The Tattered Old Cookbook

The tattered old cookbook is faded and so badly worn,
The binding is broken and many of the pages are torn.
It's some woman's life story that I hold now in my hand,
A Household Searchlight cookbook, a bible of the heartland

Her life is found scattered all through this old book
I find something new and different every time I look.
She has long ago left this worldly life of toil far behind
But, her little record she left in this book for me to find

Little penciled check marks by some of the recipes, she had
Not sure if that meant they were very good or very bad
Little cleaning hints from days that will never come again
Only how I wish she had just written her name within

Printed in the depression years when times were bad,
This was probably the only cookbook the woman had.
Old time cooking, the recipes she'd tried true and sound,
But the best were the ones she herself had written down

On flyleaves front and back were recipes she had made
Elise's chicken dish, "very good, served at my Ladies Aid".
And here's another from a friend that she had once gotten,
"Tried Betty's hot dish, is not so hot", this is best forgotten.

Bought for two dollars at a flea market so many years ago
This tattered old cookbook of a woman I will never know.
Lots of women's names are scattered all through the book,
But not the name of the owner, no matter how hard I look.

From those days of an era that have long passed away,
Of cooking hints and foods unheard of in our modern day
When I hunger for dishes my Mother made, I will go and look
And chances are, I will find it in this tattered old book

Copyright Roger Eugene Corell
August 2000
All rights reserved

About the poem, THE TATTERED OLD COOKBOOK, In the
1930s and 40s a magazine " The Household " was a popular
women's publication. It contained recipes and household tips
on cooking, cleaning and family life in general. In 1931 they
published a cookbook made up of some of the recipes readers
had sent in and those of the magazine staff. It was called The
Household Searchlight Recipe Book. I don't remember when
my mother got hers but it was in her kitchen for as long as I
could remember. I remember my mother using it all during my
childhood. In later years my sister Marilyn lifted the cookbook
from my mother's kitchen. After I married I tried to talk my
sister out of the cookbook many times but to no avail. I had
given up ever finding another after looking in old bookstores
and antique shops for years.

One weekend in the summer of 1990 my wife and I were camping
near Burr Oak, Iowa. Along with my mother and father in law, we
stopped at a flea market on the main street of Bur Oak. There
on one of the tables was a well preserved (for all of its hard use)
Household Searchlight Recipe book. I promptly brought it for
the princely sum of two dollars. I have been exploring it along
with its handwritten cooking tips and recipes ever since. It's a
most interesting cookbook because of all the personal handwritten
notes and copied recipes of the woman's friends. I have always
wondered who this woman was but sadly she didn't write her name
in the flyleaf. Her identity will always remain a mystery.

We recently looked for and found a method for making home canned
beef in a pressure cooker. This tattered old cookbook is still useful
even in its old age.

Roger Eugene Corell, September, 22, 2002

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Music: "Autumn Harvest"
Musician: Janis Wilson
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