Monday, February 6, 2012

Every Book Tells a Story -- Even an Old Ledger!

         I've always been a pushover for old books...never met one I didn't like.  When you see them at estate sales and auctions, it's a little can't help but wonder if the person who owned them must have loved to curl up with them and get lost in the pages, for either a fascinating story, a wealth of information, even pictures of places and things they might never see.  At least there are usually other people like me who are always looking something special...something new to them...or maybe just something that piques their interest!
        That's what happened to me at an estate sale some months ago...two worn old ledgers with ragged pages all askew, the front cover completely off of one, pages looking to escape from another.  Couldn''t resist it...I had to see inside!

        The first page came off with the cover...there in the beautiful penmanship of a century ago were the words "Cash Account, April 1st, 1909"!!  Looking down the page there were entries very the bottom of that page it had moved into 1913!  That was enough for me!  I looked all over for a price that wasn't there and finally asked one of the ladies in chargewhat they wanted for it. 
        At first she looked rather stunned that anyone would be interested (!) then very apologetically asked if $5 would be too much!  Oh, little did she know!!!  I could hardly wait to get home and see what all was there!

         I showed them to my husband while I was taking care of some other things...after a few pages, he was beginning to wonder if these might have been the books for a long ago restaurant or bakery.   After the first few pages of rather mundane expenses, there were pages upon pages of recipes, mainly for desserts and occasionally salads, etc.  Then came lists of income from sales:  starting in June 1932 there were dates with the number of items sold and the price received....sometimes with the ingredients' costs in another column.  As it turned out, it really was a bakery of sorts...after reading page after page of the ledger, I came to the conclusion that this must have been a church women's group...and bake sales were a big part of their fund-raising efforts over the years!
        The second book yielded a large number of yellow legal pad pages where someone had tried to organize the wealth of recipes that had been accumulated.   Some of them note whose recipe it was...with the notation (sometimes) that it was "good" or "very good"!   It has been great fun reading through these...and from time to time I'll probably share some of the "very goods" with you. 

        These long ago ladies (a good many of them I would suspect since the ledger covers a number of years) seemed to be dedicated...and in that era good cooking and baking was an expected skill, an art form at times, and a matter of pride for the homemaker.  They would have marveled at the culinary assets we take for granted!   All this baking was done on ranges and in ovens we only see pictures of today.  Obviously none of these treats came out of a box either!
        Old cookbooks are a trip through the past in themselves...these tattered old ledgers give us an entirely different picture as well!

        For instance, at a June 1932 sale, 3 dozen cookies sold for $.60, 2 dozen cupcakes for $.50.  Their total revenue was $43.94...the cost of their groceries $18.97.    At the end of the day 117 dozen cookies, cupcakes, and coffee cakes (cinnamon rolls? maybe) and a one-layer cake were sold to bring in the $43.94!  

        There are references to dues paid to the Epworth League (varying amounts from $.50 up) and from time to time a rather substantial amount to the Fillmore Music House: $11.45.  Since I was a florist for many years, I was really interested in the amounts for flowers (usually at the same time invitations were sent out) that started at $2.50 and went up in the later years to $5.00 (for a centerpiece perhaps?)  
        The most I've been able to find about Fillmore was that it was in Cincinnati, Ohio as well as New York City.  
        The Epworth League was formed in 1889 at Cleveland, Ohio as a Methodist young adult association (18-35).  Today it has many branches and quite a few members, but at the time these ladies were baking it was still a young growing organization. 
        Some of the yellowed newspaper clippings in the second ledger are from a newspaper in Cleveland, Ohio, so perhaps our weary ledgers have not only survived a lot of years but had traveled from Ohio to Tulsa, Oklahoma sometime along the way!

         I'm sure that none of those long ago ladies ever thought that "their" recipes would still find the light of day almost a century later.  If they had known that this would come to pass, I'm sure that a few at least would have said, "Of course, you'll have to try Mrs. X's's very good!" 
         And so we will!

 Grandma's Apple Nut Squares  (Doris)  Good!
 1 beaten egg
 3/4 c. granulated sugar
 1/2 tsp. vanilla
 1/2 c. sifted flour
 1/4 tsp salt
 2 tsps. baking powder
 1 cup chopped unpared tart apples
 1/2 cup walnuts
 Combine egg, sugar and vanilla. 
 Sift together dry ingredients, add to egg mixture and blend well.
 Stir in apples and nuts.
 Spread in 8x8x2" pan.  (greased, I suspect?)
 Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until done.
 Cut in squares.  Serve warm with ice cream or cream. 
 Makes 6 servings.

           Thank you, ladies!