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Monday, January 28, 2008

A Date With A Dish

I am a lonely cookbook
a sittin on the shelf
Although I'm full of goodies
I'm no good there by myself
I need someone to pick me up
and look inside my cover
And if you do, I promise you
A new world you will discover.
Granny's Kitchen.

My inspiration for today's post comes from another one of my favorite blogs, Culinary Types. The first article that caught my eye at Culinary Types was American Children's Cookbooks of the 50s and 60s for which I have provided a link for below. At Culinary Types, the blog, T.W. introduced his readers to a cookbook store he enjoys visiting in Manhattan.

...It is a bitterly cold day in Manhattan, but a whimsical early-Valentine’s Day window display of red paper-doily hearts and cookbooks on food and love beckons visitors to enter the town house. Inside the narrow shop, tidy white shelves hold a plethora of cookbooks from floor to ceiling...

Like many cookbook collectors, I am always excited to learn of a "new" source to explore. But wait, I had a cookbook "store" once. Yes, indeed, I did. It wasn't that long ago either. It was 1998 and the store was in central Pennsylvania. When I opened the store, I had over 4,000 cookbooks in my library. (now I'm down to a mere 3,000 and dwindling:() It may sound like a cliche, but the store was truly a dream come true. I'm not going to write about my store right now as I would really like to include some photos which I don't have here with me in New York. But, I would like to revisit cookbook collecting. I declare, cookbook month should be every month. Heck, cookbook day should be every day! I'm not the only one that feels that way, I'm sure. What is it about cookbooks that ignites the fire in our souls? Some say, cookbooks are a window to the past, a culinary view of history, or an economic glimpse of our world. Does cookbook collecting begin with a love of books in general? Do they not provide a window to the past, views of history and also an economic glimpse of our world? My dear friend Walter runs a huge book store in Portsmouth, New Hampshire called The Antiquarian Bookstore. Last time I asked, he had over 200,000 books. I met Walter during a visit to New Hampshire many years ago when I was in search of a cookbook titled A Date with a Dish by Freda De Knight. We got off to a bumpy start. The chiming of the door bells was my first feeling that this bookstore was going to be "the one." Then there was the nameplate on the desk. Walter Wakefield, proprietor. Good. Rows and rows, stack and stacks books everywhere. I was in heaven. Now, my experience with bookstore owners runs the gamut. There are almost as many personalities as there are books. What was Walter's going to be like. The obvious introduction to me was simply.

"Any relationship to Ruth Wakefield" I asked quite seriously. (Ruth Wakefield of chocolate chip fame)

Barely lifting his head he quickly replied. "Yes."

I could hardly control my excitement but I could tell right away, Walter was a man of very few words. I decided to leave it alone and browse the many narrow aisles. As I approached the first cookbook aisle, I could "feel" Walter's presence upon me.

"Can I help you find something" he asked.

No, thanks, I replied cautiously. The man of few words spoke again. "Don't take any book off the shelf" he said very sternly.

Taken back by this request, my first instinct was to leave. Honestly, look but don't touch just doesn't cut it with cookbooks. I'm not sure it's good advice for any book seller to request.

"I would never do anything to hurt a book, especially a cookbook, I touted.

Once again, the door seemed like the path to follow but, I am a cookbook collector, I collect cookbooks and I wanted to find A Date with A Dish!

"I'm looking for a book titled A Date With a Dish by Freda De Knight probably published in the late 1940's. It's a cookbook", I added flippantly.

"I don't have it" he answered as he returned to his outdated Royal typewriter.

My heart sank. I had been looking for this book for so long and was told about Walter's store by a local bookstore owner. However, my local bookstore owner did not warn be about Walter's less then personable personality. I no longer wanted to be in that store and yet the books, all of them, tugged at me. Look at me, see my signatures, hold me, peruse me, feel me. It was as if they were all calling out to me. I felt like I was spinning. Who should I grab first? The aisles began to close it, the shelves appeared to be shooting right through the roof. Rather than pass out, I decided it was time to leave. As I headed toward the door, the man of few words once again spoke.

"I will find it for you."

I wrote my name, address and phone number on an index card with the title of the book I was looking for and I left the store. About 6 months later, I received a note from Walter. He was still searching for the book but had just gotten in a huge supply of American Cookery Magazines and wanted to know if I was interested in them. I had never heard of American Cookery Magazine then and was quite intrigued by his description. I went back to New Hampshire this time with my son, John and his friend, Mario. Walter, John and Mario hit it off immediately. They talked and talked about books for what seemed like hours. Walter was more than cordial he even invited us to his house to see his private collection. I got to see (and feel) his wife's extensive collection of antique cookbooks and the boys were able to actually see what a house filled with books from wall to wall from door to door looks, feels and yes smells like. It was wonderful! Eventually, I found out that Walter had just lost the true love of his life, his wife only 2 months before my visit to his store. He had been devouring the many books in his store to offset his insatiable loss and barely could lift his head. That was back in 1988. Last I spoke to Walter, he was running for office at Mensa, publishing a monthly newsletter and still trying to find me a copy of A Date With A Dish.

Resources

  • 1) American Children's Cookbooks
  • 2) The Antiquarian Bookstore

3 Nibbles:

T.W. Barritt said...

Louise - what a great story! I do enjoy how one blog inspires another, and particularly how we all find something of great value in endless shelves of cookbooks!

~~Louise~~ said...

T.W.

Thank you so much for visiting. Yes, I feel cookbooks bring so much more to the table than just recipes.

Peter Chen said...

Hi

Thanks for leaving a comment in my post Captions for images for blog posts and for your kind words. Glad the blogs helped you.

I have responded to your comment. I think I am going to add one more method.

Peter Blog*Star
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