Hooked On Cookbooks

ROB KASPER'S MARYLAND

May 22, 1994|By ROB KASPER

It would be an exaggeration to say that Georgia Corso bought all her cookbooks at yard sales. But only a slight one.

She did buy "The Pie Book" by Louis P. De Govy at a bookstore. And her mother gave her a copy of "The American Woman's Cookbook" as a wedding present. But most of the 500 or so books and pamphlets on cooking that fill five shelves in her Northeast Baltimore home came, in one way or another, from yard sales.

The authors of these works range from well-known cooking experts such as Craig Claiborne, to questionable culinarians such as NBC weatherman Willard Scott, to home cooks such as those on the cookbook committee of St. Francis of Assisi School.

Part of the appeal of buying cookbooks at yard sales is that the books are cheaper the second time around. "For most yard sale items, you are talking 10 cents on the dollar," said Ms. Corso. But there is also the thrill of the chase, of coming up with what she calls "a good find."

So on periodic weekends during the yard-sale season -- from April to October -- Ms. Corso will load her two kids, Johnny, 11, and Scarlett, 9, into the family's 1981 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser. This car, she noted, is "the biggest wagon on the road today." Having a lot of cargo room helps, she said. Her son looks for comic books, her daughter collects porcelain figures, and she "has a mental checklist" of cookbooks and other household items she would like to own.

Her husband, John, often figures into a purchase even if he is not along during the expedition. He is a welder. Broken pieces of porch furniture that other people regard as useless are tossed in the Olds, welded back together and end up sitting on the Corso family patio.

Yard sales in various areas of the state yield different treasures, said Ms. Corso. For example, the yard sales of Western Maryland are good sources of kitchen gadgets. "The folks in the country still cook," she said. And the biggest cookbook lodes are found in the yard sales in the neighborhoods along Baltimore's Harford Road, she said. These are communities where people live in their houses a long time, she said, and over the years accumulate a lot of household items.

Her cookbooks are not just for display. She reads them, files them by type of cuisine, and uses some of them in preparing family meals. While she likes to cook, her duties as business manager for her husband's welding business limit the amount of time she can spend in the kitchen, she said.

The other morning as she sipped coffee Ms. Corso offered witty appraisals of her cookbook collection.

She prefers Craig Claiborne's cookbooks over "The Joy of Cooking." " 'Joy' has the hard way to do everything," she said. "But Craig Claiborne tells you how to do the same thing, only easier."

Ms. Corso waved to several copies of Julia Child's books that were resting on a top shelf, the French section. "I like Julia, but she is a little bit over my head. I am not a real gourmet cook and Julia can get complicated on me."

For seafood dishes she likes the two brochure-style seafood cookbooks put out by the Maryland Seafood Marketing Office, part of the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

Her buying technique at yard sales is to make a bid on an entire box of books. You get a better deal when you buy an entire box, she said. Moreover, she has a marketing plan for any books she doesn't want. After culling through her new purchases, she takes the leftovers to a neighborhood book store, Hamilton Book Traders. There she swaps the leftovers for more cookbooks.

The day I visited her she showed me some of the fruits of recent swaps. There was a paperback vegetarian cookbook, "Recipes for a Small Planet," by Ellen Buchman Ewald. "Like a lot of people my age, I am trying to get into the healthy cooking," said Ms. Corso who is in her early 40s.

There was "Willard Scott's All-American Cookbook." This book, she said, matches her style of entertaining. "I like to have big feeds for people, but I don't want to spend all the time at a party in the kitchen. I like to sit out and talk with my friends."

And there was a little-known 1963 book called "Lessons in Gourmet Cooking," by Libby Hillman. Ms. Corso said she picked up the book because of the 1960s illustrations, and its ugly yellow cover. "It reminded me," she said, "of how things looked in the old days."

She grew up in Pikesville, across the street from the Pikesville movie theater. In the late 1970s she moved to Lauraville, a neighborhood near Lake Montebello, filled with big old houses, and, she said, with relatives of her husband. She has other relatives in the Baltimore-area, too. Her brother, Rob Broadfoot, a graphic artist living in Towson, does not share her enthusiasm for buying "treasures" at yard sales.

However, her sister, Kate Rigby, a Spanish teacher at Patapsco Senior High School, appreciates a "good find." Ms. Corso said that recently she almost bought a Mexican knickknack, a wall hanging called "God's Eye," for her sister's classroom.

But she said that when buying "works of art" or vintage cookbooks at yard sales, price is a determining factor. And the knickknack was too high. "I offered two dollars," said Ms. Corso. "The woman said it reminded her of her dad, and she couldn't let it go for less than $5. I told her if it reminded her of Dad, she should keep it in the basement."

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