I love thrift shops! The other day I bumped into a friend while walking into our local Salvation Army store and she was surprised to see me there. Then standing out on the sidewalk chatting I realized more than 50% of my outfit was from the Discovery Shop (American Cancer Society) in Rancho Bernardo.
One of my favorite things to look for in thrift stores are books, especially old cookbooks. Junior League cookbooks are a particular favorite. Look what I found this time:
I actually happen to LOVE the fact that this cookbook is used. It was clearly lovingly and very regularly used over many years which makes it more like anthropology than cooking.
There’s no owner’s name, but someone jotted down a bunch of phone messages on the beginning pages, like “Call back Chris” and “Travel agency – next Tues. Hyatt Regency (Carol.)” The numbers are (408) are code and in 1974 when this book was published that included the San Jose area and suburbs and also Santa Cruz.
Part of what makes this cookbook so fun to read is the fact that it is organized as menus for different occasions, like “A Lunch for Weekend Guests for 8″ or “An Election Night Celebration for 12.”
I love how she made notes of when she tried recipes and how they turned out. From the dates it’s clear she owned and cooked from this book for at least 15 years.
The notes are minimal but useful, like the terse “NG” (“not good”?) for the Cold Lemon Soup (“The Bicyclers’ Back-Pack Picnic for 4) or “fair” for the Potato Pudding (“An Election Night Celebration for 12″) and Lime Pots de Creme (“A Christening Lunch for 12.”)
There are plenty of simple check marks which I think are her “thumbs-ups” as well as a lot of “good,” “very good,” or “very very good!” Earning these are recipes like Devil’s Food Cake (“A Delicious Dessert Party”), Orange Custard (“A Farewell to Summer Cocktail Party”), Crepes Gravetye Manor (“Sans Souci Lunch for Two”), White Grape Mousse (“An Inspired Dinner for Six”), and Potatoes au Gratin (“The Liberated Cook’s Small Apartment Thanksgiving Dinner for Six.”) After the potatoes au gratin she wrote 11/95. I’ll bet she made it for Thanksgiving that year and thought it was “Delicious!”
It amazes me that people really used to cook like this, and with some frequency. I love peering into people’s lives so it’s fun for me to read notes like this one about Marinated Chicken Wings (“A Canape Dinner for 24″): “7/7/83, I thought they were very good, but Ken thought they were too salty (24 hrs marinating.)”
If I wanted to actually cook from this book some of the notes would be useful, like “very nice, but needs a pinch of salt” for Zucchini Quiche (“A Theater or Benefit Supper for 12″) while others are just plain confusing, like, “too spicy with salt added” for Gorgonzola Mousse (“Early September Supper for 8.”)
Speaking of mousse, from my amateur anthropological study of retro cookbooks I think this was THE classy dinner party food for many years. New York Entertains has five mousse recipes, three of which are savory (Avocado, Fish with Shrimp Sauce, and the apparently overly salty Gorgonzola.)
Many of these recipes are labor intensive which makes me a little sad for her when they turn out “good not great” (Chicken Breasts in Phyllo Pastry from “A VIP Dinner for Eight”) or the dubious recommendation of “good, not great, but lasts a long time” (Marinated Mushrooms from “The Galley Slave’s Reprieve for Six.”)
I can picture the disappointment after she spent all day making “Puerto Rican Fiesta for Eight” only to find the Candied Plaintains “fair, kids wouldn’t eat it,” and Asopao, described in the introduction as “a hearty chicken and rice dish,” with the sad “good but stew is stew.”
Even into the late 80s she persevered, making the “Early September Supper for Eight” and deciding, “prefer orange bavarian dessert with this meal.”
If I were to cook from this book, which honestly I probably never will do, I wouldn’t have the time to make one of their complete meals. Why on earth did women slice grapes lengthwise for a grape mousse that is going to be “good!” at best?
We do, however, have a you-pick-em blueberry farm locally, so I just may make Janie’s Blueberry Pie (“A Summer City Lover’s Supper for Six.”) Verdict? “Outstandingly good!”