If you’re going to begin an antique collection, you might as well get your start at a flea market in Paris.
That’s how it went for Spokane resident Donna Lee 34 years ago, when she was traveling through Europe after college. A family friend who’d moved to France brought her to a market, where a heavy, metal kitchen scale caught the young woman’s eye. It came with a set of small, well-worn weights ranging from a pea-sized 1-gram piece to one weighing 200 grams, or “grammes” since the weights are labeled in French.
“For some odd reason, I picked up the scale and weights, and I shipped them home along with all my other acquisitions,” Lee says.
Over the years, her collection has grown to nine kitchen scales, along with dozens of other cooking-related items, including vintage coffee grinders, cheese graters, flour sifters, cream pitchers and spice jars.
“I get myself in trouble sometimes,” Lee says, explaining that she often comes home from an estate sale only to hear her husband, Alan, say, ” ‘Donna, what are you going to do with that?’ I tell him, ‘Oh, I’ll find a place for it, Al.’ ”
Kitchen-related items are a good way for beginning collectors to start an antique collection, says antique dealer Diana Martin, because gadgets like rolling pins and old tins can often be bought for just a few dollars. At the same time, collectors can invest in higher-end kitchen items, such as a set of Bauer Pottery Co. mixing bowls that might go for as much as $800, she says.
“Every individual has a different taste for things,” says Martin, who works at The Antique Gallery, in Spokane. “Anybody can be a collector. It just takes three of one type of item.”
When it came to collecting stoneware bean pots, Spokane Valley resident Bette Hill couldn’t stop at three. Her fixation on the pots started sometime in the 1960s, when her ex-husband’s grandmother shared her secret recipe for baked beans. Hill wouldn’t share the recipe but she hinted that it doesn’t call for ketchup, onions or brown sugar, and it has to bake overnight in an old-fashioned pot.
“Every time I brought the beans to a family function, everyone raved about them,” Hill says. So, for family birthdays and other special occasions, she began gifting the recipe tucked inside a bean pot she’d found in an antique store or thrift shop.
Over the years, Hill has learned quite a bit about bean pots. For example, she knows collectors call it a “marriage” when a pot has lost its original lid and a replacement that doesn’t match is used instead. She’s also learned McCoy brand pots, made in the 1940s and ‘50s are highly collectable.
Hill’s collection really took off when eBay came onto the scene. She no longer buys more pots, but today she owns more than 50.
“Back when eBay was roaring, when everybody had money, you could spend $40 or $50 for things that were in demand,” she says. “Now, it costs you more to ship them than it costs to buy them.”
Christy Bristow, of Spokane, collects vintage cookbooks. Her assortment of several hundred books grew gradually.
“One day you look at the bookcase, and you go, ‘Huh, I’ve got a collection,’ ” she says.
Bristow prefers cookbooks published before the 1950s.
“There was a real shift (in cooking trends) at that period,” she says. “That was when you started opening a can of mushroom soup.”
One of her favorite books is a church cookbook from Vermont she believes was written in the 1930s.
“All the women wrote out the recipes by hand and made little doodles,” Bristow says. “Some are a little obscure in the directions.”
When she lived in Portland Bristow began collecting books by Portland native James Beard, who’s often called the “father of American-style cooking.” She has some small books by him that she’s never seen referenced anywhere.
Bristow likes to cook, but she says collecting cookbooks is more about peeking at the past than acquiring new recipes.
“I enjoy the sociology of it, the connection with women from the early 20th century,” she says. “Cooking is a different kind of connection than you get from reading history books about laws and wars. This is about how people actually lived.”
Sometimes collecting cookbooks is a lesson in personal history. When Bristow’s mother died, Bristow inherited her cookbooks. Several have notes scribbled in them in her mom’s handwriting, something Bristow cherishes.
“Since then, I’ve been more prone to write in the cookbooks, thinking that some day my daughters will have them,” she says.
Displaying or storing kitchen collections can be a challenge – or an exercise in creativity, depending on how you look at it.
