We’re thrilled to welcome Carlye Jane Dougherty as a guest blogger on The Daily South! She is the owner of Heirloom Book Company, a cookbook shop in downtown Charleston, SC. Carlye’s love for cookbooks has long been fed by the special way that food has united her family. She also has a soft spot for the cover illustrations of vintage cookbooks.
The past 25 years were tough on the spiral-bound cookbook. These once-forgotten gems had to battle not only modern cookbooks with their shiny food photography but also the mindset that the latest tome by Martha Stewart deserved more prime bookshelf real estate. What Martha had to say was surely more useful than what we already knew, and in comparison, our beloved spirals seemed too simple and homemade.
But the value of nostalgia and authenticity is powerful—especially in the South—and community spirals are solidly claiming their foothold in the market of collectible cookbooks. When it comes to everyday, down-home food, people are realizing Mama really did know best.
When we guide customers through the buying experience at Heirloom Book Company, our running joke is that we don’t discriminate age-wise. We display collectible cookbooks side by side with new titles, and every day a customer will exclaim, “I remember this cookbook from when I was a kid! I haven’t seen it in ages!” I’ve witnessed customers go misty-eyed when vintage cover illustrations take them back in time to their mother’s kitchen counter. Some are so shocked to learn the value of their rediscovered treasure that they vow to dig their books out of the attic as soon as they get home. Others are willing to pay high sums for the satisfaction of reclaiming a piece of supper tables past. Take the 1930 First Edition of Two Hundred Years of Charleston Cooking in the original dust jacket, for example. It commands as much as $800!
Chefs also understand the value of historic recipes tucked away in these old cookbooks. Ask Sean Brock, the James Beard Foundation award-winning chef of Charleston’s McCrady’s and Husk, how he feels about a tome like The Unrivalled Cookbook and Housekeepers Guide, a coveted volume from 1886 that claims, “…No American cook-book has yet contained so complete a list of Creole receipts…” and he’ll simply tell you: “I need that cookbook in my life.”
We at Heirloom Book Company can’t imagine any book being given a higher compliment.
-Carlye Jane Dougherty
To read more about community cookbooks, check out Vintage Recipes for Today’s Home Cook or Spiral Bound, a feature in our July issue. Enter our community cookbook photo contest and win a collection of vintage cookbooks curated by Carlye!