The family cookbook holds treasures from the past

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By Carolyn Ten Broeck, Editor

 Many people learn to cook by watching and helping a more experienced cook. Today that is enhanced by a myriad of cooking shows–(food even has its own network!), seaching the Internet, buying scores of magazines and occasionally even reading a cookbook.

But 30 years ago the only enhancement to practical hands-on cooking was either a few women’s magazines, like McCalls and Ladies Home Journal or a cookbook.

Today, I have a four shelf bookcase dedicated to nothing but recipes: cards, books and magazines that I’ve collected over the years.

Growing up, my mother had one cookbook–probably something she purchased through the Doubleday Book Club–but nonetheless a cookbook. Its publish date is 1953–five years before my parents married.

“The Modern Family Cookbook” by Meta Given was revered whenever my mother wanted to deviate from normal country cooking and splurge on something new and wonderful sounding.

It was from this cookbook that I also learned to enhance my cooking skills, beginning at 11 or 12 years old.

My mother would turn me loose in the kitchen and let me experiment to my heart’s desire–as long as we had the ingredients on  hand. I made a lot of cookies and cakes back then.

“If it’s not fit to eat,” Daddy would say, “we’ll throw it out to the dogs.” And that was fine and dandy except we didn’t have a dog.

I would pore over the recipes, reading each ingredient and direction several times. The only pictures-a dozen or so-were in the center of the book so you didn’t know how things were supposed to look. Meta Given didn’t cook like my mother and me.

“What’s a Number 2 can of corn?” I would ask or “What’s a rennet tablet?”

Sometimes it was just a comment to my mother, “Meta Given must think people are stupid. She has a recipe for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Who doesn’t know how to make that?”

But what really amazed me about the only cookbook my mother would ever own was Meta Given had weekly menus in the front of the book and each month had its own so you never had to eat the same thing twice-unless you wanted to.

For example, here’s the Thanksgiving Day menu:

Breakfast: Grapefruit halves, prepared cereal with thin cream, toast with butter and jam, coffee for adults, cocoa for children.

Luncheon: Oxtail soup, carrot raisin sandwiches, baked apricot whip, tea for adults, milk for children.

Dinner: Beef stew with vegetables, cole slaw, whole wheat bread with butter, rice cream, coffee for adults, milk for children.

Thanksgiving Dinner: Roast turkey with dressing and gravy, mashed potatoes, buttered onions, cranberry sauce, head lettuce with 1000 Island dressing, whole wheat bread and butter, pumpkin pie, coffee for adults, milk for children.

Supper: Oyster bisque, crisp crackers or toast, canned peaches, milk for all.

Yes, five meals on Thanksgiving—and not all centered around turkey. Of course, the recipes for all these treats are included in her cookbook. I still chuckle when I think about “coffee for adults, milk for children.” 

After my mother died in 2001, I got her cookbook. Its  spine is held fast with masking tape and on  it I had written the name of the cookbook in what looks like seventh or eighth grade penmanship.

The pages are butter or grease spattered. Sometimes I can detect a bit of cocoa dust or baking chocolate in the fold. 

If you let the book fall open, it lands on Applesauce Cake or Pumpkin Pie–two recipes I guess she made more than others. Sometimes in the margins there are handwritten notes–one says “Peace, Love, Tranquility.”

The book was filled with newspaper clippings, index cards and pages ripped from magazines. I took most of those odd bits of her culinary life and put them in a binder or box, but I missed a few.

Occasionally when I open the book, I encounter a slip of notebook paper with my mother’s neat tiny cursive that still gives me pause. 

I cherish this cookbook and will someday pass it down to whoever is cooking most among my children. 

As I pondered my collection of cookbooks, I wondered which would have the most meaning for my children some day. Without doubt, it will be the church cookbook from when I lived in Georgia.

It too is well used with handwritten notes of recipes cut in half or doubled. There are grease spatters on it, along with some cheese or chocolate. It contains recipes they grew up with and were subjected to.

It is much as the family Bible–torn, battered, well used. It too is a legacy of love.


Applesauce Cake

1 3/4 C cake flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground cloves

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 C shortening

1 C sugar

1 egg

1 C unsweetened tart, stiff applesauce

1 C seedless raisins


Sift flour, measure and resift three times with soda, spices and salt. Cream shortening well and gradually blend in sugar. Beat in egg, then applesauce. Add flour mixture gradually, beating after each addition until well blended. Stir in raisins. Turn into a buttered 8-inch square cake pan lined with waxed paper in the bottom; bake in moderate oven (350 degrees) 45 minutes or bake in greased muffin cups 25-30 minutes. Cool before serving. Applesauce cake improves with age, if kept in a breadbox. 6 servings.