoes and peaches. It was inserted as a “war supplement”. It includes hints on “coffee stretchers”, cooking less familiar cuts of meat and using “rationing points.”

Another wedding gift was The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, 6th edition, original edition 1896, completely revised in 1938. Having grown up in Boston, my mother felt that I needed the guidance of Fannie Farmer.

The 1964 edition of Joy of Cooking is inscribed “with thanks for many good meals” – a gift from one of my daughter’s college classmates. I’ve used it a lot, and the binding is wobbly. But I found myself exasperated more than once by the length of the instructive material. “About stock and stock substitutes” goes on for two pages. As a result, I have never made “stock”.

Haydn Pearson, a columnist for the Boston Herald, lived not far from us in New Hampshire, and Armstrong bought me Pearson’s Country Flavor Cookbook, 1966. It has a couple of my favorite recipes, but what I really like are the brief essays on country living scattered throughout the book. It’s nice to sit down and read one of these while things are bubbling away on the wood stove.

Foods of Old New England, 1957, by Marjorie Mossier, I inherited when we moved into this house in 1969. It belonged to Aunt Margaret, the cooking sister of the Margaret and Mary team who lived here before us.

Finally, and perhaps best of all, is The Kitchen Garden Book, by Stringfellow Barr and Stella Standish, 1956. I have this on permanent loan (in other words, I have never returned it). Alphabetically arranged in two sections, the first gardening half describes how to grow everything from artichokes to turnips; the second, the cooking half, has great recipes for these same vegetables.

This book has a spiral binding, as all cookbooks should. My heirs will be able to return it in pretty good shape.

This is Edith Hunter on the Center Road.

Writer and historian Edith Hunter lives in Weathersfield Center. She spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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