Friday, February 24, 2012

The Biggest Loser (on eBay at least)


Would you bid $180.00 for three old recipe boxes?  Someone did tonight, on eBay.  My maximum bid was $89, and I thought that was crazy high.  I found out I lost the auction when I emerged from the subway after work. It was a fierce bidding war in the final moments, the drama unfolding while I was underground traveling from the Lower East Side to Park Slope.

I wonder: Who are these people and why do they want these boxes so much?  It used to be that boxes filled with hand-written recipes on eBay would sell for $10 or $20, or sometimes not at all.  Gone are the days I used to find them at flea markets and antique shops (or the junktique stores that I favor) for just a few dollars, so eBay is my only (and increasingly dwindling) option. While $180 sets a record, it's not unusual that the boxes command for $50 or $70 or more on eBay -- and it's a crap shoot as, unlike at a flea market, one can't really examine the contents.  I recently paid $28 for a box and it yielded --- drum roll here....just one worthwhile recipe (a one-step pound cake, which I'll make soon).

Granted, these recipe boxes are rare.  Who these days doesn't print recipes off the internet, from Epicurious and other sites?  My own modern recipe collection consists of these, stored in a file folder, kept for a while and then discarded when a newer version appears online.  So perhaps their value is couched in the notion that maintaining a recipe file box is a lost art and these are the last of a dying breed.

Maybe my competitors for these boxes are simply seeking what I am: A glimpse (and taste) of the past revealed in some wonderful combination of ingredients and method, a gem of a recipe that somehow was lost to time.

Nostalgia is a powerful sentiment -- so many of us think the past was/is better, that Grandma did it right.  Kind of  like "the grass is always greener" across time and not space.  Woody Allen's recent film Midnight in Paris tried to debunk that thought process.  When the movie's main character got his wish to live in the Paris of the 1920s -- his idea of perfection, he discovered that those living in the 1920s wished they were living in Le Belle Epoque, the Paris of the 1890s.

14 comments:

  1. It's possible that your blog's popularity may be your own worst enemy. The fact that you seek these out, try them out and people can read about them on your blog (and in LHJ!) makes them more popular. People want to be like you!

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  2. Funny, Tugs Girl. I doubt too many people want to be like me, but sweet of you for saying so. In the middle of the night I had an epiphany: what if the bidding wars are caused by squabbling family members? One of granny's descendants sells her stuff on eBay, while other family members want to keep it, at any cost.

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    1. I can understand the squabbling family, too. A little too well, unfortunately!

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  3. Speaking of Woody Allen ... maybe THE egg salad recipe is in there! http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0061177/

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    1. Margaret -- Maybe that's it! Brilliant guess!

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  4. I have a ton of old recipes from magazines, handwritten notebooks from my grandmother, 30 year old cooking magazines and stuff like that. Many are recipes that were made over and over because they were really good. With all the technological progress,everybody has access to most recipes and secrets, so I agree that it´s probably finding something that no one else has that makes people pay such high prices.Or they´re just bored...ja

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    1. Paula -- I think you've nailed it. So much access leads to decline of "special-ness." So on the one hand, it's nice that the wealth is spread, so to speak, but it does drive the compulsion to find something new. Thanks for writing (and making me laugh, imagining bored folks entertaining themselves by driving up eBay auctions!).

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  5. I have been collecting old recipies from my clients that I do eldercare for. Most of my clients have had great mental ability, they just have failing physical ones, so we are able to talk in depth about their old family recipies. The recipies take on special meaning to me after my clients have passed away, too.
    Liliah was 101 years old. I asked her what kind of dessert she would like for her birthday and she said, "egg custard pie". I had never heard of it so I asked if she had the recipe and she gave me hers along with her secrets for making it smooth. Yummy! Some months later, Liliah passed away a week before her 102 birthday.
    Mildred was 94 and her family tradition was to have steamed cherry pudding at Christmas time. Another yummy recipe! This recipe had been passed down in her husband's family from his grandmother.
    Alice had a recipe for applesauce cake with hickory nut frosting. Louisa gave me her recipe for Wacky cake made without eggs or butter that they made in the depression.
    Currently I take care of Eileen (age 94) and we have great conversations about recipies, genealogy, social issues and so many things. It is a blessing to not only share their recipies, but their lives.
    Thanks for the wonderful blog! I really enjoy it!

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    1. Mrs. Goodwrench -- You sound like an amazing caregiver; your clients are so fortunate. Your genuine interest in their recipes must make them very happy, as it honors the important place they've held in their lives. I love the stories of the egg custard pie and the steamed cherry pudding. Did you ever consider writing an article about all of this, something like The Last Recipes?

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    2. Have you looked for any vintage church or community cookbooks? My favorite cookbook is one that was published by my Grandma's Midwestern church as a fundraiser about a decade ago. With it I have my favorite recipes from my grandma, recipes from great aunts and second cousins, and other fun things to try from the ladies in the community!

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    3. Jillian -- Yes, I do! I love those books, and just got a great one published by a church in 1956 in Akron. You're lucky to have a book featuring the recipes of your relatives. Cook (and bake) on! Thanks for writing.

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    4. Susan - I had never considered it before. It certainly gives me food for thought. :^)

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  6. I have 3 or 4 of those recipe boxes, plus a room dedicated to cookbooks, so no, it doesn't surprise me that they go for more money these days.

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  7. I have my maternal grandmother's recipe box- the best recipes have additional notes, many recipes have dates served and where she got the recipe.
    About 3 months after my mother died, I delved into Grandma Barry's overstuffed enamel box searching for Potato Chip Cookies - I hadn't had them since my Grandmother last baked them which was probably sometime in the 80s-
    I found the recipe and learned that my paternal Grandma Carrick had given her that recipe. My Grandma Carrick was a phenomenal cook but I didn't think I had any of her recipes...the Potato Chip Cookie brought us together again in the kitchen while I baked.

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