Spokane Valley resident Terri Ring, a mother of two boys, wanted to give one room in her house a feminine touch so she started collecting rose-themed teacups and teapots for her kitchen. Instead of hanging wallpaper in the space between her kitchen’s upper cabinets and the ceiling, she hangs her teacups.
Donna Lee displays her kitchen scales throughout her South Hill house, including a blue Swedish-made one that rests on a bathroom countertop and matches the décor in that room.
Most are in her kitchen, though, including one acquired from her grandparents’ home that’s only used to measure eggs. You place a single egg on a small metal tray and a window springs up and down until it rests on the word small, medium, large or extra large, depending on the egg’s weight.
Lee doesn’t collect scales based on how much money they might be worth. The scale she bought in Paris only cost about $10 and she’s never had it appraised, she says. Instead, she brings home scales that charm her in one way or another.
“When I first started buying antiques, my aunt said, ‘Pay whatever it’s worth to you,’ ” Lee says. “If I see something, and it’s worth it to me, I get it.”
The following recipes are taken from Christy Bristow’s collection of vintage cookbooks.
Kaase Pfannkuchen (Cottage Cheese Pancakes)
Adapted from “Off the Mount Lake Range: A Collection of Old Recipes and Customs Brought to This Country by the Early Settlers of This Community.” Students from Mountain Lake High School, in a Mennonite community, interviewed people and collected recipes to compile the book in 1949.
3 cups milk
2 cups flour
1 pound cottage cheese
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Beat together the 4 eggs and milk. Add the flour, and beat until smooth. Drop the batter into a warm, buttered skillet and fry until the pancakes are browned on both sides.
In a separate bowl, combine the remaining ingredients. Spoon the cottage cheese mixture into the pancakes, then roll the pancakes and fry them again.
Yield: 8 to 10 pancakes
Approximate nutrition per pancake (based on 8): 252 calories, 6 grams fat (3 grams saturated, 22 percent fat calories), 16 grams protein, 32 grams carbohydrate, 118 milligrams cholesterol, less than 1 gram dietary fiber, 380 milligrams sodium.
Honeymoon Coffee Cake
Adapted from a recipe by Mrs. Melvin Lee, which appeared in a cookbook produced by parishioners of Central Lutheran Church, Portland, in 1946.
1/2 cup shortening
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 cups flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
Grease two round pie tins. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Cream the shortening and sugar, then add the egg.
In a separate bowl, sift the dry ingredients together two or three times.
Combine the dry ingredients with the sugar mixture, alternating with the milk. Add the vanilla.
Pour the batter into the prepared tins.
Sprinkle the batter with a combination of 4 tablespoons sugar, 3 tablespoons melted butter and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon.
Bake the cakes for 15 minutes. Serve hot with butter.
Yield: 2 cakes
Approximate nutrition per 2-ounce serving: 192 calories, 11 grams fat (3 grams saturated, 52 percent fat calories), 3 grams protein, 20 grams carbohydrate, 22 milligrams cholesterol, less than 1 gram dietary fiber, 76 milligrams sodium.
Delicious Pork Chops
From “This Kitchen Cabinet,” a collection of reader-submitted recipes published by “Sunset” magazine in 1931.
6 pork chops
2 to 3 tablespoons shortening
1 medium-sized onion, sliced
1 small can of evaporated milk
Trim the chops and wipe them with a damp cloth. Dredge them with flour on both sides, sprinkle with pepper and salt, and let stand for about 10 minutes.
Heat the shortening in a heavy frying pan. Brown the chops on both sides, then add the onion and evaporated milk and let the ingredients cook over a very low flame for about two hours.
When the milk has cooked away, add enough water to form a rich gravy.
Serve with mashed potatoes or candied sweet potatoes.
Yield: 6 servings
Approximate nutrition per (5-ounce) serving: 275 calories, 13 grams fat (4 grams saturated, 43 percent fat calories), 31 grams protein 7 grams carbohydrate, 83 milligrams cholesterol, less than 1 gram dietary fiber, 106 milligrams sodium.