A Cookbook Spy Mystery!!!!!

I will have to admit that I was obsessed by yesterday’s highlighted cookbook when I bought it, but after I came down from my Ozona high, I took a closer look at the other little ditty I picked up at the same time.

imageI could tell immediately that A Book Of Hors d’Oeuvre by Lucy G. Allen was old enough to be of interest.  The cover and style of the jacket all said either the 40s or 50s to me.  At first glance, while thumbing through the book, I interpreted the Roman numeral copyright (that alone is a good clue) as 1951 but when I got home I realized it was actually 1941.  It is a totally pristine copy.  I’m not surprised.  Lucy obviously just walked through a well-stocked pantry and thought to herself, “I could make an hors d’oeuvre with this, and with that, throw a few toothpicks in there and maybe the guests won’t stay too long.”

There are reasons cookbooks stay pristine for over seventy years, they are sandwiched between other books on a shelf that never sees the light of day and oxygen is never allowed to yellow the pages.  If a cookbook is actually used, things get spilled.  Find the biggest stain and you know what the previous owner liked the most.

imageThe one thing the book doesn’t have enough of is terrible pictures … it only has a few of those.  I never cease to be amazed at the awful state of food photography in the 40s, 50s, and 60s.  One has to wonder how a photographer, author, or editor could look at some of these photos and say “Perfect!  That is exactly what we need.”  Yes, black and white doesn’t help but they would have still blown this photo in color, believe me.  They probably did us a favor limiting it to black and white.

imageAnd in this case, the “recipes” are not much better.  Granted, there isn’t a lot to be said about spreading a bit of tuna salad on a crispy square of toast.

Like I said before, there are reasons why a cookbook remains dormant for so long … they aren’t used.  Or to put it another way, they are useless.

Ah, but other treasures sometimes hide between those pages. It isn’t unusual to find clipped or handwritten recipes stuck into cookbooks, especially well-used cookbooks.  I call those FREEBIES.  This had one page of appetizer ideas typed on onion-skin paper — how long has it been since you’ve seen something typed on onion-skin paper?

But there was more.

imageAn envelope.  and inside, a couple of more recipes, a letter, and a telegram.  The envelope has a postmark of July 1956 and a great example of a three-cent stamp.

The letter explained the reason for the book and the other recipes.  The recipient, a Major DaSilva, was stationed at a “test squadron” at Elgin AFB in Florida.  His buddy was giving him some advice on hosting a 50’s style cocktail party.  All interesting stuff.  He even sent the book to help … a book that had obviously not seen the light of day in 15 years at that point.  Possibly not true.  Back then books in bookstores weren’t cycled in and out quite the way they are now and considering the fact that the war encompassed part of that time, it might have been purchased later.

imageAnyway, the letter has a few more tidbits of advice to accompany the book, all in an easy friendly banter that offers encouragement to the fine Major that he can do this thing he aspires to do.  But the Major obviously had ulterior ideas, hence the telegram.

imageI’m probably making too much of the telegram, but it is interesting. For one thing, telegrams are always fascinating to me.  They represent an ancient form of text-messaging.  Short, to the point, and for a long time the closest thing to immediate correspondence people had available.  The mystery comes in when you realize this is a Military telegram.  All the acronyms and terse military jargon seems to add suspense and  indicate other things are afoot, dastardly, evil, and mysterious things.  What are we to do, call the FBI?

 In reality, it looks pretty mundane.  A request has been made to make copies of a film of a test flight of an aircraft so that the contractor can make some observations.  Something called the XB-50.

Wait. What?  XB-50?

Thank Gore for the Internet.

After a quick google search I found an answer.  The XB-50 project had a long lineage … originally an advanced development of the B-29, redesignated B-50 to preserve funding because after the war ended (you thought the $6000 toilet seat was a new concept?).  Old stuff like the B-29 was being mothballed at an astounding rate so they couldn’t justify funding an advancement of an old design so they pretended it was new.  Bigger engines, extended airframe, bigger tail, bigger wings … it was meant to be an interim long-range nuclear bomber that could reach the USSR.  It’s concept was soon replaced by the jet age and the B-47 and B-52, but they had put a lot into developing these planes, so they repurposed them into a wide variety of other purposes and the XB-50 was one of those “new uses” — one of the first aerial tankers.  Major DaSilva was obviously involved in the testing of these conversion aircraft in some way, I’d say something to do with filming?

So, a seventy-five cent, truly vintage book yielded unexpected treasures … a slice of life from the fifties, a few personal recipes, and a bit of history.  Not a bad day’s work.

Oh, in case you’re interested, here’s a close-up of the stamp …



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