Hidden Treasures


One of the interesting things about moving into a house where someone has lived before you (in fact, many people over many years) is all the surprises you find. The hay hook in the barn, for example, looked quite old and was probably left here by an owner far back in time. There are many things specifically left here by the most recent previous owners, but also many things that may well have been left from owner to owner for decades. It’s a process of discovery that is fun for me.

I like this shelf in the kitchen where I put cookbooks and spices. (One time right after we moved in, Mariah sat on the counter with her eyes closed and Weston opened spice bottle after spice bottle for a long time and let her smell them and guess what they were.)

This morning, I reached for a cookbook and it fell down into the shelf. I reached in to pick it up. I hadn’t realized that the shelf was deep enough for the book to disappear. I was just barely able to reach it and pull it back up, and when I did, I felt something else underneath it and pulled up a magazine. There was something underneath that, too, and I pulled up a hand-scrawled recipe on a cooking-stained piece of notebook paper.

There was more still, so then I got a chair and got it all.

I took my pile of goodies to the living room to inspect.

A Bon Appetit “pasta favorites” magazine. Yum. Will have to inspect that further.

A Popular Plates pizza magazine! Even yummier. Definitely bears further inspection for pizza ideas.

A West Virginia tourist postcard with a Golden Apple/Black Walnut Cake recipe. There’s nothing written on the postcard, so they must have picked it up for the recipe. Will have to try it.

How to make mozzarella cheese! Hmmm. I think I know that one.

I think, based on the recipes that were internet printouts and bear dates in the past five years, that these recipes came from the most recent previous owners. One of the previous owners enjoyed cooking, and I believe he cooked quite a bit. One time I was here looking at the house, it smelled wonderful. He said he was baking bread. Another time, when I showed Morgan inside the house, he was cooking some kind of curried chicken or something. Morgan thought it smelled awful, but I thought it smelled good.

A Cinnamon Bear Claws recipe!

I’ll figure out how to translate this into a Grandmother Bread recipe. I love bear claws.

Butter Cupcakes. “New Year’s” is written at the top, as if it were a recipe planned to try out for the holiday. At the bottom of the handwritten recipe, it says, “Delish with coconut frosting.”

Then one more. It’s handwritten. No recipe name at the top, and no instructions beyond how to mix the ingredients.

1 cup evaporated milk
1 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
2 sticks butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups coconut
1 cup nuts

Directions: Cook over medium heat 12 minutes, stirring constantly until thick. Add coconut and pecans.

AND THEN WHAT? Put it in a bowl and eat it? (Just kidding. Though that doesn’t sound half bad.) Is it the coconut frosting for the butter cupcakes?

Note that the two pieces of paper containing the handwritten recipes look completely different and of different ages. I can’t decide if the the handwriting is similar enough to say they are the same. My own handwriting doesn’t look exactly the same all the time.

I looked up a coconut-pecan frosting in one of my cookbooks and it reads:

1 egg
1 5-ounce can evaporated milk
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter
1 1/3 cups flaked coconut
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Close enough. I believe that untitled recipe must be the “delish” coconut frosting for the butter cupcakes!

Then I put some “stuffing” at the bottom of the shelf so things couldn’t disappear in there anymore and put my cookbooks back, my recipe forensics study complete.

And maybe for the new year, I’ll bake something that the house remembers.

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Posted by Suzanne McMinn on December 14, 2011  

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  1. 12-14

    We bought a home where pretty much everything but the owner’s clothing was left behind. (the woman had died after years in a nursing home) It was a strange journey for me. Walking into someone’s home and taking over was far more difficult than I expected. It took me a long time to get rid of things.

  2. 12-14

    This recipe is almost identical to the one I use for the topping and filling of my German Chocolate Cake.

  3. 12-14

    I love to look at old recipes that SHOW that they’ve been used by the drips and splatters. Decades ago a friend gave me a spiral bound blank recipe book. With all the good intentions in the world I started copying some of my mother’s recipes, some of my favorites. Over the years I’ve shoved newspaper clippings & pages from magazines in it, recipe cards and, now and then copied some more recipes onto the pages. I never did copy those newspaper clippings, etc. into the book. It’s practically worn out and my Christmas fudge, made-from-scratch cream of mushroom soup (a la Julia Child), Aunt Adele’s Rum Cake and others show the drips and splatters of use. What will I do when the cover finally gives way? Can I love a recipe saved on a computer program as much as those stained pages?

  4. 12-14

    I have been looking for a really good recipe for rum cake, would you consider posting your Aunts recipe to Farm Bell?
    Thank you

  5. 12-14

    What a treasure you found! Well loved recipes are the best.

    Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook is my favorite cookbook! I have several editions: the latest, one from the 70’s – the same edition my mom used while we were growing up and still uses – one from the 50s and one from the 40s. It’s interesting to see how they’ve changed through the years.

  6. 12-14

    I used this recipe last week for my german chocolate cake frosting. I had to make a second batch because I ate the first one right out of the pan.

  7. 12-14

    While I was posting I had to wait on a customer…When I got back it had logged me out! Dang it! I feel there are lots of treasures to be found there Suzanne. I just hope some are monetary! I have my Granny’s old cookbooks. Little scaps of paper…old crisco labels with recipes fell everywhere. Handwritten notes in the margins. Some are like yours…what do you do with this? One favorite recipe from a neighbor of a fruit salad with a cooking topping. I have had it and it was delish. I should get that out and make it…if there is instructions! :happyflower:

  8. 12-14

    That would be a cooked topping. :hissyfit:

  9. 12-14

    Wow, I like old recipes found in others past possessions. I have one in particular fom my DH’s mom for donuts, the mix is so runny I make it into muffins. I inherited her whole house including all her recipes and equipment. I still haven’t shoveled out!

