Friday, January 10, 2014

Sepia Saturday: Making Do

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.




This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt suggesting the many surprises that are often sandwiched between the pages of old books has given me the opportunity to take a closer look at a little black book passed down to me by a grandaunt.

Oh, no, not THAT kind of “little black book.”  This one at 4” x 7” is barely hanging on to its classification as a book.  The black tape spine is dry-rotted and the back cover is cracked nearly in two.  Pages are missing and the stitching has popped. 




The book appears to have served as the precursor to the Time Clock, a place for employees of the Norfolk & Western Railway to sign in each day.  Columns identified the worker’s occupation, name, signature, and time called to report.  At the top of each page were blanks to fill in the specific division, yard, and date.


There are not many pages left, so probably any official business was removed leaving a handy little booklet for children to practice writing their names and for the lady of the house to jot down favorite recipes.  When those few pages were full, recipes were scribbled on any scrap of paper available and inserted into the book along with a prayer that they wouldn’t spill out.  Now over 80 years later the scraps of paper are yellowed and either very soft or very brittle. 


I’m not sure who the “lady of the house” was as I recognize the handwriting of my great grandmother Mary Frances Jollett Davis, my grandmother Lucille Rucker Davis, and my grandaunts Violetta Davis Ryan and Velma Davis Woodring


Their rural roots can be seen in the recipes for canning corn, beets, tomatoes, catsup, and grape juice.  But it’s their sweet tooth that dominates in this collection:  2 recipes for spice cake, 2 for gingerbread, 2 for walnut cake, 2 for chocolate caramel cake, 2 for chocolate pies, a variety of other cakes (including Pound, Mystery, and 1-2-3-4 Cake), and – heaven help us – 5 recipes for fruit cake. 


I can almost hear those fine cooks chanting, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”   The required frugality of the Depression years is everywhere evident in the varied scraps of paper and old envelopes on which are recorded those treasured recipes. 

In some cases, what the recipe was written on is more tantalizing than the recipe itself.  Velma’s “Plain Cake” is on the back of the Eastman Photo Co. envelope that held some photos and negatives she had developed while living in Martinsburg, West Virginia.  She developed one roll of film for 10¢ and 6 photos at 5¢ each for a grand total of 40¢.  The slogan on the envelope reminds customers to “Remember with pictures.  Have your best negatives enlarged.”


Another envelope contained two bills addressed to my great grandfather Walter Davis from Massanutten Power Corporation.  The electric bill for December 1933 was $1.50.  The water bill was for the same amount for the same time period.  The buying power of $1.50 in 1933 equates to almost $27 today. 

In many ways this book is a time capsule out of which spills elements of life during the Depression.


More surprises are spilling out at Sepia Saturday


48 comments:

  1. Isn't it great to read the prices of things in days gone by? Of course ti was still expensive for them.

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    1. It is interesting, you're right. I looked up what you could buy for $1.50 in 1933 -- 20 loaves of bread, OR 4 pairs of silk stockings, OR one pair of jeans.

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  2. Cool! I don't remember seeing this book. I would like to see the canning recipes. I bet they are interesting. I feel a Signature Dish Old School coming on! HA!

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    1. You see that book all the time -- it's in the basket on the bookshelf to the left of the fireplace. You even put it there!

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    2. No memories, they have left the corners of my mind.

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  3. How wonderful to have so many documents in your ancestors' own handwriting. .

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    1. It is a good feeling to see their handwriting.

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  4. Handle them with care; it would be such a shame for them to fall to pieces.

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    1. I have tried to be careful -- not "white glove" careful exactly.

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  5. Have you ever tried any of those old recipes? Those were the good old days of "from scratch". I've taken my Mom's & grandma's recipes & updated them with boxed shortcuts & they're almost as good - most of the time. We should have a Sepia Sat. prompt of old recipes (or have we already? I only joined a year ago). My daughter's 10-step recipe for how to fry an egg isn't all that old, but it's pretty funny. You should begin keeping that book & its old contents in a dark cool place - especially if anything is written in pencil. I keep my great grandfather's journal in a thick fire safe box & still the penciled writing is fading.

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    1. I have not tried the recipes. Some of them are just ingredients, no instructions. One or two have ingredients but no measurements because of torn edges. Of course, some are intact, but I have not tried them.

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  6. This is just wonderful."Remember with pictures" Thank goodness they did or we wouldn't have Sepia Saturday. I envy you that record of life during those years and all those recipes.

