Southern writer Pat Conroy collected recipes and cookbooks. So did Pulitzer Prize winner Katherine Anne Porter. I hope, when they died, they didn’t have as many cookbooks as food journalist Russ Parsons. He claims, at one time, to have owned more than 1500. In fact, his Prius was full with his initial donation of 500 cookbooks to the Long Beach Public Library. But Russ is small potatoes compared to Sue Jimenez, who holds the Guinness World Record for her cookbook collection. In May 2018 it totaled 6,372.
Lately I’ve been tempted to buy cookbooks at estate sales in my quest for 300 recipes to celebrate New Orleans’ 300 years. But after seeing photos of Jimenez’s collection (think Library of Congress shelves), I’ve established some rules before purchasing a second-hand cookbook. First, it has to be personal and on a small scale (church, community, club, school). It must be well-used in the kitchen (a splatter of grease or penciled-in correction proves it), and include at least four tasty and tempting gumbo recipes. And I need to have faith in the book.
Saturday I almost bought the Navarre, Florida Cheerleader Cookbook but I just couldn’t imagine cheerleaders bouncing around the kitchen. It takes a lot less energy and much more patience to make a roux. I also passed on A Book of Favorite Recipes compiled in 1973 by the Alabama Association of Credit Women. You can bet the measurements are accurate and there’s no fudging on ingredients. But despite the confidence-building organization, the book lacked the sufficient gumbo recipes to earn a spot on my shelves. Instead of buying, I’m now photographing gumbo recipes.
At a genuine estate sale — not a downsizing sale — a row of cookbooks can tell a story about the deceased. Inscriptions on the inside cover, notes in the margins, and dog-eared pages point to favorite recipes. And then a row of Weight Watcher cookbooks (like mine) shows a lifelong struggle with the scales. Anti-inflammatory, heart health and diabetic cookbooks tell another tale.
I can guess the places the cook has lived. Who makes Cincinnati Chili unless they’ve lived there? And, more than once, I’ve opened a cookbook to find a family Christmas letter to the cook. I not only know the cooks, I also know their friends.
Before I started photographing recipes, I made some bad purchases. I’d buy a cookbook for one recipe, bring it home and stuff it on my bookcase. Now my shelves sag. For example, I always use Crisco, but I’ve never used an entire 3-pound can for gumbo. But, Ruth Thomas from The Woman’s Club of Pensacola does when she makes 10 gallons of gumbo. I needed that recipe.
And of course it was worth a quarter for a Creole Gumbo for the Crock Pot recipe.
I even bought a cookbook without a gumbo recipe, but I loved the name — Stove Pilot: Favorite Recipes from Maxwell Air Force Base. I’d never seen recipes penned and illustrated by the cooks.
Last week at a Leigh Shell Estate Liquidation sale (yes, Leigh Shell really is her name), I snapped photos of these recipes along and only bought three more cookbooks.
I’m going to have to downsize (in lieu of dying) but I’m not letting loose of my new cookbooks from Judy, Meredith and Gina! Thanks, girls!