Michael Popek never intended on taking over the family’s used bookstore.
“I graduated college and moved off to the west coast to try and find my own path. Somehow I ended up back here in New York, with my girlfriend, and slowly started putting in more and more hours here at the shop and now I’m basically running things.”
Back in the smallish town of Oneonta, New York, running the family business, Michael soon found something that made his job much more interesting.
“I found a big pot leaf stuck in an old microwave cookbook and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s so funny because they get the munchies and stick it in the cookbook.’ So I took a quick picture of it and I sent it to a couple people over email and they were like, ‘Oh, this is great. You should post anything else you find.’ That’s basically how the blog got started.”
So he started a blog called Forgotten Book Marks, that is now a book, containing all of the items Michael has found stuck in books over the years. He now has a collection of 1,700 items from to-do lists to feathers to a hairnet.
“My favorite are always the old letters, especially love letters. One of the earlier finds, there’s a break up letter that’s probably still my favorite. I found it in a pregnancy book. It just made me wonder what was going on in that relationship and who those people were. There were no actual names involved but I think it was the girl sending it to the guy.”
The old, dusty books that come into the shop are a never ending treasure trove containing bits and pieces of people’s lives.
“Let’s say, in a given week, I’ll sort about five or six thousand books. I’ll probably find 50 or 100 items. I would say one out of every 100 or so books I go through, there will be something in there.”
After a while, Michael realized how many recipes he was finding, many of them pressed between the pages of cookbooks, but he found them in novels as well.
“There was a recipe for Mrs. Eisenhower’s fudge. I guess it was a pretty popular fudge recipe. Mrs. Eisenhower originally published it in Family Circle or one of those magazines in the 60’s. That was found in a Nabokov novel. It wasn’t exactly what I pictured when I pictured someone making this old fudge recipe.”
He picked through his collection of 500 found recipes and selected his very favorites for his new book Handwritten Recipes: A Bookseller’s Collection of Curious and Wonderful Recipes Forgotten Between the Pages.
“This Chicken and Spaghetti Casserole was found in Michael Crichton’s Fear, which is a sci-fi book. Then there was a recipe for zucchini bread found in a cookbook called 365 Ways to To Cook Hamburger. There’s a double recipe for corn muffins and corn bread which was found in Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle.”
The recipes are mostly hand written, and deciphering the chicken scratch was the biggest challenge of compiling this book. Which brings us to this question: Are these recipes any good? On Page 1 Michael confesses that he is not a cook, but he did send the recipes out to food bloggers for testing.
“I tried to include recipes that actually look like they’d be good to eat, but I thought it was important to also include some of the weird, strange-sounding recipes that I’d find as well. Some of the recipes were incomplete and didn’t have the full instructions.”
While I have no intention of cooking up Page 87’s Meat and Cheese Loaf for my next dinner party, it is fun to see a recipe for potato bread, on the back of a Southern Bell bill, that was stuck into a copy of The Life of Martin Luther King Jr.
Really though, the moral of this story is: Finding old stuff is neat.