  10. 12-14

    How fun! I wonder if the people who bought my house last year found my computer mouse, egg candling flashlight, and bottle of homemade vanilla that didn’t seem to make it to this house? Hmmm.

    Our mini donkey is a treasure hunter extraordinaire. She has dug up more stuff down by the barn, some of it useful. We were covering our chicken yard with flight netting and needed something to hold the netting up between the poles. A couple of days before the netting was delivered, she dug up a roll of heave gauge wire cable that was about 250 feet long! I don’t know how much we would have had to pay for that at the building supply store. Her worst find was a cache of hundreds of white plastic forks buried just under the surface. She worked for days hoofing all those out of an 8′ x 8′ area. I had to pick them up for weeks on end because the emus were eating them. Treasure hunting donkeys are a blessing and a curse.

    Enjoy your treasure hunt!

  11. 12-14

    Suzanne, I chuckled at your Christmas tree yesterday, and the comment at the end about the ladder. Maybe you’d like to check out Funky Junk Interiors today and see what she had done with her ladder. Pretty clever.

  12. 12-14

    JoJo beat me to it, but that’s the recipe for a German chocolate cake frosting and it is fabulous. You could just eat it with a spoon, but its so rich that it wouldn’t take much. I use it on top of a chocolate oatmeal cake for my version.

  13. 12-14

    I looked at the tree at Funky Junk. That is really awesome. She does have an actual tree in there, though, so that wouldn’t work for me since I am treeless, but her ladder tree is really pretty.

  14. 12-14

    Suzanne, I love finding old handwritten recipes! I even bought a box full at a flea market one time. :) When I look at the picture you took of the Butter Cup Cake recipe it looks like to me that it says MYRA’S in the corner rather than New Year’s. What do you think?

  15. 12-14

    The first recipe–the one that says, “ButterCup Cake” is very close to an old recipe I’ve wanted to try, from my mom’s cookbook. It has a brown sugar frosting on top.

    In my silly opinion, the recipes were written by two different people. The “M’s” and the “B’s” are completely different. Plus in one she uses “cup” spelled out and the other it’s consistently shortened to “c.”

    Been watching too much CSI I guess. haha!

  16. 12-14

    ljhoward, I don’t know! You might be right. It’s very faded, so I’m not sure.

  17. 12-14

    I received a recipe box filled with shower attendees’ favorite recipes at my bridal shower almost 43 years ago. One of the recipes was my grandmother’s recipe for homemade noodles (which I still can not make worth a darn). I treasure that recipe because it is in her handwriting. I plan/hope to do a cookbook for my kids and granddaughters with family favorites and include who I got recipe from (maybe include a picture) & where I first had it.

  18. 12-14

    Love the recipe archeology, what gems.
    “I’ll bake something that the house remembers” Has to be my favourite line….

  19. 12-14

    What special treasures. Especially the ones that are
    so well used (LOVED) and have the character (STAINS)
    to prove it.

    My sister and I bought beautiful oak recipe boxes at a
    craft fair and planned to freshen up all of our recipes.
    We spent hours organizing, collecting clipart, designing
    cards, printing them out on the computer, then laminating
    them so spills could be easily wiped off.

    The boxes turned out nice, but my marked and faded and torn
    and scratched out with changes in the margins and lots of
    times with handwriting and spelling that is very hard to understand, these are the recipes in my
    BEAUTIFUL OLD RECIPE BOX that is so special.

    No plans of parting with it any time soon.

  20. 12-14

    What a fun find! That cellar alone would keep me busy sorting and looking.

    When I did my new cabinets, I had a file drawer put in the pantry wall. I finally made a file folder for cookies, candy, cakes, etc. and filed all this clippings and hand-written and also internet printed recipes where I can actually find them.

    Now I need to go through Mom’s box of recipes….it is a large box! Should bring back lots of memories.

  21. 12-14

    joykenn, I would love to have your Aunt’s rum cake recipe, too, if you don’t mind sharing it around – that is, if it isn’t a family secret. I have never forgotten the piece of rum cake I ate when I was about 14 years old (I’m now 75). Haven’t had any since.

  22. 12-15

    What a wonderful bonus to have so many items left in your new home by the previous owners! I saw your Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook on the shelf. I have the 1981 version. I love older cookbooks!

  23. 12-15

    Suzanne, the coconut recipe is very much like an old family recipe. We used it as a filling for a coconut cake. The cake was iced with 7-minute icing. I”m hungry now.

  24. 12-16

    Does the cupcake recipe read
    1/2 cup shortening – part butter
    1 cup sugar
    Does it tell how many minutes to bake the cupcakes?
    I can’t read that part of it very well.

    I do genealogy extracting for the SLC Family History Center and have learned to look at handwriting for clues. This is the handwriting of 2 different people. Too many letters are very different for it to be the same person just written at different times.
    The perceived similarities are probably from being taught in the same school system. (Many school systems taught “penmanship”. I still remember doing the “Palmer” workbooks in penmanship – though it didn’t do much for me! lol)

    Both capital and lower case “s’s”, “g’s”, “M’s”, “r’s”, “B’s”, the word “add” are all different. One uses capital letters in some of the words, while the other used lower case letters.

  25. 12-16

    Now that is what I love about moving into an old house…you never know what it’s going to reveal to you. Those magazines look like good ones…we’ll be watching to see what you make from them ;) Hope you got my email this morning…it may be a good way to sell your other farm faster. Have fun exploring your new home! :)

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