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At the Old Cookbook Shop, a Taste for Nostalgia

Bonnie Slotnick helps people find long-lost recipes and rare or out-of-print cookbooks.
Kate Davidson, NPR
Bonnie Slotnick helps people find long-lost recipes and rare or out-of-print cookbooks.
Some results of a search for cookbooks on casseroles.
Kate Davidson, NPR /
Some results of a search for cookbooks on casseroles.
Emily Elliott, an aspiring chef from North Carolina, shows the copy of 'The Four Seasons Cookbook' that she bought at Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks.
Kate Davidson, NPR /
Emily Elliott, an aspiring chef from North Carolina, shows the copy of 'The Four Seasons Cookbook' that she bought at Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks.

Most who enter Bonnie Slotnick's small New York City shop find themselves reconnecting with their childhood. Its shelves are stacked with rare and out-of-print cookbooks.

Slotnick helps reunite people with long-lost recipes... and memories. Many of the customers visiting her Greenwich Village store confess that they rarely cook. But to Slotnick, cookbooks are more than a simple means to an end.

"I don't think there's anything to be ashamed of in reading cookbooks for the pleasure of reading cookbooks. And not cooking," she says.

In her tiny shop, stacks of books reach to the ceiling and the walls are decorated, too: An advertisement shows Aunt Jemima selling pancakes in Yiddish, and there is a print of the great literary cookbooks with titles such as The Bread Also Rises and Remembrances of Things Pasta.

Irene Sax, a food critic who frequents the shop, recently stopped by to do research about casseroles from the 1950s. Emily Elliott, an aspiring chef from North Carolina, showed up in search of information about vesiga (spinal marrow from the sturgeon), which was considered a delicacy in 19th-century St. Petersburg.

Slotnick, a small woman with a librarian's demeanor, says cookbooks often serve as family scrapbooks. Even the bookmarks she finds preserve the past. "I have nostalgia for times long before I was born, places I don't know, and opening a cookbook, just about anytime, anywhere, takes me away," she says.

One of Slotnick's favorites is a memoir called The Country Kitchen in which family recipes are worked seamlessly into the narrative.

Another gem is a church-lady cookbook published as a centennial version in 1911 by the charitable Dorcas Society of rural Maine. It contains a recipe for scripture cake... the ingredients come with an appropriate biblical chapter and verse. (Dorcas appears in Acts 9:36; she's "full of good works and almsdeeds.")

"How they got cream of tartar from Matthew 13, I do not know," Slotnick says. "But I'm dying to look it up!"

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Debbie Elliott
NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.