Empire State Cakes and Chatterboxes: Booking Through Thursday

Dear Reader:

I’ve been looking for a chance to post about the books I inherited from my grandparents.  And then Booking Through Thursday posted this question: “Have you ever read a random book left in a waiting room or on a park bench, etc., and did you like it?” as this week’s meme.  And I have to say, I can’t think of a book I’ve found somewhere that I adopted….  Perhaps there has been one, but not recently.  So, staying with the spirit of book acquisition serendipity, I thought I’d write a post about books I did acquire in a special way:

Books from my Beloved Grandparents

My mother’s parents (Frank and Alvilde Hamer) are sadly long gone.  My grandmother died in 1980 and my grandfather in 1992.  Grandma was 80 and grandpa was 90.  They were wonderful grandparents who, most of my childhood, lived about four hours away – they would drive up about once a month (or we would go down to them) and I was always thrilled to see them.  I was particularly close to my grandma.  My grandfather loved to walk my brother and me up to the village grocery store, Max’s, and give us 25 cents to buy a bag of candy.  This was the 60s and 70s, mind you, and there were lots of penny candies and 5 cent chocolate bars, at least in Gilbertsville (Grandpa would always say “You can’t get penny candy in Valley Cottage!”). We would always walk out of the store with an impressive stash in a little brown paper bag.

And both my grandparents were avid readers.  My grandfather was born in Preston, England (Update! in Lancashire – thanks Samantha from The Little Munchkin Reader blog for the correction).

Grandpa Hamer on the boat to NYC circa 1920.

The Statue of Liberty from his boat.

Grandma was born to Norwegian immigrant parents in Brooklyn, New York.  They were both born around 1902 or so.

I’ve written before about what a voracious reader I was as a kid.  Especially when I was under ten, I remember it being hard to find books to read – I’m not sure I was allowed to go to the library myself and when I was, it didn’t take me too many years before I exhausted the limited children’s and young adult literature sections.  So, I was thrilled when my grandparents gave me my “inheritance” books early (they had a tradition of giving each of their grandchildren one of their own books).

I got this:

This well-loved (notice how the spine has been re-taped) book came into my hands when I was around eight years old.

As this notice says, my grandfather received this in 1911 (when he was nine or ten) as a reward for his attendance at his church’s Sunday School.  I adored this book comprised of 1908 Chatterboxes – I gather they were a children’s magazine distributed in Britain (and a google search suggests there was a US version in the 1930s).

As these pictures show, it was filled with illustrations, mostly black and white, but some really lovely color ones.  These illustrated the stories (often in serial form), tidbits (such as “The Use of an Alarum” an anecdote about a man who means to say alarm), competitions (July 1908’s was for an essay about the Prettiest or Best Picture you’ve ever seen), “Puzzlers for Wise Heads,” histories, and poems (“If I were a spider bold, Cunning, fierce, and sly, I would weave a silver web, For a little fly.”).  The stories often featured great drama – such as a girl nearly drowned (and rescued by a boy, of course) in the picture above.  This is a dense book with about 400 pages of small font, two column text and pictures – I loved it!

I realized as I was putting together this post that my 18 year old grandfather must have carried this book with him on the boat from England since the whole family came together and did not return.  It is amazing that he would have chosen to bring it – but I think he was very proud of it, after all it was a reward for good behavior and one of his few material links back to England and his childhood.

My grandparents also gave me this:

John Martin’s Big Book No. 10 – an internet search says this was published in 1926, so it would have been something they had for my mother, aunt, and uncle.  This is pitched a little younger, with shorter stories and poems.  I also remember really enjoying this.  These books, in combination with my mother’s “Lad” and Louisa May Alcott books comprised some of my major reading sources when I was a child.

And finally they gave me this:

The only thing I could find online related to this Humpty Dumpty book is “The True Story of Humpty Dumpty” by the authors – listed as published in 1905.  I don’t remember reading this one as a child, so it may be one given to me later on.    I don’t know which of my grandparents had it as a child, perhaps my grandmother.  Speaking of whom, she willed one of her cookbooks to each of her daughters and granddaughters.  And we were told which was ours.

This was mine and (movingly) it has my FULL  name in her handwriting on the frontispiece.  This 1966 Modern Homemaker Cookbook (is that name not deliciously of its time?) is about, as you can see from the cover, classic 1950s and 60s American food but “classied” up a notch: Asparagus and Peas with Herbs, Green Bean Casserole, Stuff Artichokes, Oysters Rockefeller, Creme Brulee, etc.  I think I made one of the recipes once, but in general, they don’t appeal greatly (I’m sure this is prejudice on my part, there has to be good stuff in here, but perhaps it is all a bit close to the cooking I left behind when I went over to Southern Asian vegetarian food).

And I ended up with two – my Aunt Arline generously gave me her inherited cookbook – the Modern Priscilla Cook Book from 1924- did all cookbooks have “modern” in the title?  My grandmother would have been about 22 in 1924 – around the time she married, so this may have been one of her first cookbooks.

This one has a bit more appeal, it is more historical and the foods more 19th Century predating the jello and frozen green beans forming the basis of so many dishes in the 1966 cookbook.  We have Empire State Cake (cool, I’m a proud upstate New Yorker) with mashed potatoes, chocolate, and lemon (hmmm), Fig Cake, Fruit Cakes No. 1 and No. 2, Fruit Cake (japanese) – perhaps it was the clove and cinnamon that made it Japanese? – Corn Meal Gnocchi (hmm, sounds good!), Corinthian Cheese Balls, and Frozen Cheese Salad (?) next to Frozen Fruit Salad (!) – I’m going to guess ice boxes were newly in vogue at the time, perhaps this is like all those 1980s era microwave cookbooks.  So, this may have been the cookbook my grandma fed her family from when the children were young – I should explore it more and cook a couple things from it.

So, there you have – my BTT book serendipity.  Not something I picked up in a waiting room, but something(s) gifted to me that have a lot of meaning.

Happy reading, Ruby



  1. I love this post! It’s so lovely to hear how you have books from your grandparents.

    Please take a peek at my BTT; http://samjaymc.blogspot.com/2012/02/booking-through-thursday-15.html if you have the time.

    By the way, Preston is in the county of Lancashire. Oh, and nowhere near the Midlands. I should know – I’m a UK girl from Lancashire!

    • Hi Samantha: Thanks and thanks for stopping by – I’ll be over soon. And thanks for the update on Preston – I will amend my post, all the best, Ruby

  2. What a lovely post – those books must be so precious to you.

    • Hi Joanee: Thank you for stopping by – oh yes, very precious – I’ve been thinking I should figure out some way to ensure that they are protected, not sure what that would mean beyond what I’m already doing, but I’d hate to see them come to harm. Best, Ruby

  3. Hello! Thanks for dropping by my blog!

    Wonderful post. Thank you for sharing!

    Only one of my grandparents was an avid reader. I, unfortunately, never got to meet her. She died when I was about 3 months old. My mom laments even now. She says I am like her in many ways. We would have been as thick as thieves, she says. I missed out on a great thing, I guess.

    • Hi: Thank you! And thanks for stopping by. I’m sorry you never met your grandmother, but it is lovely that your mom has helped you see your strong connection, happy reading, Ruby

  4. How precious this inheritance of yours are! Old books – my gosh! I love old things and when they’re books I fall in love pronto! Your story oozes with nostalgia. Now I miss England! I’m not from there but a few friends are, and one lives near Preston. Thanks for dropping by my nook.

    • Hi Hazel: Thanks so much for stopping by – yes, they are really precious. On a cold damp day like today, I wish I was in England too, all the best, Ruby

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