Friday, November 15, 2013

Marion's cookbook


This young woman is my husband's paternal grandmother, Marion. The photo was taken in the early 1940's, when she was in her early twenties. We have better pictures of her, but I like this one. She's at home, chatting on the phone. She was a sociable lady who always had lots of friends. She is sitting at the dining room table in the house where my father-in-law and his brother were raised, in San Diego, California. She was still a bride here, and had not had her sons yet. The house was small - just two bedrooms, a tiny galley kitchen, bathroom, living room and dining room. It was built by her own husband just before their wedding, and she made it very cozy. She loved to crochet, knit, sew, cook and bake. It was a happy home and she was much loved.

I never knew Marion; she died before I met the Bear. But everyone tells me that I would have gotten along with her and I think they're right. I visited her house many times when we went to see the Bear's grandfather, who lived there until he died in 2009. One of the best things about visiting the house was the chance to look around and see evidence of her love of homemaking and mothering; her husband kept everything, sometimes to his own detriment. There were blankets, quilts, tapestry pillows, table linens, bed linens, kitchenware, handmade toys and holiday decorations and photos, photos, photos.

Their home, photographed when the Bear was a child.

I'm sentimental in many ways, but this may be the most inexplicable: sometimes I feel nostalgic for a time I've never lived in. When I look at old things - clothing, books, housewares - my mind races with ideas that feel like memories. But they're not memories - they're hypothetical ideas about the lives of people I barely knew, or never knew at all. As a teenager, I kept journals just for writing about this; I'd see an old item and I'd have to scrawl out a history for it. I couldn't not think about old things this way, it was a compulsion. I feel this way about things I've been given which once belonged to Marion. I have some jewelry and books and crocheted afghans and knitted baby clothes, all of which I treasure. My favorite item is a cookbook which was published when she was young and given to me shortly before I got married. It's old and brittle, so I don't take it out very often anymore, but I can't resist an annual reading just before the holidays. It's very special to me and I'd like to share it with you.


This is Sunset's Kitchen Cabinet Cook Book, originally published in 1938. Mine is an original copy from a later printing, and it was much loved by Marion. I love it too. I feel really lucky to have this book, not least because I'm an avid Sunset reader today. This book is well-traveled; it started out in California, then went to Utah for awhile when Marion's husband was training pilots during World War II. Then it went back to California until my mother-in-law took it with her to Colorado and later, Arizona. Then it was brought to me in New York, and eventually I took it to New Mexico.


The cover has a type of cellophane layer over the paper; the cellophane layer is the part that is illustrated. It's flaking off both front and back, so I try to be very delicate with it. The book usually lives in the top of the cabinet where I keep my everyday dishes; it's under a small stack of other books to protect it.


The book has a spiral binding but the cardboard is beginning to disintegrate along the edges. It has to be opened very gently because bits are breaking off here too.



This copy is from the fifth printing, in 1942. I have never seen another copy of this book, but I always look when I'm in an antique shop which sells old cookbooks. This book would have been published when Marion was 21, married for about three years. She was married a week after she graduated from high school. It's difficult for me to imagine, even though I married pretty young for my own generation. But it was a different time, and by all accounts, it was a happy and loving union. He was a friend of her older brother, several years her senior. I have her high school yearbook, class of 1939, and it's interesting to read the handwritten messages from her friends, wishing her well with her marriage. It doesn't seem to have been remarkable to them; in their time, when you finished school you were grown.




Each page has one recipe illustrated in comic-strip style down the outer edge. I like the stylized 1930's/1940's ladies very much. When chopping or sauteing onions, these delicate beauties shed tiny tears, as above in the "Hamburger Pinwheels" illustration. They wear pretty dresses and fetching aprons when they cook - can you see why this book captures my imagination? For the most part, the recipes are dated - people don't cook this way anymore. There is seemingly boundless use of organ meat and animal fats and many of the recipes seem needlessly complicated. But one of the best things about this cookbook is that it was reader-generated; every single recipe was submitted by a woman living somewhere in the Western US (Sunset's target readership area) and each includes a small tidbit about the recipe in her own words, along with her name (always "Mrs." with initials - maybe her husband's?) and her location.



Some recipes have handwritten notes. They make me so happy. I feel like it's a way to know her a little bit. I have some other recipes, in cookbooks as well as scraps torn from magazines and newspapers, with her notes on them. Some of them pertain to holiday meals cooked when my husband was a child; I really enjoy knowing that she planned a long-ago Christmas dinner with his distaste for beets in mind. It helps me feel closer to him too; I sometimes have trouble coping with the idea that I haven't always known him. He's older than I am to begin with, so this is obviously silly, but I can't help it. I want to know what happened before I got there. I'm insatiably curious about other people - okay, I'm really nosy.


