Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Lost Recipes Come Home for the Holidays

Seeking to recapture fond holiday memories, many Americans turn to vintage and out-of-print cookbooks for holiday recipes that are a long-standing family tradition.

Every year comments like "For twenty years my Mom made a recipe from an old Crisco cookbook -- I have to have this book by Christmas!" send the experts at OldCookbooks.com scurrying to identify cookbooks and get them to their customers on time.

Cookbooks and recipes are lost to "fires, floods, and family feuds", says OldCookbooks.com owner, Eddie Edwards. Family feuds (usually friendly) over cookbooks are a common theme. "My daughter-in-law lost it; my husband got it in the divorce; my sister got it in the will..." are reasons commonly cited for missing recipes. Floods and fires are another reason given for a missing treasure.

"The holidays are our busiest season, not just for gifts, but for locating a misplaced family cookbook or a recipe that just HAS to made every year.", says Peter Peckham, who along with his wife "Eddie" Edwards, co-founded OldCookbooks.com.

The couple's hobby turned business relies on their extensive knowledge of 20th century cookbooks and their constantly changing stock of 15,000 cookbooks and recipe booklets. "If the customer can describe the book, I sometimes know immediately what cookbook they are searching for" says Edwards, "because nearly every cookbook that comes in the store crosses my desk." Other requests may mean years of searching. "Recollections are not always accurate and sometimes I'm off on a wild goose chase Right now I'm trying to locate a particular Spry cookbook for a customer who fondly remembers a "Fresh Apple Cake". But I've had no luck despite months of searching."

Sometimes the requests are urgent, bordering on desperate, indicating the power of a food tradition. Edwards recalls, "Last year, a customer asked me to call her cell phone on Christmas Eve if we were able to locate her cookbook." While you can probably find just about any recipe on the internet, owning and using the actual cookbook continues to be a meaningful ingredient of a holiday tradition.

Start a family tradition with this old recipe offered by OldCookbooks.com.

Chestnut Yule Log
(Bûche de Nöel aux Marrons)

A rich and relatively easy traditional French Christmas Cake.

1 1/2 pounds chestnuts
1/4 pound soft unsalted butter
4 squares bittersweet chocolate
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
candied cherries

Cut an X on the flat side of each chestnut and put them into a large pan of rapidly boiling water. Boil the chestnuts 30 minutes. Drain and peel them, removing the inner skins as well as the shells. Force the nuts through a food mill. Add the butter and the chocolate, which has been melted and blended with the water, sugar and vanilla. Beat until the mixture is thoroughly blended. Roll into a long thin log and wrap in buttered wax paper. Chill in the refrigerator for several hours.

Unwrap the log from the wax paper and place on a long serving platter Run the tines of the fork lengthwise over the surface of the cake, to give the appearance of bark and decorate with candied cherries and angelica.

-- from the 1954, Tante Marie's French Pastry translated and adapted by Charlotte Turgeon

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