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Cookbook author Rhoda Lee, of Walnut Creek, holds a couple of her Chinese cookbooks that are on display during the show "Cookbooks & Aprons" at the Shadelands Ranch Museum in Walnut Creek, Calif. on Monday, July 29, 2013. The show will go on for the month of August and will show off international and local cookbooks and a variety of vintage aprons. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Staff)

WALNUT CREEK -- As an American wife living abroad in different countries for many years, Nancy Seligman found solace in cookbooks. She collected cookbooks from the various countries she lived in including Scotland, Australia and Bahrain.

But it was often the longing for the familiar that led American women who, because of their husbands' work, raised families abroad. These women often clung together, and Seligman and her fellow expatriates discovered that combining beloved recipes from home with recipes of their newfound culture was the key to feeling at home wherever they were.

The result was cookbooks such as "Chevron International Flavors, Perth, Western Australia," and "Northwood American Wives Club Cookbook," highlighting Seligman's residency in London.

These, along with Seligman's other cookbooks, will be on display at Shadelands Ranch Historical Museum throughout August. Seligman and fellow docents loaned their old and new cookbooks and vintage aprons for the "Cookbooks and Aprons" exhibit.

Cookbooks, say the docents, tell personal stories.

"The entire cookbook carries memories for me," said Seligman, who organized the Northwood American Wives Cookbook when she and her family resided in London in the early 1980s. The cookbook includes traditional English recipes "hoping that this will inspire you to give them a try and enjoy something a little different."


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Seligman tried a recipe for Cock-a-leekie soup, a traditional Scottish soup that was given to her by her neighbor at the time. The soup was served during "Robbie Burns Night," a dinner celebrating Scottish poet Robert Burns, Seligman said.

Docent Sylvia Ortlieb included a couple of Chinese cuisine cookbooks by longtime Walnut Creek resident Rhoda Yee, author of "The Chinese Village Cookbook."

"I took classes with her out of her home in the 70s," said Ortlieb of Yee.

While Ortlieb said preparing Chinese cuisine can be time-consuming, she enjoyed making chicken medallions with snow peas.

"This recipe I got out of the cookbook and was able to make because it was so practical," Ortlieb said. "It required a lot of chopping, though."

Ortlieb also added "The 49er Recipe Book" circa 1970s, from the collection of her family members who were huge fans of the football team. One of the recipes included "BBQ Sauce a la Schreiber," as prepared by former 49ers running back Larry Schreiber.

Some antique and vintage cookbooks on display are from the Shadelands museum collection. These include an 1831 cookbook written in a "not-so-reader-friendly paragraph style." Other antique cookbooks include a 1913 edition of "52 Sunday Dinners" and copies of "Boston Cooking School Cookbook" and "Fannie Farmer Cookbook."

A more contemporary display includes cookbooks dedicated to a singular ingredient. There are cookbooks solely devoted to pomegranates, asparagus and pumpkins. Local reader favorites include "The Breakfast Book" by Walnut Creek's own Marion Cunningham and "A Foreign Affair: An Adventure in Home Cooking" by Barbara Kobsar.

Docent Patty Howard inherited two of her grandmother's turn-of-the-20th-century cookbooks: "The Blue and Gold Cook Book," presented by the Oakland Brewing and Malting Co. circa 1912, and a "Corona Club Cook Book of San Francisco," dated 1910 with the old saw, "How to get a husband, most of us know, how to keep a husband, our cookbook will show."

The same Corona Club Cookbook also listed in "Facts Worth Knowing" that "a pinch of pepper rolled in cotton and saturated in oil will stop earache." Howard said she remembers her mother administering this treatment to her when she was a child.

"I kept asking my mother, 'Why do I have pepper in my ear? How does it work?' " Howard said. "They tell you what's good for earache but they don't explain how or why."

Docent Sheila Rogstad loaned her family's Cornish recipe book as homage to her own Cornish heritage. Rogstad also loaned a 1950s organdy bib apron.

"It wasn't an everyday apron," Rogstad said. "It was only to be worn when you had company."

Priscilla Tudor of Martinez, who became a docent after her recent retirement, displays two aprons that belonged to her mother. Growing up in the Midwest, Tudor remembers being exhausted after helping her mother get the kitchen and dining room ready to receive visitors. Towels, silverware, china, napkins -- all the special stuff had to be used for company.

"I don't think she wore her nice aprons often, only for company," Tudor said. "She used her everyday aprons."

Tudor, who loves to cook and entertain, said she's relieved that in the modern world, things are more low maintenance.

"Thank goodness we're a lot more relaxed now," she said.

'Cookbooks and Aprons' exhibit
  • WHEN: Through August
  • WHERE: Shadelands Ranch Historical Museum, 2660 Ygnacio Valley Road, Walnut Creek
  • INFORMATION: Wednesday and Sunday between 1 and 4 p.m. Admission: $3 for adults; $1 for students ages 6-17; Free for children under 6