Hand to Mouth

misadventures in eating

The living history of our dinner tables.

with one comment

Yesterday, the Friends of the Chapel Hill Public Library were having a book sale and after raiding the biography section for David McCulloch’s John Adams I made a beeline for the room of cookbooks.

I’m preoccupied with cookbooks regardless, but used cookbooks, especially, seem to me a primary source of understanding the history of location.

There were, in the tiny basement kitchen where dozens and dozens of well-used, well-loved, and some ignored cooking manuels were stored, mountains of Junior League cookbooks: for Chapel Hill, for North Carolina, for Raleigh, for Fort Lauderdale, Fla. I thought about the gray and blue-haired ladies of good breeding gathering their favored recipes, changing them slightly, adding or subtracting, so that even as they showed off their kitchen prowess the food was still their own true secret. I thought about women in patterned peasant skirts laughing as they stapled corrections into the front of the Chapel Hill Junior League cookbook. I thought about the coffee and flour stains on the pages of these books, the way they’ve all been well-fingered and loved and used.

There were a small stack of vegetarian guides, slow cooker books, encyclopedias, books specializing on recipes, locations, ethnic cooking. It’s like peering into the private lives of people to know what they eat, how they eat, and how often they eat it. Food is about love and memory and in many ways, longing, and the cookbooks surrendered to the book sale are in many ways as intimate as a diary.

But the absolute treasure for the day was a copy of The New Basics, published in 1989 by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins, battered and dog-eared with scraps of newspaper still stuck in between the pages, dotted with Sharpie notations and obviously stained with God knows how many ingredients from how many recipes pulled from it. But the best part is the broken spine of the book — the Post-It notes in the front pages, with indecipherable notes made about individual recipes.

It’s sitting my desk right now (partially hidden beneath a Wake County Public Library copy of Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl), next to my Montreal Starbucks mug as Kate Campbell croons about the New South and nothing’s ever been such a perfect trifecta.


Written by lshen

August 26, 2006 at 2:50 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. today i told my father that you’d bought “the new basics” for 50 cents, and he said, “you should have fought her for it.” my mother, in the background, sounding scandalized, said, “eli! don’t encourage your daughters to beat up their friends!” then she took the phone away from him and said, “you really should have fought her for it.” oh, my parents.

    also, in my continued attempts to not finish this paper, i have spent the day paging through the chapel hill junior league cookbook, and i really want to throw a dinner party at some point that consists of nothing but recipes from that book.


    August 26, 2006 at 6:14 pm

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