Cherishing a cookbook with a backstory from a woman I barely knew

cover Southern Living Desserts Cookbook 1967

Years ago my mother gave me an old cookbook. “You like to cook a lot more than I do,” she said. I asked where she got it, and her response touched me deeply even though the woman who originally owned it was someone I barely knew.

When our younger daughter was a baby, she had surgery. One of the nurses who came to visit us in the hospital was a woman who worked with my mother in the Emergency Room. Her name was Lisa. I vaguely remember what she looked like. She was nice but sort of shy as I recall.

Lisa’s mother passed on, and then Lisa got sick with a terminal illness. She didn’t have children, and for reasons I still don’t understand, she gave Mom this cookbook that had belonged to Lisa’s mother. Mom visited Lisa when she was in her final days, so I guess that meant a lot to both of them. I think Lisa was an only child. [Story continues after photo.]

clippings pasted into Southern Living cookbook
Photo: Indie Art South

The cookbook was published by Southern Living in 1967. I love wandering around in the pages, and sometimes I come across handwritten notes or clippings from newspapers. Cooking seemed important to Lisa’s mom. Some of the pages have telltale stains just like the stains in my own cookbooks when I slip and spill a drop of vanilla on a page or smudge a speck of batter. It’s a well-worn cookbook.

What a difference half a century or so makes. A number of the cakes call for as many as six eggs. Some call for a whole stick of butter in addition to a cup of shortening or lard. Sugar was used generously in cookies and on top of them. I guess at that time Americans still worked enough with their bodies to not have to worry about calories or fat content. [Story continues after photo.]

Sample menu from Southern Living Desserts Cookbook 1967
Photo: Indie Art South

Just as interesting as the recipes are the suggested menus. One of my favorites is a menu for a birthday party. It reminds me of a conversation I had with my daughters awhile back. I explained to them that a birthday party when I was a girl was a more formal setup than the bounce houses, face painting, and kids-running-around-wild affairs we have now.

We children of that time dressed for our parties like we dressed for church. The adults talked and the little ones usually hung out without making a fuss. We’d sit at the table to have cake with ice cream and punch. I remember little white pleated paper cups—tiny ones—filled with mints or peanuts. That was the party favor for each guest. I never attended a single birthday party as a child where someone fed us a meal. The menu was cake, ice cream, punch, and the little filled cups. That was it.

I cherish this cookbook although I never knew the owner and I barely knew her daughter. I’m glad Lisa gave Mom the book because I feel a connection to her mother. Maybe this is one way they’ll both be remembered—in the telling of the story I hope my daughters will recount when I pass on.

I do like to cook. It soothes me and takes my mind off whatever is cluttering up my brain cells. As a Southerner I have a compulsion to feed anyone who shows up at my door—the family loves to joke about that and it’s no secret my mom will feed you ‘til she just about kills you.

The Southern Living Desserts cookbook is hard cover with a color photo of a beautiful table setting—the photo was credited to “Knox Gelatine Co.”. It’s beautifully bound and despite its age, has held up well. The original retail price was $1.95—that’s a significant backstory all by itself.

(Kay B. Day; October 7, 2020)

CD by Nancy Wilson Buckler
CD by Nancy Wilson Buckler

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