About 15 years ago, our daughter, Nancy Russell, and I had a booth at a
one-day antique show in the Fayette High School gym. We took turns at the
booth and visited around to buy and trade with other dealers. I stopped where
a woman was reading a huge cook book. “Would that be a White House Cook
Book?” I asked.
The woman flipped it shut so I could see its gleaming white oilcloth cover
with big black letters. It had a sunburst circle on the front, with a picture
of the White House in Washington, D.C. I knew that I had to own that book
because Mom’s copy burned when our house was destroyed by fire in 1922.
The lady opened the front cover and I read, “COMPLIMENTS of J.L. HENRY,
HARDWARE. STOVES, ETC., Centralia, Mo.” I screamed, “That’s from Grandpa’s
Nancy heard me and came running. A few minutes later, Walt appeared at the gym
entrance, and Nancy yelled for him to come quick. This was a family treasure,
for sale to the public. The three of us were making quite a commotion, and
several people gathered around to see what the racket was about.
I held the book tenderly and displayed the first page with its ornamented
sticker and said, “That was Mom’s father’s store, in Centralia. This copy was
the 1900 edition, and Mom would have been a teenage girl.” Ida Saxton
McKinley’s full-page picture was at the front on slick paper.
The 592 other pages were pages were tan and brittle, and I clung to it so
others wouldn’t damage it. This would be our book, whatever the price~.
“Mom’s White Mountain Cake is in here,” I said. She made it often. It
required the whites of a dozen eggs! It was a four-layer cake, and she put
icing on each layer and held them together with tooth picks. Then she smoothed
luscious white icing on the top and sides.
“Once she made it for Tilman Severe’s 16th birthday. He was a 16-year-old
orphan who came to live with us.” These strangers didn’t care about Tilman’s
birthday, but I needed to tell the story. “The icing wouldn’t harden, and the
layers began to slide. We watched her add more toothpicks, but alas! The thing
began to split from top to bottom. In desperation she dumped the cake upside
down into a huge mixing bowl. “Spoons!” someone yelled, and we agreed that
there was never a better tasting cake.
I found, “Cakes: Almond to Variegated” in the loose index pages. There were
76 cake recipes and 24 “Fillings and Frostings”! I carefully turned to
“White Mountain” on page 286 and read, “Cream three cups of sugar and one
cup of butter making it very light.” Eight egg whites went into the cake and
four into the icing. “The 12 yolks may be used to make ‘Golden Spice
Cake.’*” They never heard of cholesterol in 1887 when the first edition was
I closed the book and ~got ready to write a check. “How much?” I asked.
“Sorry,” the dealer said, “The White House Cook Book is sold.” I was about
to spill tears right there on the basketball floor. The dealer hesitated a
moment. “These two people just bought it for a Mother’s Day gift.” I turned,
scowling -- and there stood the two people, Nancy and Walt, grinning!