For Amy Severson, it all started 30 years ago while her husband, Jim, was studying at the Culinary Institute of America—long before he would become the owner of Sevy’s Grill, for which Amy keeps accounts.
“At his graduation, my mother—who is very into history herself—gave him a very old cookbook, like from the early 1900s,” she says. “I opened it, and out fell a handwritten recipe and a clipping about how to cure diphtheria.”
Those little pieces helped Amy realize that American cookbooks were also a reflection of everyday life throughout history. From gas stove safety to meat preservation to wartime rationing, Amy’s found it all through collecting: “These people are literally eating their porridge for the morning and remaking it into a casserole that night,” she says. “You didn’t let anything go to waste.”
Of her massive collection, only about 300 are dated before 1950. She’s divided her supply into pamphlets, books with spines, and books with spiral binding, like neighborhood cookbooks, which she says are “the best indicators of how people really cooked at the time.” She’s foraged for good finds all over resale shops like Half Price Books, garage sales, and antique stores across the state—and even across the country. With that kind of multitude, she’s built a good sampling of Texas and Southwest history.
Her passion also took her from the bookshelf to the blogosphere: From 2008 to 2011, she operated The Dallas Cook Book, a website dedicated to cataloguing these nuggets of material she’d stumble across, like Dallas’ first cookbook, The Lone Star Cook Book, published by the Ladies Of The Dallas Free Kindergarten and Training School.
“Dallas is such a great town, if you look at it and explore the actual history,” she says. “You kind of have to go back and read about what was going on with the city as a whole.”