Friday, October 28, 2005

Family Favorites in Print

“This roast duck is really good, Grandma. Will you tell me how to make it so crispy?” Visions of future duck feasts evaporated quickly after the holiday meal at Grandma’s house. As usual, thoughts and conversations had turned to a dozen different things after the table was cleared. The requested “duck instruction” was forgotten. Maybe next Christmas they’d remember.

“Nobody makes strawberry shortcake like you do, Mom! How do you keep the shortcakes so nice and moist?” The same words were spoken, time after time, as the family returned home from distant places for summertime reunions. “You can help me next time and make some notes,” Mom said. And the plan was set – maybe even implemented – to record Mom’s shortcake expertise for posterity. Or was it forgotten, set aside, deferred for “another time” that never came?

A recent browse through one of my favorite bookstores confirmed that some people DO, in fact, follow through on plans to commit favorite family recipes to print. The bookstore that produced this little gem of a cookbook is the used-book store at my neighborhood library.

The Friends of the Library organization, composed of volunteers with more than the usual amount of love for books, accepts donations of used (and new) books, sorts them, classifies them, shelves them in whatever space the library can make available, mans the sales desk and contributes all of the proceeds to the library.

As you can imagine, the stock is constantly changing and timing of one’s expeditions to the store is critical. Everything depends on who has donated what – and when! The Ingredient Sleuth’s bookshelves slump at the thought of missed opportunities – and under the weight of the opportunities seized!

But now, let’s get back to the little gem of a book that I found and brought home with me. CHINESE HOME COOKING, by Mina C. Yu, shows no date of publication. As the photo above shows, it is a small book, hardcovered, in format. It has only 104 pages and was printed by the First National Printing Company, Ltd. in Hong Kong.

No publication date is given. A quick check of Amazon indicated one used copy available, as a "rare find" and the publication date was listed as 1955. Of course, even before checking the Web, I knew that the publication had to be prior to December, 1959 – a handwritten greeting, in blue ink, on the first page reads as follows:

“December 1959

Dear Mrs. Lee,

With my warmest regards and best wishes.

Fely Go”

This personal greeting, from one friend to another, exemplifies the charm – and hint of mystery -- that accompanies the purchase of a used book. Were Mrs. Lee and Fely Go relatives or friends? Probably they were not relatives, because of the formal means of address. Perhaps Mrs. Lee was a teacher and Fely was her student? Or Mrs. Lee was a beloved neighbor? Sleuths wonder about such things!

Half-a-dozen color photographs of completed dishes are spaced throughout the book. Each looks as if it is a “snapshot” taken at a dinner table, filling only a portion of the page (with blank space consuming the balance of each page) and having the aspect ratio of a home photo. I am immediately reminded of my own photographic efforts to get a photo “just so” to post on the Ingredient Sleuth blog!

The introduction to the book is written by Felicia Roxas Tanco, who describes herself as a friend of the author. She testifies to the delicious-ness of Ms. Yu’s cooking and the popularity of her dinner parties in Manila, the Philippines.

The recipes in the book are Ms. Yu’s interpretations of a variety of Chinese classic dishes and represent various regions of China. They are basic, home-style versions of dishes that Ms. Yu took the time to write down. They use basic ingredients – and a limited number of them – just as all, good, home-style dishes do.

Ms. Yu says, in the preface, that her friends encouraged her to commit her cooking expertise to writing. She did just that – and dedicated the book to those friends. Probably, this charming little book is self-published. The last page of the book has a printed, pasted-in card with spelling corrections referenced by page and line number – a delightful touch.

I feel fortunate to have discovered this copy. I wonder, at the same time, how many were printed. Perhaps it was a very short printing run, with the distribution meant solely as a remembrance for good friends. I feel as if I am part of the group gathered ‘round Mina Yu’s dining table. I can almost hear someone say, “Mina, you should write down how you make all these wonderful dishes!”

The Ingredient Sleuth, for one, is grateful that she did!



Lara said...

Beautifully written!

carolyn said...

Lovely story and good idea for those of us who are cookbook hunters.

kristi said...

I'm working with mom to try to recreate some of her mom's recipes form Sweden. It's really fun to share those memories that come to mind while we are working on it. I'm really learning a lot besides the recipes.

Anonymous said...

Chinese cookbook bought today at my library used bookstore isn't a rare one like yours but just what I wanted. And it was only a dollar!!!!! Thanks for the great idea!!!!!

Anonymous said...

This is very interesting way to learn about other countries food.