Cookbook Keepers: Page 13

Cookbook buys seldom travel. Two fates await a cookbook.
It reposes on a collector's shelf, or it becomes part of an estate and handed down to next-of-kin.

Teaser: When a mother-in-law or a mother passes to that great kitchen in the sky, they have their own generations-old cookbook collections. Therein is a problem. Such collections have more than monetary value. They have sentimental values for all concerned beneficiaries. Siblings inherit the stacks. How those cookbooks are divided is this story. Keeper Neal Piek knows the value of his cookbooks and recipes.

Neal Piek
Authority: Depression Era Recipes
Family Historian

Retired, U. S. Air Force
Reynoldsburg, Ohio

During his 38 years in the military, Neal Piek, an aircraft mechanic on lengthy missions around the world, survived on food rations that made him want to make it home. Nestled between pallets of maintenance parts and tools he was munching on government rations and box lunches three at a time on long-mission propeller aircraft. He says air base mess halls all had their own unreal flavors. Even restaurants for extended stays were not too appealing to a gent thinking of home cooking. When missions ended he looked forward to his wife's home cooking. Eventually Piek in civilian life put wife Mary's cookbook collection to use himself.

Piek proves there is a common thread among cookbook collectors. In flight touchdowns, USA and abroad, he was attracted to cookbooks. He picked up cookbooks, not the gothics or who-done-its. They are now part of the family's cookbook shelves. Piek is now the chef of the house. His culinary source repository actually dates back generations. Make that almost a hundred years. The stash around the home includes his mother-in-law's cookbooks and recipes. Some date to 1911. She is his Wisconsin connection where the Piek collection originated. And Wisconsin the state has a great recipe history.

About those recipes: "Oh, I have maybe a hundred thousand in the basement." They're in folders, stuffed individually in cookbooks, adrift on all home levels. His recipe attention for his wife's saves is being better served. "I'm trying to replace the original 5-by-8 cards, putting the recipes into a family cookbook."

Piek has 50-plus cookbooks. His cookery magazines prove he's a serious recipe collector. His most used are tattered cookbooks published by Better Homes and Gardens. As always with big presses churning out cookbooks for a changing generation of users, Piek's favorite remains a first edition Favorite Desserts. 1961. The frayed condition prompted him to buy a later date...but he continues to flip the older pages.

One of Piek's valued Keepers is his 1794 book on grafting and caring of fruit trees, a hand-me-down, of course. Part of Piek's pride is heavily stamped Wisconsin...a 1930s Monroe County cookbook. Noting that recipes "are only as good as the ingredients," he continues to shop three states away for familiar Penzey's Spices and product from Widmer's Cheese Cellars, all that fit Wisconsin recipes from around 1911.

Wisconsin has a great history when it comes to good cooking, survival cooking, a kinship to what has been dubbed Depression cooking. Although it pre-dates Herbert Hoover's four-year term as president (1929-1933), The Settlement Cook Book, The Way to a Man's Heart, by Lizzie Black Kander, was published in Milwaukee in 1901. In 1947 the 28th edition was published and remains a keeper for people who own one.

One of his prides is a 1918 edition of a Wisconsin cookbook that should be updated. He says "it tells you how to survive a depression...it gives advice on how to stretch what food you have." He calls it "stretching recipes." There's a timely name for his cookbook composed from those scattered recipes in the basement.

Piek's favorite:
Better Homes & Gardens Casserole Cook Book
Plus One-Dish Meals
Publisher: Meredith Corporation
c 1961

Contents for the cover-mentioned One-Dish Meals include cooking gear, casseroles, skillet meals, use of leftovers and whole-meal sandwiches.

A runner-up in the Piek kitchen:
Our Favorite Desserts,
Favorite Recipes of Home Economic Teachers, 2nd Edition

Publisher: Recipes Press
c 1967; Reissue 2003

This book's collections comes from an important part of America's cookery history. For too long higher education folk in academia have sought to low-rent the title....home economic teachers. The publisher has packaged in a ring binder more than 2,000 dessert faves in black and white photos, thus dating a great era when most of our food was prepared and consumed in the home.

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