On a summer evening, about 15 years ago, Vinny and Margie were hosting an outdoor dinner party. Sounds of laughter and conversation filled the air, as guests and their hosts enjoyed dinner, drinks, and each other’s company.

Maris H., of Ocean City, New Jersey, lived in the house next door during the summer seasons. As she heard the voices of the neighbors and their friends, she peeked outside the window and thought, “I want this.” I want this experience – the clinking of glasses, the laughter, the dishes of food placed on a dressed table, while friends sit side by side as candles burn down throughout the evening.

As the summers went by, Maris got to know Vinny and Margie and created memories cooking on the grill together and hanging out talking for hours while enjoying a bottle of wine. She enjoyed other experiences with them like the Hammonton Blueberry Festival, in Hammonton, New Jersey. In addition to the activities, this was where Vinny bought blueberries for the famous blueberry pies he makes each summer.

As a gesture of friendship and to honor her culinary aspirations, Vinny and Margie gave Maris a copy of their tried and true cookbook, Silver Spoon, used for many dinner parties. And there it began – her LIFELONG passion for old cookbooks.

Cookbooks can tell a story like any other classic. To Maris, it’s about the women, the times they lived through, the food culture, good friends, a sense of community, and the memories made with recipes. “In reading the cookbooks I understand these women. I have a little glimpse into their lives. The challenges are written in the ingredients and their successes are shown in their desserts. A chef works with what one has and these women fed their families using what was in their home.”

Today, Maris, a mother of two, buys old cookbooks at garage sales and flea markets. A closet in her house lovingly called “the cookbook nook” is where her treasures live. Maris reads them like she would read a novel – cover to cover – using her imagination to experience history unfold in front of her each time.

The cookbooks in her collection contain more than just recipes. There are hidden treasures such as forgotten items found within the pages or personal messages written within the covers.

The Good Housekeeping Cookbook is probably the oldest cookbook she has (copyright MCMLXXIII, or 1973). Within the pages are several loose items: a Caesars Boardwalk/Casino/hotel ticket, letterhead from Ocean City’s historic Flanders Hotel, a handwritten note, and random recipes. These items are clues that Maris uses to solve the mystery of who owned this cookbook. Did she live in Ocean City, like Maris? Where is she now?

Some of her cookbooks include handwritten personal messages inside the cover with wishes for the recipient – to make memories, to enjoy cooking, and to make enjoyable creations.

Each cookbook in her collection is a new and different experience for Maris. Her interest in old cookbooks is not only inspired by the relationship she has with them, but also by her love of cooking and the experiences she has shared with family and friends. She said when she cooks, that’s when she comes alive.

Maris attended culinary school and owned a business for several years. She started to cook around the age of 10 to help her mother, who was busy with five children, and because she had an interest in food culture. When Maris cooked, she talked out loud and pretended she had a cooking show like Emeril Lagasse. She laughs as she describes the scene. She was nicknamed the Cafeteria Lady by her siblings because she didn’t serve the food, she threw it on their plates.

Cooking and enjoying the magic of a meal seems to run in the family. Her Aunt Joanne had a catering business in the suburbs of Philadelphia. She gave Maris a bag full of recipes that Maris put in a recipe box given to her by her mother. The recipes were from cookbooks and originals created by her Aunt Joanne based upon ingredients in her house at the time.

These hand-me-down recipes, along with others selected by Maris, were inserted into recipe boxes for her sister and friends. She hopes that they cherish the sentimental value of the recipes as she does, and they use them to create memories in the future.

Like Silver Spoon, old cookbooks and family, or hand-me-down, recipes are a gift you can share and enjoy with others. I’ve posted an original recipe from Maris she hopes you enjoy. But the recipe is only one component necessary to create an experience associated with a meal. Here are some additional ingredients you’ll need to create some memories.

  • A dash of determination
  • A cup full of hope
  • A tablespoon of imagination
  • A group of friends and family

Now get in the kitchen and get cooking!

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