Old Books Have More Than One Tale To Tell
I came across an old book the other day.
I was going through my bookshelves to see if I could find any books to recycle. This is not an easy job for me as I love the feel and smell of books. But, space dictates that if I want to add to my library I must first pare down what I already have.
My love of books goes back to my childhood when the 'bestest ever' birthday present was a book voucher! This, to me, meant double the pleasure, as I could go into the shop knowing I had the means to purchase and browsing until I found exactly the one I wanted. The second pleasure, of course, was taking my purchase home and anticipating the hours of entertainment I would get out of it.
Anyway, I digress. I found the old book amongst family bibles and a few other books I had inherited from my grandfather. It is rather tattered and worn with the front cover coming loose. Stamped in gold leaf on the spine and front cover are the words "Shaw's Diary 1864". It is an almanac, the first 80 pages or so are printed with data of various kinds, legal, Parliamentary, Church feast days, University terms (Oxford and Cambridge), astronomical data etc.- I guess a Wikipedia or Google of its day!
After the printed section comes the diary itself, one day to a page. It was obviously never utilized as a diary because a lot of the pages are filled with handwritten recipes. On the flyleaf is the name and address of my aunt, with the date March 1916 and the notation "Cookery Book". I found this very poignant and a shiver went up my spine.
My aunt lived until well into her 90's and I only remember her as an older lady. However, family photos show her as a beautiful woman and according to oral family history she had a fiancé who was killed in World War I. She never married, although I am sure not from lack of suitors.
Instead, she worked outside the home, looked after her mother and spinster sister, sang in her church choir for over 60 years (I have the medallion to prove this) and generally got on with her life; one which she did not choose but was dictated by circumstances.
Back to the book.
The recipes are mostly handwritten and contain some ingredients which are frowned upon today like lard and suet and old-fashioned measurements like gills and gallons need thoughtful conversion.. They range from cakes to jam and even homemade wine. Towards the end of the book we find newspaper clippings of household hints, and tips that a new bride would need to set up housekeeping.
This book, obviously, was compiled over quite a long period of time, in anticipation of my aunt's marriage and being mistress of her own home. I wonder what bitter-sweet memories it invoked as she used it in later years. Use it she did because the handwriting changes towards the end of the book with the addition of more modern recipes.
The following "Tips on Cooking the Perfect Chip" is from "Home Chat" May 1932 but is still regarded today as the best way to get delicious crunchy chips, even though we use oil now instead of lard.
"Fried potatoes, or shall be call them chips
"Lard of the purest, is my fry. I cut my chips on the large scale, and it takes me ten minutes to dry them in a teacloth. My lard must boil first.
"And now for the secret of the perfect chip. Just as they show signs of browning, ever so slightly, I take them out with a fish-slice, put them in a colander, and take them quickly to an open window, or into a draught of cold air.
"After half a minute I plunge them back into the boiling lard. And hey, presto! They puff up, and the result is a dish of chips that are crisp on the outside and have an 'air pocket' between the outside and a floury interior."
This is just one of the treasures I found in the old book, which now takes pride of place in my Family History section. It is not just the contents of a book which can make it special, but the memories it conjures up each time you handle it. As you can see the book is well-loved (to put it mildly) and unless you knew the history behind it, would be one of the first to be thrown into the recycle bin. The old adage, 'Don't judge a book by its cover' is so true.
Do you have any books in your library which are precious to you because of the memories they invoke?
A Life Changed Forever
History has recorded the enormous military losses of World War 1, but not so much is written about the families left behind, and the generation of young women who were denied the chance to have a family because they lost a much-loved husband or fiancé. This is just one instance of a life changed forever, far away from the battle lines.