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    1. Right. But today we're encouraged to do more than simply enlarge our best negatives (negative? What's a negative?). We must make mugs, mouse pads, calendars, and aprons.

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  7. It looks as if paper during the Depression was more scarce than booze. :)
    But I love those old documents in particular if the handwriting is from a known person.

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    1. I think paper must have been scarce. One recipe is written on the inside of an envelope turned inside out.

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  8. What a wonderful time capsule and an evocative keepsake of the everyday life each written by your ancestors. For me the other interest is the railway company plus I think you can never have too many recipes for fruit cake.

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    1. Good -- a fruit cake lover.

      The railroad connection interests me too because so many in my family worked for the railroad in Shenandoah, but not my great-grandfather. So I wonder if the book had belonged to my granduncle or my grandaunt's husband.

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  9. Wendy, a great treasure, perhaps not in money terms but in family values. Paper was not as easily wasted as it is today. I love all sorts of books with empty pages to scribble in or draw quickly something. My granddaughter is the same. Anyway we are so lucky today such a wonderful selection available today. For scribbles near the computer I still use old paper or envelopes, sometimes they wander into a book and I wonder if in 100 years they might be found too.

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    1. I have scraps of notes and jottings around my computer too. I am careful to throw them out eventually so that no descendant has to guess whether they're valuable or not LOL!

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  10. It's fun looking at the book and its contents now, but I am surprised that the book wasn't thrown away long ago.

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  11. This is a great spin on the theme, Wendy. Collections like this become talismans or charms that reconnect us to ancestors through the magic of ink.

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    1. Not to mention all that DNA amidst the dust.

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  12. Oh, how wonderful to have all those family recipes -- written in longhand by those who came before you!

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    1. Finally -- the age of education enabling me to enjoy handwriting and not a mere "X" for a signature.

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  13. This collection from a questionable keepsake book is precious, especially for those of us who treasure such things. That book is the remaining question, though I would imagine it was kept by someone with the same sentiments, and we just don't know who it brought fond memories for.

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    1. Exactly! I can't even remember how it came to be mine.

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  14. reminds me of my family, paper was not wasted and so many things, recipes, etc on the backs of receipts. Makes for an interesting reminisce...a treasure of bits and pieces..

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    1. The utilities bill is the most interesting to me.

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  15. That is a really nice pile of yellowing old papers.

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    1. It is a PILE, for sure. While others inherit family riches, I get the pile of yellowed paper.

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  16. You are so lucky to have this piece of history!

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    1. I wonder if my daughters will feel the same way one day. HA

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  17. How fun this is! And what a fascinating piece of history this book has become. Those dessert recipes sound yummy...well, except for the fruit cake recipes. LOL

    Have you scanned all of the pages of this book yet? I think it would be fun to share some of those old recipes here on your blog.

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    1. Oh yeah -- Family Recipe Friday? I guess I could do that -- might be fun to try to make some of the things, like the girl who blogged about cooking all of Julia Child's recipes. Not that I'm elevating myself or any of these recipes by any means!

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  18. Dang, Wendy! This post reminds me of my long neglected Letsom Letters. I really enjoyed this post and seeing the fun pictures of what was in that little black book.

    Hugs and missing you,
    Kathy M.

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    1. Missing you too -- so glad for Facebook!

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  19. A fine time capsule indeed! They sure made do with very little,that is for sure, and how wonderful that you have it to share in all their goings on! Truly a treasure.

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    1. The recipes do spark my imagination.

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  20. Lucky you to have this treasure; so many snippets of lives gone by in one volume! I’m impressed that you have reached the stage where you can recognise the handwriting of individual family menbers too.

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    1. It is an odd lot, I'll say that. But it is fun to have some insight into these women's tastes and preferences.

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  21. Your local historical society or railyway museum would probably be interested in a copy of the remnant pages as they record names, occupations and signatures. Even fragments are useful to someone.

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    1. That's just it -- there are no names or occupations listed. Maybe those pages were removed because it's obvious pages are missing. The pages that are left are either blank or have recipes on them.

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  22. What an interesting bunch of stuff was stuffed in that old book. It looks as if they used every bit of paper they could find. What a treasure and how fun to read all the bits and pieces.
    Nancy
    Ladies of the Grove

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    1. Any little scrap seemed to work. And then they folded it!

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  23. What a treasure you have, Wendy. It's so sad that the acidic paper is deteriorating. At least these days we have scanners and cameras that can almost replicate the original. I want the recipes for the chocolate caramel cake! Please.

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