Some recipes seem too fussy, I think. Here's a recipe for "Ham Ring" which has a diagram for serving and which specifies that one use "a huge green pottery platter" for it. You also have to cook a separate "potato ring" for the second round of the arrangement. So fancy and so specific...it kind of makes my head hurt.


This is easily my favorite recipe in the book, though I have never actually made it myself. It's a recipe for "Circus Dogs," which are comprised of "wieners" (hot dogs) stuffed into bored-out potatoes and baked in the oven - or better yet, a campfire. The woman who submitted this recipe said that it was one of her husband's favorite dishes, first experienced when he ran away with the circus as a boy. The traveling circus folk would cook this in their campfires wherever they were spending the night. The recipe entails boring the potatoes the long way, then putting a hot dog inside. That's it. I think they probably would be very tasty. I don't necessarily feel that one needs to dress up quite so much for a dinner involving hot dog-stuffed potatoes but this could be a reunion dinner with the ringmaster himself.



There are a lot of leering, well-dressed men in this book. The way to a man's heart is through his stomach and all that, of course. These men certainly seem very happy with the dishes set before them, if you know what I mean...





Some pages have a little note under the heading "It's a Good Idea," offering tidbits of advice to the home cook. Some are useful, and some show the way dining as well as cooking technique have changed since this book was published. A "meat course"? "The mechanical refrigerator"? Pickle relish/peanut butter sandwich spread? It's very dated but I personally love having the opportunity to peek into culinary history this way: real people wrote these recipes and offered their own tried-and-true cooking tips.


I've only tried a few recipes from this book myself, including a butterscotch pie baked for comfort in the days immediately after 9/11. I've also tried a broiled-tomato-with-cheese "snack" (described as being a good one to serve "some night after your and your husband and another couple have been out to the pictures"), a basic yellow cake and a casserole, among a handful of others. Some ingredients are difficult, if not impossible, to find today. Other recipes, as I mentioned, seem a bit too complicated for my tastes, or the flavor combinations are questionable. They were written for a different time, when the Great Depression was at its lowest depths, or just ending, and people had a different relationship with food. I respect that. I find it fascinating too, in the same way that I enjoy learning about rationing during and after World War II and the make-do recipes of that era.

I'm really glad to have this book because it's a glimpse into a time which captures my imagination, and a lifestyle that I often find myself striving to emulate. And it's heartwarming and informative. I expect to haul it out at holiday time for many years to come. It gives me a lot of satisfaction to thumb through it and think about the ways in which my life has changed since I was first given this book, when I was an inexperienced homemaker, a clueless cook, a soon-to-be bride, an idealistic teacher - and still years away from the then-terrifying role of mother. I'm much more confident now but I always want to learn more.

Marion, a few years before she passed away.

I feel inspired by Marion, even though I never got to meet her. I have evidence of her love for home and family all around me, especially in the grandson who cherishes his memories of her. She did important work in a small corner of the world and she did it with all her heart. I'm proud to follow in those footsteps.

***************

Thank you for your kind words about the GB's illness this week. She's all better now and was back to school today.

Last call for my Birthday Giveaway! The entry period ends tomorrow and I'll announce a winner soon.

51 comments:

  1. Oh Jennifer this is such a wonderful post and written with such love and understanding of days gone by. I loved hearing about Marion and reading all the tidbits and notes in the recipe book. She sounded a lovely lady who was loved by all her family. Thank you for sharing this and giving us an insight into the history of the book. I'm pretty much the same - always asking questions and researching stuff. I've done lots of tracing family history and it can become quite addictive but love finding out all the little things that you'd never have known otherwise. Really enjoyed this post. Have a great weekend.
    Patricia x

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  2. I have a similar fascination with old cookbooks. My mother's family were farmers in Hamilton, and they cooked & baked simple fare. In complete contrast to your book, my favourites are family herilooms that hold really basic recipes (basic ingredients and simple preparation) and I remember many of them from my mom's cooking. My great-grandmother and great aunt held this one particular book and wrote little notes here and there (many recipes have "try" written beside them ... I hope they eventually did try them!). And because I like reading little notes from days gone by in cookbooks, I always write to my heart's content in my own cookbooks. Little changes to the recipes. I always mark it "good" if I liked the recipe. And often a note about when I used a certain recipe. Or "Sam's favourite" beside something my daughter enjoys. I really loved this post and thank you for sharing this special cookbook. I wonder if you would consider laminating the cover to preserve the illustration. Either at a copy place, or you can buy lamination paper ("contact paper") at the business supply store. If you wrapped it right around to the inside of the cover, it would protect it for another 40 years ;) Have a great weekend Jennifer! Wendy x

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  3. I love this post! I'm always looking for old cookbooks with handwritten notes inside. They are my favorite things to find. I sit and wonder about the person who wrote them, where they are now, if they're still alive, and what they were making the recipes for. They are true treasures, especially if you have some that family members wrote in. I write in all my cookbooks for this reason. Some day after I'm long gone, I hope someone is happy to find them and wonders about me too.

