Tuesday, February 1, 2011

How It All Began

Their pages are yellowed  --  no, brown, the paper stiff with age. In handling either book, I have to take care not to let the paper crumble beneath my fingertips. One is a handwritten notebook of recipes collected from friends and relatives in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. 

It conjures up images of snow-covered hills, farm country where cows graze in fields where plows may turn up an arrowhead here and there.

The second, written in a foreign language that makes you think of tulips, windmills, and wooden shoes, bears the name of a publishing company in Rotterdam, Holland. The recipes include such food items as aardappelen, wortelen, uien, words which I decipher as meaning "potatoes, carrots, onions."

Both cookbooks are a hundred years old.

The Tale of Two Cookbooks is also the tale of my two grandmothers. The first book  --  the handwritten one  --  belonged to my Grandma Minnie, who was born on Christmas Eve in 1890. She spent her early childhood along the Erie Canal. Here's a picture of her as a young child on the balcony of the Lock Grocery in Fort Plain:

Minnie couldn't have been more than three years old then. She married my grandfather in 1912. They raised five children: four girls and one boy, who was my father, born at home in Fort Plain in 1920. 

The Dutch cookbook belonged to my mother's mother, Grandma Vandenbergh, who was born in the small village of Loosdrecht in North Holland in 1886. As a young adult, Elizabeth worked as a domestic servant for the local pastor, in hopes of saving enough money to pay her passage to America. Here's a photo of Elizabeth and her sister in their maids uniforms, about 1900. Elizabeth is on the right, her sister Hendrina at left. Note the starched caps and neatly pressed aprons:

Elizabeth married my grandfather Barend VandenBergh in 1911, and shortly afterward, they boarded a ship bound for New York, bringing with them a huge and heavy two-volume Dutch Bible  --  and of course, Elizabeth's cookbook.


  1. Yippee!
    I hope you can post more soon!

  2. Waiting for the next installment!


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