Susan Spess Shay

Still playing make believe.


Carla Emory’s Old Fashioned Recipe Book

Carla Emery

Image via Wikipedia

One of my favorite all time books is Carla Emery’s Old Fashioned Recipe Book.

I first heard of Carla a long time ago. I saw her on the Phil Donohue Show. (Remember Phil? I think he was married to That Girl–Marlo Thomas.) Anyway, in 1977 Carla had a book for sale, published by Bantam.

In 1971, the book came out in four issues. Truly selfpublished. Carla wrote it, and with the help of friends mimeographed it on colored paper, punched holes in it, and put it together with metal rings.

There’s a big, smart and profitable movement these days toward self-publishing, but it’s nothing like what Carla did. I wonder how many people want to publish that badly? I’m not sure I do. At least, nothing I’ve written yet.

I love Carla’s book. It’s so much more than that. It’s how to live on your own without running to the store every day. (She tells how to preserve fresh eggs for the winter–in water glass.) How to be self-sufficient by raising most of your own food. (Animals and all.) How to believe you can do what needs to be done.

Something that always intrigued me was her recipe for homemade bread. Look in the index under bread, you’ll find–boiled, Boston Brown, cabbage, challah, rye, salt rising, unleavened, wheat and yeast. 

One heading under breads is called, The Science and Art of Yeast Bread Making. It tells what you need and why you need it. Liquid, yeast, sweetening, shortening, salt (all that’s pretty much explanatory) then, Other Things:

I’ve reached the point in my bread making where I don’t make a bread without some “other things.” A whole wheat bread is improved so much by the addition of a quite large part of fruit, vegetable or both.

 She adds cereals, or rice, or corn bread or crusts. AND plenty of things like eggs, mashed potatoes, pumpkin, apricots or peaches.

I’ve tried making bread Carla’s way. It’s been a long time since I tried it. G-Man makes bread more often than I do these days in our bread machine. And we rarely vary from the recipes in the machine’s instruction book. (We don’t want to gilflirt the bread maker.)

She tells:

How to make cheese. I’d love to try it some time, but I doubt I ever will. She even tells how to make rennet. (Enough on that subject.)

How to be a bee keeper. It’s one of those magical things I’d love to try, but won’t. LOL. I’m allergic to pain, so I can’t go there. I love knowing about it, though.

How to make jam, jelly and preserves. I tried making strawberry jam once years and years ago, using apple peel instead of pectin to thicken. When jam doesn’t set up, what have you got? Syrup. Yeah, I must have missed something. 🙂

How to raise just about any garden vegetable. Even Jerusalem Artichokes. Oyster plant. (Aka salsify–whatever that is.) And celery.

Celery and celeriac aren’t for just any garden or gardener. They are both difficult and demanding to grow even though celleriac is a little easier than celery.

How to make attar of rose, rose water and rose beads.

How to use herbs. How to dry them, make butters with them, vinegars, extracts and oils. She also tells about sachets and herb pillows.

Here’s a Midwestern pioneer recipe for a Headache Pillow: Mix together 2 ounces each lavender, marjoram, rose petals, betony rose leaf and 1/2 ounce cloves. You’re supposed to sniff it to cure your headache.

Anybody know what betony rose leaf is?

Sadly, Carla died in 2005. I won’t get to meet her this side of Heaven, so she’ll never know about all the hours of entertainment she’s given me. I’ll never be a pioneer woman. Never live anywhere that I don’t have indoor plumbing. I won’t preserve eggs in waterglass.

I certainly don’t plan be a homesteader, milk a cow or churn butter. I won’t depend on my garden in order to eat or feed my offspring.

But if for some reason I’m forced to, I’ll have my partner, Carla, to help me along the way.

Advice from Carla:

Take a leaf from our revered Colonial great-grandmothers who grew their own wool and flax, spun the thread, wove the cloth, and grew all their own food and drink. They drank out of a single vessel which circulated from hand to hand around the table and ate two or three to a bowl, which helped save on dishwashing. They specialized in one pot meals–mainly stew. When cold weather came the children were sewn into their winter underwear and wore it until spring when everybody had a bath.

  1. Don’t discuss the obvious.
  2. Don’t own a television or radio. Read no worldly magazines and only the front and back pages of a newspaper.
  3. Quit a job when you’re losing efficiency.
  4. Go to bed when you’re tired.
  5. Eat less salt and less sugar, and use less heat.
  6. Keep records of things to do, things to buy.
  7. Then get somebody else to do as much of that as possible.
  8. Don’t drink coffee, tea, colas, alcohol, smoke cigarettes, chew snooze or use drugs. Stay at home.
  9. Sing a lot.
  10. Pray a lot.


So just admit you can’t be an old fashioned girl and continue doing as much of everything else as you used to and decide what you’re going to neglect. Or better yet, go ahead and neglect it because deciding takes time.