Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Ground Score

I am a bona fide, true blue, thriftaholic, garage-estate sale-ing, street scrounging pack rat. Drives the DF nuts. I can't help it. There is nothing I would rather do than sift for precious nuggets of discarded goodness hidden in the massive mounds of crap that fill our wealthy urban environs, a veritable goldmine for us bottom feeders. In a city where the rivers of unwanted junk flow like a flooded mountain stream after a spring snow melt, you must have rules, otherwise you would end up buried under an avalanche of your own making like on that TV show about hoarders that I can't quite muster the courage to watch. Contrary to what my DF might tell you, I don't bring just any stray knick knack into my house. Like I said, there are rules.
  1. Don't purchase or pick up anything that needs to be repaired. I have occasionally made exceptions, like in the case of a good piece of furniture that just needs a bit of TLC, but for the most part I avoid this trap. I have learned through personal experience that these are the items that tend to cobweb up the house.
  2. Don't pay more than $10 for something unless it is super, super, SUPER cool.
  3. Don't buy something that is only "kind of" what you're looking for. Hold out for the real McCoy.
  4. Never pick up something off the sidewalk that cannot be washed or disinfected. 
Last week I broke the rules. On the walk home from picking up my daughter at school, I stumbled on one of those recipe collecting folders, lying on the sidewalk in a pile of mildewing clothing and random papers and books that were sullied beyond recognition. It had a great cover, circa 1981, of a country kitchen still life, complete with rolling pin and wire egg basket. How could I resist? Well, other than the fact that the folder and its contents were a touch damp from all the rains we've been having. I knew that taking this musty booty home would violate at least two of my above rules, but when I saw that most of the recipes contained real food ingredients rather than a load of processed, canned crud, I snatched it up and brought it home to air out. 

I pulled out the limp recipe cards with the kind of care reserved for handling antiques and spread them around the dining room and kitchen. What a find! As I meandered through the culinary world of this unknown soul who had discarded these recipes with as much thought as one might give to junk mail, I was struck by a pang of guilt as if I had stolen something that wasn't rightfully mine. All of these handwritten cards, yellowed with age and stained with use, seemed so intimate and personal. I inherited my grandmother's old, spill-splattered recipes and I treasure them above all of my cookbooks combined. They tell the story of the daily life of my family at a time when I was not around to share in the eat, drink, and conversation. These recipes are a soupcon of a glimpse into that world. I know what my grammy liked to cook based on how thick of a coating of batter is stuck to the page. It's a small thread connecting me to a person that I didn't have a lot of time with in this life. When I use my grandmother's recipe books, I feel as if I am cooking with her or touching some part of her and her life that is now gone.

So from where I'm standing, I can't figure out why someone would dump a bunch of well loved recipes in the street like a used tissue. Aren't other people the least bit sentimental for old family dishes or am I just corny that way? Well this eggnog pie looks positively delish so I'm more than happy to be an overly schmaltzy kind of gal if this personality quirk scores me some quality sh*#.

How about a lamb and lentil soup with beer?


  1. I'm proud of you...with hugs and tears.

  2. Absolutely, I am sentimental for old family recipes. I've inherited my mother's battered and worn recipe book, full of fading writing (pencil) and clipped recipes from just about everywhere. How very true that something as simple as food can connect us to our loved ones and our own pasts. Nice post.

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  4. you still have to show me the book with Celeste's or her mom's writing in the cookbook margin.

  5. If there are any gems in there, you should send them to Flynn deMarco's vintage recipe blog: http://mildreds-kitchen.com/

  6. Liz sent me over and this post has tears in my eyes, imagining how devastated I would be if I found out that someone had thrown away my mother's old recipes. This was an awesome find. I look forward to reading more. Oh! And thanks for the tips. Even though I am going to pick up something broken this afternoon. But it's free though!

  7. I found stacks of them at a garage sale last summer and couldn't pass them up. I love the handwritten notations and ratings!