Sunday, May 30, 2010

Clues in the Recipe Boxes

I can't tell you how excited I am to introduce you all to Amy Alessio. Amy is not only a good friend of mine, she's an amazing YA librarian who juggles work, writing, reviewing, blogging, and so much more, while raising two gorgeous little sons. Never, ever have I seen her without a huge smile on her face and an upbeat and cheery attitude. She's just one of my favorite people and I'm thrilled to have her here today.

Say hello to Amy Alessio!

Clues in the Recipe Boxes

I was very excited when Julie asked me to guest blog here at Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen, along with many of my favorite authors!

I started my Vintage Cookbooks blog ( to teach myself the technology four years ago, and it has grown to the point where I give many live presentations on that subject also. I serve treats too – one man was moved to tears at my Vintage Southern Treats when I served Moon Pies, as he remembered them from his youth.

My collection has grown too – I have about 350 vintage cookbooks, and I also collect recipe boxes that have handwritten recipes in them. One show that many libraries hire me for is Preserving Family Recipes, where audience members get to leave with an album. Here is the tie in between the recipes and the mysteries – many cooks do not write down everything they use, or measurements! Figuring them out is

often more puzzling than mysteries. Also, in many of the recipe boxes I find, there are personal notes, clippings, and even letters that give me clues about the person who collected those recipes.

You can see the scanned recipe I’ve included here for Pumpkin Chiffon Pie. This is from a recipe box I found at a local antique mall, filled with recipes. This person’s Aunt Annabelle added a note after the recipe. I have typed it out below, as the scan is not always easy to read. I couldn’t help but wonder about the pictures for which Annabelle had to pay Ruth cash …

Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

3 eggs

1 c. sugar

1 ¼ c. pumpkin

½ c. milk

½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. ginger

½ tsp. nutmeg

1 tsp. cinnamon

¼ c. cold water – 1 tbsp. gelatine (I am typing it as I see it!)

To slightly beaten egg yolks, add ½ c. sugar, pumpkin, milk, salt and spices. Cook until thick in double boiler. Pour cold water in bowl and sprinkle gelatine over top – add to hot mixture – mix and cool. When it begins to set, add remaining sugar and fold in stiffly beaten egg whites. Pour into baked shell. Chill and serve garnished with whipped cream.

I liked this type as it means no baking after the crusts are out for usually the oven is needed for the dinner and you can do away with that long baking. I think these are easier to make and less chance of failure, unless of course, you forget the sugar as I did one year.

Please Ruth, don’t worry about a ‘letter’, as I am sure we are still indebted to you for all the trouble you went to over those pictures – then we were so slow in sending the cash that I guess I still owe you several letters. We’re looking forward to seeing you all next Thursday, and we do appreciate the effort it will take on the part of all of you. I know how much work it means – I couldn’t it myself as perhaps that’s why I can appreciate it more. I haven’t been eating so hearty lately – just saving all my appetite for next week.

So long for now Ruth and here’s all the luck you need for the pies. Love, Aunt Annabelle

No doubt that was a truly interesting Thanksgiving. At least Annabelle didn’t bring the sugarless pie again. What mysteries are lurking among your family recipes?


Amy Alessio is a young adult librarian, author, and speaker. She loves reading mysteries and is very excited about Julie Hyzy’s new series beginning with Grace Under Pressure due out next week. Amy’s newest book, A Year of Programs 2, co-authored, will be out in August 2010. Her next, Mind Bending Mysteries for Teens, will be out June 2011. To see the schedule of her Vintage Cookbooks presentations or to learn more than you ever wanted to know about Vintage Cooking and Crafting, visit

Julie’s first book in the Manor of Murder Mystery series,
Grace Under Pressure (starred review in Publishers Weekly!), debuts June 1st! To help launch the book and to celebrate its release, she's running a very special contest: Purchase Grace Under Pressure any time before May 31, 2010, and you're eligible to win a $25 gift certificate from Mystery Lovers Bookshop! (and if you've already pre-ordered, you just need to let Julie know!) No receipts required. Just email Julie at with the date that you pre-ordered and thename of the bookstore you ordered it from, and your name goes in! (Please put "CONTEST" in the subject header. Thanks!)

Here are a few helpful links to get you started:
Independent Bookstore List: here

- Mystery Lovers Bookshop (free shipping on book orders over $10!)
- Centuries & Sleuths (Julie's local mystery bookstore)


  1. What a great post. The recipe sounds yummy. But the fact that you find recipe boxes with handwritten recipes at antique stores is awesome. You would think some family member would want to keep those recipes. I'm learning just how much of recipes isn't include in "old family recipes" as my mother-in-law can't remember as well as she use to and the amounts aren't always on her recipes. Looking forward to checking out Vintage Cookbooks.

    Thoughts in Progress

  2. I've been to your wonderful website, Amy. What a great idea to post recipes from old cookbooks. Some of the old ones are the best. I'm not surprised that you could bring someone to tears with the foods they remember.

    I have a feeling that your post today has probably sparked some ideas for mystery writers. Such fun to take a peek into someone's life. Thanks for joining us today!

    ~ Krista

  3. It is amazing to me that those recipe boxes are available with all the handwritten recipes someone spent a lifetime creating and collecting. I can't stand to see them left in an antique mall and always adopt them when I see them, much like I do with handmade dolls, cookbooks with get the idea (yep, my house is full).

    Thanks so much to Julie for that lovely introduction and the invitation to guest on one of my favorite blogs. To have someone of Julie's caliber say those things about me means so much! I've enjoyed reading all of the series from authors on here, too!

  4. Hi, Amy!

    Thanks so much for visiting the kitchen. I frequently blog here about my grandmother's recipe box. I love having her with me in the kitchen. And much like the recipe you posted,
    the best ones have her handwritten notes on them.
    Oh, and I work youth services for Phoenix Public and have two sons, too!

  5. Amy - I'm so glad you're here with us today. Thank you for saying such sweet things - you're just the best!

    Everyone- you can find this on Amy's website, but you'll also want to know that she's got a couple of great stories published too. One of them is in the anthology MISSING is (edited by Amy). Proceeds go to benefit the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. She has another in the anthology THE HEAT OF THE MOMENT, with proceeds going to benefit the Fire Safe Council of San Diego County, helping those who lost their homes to wildfires.

    Pretty cool stuff!


  6. Julie - thank you so much for inviting Amy!

    Amy - I am thrilled to see you here! I just love your *Vintage Cookbooks* blog. (Everyone, either click here to visit Amy's blog or scroll down our left column and click on Vintage Cookbooks in the blogroll. I'm sure the second you visit, you'll want to follow it, too.)

    Your story of the Moon Pies is touching, I must say. (I feel that way about my Aunt Mary's Italian Easter Pie.) Favorite foods can really bring us back to a time and a place and even someone we loved very much - the old Proustian madeleine reference is as valid and vital as ever. Your delving into the mystery aspect of the culinary world is fabulous, too, and I couldn't agree more. There are so many stories attached to our culinary history - another reason I love your blog! It's continually fascinating how you teach us (via cookbooks and recipes) why people cooked what they did, which is often related to their culture or particular era, as well.

    Okay, I guess I've gassed on enough. I'll just add that I'm on board with this Pumpkin Chiffon pie recipe, and I love Aunt Anabelle's notes. It IS a great pie for freeing up the oven on Thanksgiving. And (consequently) for the hot days of summer because I don't have to turn on my oven to make it. :-)

    Have a great (rest of your) holiday weekend!
    ~ Cleo
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  7. That was such an interesting post! I've always loved old books and old recipes. And finding personal notes and clippings would almost be like having a little mystery on your hands. :)