As I was on my daily walk this morning, I listened to a podcast of Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s radio show “The Splendid Table.” During the call in portion of the show, a woman asked about showing proper respect in discarding a beloved old cookbook that had literally been used to death, and for which a replacement had been found on the internet. This got me to thinking about the brief period during which I was an adherent of the “Flylady” plan of life management, and the horror I felt when one of my daily instructional e-mails suggested that I divest myself of at least one, if not more, of my cookbooks. Just for the sake of “decluttering.” The mere memory of this frightening episode made me want to come home and look lovingly at my motley assortment of cookbooks, if only to reassure myself that I did not have to part with any of them, even if I just loved one or two recipes, or the photographs, or the fact that the book had belonged to my grandmother.
Among my cookbook treasures is a collection of recipes from the Women’s Society of my church, circa 1974. Most of the contributors are women of about my own mother’s age, who were themselves mothers in their 30s and 40s when they contributed recipes. I know many of the women now, and I love to picture them in their avocado or Harvest Gold kitchens whipping up Jello molds for a salad luncheon. Don’t tell them I said that, please.
My first favorite thing about this cookbook is the Table of Contents which is divided into the following four sections: “Salad Recipes,” “Vegetable Recipes,” “Weight Watchers Recipes” and “Quantity Cookery.” No run-of-the-mill appetizers, meat dishes or desserts for this group.
My second favorite thing is that the book came from a used book sale (at the church, actually) and bears handwritten notes made by the previous owner. About the Cinnamon Applesauce Mold recipe, my anonymous predecessor has written “Christmas at Carol’s ’78. Very nice layered salad.” She did not fare as well with the 7-Layer Jello Ribbon Salad, about which she noted “very pretty but kids don’t like filling.” This was when I began to love her just a little. I’m also thinking she was (and possibly still is) a pretty good good. She writes that the Tea Garden Salad is “very good with taste of mace in topping,” and in several cases she has annotated the ingredients to change the quantities based on her own experience and preferences.
Maybe I know my 70s Church-Lady. Perhaps she is on a committee with me, or I have sat next to her in an adult education class. Maybe she moved to Florida and jettisoned the books she wouldn’t need in her new life as a sunbird. Whoever she is, I feel a connection to her when I use her old cookbook, and I hope she is still alive, well, and cooking somewhere. Here are a couple of pretty timeless recipes from the book that use seasonal vegetables:
(Which is Really More of a Frittata)
- 1/4 cup corn oil (as it is no longer 1974, I used olive oil)
- 2 cup thinly sliced, unpared zucchini (I also add a couple of cloves of diced garlic and a sliced onion, but this is entirely optional)
- 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
In a 10 inch skillet, heat oil and add zucchini. Cook over moderate heat, stirring several times until lightly browned and tender, about 5 minutes. Mix remaining ingredients. Pour over zucchini. As mixture sets, lift edges and tilt pan so soft portion runs down to bottom of pan. While still slightly soft on top, cut into 4 wedges and turn over to brown on other side slightly. Serves 4.
- 1 medium eggplant
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/4 cup chopped onion
- 3 cups chopped, fresh tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 2 Tablespoons melted butter
- 1/3 soft breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 375. Dice and peel eggplant. (I do not peel eggplant, but its your call). Cook (parboil) in water to cover for 5 to 10 minutes (it should be softened, but not mushy). Drain well. Melt 2 tablespoons butter, saute onion in it. Combine tomatoes, sugar, salt, pepper, onions and eggplant. Place in casserole and bake for 30 minutes.
Blend 2 tablespoons melted butter, bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle crumb mixture over eggplant casserole. Bake 20 minutes more at 375, or until topping is lightly browned and eggplant is tender. Serves 6-8.