    Hope your daughter is feeling better and you don't get whatever it is!

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  4. What a very well travelled and loved book! I love those illustrations, they'd make a great book if it was republished today wouldn't they? Thanks for sharing! :)
    Jess x x

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  5. Jennifer. A nostalgic post just like mine about Charlie the evacuee. I so enjoyed your wonderful post giving a little insight into Marion's life and a bit of yours at the sand time. That book obviously gives you so much pleasure. Marion would be delighted its in such good hands. Love linda

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  6. It is so funny looking back at old cookbooks and the recipes they contain. I have one that is about as old as me that my Mum used for years, some of the things it contains are amazing, some in great detail such as how to sprinkle chopped parsley across the top of something, and then other really vague ones such as combine the ingredients and cook! Lovely though to have these things and the memories passed down in the family. xx

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  7. I find it so interesting that just seeing something sparks a need to journal a whole history about it. Fascinating! Enjoyed learning about Marion. It's lovely that you have her cookbook. Definitely some unusual recipes and a different way of eating back then. Not too sure about that relish and peanut butter spread. The illustrations are so fun. Have a wonderful weekend. Tammy

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  8. I was fascinated by this post, and I wish I could be sitting next to you, cup of tea in hand, reading and giggling about the recipes! What an absolute treasure - I love a good cookbook, it's like a time capsule of everyday life - and I completely understand how you would feel a connection with a person you never met and an era you didn't live in! Thank you for sharing...and I want more specifics of the circus-fare potato dogs! ;-) Chrissie x

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  9. What a great book. I love old cookbooks. They have a story to tell and you told Marion's well. Let's hope we can all leave our mark in some "small" way. I happen to think that caring for a family is no small thing and is the greatest career there is! I'm sure you feel the same way. Julie

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  10. What a lovely story, and that the cookbook is being used again, my favourite cookbook is a old edition Mary Berry cookbook, which was my father inlaws we found it when he passed x

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  11. I really loved this post, Jennifer - so interesting and written with great affection and insight into a woman you never met. I love this kind of cookery book, full of favourite recipes submitted by women who have cooked them many times for their family. My oldest cookery book was given to me by my parents as a childhood birthday present (at my request, I should add) but yours predates that by about 20 years. I also have a lot of my mother's reliable recipes in her own handwriting, written out for me when I was a 22 year-old wife and about-to-be mother. :-) See what memories your post has evoked!

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  12. I love this! I feel sentimental about things like this too and sometimes think I was born in the wrong time period. I have a few cookbooks from my Mom and she always wrote notes by the ones she treid too,

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  13. Its a really lovely thing to have, it was obviously treasured by her and its nice that you now get to do the same.

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  14. What a truly lovely and heartfelt post, Jennifer - I almost feel like I know Marion too. How blessed you are to have just a wee bit of her in that cookbook. Definitely something to treasure.
    Wishing you a happy weekend,
    xx

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  15. A lovely post. :) I wonder if anyone will ever look at my cookbooks in years to come and wonder what my life was like with them? x

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  16. What a lovely post! You really put your all into it! I wish I would have met Marion. This book is such a treasure, I wish I would have such an amazing find. Sometimes I also think back to stories from the past and wonder about how women did it back then. They made everything. I can't even sew a straight line on a machine! It's amazing. This book and the memories are definite treasures!

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  17. Jennifer,

    My first reaction to Marion's picture, as a young bride in the first photo was how much you resemble her! Am I wrong, or do you see what I mean? I find it uncanny!! Then, while reading about her cookbook, it struck me that your lives, although decades apart, seem peculiarly parallel, too, not to mention your hobbies and interests!

    I enjoyed reading about Marion and, like you, have always sensed an unexplained connection to eras that I did not experience, most notably, the early 40s, New England and California.

    Poppy

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  18. It's a lovely and emotional post. It looks a good and nice book full of nice feelings and love around it.

    Have a nice weekend!!

    Lluisa x

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  19. Oh, I love this post! How very fun! I really love the first photo of Marion in the 40's. Do you know why she is holding the phone with her elbow on the table? Because those dang things were SO heavy! haha. I just saw one at the auctions last week and picked up the received and laughed...it weighed about 5 pounds!

