Interview: Jane E. Garrett, Author

When I started Recovered Recipes last year, I felt as though I might be the only person interested in rediscovering old recipes. In an age of online recipe sharing and food blogging, I worried vintage recipes might be doomed.

Over the months, I’ve come to meet others who share my passion for preserving the past and I am hopeful we can save an important piece of our heritage. Jane Garrett, an avid recipe collector herself, was one of my first readers and is very much a recipe card preservationist. Jane contacted me recently to announce the publication of her book, The Market Basket: Cooking and Eating in Lawrence, Kansas 1921-1949.

I recently received a review copy and as I flipped through it, I could feel Jane’s passion on every page. The book captures over 500 recipes published in the Lawrence-Journal World newspaper as part of a weekly recipe competition held from 1921-1949. Jane lovingly transcribed the recipes and compiled them into this thoughtful collection.

In addition to the recipes, you’ll find vintage advertisements, menus,and local stories found in the newspaper at that time. I particularly enjoyed a list showing 1932 grocery prices — would anyone like 1 lb. of beef roast for 18 cents per pound?

In another snippet from 1944, it’s noted that beef supplies are slim during the war time, “Since the invasion started, local markets report beef has been a scarce article and several stores practically out of beef.” It continues by noting the shortage was expected to last 6-8 weeks.

I immediately felt attached to a small city in Kansas I had never visited.

The book spans 250 pages, entirely in black and white, illustrated with vintage artwork and reprinted newspaper clippings. Chapters include beverages, salads, breads, sandwiches, pancakes and doughnuts, soups, main courses, noodles and vegetables.

I reached out to Jane and asked her a few questions to which you’ll find her answers below. If you’d like to receive your own copy of this book, please visit Jane’s website to purchase this book.

What inspired you to write this book?

A single recipe. I was amusing myself one afternoon at the local library, sitting at the microfilm reader, “flipping” through a 1933 issue of the local newspaper. In the supermarket ads section, I spotted a recipe for “Mrs. Shultz’s Apple Butter,” and noticed that it was a prize-winner in a weekly contest sponsored by the newspaper. That’s all it took to hook me. I wanted to know when the contest began and when it ended, and I wanted every single recipe that was selected as a winner.

From beginning to end, how long did the book take to write?

After finding Mrs. Shultz’s apple butter recipe, I returned to the library day after day–whenever I had a spare couple of hours. I was a chef’s apprentice, working full time and enrolled in a rigorous program, so my time was limited. But, after 18 months of chipping away at it, I amassed 1,400 prize-winning recipes, one for every week of 28 years. For the next five and a half years, I organized the recipes in two volumes (this one and the second, yet-to-be published one), and illustrated them with old newspaper ads, menus, etc. I also included food-related stories that ran in the local paper during that time. Essentially, it took me seven years to put this book together (and the one that will follow).

In rediscovering these recipes, what did you learn about the women, ingredients or cooking conditions of the time period?

These women truly labored to put food on the table. They grew and canned their own food. They baked their own bread, rolls, pies and cakes. They boned, cut and ground their own meat. They raised and processed their own poultry. Everything was made from scratch. Convenience foods were unheard of back then. Nothing much was easy–especially when money was scarce and food was rationed. How spoiled we are today !

Is there a particular recipe or contestant which caught your fancy?

There’s one recipe in the book that’s near and dear to my heart: Mrs. Pearson’s Muffins. It’s just an ordinary little recipe, but what makes it special to me is the address of the author: 1336 Massachusetts St., which happens to be my former address, my home of 17 years, a two-story 100-year-old residence complete with high ceilings, dark, dark woodwork, and a quirky old Depression-era kitchen. So many times I imagined Mrs. Pearson–a woman I’ve never known–bending over to put her pan of muffins in the oven.

Since the book focuses primarily on main courses and side dishes, can we expect a dessert book to follow?

Yes! The next volume–The Market Basket Vol. II: More Cooking and Eating In Lawrence, Kansas, 1921-1949–features mostly sweets. Its chapters are: Putting Up Fruits and Berries; Cookies, Bars, Candy and Pastry; Cakes, Icings and Fillings; Pies and Cobblers; Puddings and Custards; Ice Creams, Sherbets and Ices; More Sweets–From Bavarians to Whips; and Menus. In this volume is a cake recipe made for President Coolidge, recipes for old English plum puddings, all kinds of jams and jellies, and hundreds of other treats, including Anise Seed Cookies, Baked Apple Flowers, Pineapple Betty, Apple Dumplings with Lemon Sauce, Orange Meringue Pie, Banana Sherbet, etc. etc. There’s also a menu for a Non-rationed Sunday Dinner.

Is it true that you have your own recipe card collection at home?

I have literally thousands of recipe cards I’ve collected over the years. I’ve found them at garage sales, estate sales, in dumpsters, and on ebay. I also have my mother’s and grandmother’s collections. To me, a card with a hand-written recipe on it is worth more than that recipe that’s published in a mass-produced book.

Thank you to Jane for sharing her time for this interview and also for helping to preserve the past!

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