That’s Not a Real Book!


“But that’s not a real book. It’s just a cookbook.”

Excuse me? Have you looked closely at the cookbooks that spill from shelves and display tables in your favourite bookstore? Not long ago I went hunting for one with recipes for my bread-making machine and was stunned at the selection.  The one I chose has just under 500 pages, three hundred recipes, each adapted for up to three different sized loaves, plus glossy pictures, and on every page, extensive adaptations and tips.

Cookbooks are part of our heritage. The first ones I remember were compilations of family-tested recipes. One in my mother’s drawer was a black three-ring binder with recipes handwritten for her by my aunt, on lined paper, containing additional blank pages on which my mother taped in newspaper clippings. When she ran out of pages she stuffed the clippings inside the covers and between the pages. It was well used!

Another was a more formal volume edited by my aunt, and bearing illustrations by my uncle.  The cost was subsidized by advertising, meticulously hand drawn. Each recipe was carefully typed on a stencil, and pages duplicated on a Gestetner machine. Remember those?

In 1975 the women of the church I attended concluded a year-long project to mark the 100th anniversary of the Presbyterian Church in Canada – a cookbook of recipes from three generations, appropriately titled, “Grandmother, Mother and Me: Recipes and Remedies.” I had the pleasure of providing the simple artwork.

It contained recipes bequeathed by mothers, grandmothers and their friends, old remedies and anecdotes that were like family heirlooms. It is visible proof that good recipes are like hand-me-downs… never discarded, but lovingly shared between generations.

Three generations of our family also treasure another three-ring black binder… a cookbook created by our youngest daughter who collected all her favourite recipes to give to me and her siblings, and to take with her when she left home. At the time she had no idea that they would want copies to pass on to their children years later. Each recipe was keyed into the computer with added graphics and an index, and saved, so it has been easy to add to it and reprint new copies when needed.

So no, cookbooks aren’t novels, but they can take just as much research and writing to produce, and extensive editing. In every way they are definitely real books.

Do you have a favourite recipe passed down from earlier generations? Please share it in the comment section. Here’s mine:


Crystallized Orange and Grapefruit Peel Candy

Cut fruit peeling into strips and soak in salt water overnight. Wash thoroughly in fresh water, and boil in fresh water for five minutes. Change water and boil twice more for five minutes each. Drain off water, and to each cup of peel add a scant cup of white sugar. Cook over a slow fire until it crystallizes, stirring all the while. Separate pieces on a plate to cool. This is most successful when only two or three cups of peel are done at one time. (Makes a tasty Yuletide confection.)