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  20. Like all your lovely stories, I settle in and am swept right along on the gentle tide of your melodious words! I loved seeing this cookbook and learning about Marion. The oldest cookbook I own belonged to my mother-in-law. It also names quaint ingredients but sadly, there are no pictures. It seems that "leering" men coming home to heartily devour what the "little woman" spent all day making was standard circumstances in those days!

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  21. You are so lucky to get to know Marion via the loving things she surrounded her family with. I just adore that first photo.. I was born in 1949 so I felt happy to see things from those days. What a fun cookbook! Did you know I've compiled, edited and published 2 cookbooks for the DAR? We collected recipes via email from around the world. ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

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  22. What an amazing story, Marion sounds so wonderful. I love that your fingers pass through the pages of the book just like hers did.
    It is a lovely book to have.
    Hugs to you and thank you for sharing this wonderful story,
    Meredith

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  23. How beautiful, I totally agree with you and also love the "stuff if life" that is so special. Old cookbooks are especially special xx

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  24. What a wonderful post Jennifer. Marion sounds like such an amazing woman. I know exactly what you mean about feeling a connection to women from the past. And I can see why the cookery book is such a treasured possession. Such a lovely story. I hope you all have a really good weekend.

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  25. Jennifer, this was such a wonderful post. I enjoyed the story behind it all. What an amazing story, and great pictures.

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  26. Hey Jennifer, such a lovely post! Thank you for sharing this beautiful story, not only was it a joy to read but it gave me food for thought... I have a handwritten cookbook of my nan's, it's sometimes hard to make out the words, and when i do, to work out why she chose to add that recipe to her book. But there are old family recipes that i recognize and still make today and it reminds me of my childhood days spent pottering in the kitchen with her. Towards the end our relationship was difficult, but reading her cookbook the happy memories come back and i'm happy I own it. it does make me feel closer to her.

    Glad to hear your daughter is ok now, by the way.

    Wishing you a good weekend,

    Cate, x

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  27. What a treat this post was ... that cookbook, I bet we're all a little green with envy, what a treasure. I have a book here that is a collection of recipes sent in to Farmer's Weekly through the 40s, and 50s. It is fascinating, but unlike your lovely book has no personal connection to me. Given how much I cherish it though it does help me to better understand just how much Marion's cookbook must mean to you :)

    Glad the GB is feeling better :)

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  28. What a lovely post, it put a big smile on my face this morning. I too am a sucker for nostalgia, and love to page through old cookbooks to get a glimpse into the past. I am lucky enough to own my grandmother's cookbook and I also take it out only on special occasions. I am glad to hear that your GB is feeling better :)

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  29. A lovely post, Jennifer - the top photo of Marion is just beautiful. It is obvious that the cookbook is very special to me, and I love that you look at it every year at holiday time.
    Marianne x

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  30. A fascinating post Jennifer. It was so lovely to learn a little more about your family, albeit extended. I too get really nostalgic for times I haven't even experienced or lives I haven't even touched. Like you I use to dream of living in years long by and a big part off still does. I have often wondered whether I was born in the wrong era, but I know now that even then I would have still looked back to wonder about the lives and worlds they lived in before me. I think it is the one reason I love antiques and old things, they have so many facets and so many stories to tell. I love that you kept a journal about these things and it sounds like you and Marion would have gotten on just fine. I'm sure that's possibly one if the reasons the Bear chose you, you're a wonderful mum, wife and homemaker. I really enjoyed this post, long may that book love and hopefully it gets to travel a little more. It's definitely one to treasure!! I have one that my gran gave me that was her food bible and I will always treasure it! Enjoy your weekend and I'm pleased to hear GB is feeling better. Xoxo

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  31. I have my grandmothers old Fanny Farmer cookbook and my mother's hand written recipe box. I cherish both of them and use my mother's recipes every Thanksgiving. It's a way for my kids to know her since they were never able to meet in person. I think recipes are a great way of passing memories down through the generations and my kids know exactly which recipes are from my mother and the stories that go along with them. This way she lives on through my kids even though she can't be here in person :)

    I'm glad that your little one is feeling better, having sick kids is always hard!

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  32. I loved this post, Jennifer! That cookbook is a treasure. It's like your husband's grandmother handed on a small part of herself to you. I wrote a similar post some time ago - I think it was before you started reading my blog. Here's the link in case you are interested. http://journeynorthof49.blogspot.ca/2012/07/just-one-thing.html

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  33. What a treat of a post, Jennifer! I share your love of these old recipe books and think of them as little pieces of social history, a glimpse into a different era. My mum has two recipe books that belonged to my Grandma and I'd love to get my hands on them. Both published in the 1950's, they are full of tiny waisted women in swirly skirts cooking amazing looking meals for their husbands. I'm not sure I'd want to eat anything in them but I love to pore over them. I also cherish recipes - especially handwritten ones - that are passed down to me from my family, or John's.

