Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mark and Lynn dig deep into culinary archeology with Handwritten Recipes....

Michael Popek's day job as a dealer in a family run antique bookstore took an interesting turn when he began to take note of the many interesting ephemera tucked into the pages of some of the antiquarian and used books in his store.  Mr. Popek began collecting these items with specail attention to the recipes he found within the pages; recipes for a variety of culinary fare such as Pineapple Date Bread, Meat and Cheese Loaf, Almond Christmas Balls and something called Chocolate Porcupine. 

Mr. Popek has worked hard to curate and display his recipe collection on  His interest has led to the recent publication of Handwritten Recipes: A Bookseller's Collection of Curious and Wonderful Recipes Forgotten Between the Pages (Penguin).  Mr. Popek was nice enough to correspond with Mark and Lynn about his work and his interest in recipes as found objects.

M & L: Is there something special about finding a recipe in a book that sets it apart from finding say a picture?

MP: "Absolutely. Photos and old letters are fine for speculation, but recipes give us a chance to bring that moment back into the present. I can run to the grocery store for supplies and give it a go, make changes, scribble down notes - I can take the ephemeral out of the ephemera and make it my own. Oh, and it's tough to serve a photograph to hungry guests."

M & L: What do you think was the most memorable recipe(s) that you found in one of your books?

MP: "I always get a kick out of the home remedy recipes I find, like this one:"

"Nothing like linseed oil to take care of that cough."

M & L:  Do you see differences in the kinds of recipes you see in books depending on what decade/era they are from?

MP: "Most of the recipes I find are from the 1930s-1960s, and I've noticed that there are lots of casserole recipes. I'm sure if I had a broader collection to inspect, I'd find that the number of casseroles would drop significantly in the 80s and 90s, but I think the general eating public are returning to simple goodness of one dish recipes. "

"I've also noticed that most of the older dessert recipes were cakes or pies. In the newer desserts, I found a lot more muffins, cookies, cupcakes... hard to believe, but based on the small sample size, it seems that the servings were getting smaller."

M & L: Did you ever try to create one of the recipes on your own? Do you hear from people who use the recipes that you have salvaged?

"I tried a few dessert recipes without much luck. Baking has never been my strong point, I'm more of an entrée man. The waffle recipe I tested for the book came out fairly well, but I think it works best with an old-fashioned waffle iron that can really get hot."

"I've been lucky enough to have a bunch of readers try out recipes on the blog; there have been hits and misses. The blueberry muffin recipe turned out to be a dud." ( but the pasta with artichokes was a big success (

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I (Mark) have written for The Christian Science Monitor, Clear Magazine, Picture Magazine, Film Score Monthly, Dan's Papers, Rue Morgue, In Flight USA and a lot more publications that I can't remember.... My wife Lynn was a model with the Ford Agency and her photography has been featured in most of the publications I have written for...


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