Sometimes, you get random emails that result in really wonderful surprises. A while ago a gentleman named Jon contacted me to see if I was interested in his wife's grandmother's cookbook. He warned me that it was in rough shape, but that they really wanted to see it go to someone who would appreciate it. So of course I said yes, and Jon and his wife Amy graciously sent it my way, and it arrived today! Very carefully packed with foam in a cardboard box and the book itself was wrapped in black fabric to keep it from getting further damaged.
Published in 1912, this fourth edition of The Warren Cook Book (the second, 1903 addition has been digitized by the Library of Congress) was compiled by the Young Ladies' Missionary Society of the Presbyterian Church of Warren, PA.
But while you can take a gander at the second edition, what makes this fourth edition volume really special is the woman who owned it. Her name, according to Amy, was Margaret Elmquist.
Amy writes: "I actually know very little about her as she died when I was just six months old. I have heard that she was a particularly beautiful woman. She raised her children through the depression, I remember hearing she would cut newspapers to line her kids shoes. She had two sons and one daughter. After an accident she was paralyzed from the neck down for five years before passing."
We don't know very much about Margaret except what we can glean from the cookbook she left behind. And just from that, I can tell she was a special lady. For one, the cookbook is stuffed FULL of ephemera - newspaper clippings, magazine clippings, handwritten recipes on scraps of paper, mail-away recipe cards, and more. But while her handwritten recipes are very special (particularly the home remedies for sickness!), what I love the most is how she pasted and wrote recipes right on the pages of the cookbook, in the sections where they most resembled similar recipes printed on the page. It's a marginalia-lover's dream! And an archivist's nightmare. Lol. Those acid-rich newspapers are already damaging the pages, and are probably part of the reason why the cookbook is in such rough shape (crumbling edges of pages, broken spine, etc.). Of course, it's also probable that Margaret loved this cookbook to death before she passed it down.
See for yourself:
Okay, that's all I have time for - for now! This cookbook is more scrapbook than anything else and I love it so much, so thank you, Jon and Amy, for sending it my way!
I have a feeling Margaret and I would have got along very well - just about every one of her handwritten recipes sounds just exactly like something I would make.
I'll be diving more into this cookbook as time goes on, but since it arrived today, I just wanted to share the fun! And if I dig up any more information on Margaret, I'll let you know!
And if YOU have any beautiful old cookbooks in your family collection, especially ones chock full of marginalia and ephemera, and you want someone to take care of it, feel free to send it my way! Just drop me a line on my contact form and I'll send you my address. :D
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Sarah Wassberg Johnson has an MA in Public History from the University at Albany and studies early 20th century food history.