    Marion sounds great - I think you two would've gotten along well. x

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  34. What a great post about a fascinating book. It's almost like a 'time capsule'. Jx

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  35. I just love the photograph of Marion sat at the table talking on the telephone. I think it must be quite unusual to have candid shots like this. Most pictures are more formal and posed from that time don't you think. I wonder who she was talking to, and wht she was talking about.
    I do love these nostalgic posts of yours.

    Leanne xx

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  36. What a lovely post to read, Jennifer :) It brings back memories of my maternal grandmother. She listened to BBC Radio 2, including the Jimmy Young show, which included a recipe slot. After she died, my mother went through her various recipe books and papers and found several Jimmy Young Show recipes which she'd copied down (no internet for the recipes to be uploaded to in those days), to which she'd added her own notes and improvements.

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  37. What a wonderful post Jennifer, thank you for sharing about the lovely Marion and her caring, home-making ways. What a great recipe book that is, and such a treasure for you! Hugs, Joy x

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  38. I loved the first photo and that recipe book is fantastic. I love reading old recipe books, especially if hand written notes have been added. Such a lovely post, thank you. Julie x

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  39. What an awesome, nostalgic post! You are such an excellent writer and really know how to weave a story. I am totally serious: you need to submit this story to a woman's magazine. You could either do it as a regular query or for when magazines have an open call for writing contests.

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  40. I love that you have her cookbook. I too look for those things that have history and try to surround myself by them in our home. It is beautiful that you have so many pieces from her. And I just absolutely love that first shot of her. Times were more simple then. What I like about blogging is the sense that there is a bit of a resurgence of people who are refocusing on the home and crafting. Maybe pushing back a bit and trying to slow things down for our families and focusing on what matters! An absolutely wonderful post friend! You have reminded me of my grandmother's cookbook...thank you! Nicole

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  41. I am the same way about my Grandmothers. I love have their things that they used in everyday life. This is an awesome cookbook. Love your blog. I am your newest follower. Come by and say hi! :)
    ~Liz
    RoseVignettes.blogspot.com

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  42. What a lovely post! Marion sounds like such a wonderful lady, and I know the two of you would have gotten along so well. Old cookbooks are such a treat!

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  43. Wow what a cool book it looks great! Marion sounds like a wonderful person xx

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  44. I love that first picture of Marion it is so natural, what a shame you never met her. I share your love of old cookery books, I still have a hand written on from my mother in law and one my Dad gave my Mum on their 5th Anniversary. Some of the recipes are dated but both I treasure them never less.
    Sarah x

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  45. Books like that are a real treasure; I have a book that my Nanna used to bake from and now I use it and love it.
    Have a lovely week
    BH x

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  46. Jennifer, Another great post from you! Love your writing style. Thanks for sharing your special cookbook with us. I love the graphics and those tips were great. Can't imagine eating a pickle relish and peanut butter sandwich, but I like the brown sugar with biscuits idea! :) Like you said, it was a different time.

    The photo is my favorite, just priceless. Oh that wallpaper, the wall sconces, her dress and that vintage tablecloth! I think I was born in the wrong era, LOL. Thanks for sharing your special bond with Marion.

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  47. What a perfect little cookbook, and it's so old... I love stuff like that, and you know your husband must be so proud to have a wife that carries on his family memory... Your kids will benefit...
    I hope you have a wonderful week!
    Tammy

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  48. Such a lovely thing to have have, Looking at the drawing didn't those ladies dress up to cook.

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  49. what a beautiful post- i love all the stories and insight into Marion's cookbook. The photograph is such a snapshot of day in her life- what a great heirloom. Thank you for sharing:)

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  50. What a wonderful book to be given Jennifer........a wealth of history and a fantastic link to your husbands family. Marion sounds like someone I would have loved to know too, I especially love all her hand written notes through the book, it's wise to be gentle and extra careful while handling such an heirloom.

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  51. Touching story. I married an italian, and of course his family, :) My husband had an aunt (his father's sister) to which I became very close, more than I've been to my mother in law. Maybe because we share the love for crafts and reading. When she and her husband passed away, they left everything to their nephews. Emptying the house, the first things I picked up were all her sewing notions, her scraps and the tin box full of buttons and some of her books. Things that I treasure.

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