more than just another bike blog

Thursday, December 14, 2006

soup sleuthing

I've been craving soup. But not just any soup. I want to make my own soup -- healthy, delicious, and nutritious.

I collect cookbooks. My grandmother was a great cook and a professional baker. My mother (no relation to my grandmother) couldn't boil water or make toast without burning it. I was always a picky eater and didn't touch vegetables until I was in my 30s. I was enamoured of a produce buyer, but that's another story.

Anyways, I've decided to make some soup, so I opened the cupboard where all my cookbooks are stored to see if I might have a soup cookbook. I have a pasta cookbook, a salad cookbook, a smoothie cookbook, three copies of the Joy of Cooking (1931, 1946, and 1964). I bet they still publish that one. I've got a cookbook from the PBS station I worked at in 1988. And one from the theatre where I worked in from 1989-1998. And one from the Girl Scout council where I volunteered (including a recipe by me). I've got sushi cookbooks and cocktail cookbooks and even a Corn Flakes cookbook. There are probably 50 cookbooks, big and small, new and old in my cupboard. But no soup cookbook.

When my grandmother died, I inherited her collection of cookbooks (at least two of the Joy of Cookings are from her). But there's also this other book that fascinates me. It's a leather bound book with pages that look like graph paper. As I touch it, pieces of cover and pages crumble a bit and flake off onto my desk.

There are 100s of clippings from newspapers and magazines hidden among the pages -- recipes for butter cookies, brownies, cheese bread, yam muffins, buttermilk fudge, and molded ocean perch salad. and the directions to use a "spring-flo" faucet spout end. There are hand-written pages that contain recipes for "Chicago Chicken Legs," Stuffed Spare-Ribs," and "Beef Rolls En Brochette." There's a hang tag for an American-Standard Sink Faucet, directions (with diagrams) for cutting a ham, and typed instructions to adjust the volume of your telephone ringer.

There's a newspaper clipping from 1946 entitled "Tough Time on $2,000 -- Elmira Case Cited in Income Study," detailing the life of the Dobbs, a family of six who lived in my home town and made less than $1,600 a year. I wonder who the Dobbs were and why this article was in my grandmother's cookbook.

On the title page of the little leather-bound book is handwritten "Mommy's Book for Recipes" The next page is written "A B" in what appears to be a child's handwriting, possibly a child learning to write and practicing their alphabet? Below that in beautiful script is "Lumber Purchased." The next 20 pages or so appear to be a ledger of lumber sold to various contractors, complete with type of wood, prices, dates, and a mysterious code. These entries date from 1890 to 1895 and the names lead me to believe the book was once located in Buffalo, NY. Since my grandfather was born in 1898 and I know he lived in Jamestown (near Buffalo), I have to assume this book probably belonged to his father.

It appears that the next 20 or so pages were torn out of the book (good, sewn binding, btw). And then the hand-written recipes begin -- chocolate chip cookies, elderberry wine, chili sauce, vanilla ice cream, six-way cookies, lemon meringue pie. The final 75% of the pages are blank.

I have a cousin named Randy who is six months older than me. When we were kids, we spent all of our free time at my grandmother's house. She lived next door to me and because she was a baker there were always yummy things to eat. My grandfather had an upholstery shop right behind the house and he taught us to put a handful of furniture tacks in our mouth and grab them out with a little hammer that was magnetic. He also used to give us a dime to get ice cream from the ice cream man when he came by in his truck.

When I was 10 I was fascinated with matches. I'll never forget this weekend, because my parents had gone away to see my sister Susan graduate from college and I spent the weekend with my grandparents. It was 1976. On Saturday evening, I sat in my grandfather's shop lighting matches and trying to catch the upholstery batting on fire then putting it out. Apparently batting smoulders and several hours later our neighbor came running into the house to tell us there was a fire in my grandfather's shop. My grandfather was quite sick at that time (he died a few months later -- November 1976) and my grandmother and the neighbor and I put the fire out. I denied any involvement in setting the fire. I remember worrying that I wouldn't be allowed to buy my sister's bike -- she planned to sell me her Free Spirit 10-speed for $50. I continued to ride that bike through college.

The upholstery shop is gone now. There was a big burned section of insulation on the ceiling where the fire had risen from the chair that was propped up on the saw horses. My grandfather got sick pretty quickly and this was one of the jobs he was working on at the time. He never finished it. Everytime I went in the shop I felt guilty. The memories of my sick grandfather panicing and trying to get out of his chair are seared into my memory. For many years I thought he died because of what I did.

My grandmother remarried in 1983 and moved about three miles away but kept her old house. She rented it out to various and sundry folks -- usually people who couldn't pay the rent and took advantage of her, but she was too nice to ever kick anyone out.

My grandmother died in December 1994. Her little tiny house was sold and the new owners tore down the shop and the connected cinder-block garage. The cement had deteriorated from between the cinder blocks and the garage was practically falling down. There was a tree growing too close to the upholstery shop, raising one corner of the building up about 18 inches and the roots were poking up through the floor. The shop and the garage were nothing more than unfinished shacks but they represented my grandfather's business and his ability to keep his family afloat during the depression. In addition to their two children, my grandparents were foster parents to more than 100 children over the years -- all in a tiny two-bedroom house. I remember seeing a newspaper article about them but it wasn't in the cookbook.

I guess I need to get a new cookbook and find a soup recipe.


At 12/15/2006 9:09 AM, Blogger trac said...

cream of broccoli! YUM.

great story, Lori! (whew, rhyming!)

At 12/15/2006 11:00 AM, Blogger bbElf (a.k.a. panda) said...

I like that story. Are you going to add anything to the book yourself? has a bunch of recipes for everything. As a cookbook- and recipe-collector myself I can tell you they're one of the best-quality sources I use.

At 12/15/2006 1:50 PM, Blogger lauren said...

that's a good story.

i like how a simple act of opening a cupboard and then a book brings out all this great history.

At 12/16/2006 7:22 PM, Blogger Jackie said...

I happen to know the early "Joy of Cooking" has plenty of soup recipes, including how to make turtle soup from a snapper you (carefully) catch yourself. I keep turtles as pets so this was always disconcerting, if understandable.

Love the story about your grandparents.


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