When Debra Bruno wants to know what her grandmother was doing on a given day between 1946 and 1979, she checks her American Woman's Cook Book.
Even more than the glimpse of a world in which the midday meal called for china and table linens, what I cherish are her notations scribbled in the margins. There is a detailed record of her cooking triumphs: 18 markings of "excellent," 19 with "swell," four "delicious," one "good," and one "very very good," painstakingly written, along with month, day and year, from 1946 to 1979, first in fountain pen, later in pencil or ballpoint pen, and shakier as her hand tremors worsened. Edna Van Valkenburg, in her reliable Dutch way, kept track of things.
And so I glimpse fragments of family history -- a whipped cream cake baked on March 10, 1946, my mother's 15th birthday ("Excellent"); a sour cream cake on July 23, 1946, the day before her own birthday (another "excellent"); and crullers ("swell") almost exactly two weeks before my birth in 1957. [Link]