Cookbook Obsession: The Beginning

[Note: this is a guest post from my son, Christopher.]

Let’s start with two recipes from Rare Collection: Superb Recipes by The Junior League of Galveston County (1985)—one for moussaka and one for brisket.

photo of a two-page cookbook spread, with recipes for moussaka, deluxe cherry brisket, and steak marchand de vin

This cookbook originally belonged to Lorna’s maternal great-grandmother, and then to Lorna’s mom, Judy, and then to Lorna who took it when she moved out of her parents’ house. She’s cooked a variety of things from it over the years, but particularly the moussaka—most recently last December, which is when I first noticed the brisket recipe on the opposite page.

Season brisket with soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Okay, sure. Sprinkle Lipton onion soup mix, rosemary, caraway seed & celery seed onto brisket. Initially, the soup mix threw me off, but it’s basically a spice mix, so whatever. It’s the last step—where you put the drippings from the brisket into the bottom of a pan, layer the (cold) sliced brisket on top of it, and dump a can of cherry pie filling on top before baking the whole mess another half hour or so—that caught my attention in a wtf kind of way.

That recipe, and browsing through other recipes in the book as Lorna cooked, sparked a new obsession for me. I ordered a few other used Junior League cookbooks that evening (Dallas, Palo Alto, and Colorado), and several others in the following weeks. And more since: I have a cookbook called The Melting Pot: Ethnic Cuisine in Texas, which was compiled by UTSA’s Institute of Texan Cultures. My mom picked up a stack of cookbooks at a garage sale several weeks ago, including two that were evidently fundraisers for the Sherman School Food Service Association. I found a bunch at an antique mall in Denison last weekend, but only came home with four, ranging from a long-defunct Dallas restaurant to an RV park in Harlingen, Texas.

I’m still trying to figure out what’s behind my interest in these cookbooks, but I think a big thing is a curiosity about how recipes travel and change over time, and from context to context and kitchen to kitchen. I plan to write a guest post here once a week or so—look for one on braised celery next—but I’ll also be writing at inscrutable.substack.com, if you want to follow along in more depth. In the coming months, I’ll be putting out calls for favorite family recipes, as well as variations on particular themes. I look forward to hearing from y’all!

11 thoughts on “Cookbook Obsession: The Beginning

  1. Uh, duh! Cherries are ALWAYS appropriate! Lol!
    Years ago, when I was a young newlywed, an older neighbor introduced me to Southern Living. Rarely, if ever, was there a bad recipe. Some time in the early ‘90s they offered a subscription to Junior League cookbooks. Those ladies were excellent editors. Recently, I was going through my collection of cookbooks and found one that must have come from my grandmother’s collection. It was from a similar ladies club in Mexico, so it’s in Spanish. It’s very interesting in that it is very cosmopolitan- lots of international recipes with stories of how they came to be in each of their families.

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    • Lorna has an aversion to processed or artificially-flavored cherry … anything, so canned cherry pie filling is right out in our house. But I have a friend who spritzes his brisket with Dr. Pepper, so I get that the flavors work for some people. I might someday make the brisket with fresh tart cherries, if the stars align.

      The cookbook from Mexico sounds really interesting! I don’t read or speak any Spanish, but I have a feeling I’m going to acquire a few Spanish-language cookbooks at some point anyway—a huge influence on the cuisine in this part of the country.

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  2. I love old cookbooks. Especially when you see people’s notes giving it a review or what they did differently. Church cookbooks are great. So excited to see your next post.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love cooking talk. This is off topic but I am lactose intolerant and love the older recipes that do not use canned soup. I have not found a substitute for sour cream and cream cheese that taste decent to me.
    The brisket recipe ingredients will make a divine combination of flavors!

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    • We eat gluten-free, so I definitely understand the challenge of finding substitutes. We’ve found a vegan cream cheese that works well in enchiladas (Tofutti or Miyoko, maybe both), but they are more expensive than the real thing.

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  4. Did you try the brisket? How was it? I have found that most of the old recipes I tried to reproduce were not nearly as good as I had remembered. Seems our knowledge and access to spices have improved so much since the 50’s . Too, most of our recipes are so much healthier.

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    • Haven’t tried the brisket, no. And I definitely understand your point about spices and seasoning—in general, I take those parts of recipes to be suggestions rather than rules, and never measure spices. So I’m not going to be recreating these recipes faithfully, so much as reinterpreting them (we have to eat whatever I cook, after all!).

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  5. Old cookbooks are such fun. 20 years ago I had at least 20+, but sold them when we made a major move. Still have several – one from Eastern Star when I lived in KS, one from a company my husband used to work for and one called Texas Tastes and Tales. There are always great recipes in those old books. So . . . if you want to add to your collection . . .

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    • I would love to browse the Texas Tastes and Tales! And if you’re looking to send the books on to a new home, I’d be more than happy to have them. My email is hcgoldsmith at gmail, if you want to drop me a line there.

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