A box that holds more than just recipes
The small box was nondescript – plastic with a black and chocolate brown-muddled grain – and looked like many of the others that turn up in box lots at auction. It was a recipe box, and I was hoping that it also contained mementos or other little tidbits of the lives of the woman who owned it.
Old recipe boxes are like mini-cookbooks without binders – history books that tell me so much about the tastes, culture and foods that were prevalent during the owners’ lives, and how much our lifestyles have changed. I like old cookbooks – many companies handed out their own for years to advertise their products – for the same reasons.
This little plastic box was stuffed tight with faded index cards bearing handwritten and typed recipes, alphabet dividers, along with recipes torn from food boxes and clipped from newspapers. An unused 8-cent Eisenhower stamp (it first came out in 1971) was lying in the bottom of the box.
Combing through the box was like going on a treasure hunt, me turning card after card looking for the personal items that the owner may have tucked away as keepsakes. I didn’t have to look for long, because I soon came across small folded papers and photos between the cards. These items indicated that the contents were 30 years apart: the 1940s and 1970s.
It made me wonder if the box was owned by the same person or bequeathed from a mother to a daughter.
It contained a photo of two smiling women posing on a main street in a big city. On the back was inscribed: “1942. Age 21. While working at Dun & Bradstreet Inc.” There were also two negatives of three women posing in front of a tree in what looked like a park or a big back yard, and another of one of the three straddled in the trunk of a tree. Another photo showed a woman in a flowery dress posing in a wooded area.
The box also contained other pieces of paper, including a 1974 copy of a guarantee for a Caravelle watch, a 1974 Post Office receipt for a parcel and costs for potential vacation trips (San Fran/Hawaii/Las Vegas, $499).
The most interesting were three index-card-size sheets of a budget handwritten in pencil showing the cost of living in the 1940s and how meticulously the owner had budgeted her meager salary. This was about a decade after the Depression, and I’m sure most people were very cautious about finances.
The budgets were for 1 week, 14 days and 16 days. Another sheet was titled “Dad owes me, Jan. 1,” “Mom owes me,” and “I owe Betty.” The circumstances of these payments were not clear.
Here’s some of what was on the sheets:
Gross pay: 50.00
Withholding tax: 6.00
Wage tax (she probably lived in Philadelphia, which instituted a wage tax in 1939): .50
Dad owes me:
From first lot of cheese
He paid me for the second lot.
Sliced cheese: .35
Mom owes me:
Lamb chops: .50
I owe Betty:
Toe Rubbers & bag (I had never heard of toe rubbers, but they were used to cover the toe of high heel shoes. A 1939 newspaper ad for JC Penney’s in Spokane, WA, showed an illustration of them selling for 59 cents each: “Assure yourself of dry feet. Ample protection from wet, slippery sidewalks with these neat convenient women’s toe rubbers. Easy to put on. Easy to take off. No extra weight here.”)
Carfare @ .21: 3.36
Lunch 13 days: 5.74
(Postum was a breakfast drink made by Postum Cereal Co. It was a non-caffeine drink that was a coffee substitute, made from wheat, molasses and more. It can still be purchased online and in some stores.
Wax paper, mustard etc: .10
Time (magazine) (2): .30
Life (magazine) (2): .20
Gum (magazine) (2): .10
Pleasure, postage, etc: 2.00
Health, dentist etc: 2.00
Bank carfare: .15
Here’s a recipe from the box:
1 c. raisins
1 c. sugar
1 c. water
4 tbsp. shortening
Stir, cook and let boil slowly for eight minutes, then cool. Sift together 2 cups flour (make soft batter)
1 tbsp baking powder
1/3 tsp. soda
¼ tsp. salt
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp allspice
1/3 tsp cloves
Mix with cooked raisins, etc. Cook in oven about 350 degrees one hour (about). Add candied fruits and nuts if desired.