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Stranger than Fiction

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This guest post was written by Constance Carter who recently retired as head of Science Reference after 50 years of service at the Library of Congress. But being the dedicated librarian that she is, she now volunteers her considerable talents.

MWCTUtitleThe Science Reference Section has an extraordinary collection of 19th-century community and commercial cookbooks—some of these have been picked up at flea markets, or purchased by staff for our frequent “show and tell” sessions, and /or reading room exhibits. However, most of the section’s collection of old cookbooks has been assigned to the reading room from the general collections. Several years ago, when the Science Reference Section was either hosting the Association of Food Journalists or creating a 350-title cookbook display for Laura Schenone’s lecture on 1000 Years over a Hot Stove, we could not find Science’s copy of the Massachusetts Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (M.W.C.T.U.) Cuisine (1878). What to do?  I immediately went online, found a copy, and purchased it with my trusty AmEx card. Of course, as soon as I ordered the book, we found the copy assigned to the reading room. When the copy I purchased came, I sent it to cataloging to be added to the collections. It was sent back in an acid-free envelope, suggesting that it be sent to the manuscript division because it had “clippings and etc.,” so I put it on a shelf in my office.

clippingsFast forward to last month, when we were searching for the assigned copy of Statesmen’s Dishes and how to Cook them (1890) for a Daily Beast blogger, I came across the envelope—which I fervently hoped would be the Statesmen’s Dishes. Alas it was not. It was the copy of the M.W.C.T.U. Cuisine I had purchased years ago. About that same time someone actually did find Statesmen’s Dishes on the very same shelf where a colleague and I had searched several times, but not before I had impatiently purchased a facsimile which I subsequently gave to the blogger. I then decided to really examine the book in the envelope.

The title-page and the next three pages were completely obscured by newspaper clippings that had been glued in place and a small calendar, dated 1924 was tucked in between pages 64 and 65. The book’s blank pages were filled with hand-written recipes in pencil and in ink as were half-pages as well as the end pages. I immediately recognized my Grandmother Winnie’s handwriting, but thought, “How is this possible?” Closer examination revealed recipes from her friends, e.g., Mrs. Fillibrown’s Salad Dressing in blue pencil, Mrs. Fox’s Pudding Sauce, Carrie’s Hermits, etc., all names that I recognized. On a 2” x 6” slip of paper entitled Daffodil 325°, I found the Daffodil cake recipe that my mother always made for her parents’ birthdays. There was a hand-written recipe for the Groton Library’s Squash Pie, Sponge drops (cupcakes were called drops in olden days) and a hand-written rule for Snow Pudding as well as one clipped from a newspaper. This must have been a popular dessert at the turn of the century and one for which we have had requests. I was not surprised to see a number of recipes for mince pie, including one for Millionaire’s mincemeat, as she always made a mince pie for family gatherings at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

My grandmother was born in 1879, the year after this book was published and died in 1962, so I knew her well and am thrilled to have purchased this bit of my heritage.

3 recipes
Recipes for: The Circle (soft gingerbread), Pop Overs, and Groton Library’s Squash Pie.

Comments (3)

  1. Serendipity at its finest. What a great story! Keep ’em coming.

  2. Such an awesome story! I have cookbooks and hand written recipes from my grandparents. They are treasured items that I love to work through and, at time, try to decipher.

  3. Shows how small the world can be at times.

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