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November 2014

Mary's Modern Homemaking

Good Reading: Cookbooks
By Mary Frances

Mary's Modern Homemaking archive


Cookbooks provide a colorful—and fun—look at history.


When is a cookbook more than about recipes? When you read it! Sounds crazy, I know. That's what I thought at first.

A year ago I reconnected with a friend who I had not seen in years. We met for coffee, some much-needed girl talk, and just plain old catching up. Soon the subject changed to busy days and the like.

Jo asked me: "What do you do at the end of a stressful day?"

Me: "Relax with a cup of herbal tea usually. And you?"

Jo: "Same here. But I also like to read my cookbooks."

Me: "Oh, you look for recipes to make?"

Jo: "Not really. I read them. Really read them."

All too soon it was time to go our separate ways. But since then I have looked at cookbooks in a whole new light.

One by one I have been reading my cookbooks. I discovered they are loaded with history without the boredom of traditional history books. There are recipes collected throughout many ages. Through these recipes you can get a sense of what was popular at the time.

Tastes change. Maybe it's the kind of spices that were used, or the amount of sugar. I noticed that two of my cookbooks, printed years apart, have the same recipe in them. However, the newer book uses more sugar than the older recipe. So I have a choice to make it as sweet as I want it.

A great way to get kids interested in history is through cookbooks. One of my favorites is Apples to Oregon. It tells the story of a family moving apple trees from Iowa to Oregon. Your kids will delight in this humorous tale and even learn some recipes for cooking with apples.

"The Victory Garden" on Seattle's Channel 9 is not only a Pacific Northwest favorite TV show, but there's an accompanying book as well. It teaches the importance of growing your own food as well as how to cook what you grow.

And how can you talk about great Northwest cookbooks without mentioning Port Orchard, Washington's most popular Debbie Macomber. In each of her novels Debbie includes a family recipe or two. Her Christmas Cookbook brings readers into her life as she shares some of her most treasured family recipes. She even includes some homemade gift-giving ideas.

"Sometimes the best decorating inspiration comes from nature. Bring Winter's Wonderland indoors to add holiday accents all through the house." (From Debbie Macomber's Christmas Cookbook.)


Debbie Macomber's Christmas Cookbook


A good way to collect family-favorite recipes—the kind you know everyone will love—is to buy cookbooks sold at fundraisers, perhaps through a local school or your church. These are both fun to use and interesting to read through.

For those of you lucky enough to have access to your family's collection of recipes, a wonderful amount of history can be learned. My great-grandparents came from Germany. So when my Aunt Wilma gets some of her mom's recipes put together, I will be able to learn more about the foods they ate and how my great-grandmother cooked.

Learn more about different cultures, too: Cajun, India, Thai, African, English, French, Russian, Danish, Middle Eastern . . . you name it.

Even dedicated TV watchers can find a cookbook to enjoy. If you're really into sitcoms, look for a cookbook put together by the cast. The TV show "Friends" has one. "Family Affair" has one. Edith Bunker from "All in the Family" has one. Even "Bewitched." Imagine what a witch can conjure up! Besides being fun, they also give some insight into life during the time depicted in the show since sitcoms came about as a way to laugh at tough times.

"It's nice to remember that there actually was a time when ladies would get together and have leisurely tea parties." (From The Family Affair Cookbook by Kathy Garver ("Cissy") and Geoffrey Mark.)


The Family Affair Cookbook


There is a world of knowledge in cookbooks. To find one on your favorite subject, just Google. Want to know about your city, county, state? Type in "local foods" and a bounty of cookbook choices will pop up.

You can learn more about specific foods and food-related topics that are popular in your area. Where are the honeybees? Can you grow lavender? What fruits are easy to grow? How about nuts? How to start an indoor herb garden? Can I grow tomatoes in a pot? Or carrots?

If you hear of someone wanting to get rid of their cookbooks, offer to take them. There is so much more to these gems than meets the eye.

Let the collecting begin! Start learning the fun way.


Mary Frances lives in Ravensdale, Washington, and loves finding healthy ways to keep her castle clean. She believes that what we clean with can be just as important to our health as what we eat. When she's not cleaning, Mary Frances battles the blackberry vines in her yard. Also enjoy Mary Frances's blog, All American Gal.


Mary's Modern Homemaking copyright 2013.
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