In Print

The Brass sisters' Heirloom Baking

By Kate Thornberry, Fri., Jan. 12, 2007

In Print

Heirloom Baking with the Brass Sisters: More than 100 Years of Recipes Discovered from Family Cookbooks, Original Journals, Scraps of Paper and Grandmother's Kitchen

by Marilynn Brass and Sheila Brass

Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, 293 pp., $29.95

I like to read old cookbooks, and whenever I've picked one up at a garage sale or antique store, it's rare that it doesn't have a few handwritten recipes jammed between the pages, written in that beautifully cramped handwriting that speaks of a lifetime of scrimping. Marilynn and Sheila Brass, dealers in antique kitchenware, became inundated with – and fascinated by – these ubiquitous handwritten recipes, as well. After spending several years researching and testing the most promising of what they discovered, they compiled the best of them into this handsome and interesting volume.

In "found" recipes, as in any recipe collection, the sheer number of cake, cookie, and pie recipes so totally outnumber any other sort of recipe, it's enough to make you think our forbears ate nothing but dessert. The actual reason baking recipes tend to be written down is because the recipes aren't made frequently enough to know "by heart," and in baking, the measurements and methods must be correct. There is a social aspect, as well: Women were just as eager in 1800 to distinguish themselves as they are today, and creating a recipe that others would admire and seek to duplicate was one of the few avenues open to them. Women were meticulous about crediting other women for their recipes, and a creative cook could be known for her achievements hundreds and even thousands of miles from where she lived and baked. Now, thanks to the Brass sisters, these women and their creations can be renowned decades later, as well. From Applesauce Cake to Chocolate Bread and Butter Pudding to Elinor's Lemon Drop Cookies, reading Heirloom Baking is like peeking into the past.

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