Rushville Republican

August 16, 2013

What's in the attic?

A pinch of this and a dash of that

By Linda Hamer Kennett Rushville Republican
Rushville Republican

---- — When my dad’s heart attack necessitated moving my parents to an assisted living facility, I found myself in the unenviable position of both liquidator and client. The one bedroom apartment they would now call home could hold very little of the contents of the sprawling three bedroom house filled with the accumulation from 64 years of marriage. It was time to down-size.

After Mom and Dad had selected the items they would take with them, I gathered the family members together to have each of them select some items that they would like to have from the house. One at a time, small groups of items were assembled and as this long and emotional day came to a close we happened upon a kitchen drawer that brought both tears and laughter. It’s cherished and well-worn contents held a different memory for each of us, for it was the drawer where Mom stored her cookbooks.

From 1896, when Fannie Farmer wrote her, now famous, “Boston Cooking School Cookbook” to the Rachael Ray and Wolfgang Puck years of present day, the cookbook has long been a staple in the kitchens of America. Farmer’s book was by no means the first cookbook. Books of recipes have been with us since Colonial times. But, it was Farmer who brought a scientific approach to meal preparation with precise measurements and detailed instructions. No more a pinch of this, or a dash of that. “The Boston Cooking School Cookbook” sent everyone scurrying to the store for measuring spoons and cups. Today’s recipe books still use her formula for outlining recipes.

By 1906 food companies were putting their nutritional experts to work compiling their specialties for print. By the 1920s Martha Lee Anderson of Arm & Hammer and Ann Pillsbury of Pillsbury Flour were household names and cooking, once considered a chore, was transformed into a domestic art.

The 1930s brought us two of our most famous “cooking icons”. Betty Crocker and Irma Rombouer. Created, and recreated over the years, General Mills introduced us to the ideal woman, the fictitious Betty Crocker. With a pristine white apron and every stand of her wavy hair in place, the self assured Betty gave us a perfect dish every time. To the contrary, Irma Rombauer, author of “The Joy of Cooking” was a cute, petite little woman who openly acknowledged her culinary shortcomings. The public instantly fell in love with this “real person” and “The Joy of Cooking” became the most successful cookbook in trade-publishing history. First editions of both “The Betty Crocker Cookbook” and The Joy of Cooking” are highly sought by cookbook collectors.

In the late 1930s rural areas began to receive electricity and small kitchen appliances such as toasters, chaffing dishes and waffle irons appeared in every kitchen. Ovens that were once either cold or hot were equipped with regulators and the modern age of cooking was born. By 1940 most major women’s magazine were publishing cookbooks and by the 1950s The New York Times and the New York Herald Tribune had followed suit.

As the appliances used in food preparation changed, so did the women who used them. Once content with a high school education, women were now attending college in record numbers.The major food companies took note, hiring thousands of Home Economists to edit their ever-changing cookbooks.

Today’s collectors look for publications before 1969. Advertising, pocket style, and political cookbooks are of interest, as are category books such as Jell-O, Ball Jar, and Pillsbury Bake-Off. Books featuring cuisine from a certain geographical area, like spicy Southwestern cooking or New Orleans style Creole cooking are also in demand. Of all collectible books, cookbooks by nature are the most difficult to find in good condition. If you are a new collector it is important to remember that as with all paper collectibles, condition is a major factor in determining value.

A cookbook is many things. It is the product of many years of knowledge and development. It is not only a book of instruction, but a book of memories. In the case of Mom’s cookbooks, they were a reflection of holiday dinners, summer picnics in the backyard, and watching each new family member taste her homemade donuts for the first time. So who got Mom’s cookbooks? The books, like her love, were divided evenly among all of us. Thanks Mom. Until next time.............Linda

Linda Hamer Kennett is a professional liquidation consultant specializing in down-sizing for seniors and the liquidation of estates and may be reached at 317-429-7887 or