by Carol Peszka
I confess! I’m a collector. It all started out so innocently with a wedding shower gift, the iconic cookbook “The Joy of Cooking” (written in 1931 by Irma S. Rombauer, a homemaker in St. Louis, Missouri, and published in 1936 by Bobbs-Merrill Company; it has sold more than 18 million copies.)
I found out that with a husband working full-time and going to night school three days a week to pursue his degree in mechanical engineering, I had lots of time to practice recipes. Then the children came, first one and then another. Forty-eight years ago,
There wasn’t much variety in the way of baby food. So I applied my newfound cooking talents to tickle the palates of my toddlers. With Christopher, I found a willing victim; with Laurie, not so much.
The next two children became even less interested in my epicurean talents. Could it be that McDonald’s had found its way into mainstream America without my realizing it? Fast-forward to life with six grandchildren and days that are supposed to be retiring. I have found that grandkids still love fast food, especially the Happy Meals.
My “Joy of Cooking” still lingered on my book shelf, its pages ravaged by years of trying various recipes. Even though I had much sentimental attachment to this masterpiece, l wanted to bring new delights to family and friends with experimental salads, dinners and desserts. I wanted Emeril, Rachael Ray, Ina Garten, Mario Batali, Tyler Florence and Paula Deen.
At one point I even considered Julia Child until I watched the movie “Julie and Julia.” French cooking was just too involved. My “Bucket List” became an obsession of luscious lasagna, mouthwatering bouillabaisse and tongue-tingling tiramisu.
And then I found a treasure trove in Chestnut Hill that answered all my problems, The Green Tree Thrift Shop at 8811 Germantown Ave. tucked in behind the Women’s Center open on Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. They had cookbooks. Lots of cookbooks. New and used cookbooks. Cookbooks that were family heirlooms that had lovingly added Cliff’s Notes-like comments in the margins tweaking the recipes to make them perfect.
And then I became addicted. I started to explore the surrounding areas and found a wonderful place called NEW LIFE in Glenside. With its ‘“Price is Right” mentality, books were a bargain. I then found Impact and its four stores well stocked with more books than I could imagine. The Impact stores are in Montgomeryville, East Norriton, Feasterville and Hatboro. I frequent them all but don’t tell my husband.
Then nirvana appeared in the guise of Harvest Books in Fort Washington. I found I had to sneak the books into our house and hide them. At our age, my husband felt we should be down-sizing, not adding to our bookcase.
Then came the magazines with all those wonderful recipes just waiting to be experimented with. Martha Stewart, Gourmet, Bon Appetite, Good Housekeeping, Family Circle. The clippings were everywhere, on the refrigerator, in accordion-pleated files and in drawers. The internet became my daily devotion with cooking.com and Food Network spewing untold recipes through the cable channels virtually every night and day.
As each new recipe was tried and tasted, I found my waistline expanding, so my friends and neighbors became the victims of my largesse. I began to wonder why they didn’t answer the door when there was clearly a car in the driveway.
So now my foodie experimentations are being foisted on a five-year-old granddaughter who is a natural at making chocolate chip cookies, Jello, pudding and chicken nuggets. I have found, at my age, that there is still lots of the joy of cooking!
Carol Peszka and her husband, Frank, have lived in Erdenheim for 37 years. Carol will celebrate her 70th birthday on Aug. 9, when this issue of the Local comes out.