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  • Thanksgiving GhostsThe Family Cookbook
  • Mary Ann Sternberg (bio)

After a hiatus of many years, it’s my turn to host the family Thanksgiving—a perfect opportunity to introduce my new daughter-in-law and several grown-up nieces and nephews to Great Aunt Adele.

About twenty-five years ago, when Thanksgiving was mine to host every year, the menu had frankly become boring. So I began to browse my cookbook shelves for inspiration and discovered a tattered, re-bound volume that had been jammed there for a decade, since my mother downsized and unloaded treasures on me.

The cookbook was bound with wallpaper remnants and had no identification save a small white square adhesive patch on the front cover which had been hand lettered: “Twentieth Century.” But there was no title page—author, publisher, and publication date were a mystery. Nevertheless, I turned the frayed, yellow pages and began reading—starting with the lengthy table of contents and continuing through to “Foods for Invalids under Medical Direction” and the appendices. I was hooked when I read the chapter called “Obesity List”—foods to be avoided by “stout people,” which, unfortunately, can apply to one side of my family. When I’d finished reading, I felt like Alice fallen down the rabbit hole, into a culinary wonderland of another era. Intrigued, I phoned my mother.

The cookbook had belonged to Mamie—my paternal grandmother, an excellent cook, who had lived with us when I was young. It had been written by Mamie’s sister, Aunt Adele Kahn. “You met her once when you were about two,” my mother told me. But that side of the family had scattered, and my father, the family link, had died years before.

Aunt Adele’s daughter might still live in Louisville, my mother suggested provocatively. And so, in those pre-Google days, I called Louisville directory assistance for the phone number of Marion Flexner. “I beg your pardon,” demanded the strong, positive voice of the woman who answered my call. “Who exactly are you?”

Cousin Marion proved to be a good sport, considering that her quiet Saturday afternoon had been invaded by someone purporting to be the granddaughter of her long-deceased Aunt Mamie who was calling to inquire about the cookbook of her own long-deceased mother. “Your cookbook,” she related with obvious pride, “was published in 1897. It was written by my mother and Mrs. C. F. Moritz.” [End Page 130] Great Aunt Adele was a published author in the late nineteenth century, before she turned twenty.


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Great Aunt Adele was a published author in the late nineteenth century, before she turned twenty, and was “known as a clever woman, always ahead of her time.” Adele Kahn (second from the right) with the author’s grandmother, Mamie (far left), courtesy of the author.

“She was known as a clever woman, always ahead of her time,” Marion said. A lifelong resident of Montgomery, Alabama, she was active in clubs and “civic matters,” in the best art and literature societies. “She even made a speech on television when she was eighty-five.” However, Marion confessed, “I never saw my mother cooking.” Recipes from the famous cookbook appeared at family dinners prepared by Molly, the family cook. “Although I’m sure my mother taught her how.”

My elderly cousin had apparently inherited some of her mother’s culinary genes. She, too, was the author of cookbooks and had written numerous food articles for national magazines as well. “I really did know my way around the kitchen,” said Cousin Marion, who then lapsed into excuses for why, at age eighty-three, she was cooking much less than in years past.

A month or so after our phone conversation, a package arrived with a Louisville return address. It contained a fragile, but complete copy of The Twentieth Century Cookbook and a note from Cousin Marion. “I found an extra copy of the cookbook.” [End Page 131]


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A lifelong resident of Montgomery, Alabama, Adele Kahn Weil was active in clubs and “civic matters,” in the best art and literature societies. “She even made a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 130-132
Launched on MUSE
2009-11-12
Open Access
No
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