“Cookbooks were like family Bibles,” says rare-book seller Elizabeth Young, who in November opened Cooking, Cocktails, and Culture, a bookstore in Brooklyn catering to a clientele that falls in a Venn diagram where history buff and food nerd overlap. “You find all these bits tucked into them—like a recipe on the back of a postcard that an aunt sent.” Which is why Young has a strict collectibles inclusion rule whenever she sells a cookbook: everything goes with it, whether it’s a recipe for a secret sauce jotted on the back of a receipt for gloves or a clipping from a long-extinct cooking magazine.
Young’s new shop in Brooklyn’s leafy Cobble Hill neighborhood is a chef’s and bartender’s happy place, stocked to the ceiling with drool-worthy culinary titles like the 1930 cocktail tome “Shake ‘Em Up!” and a first edition of Irma S. Rombauer’s “The Joy of Cooking,” as well as the restaurant and food memorabilia that Young, a former food editor and pastry chef, prizes.
“My living room right now is piles and piles of the stuff to take in,” she confesses. Menus from transAtlantic ship crossings rank high on her list of faves. “The game dishes are insane. You’d have duck, wild boar, and elk all on the menu. For breakfast.” Appliance catalogs and instruction manuals are other categorical darlings. “I have manuals for stoves going from the 19th century up to the 50s,” she says. “It’s hilarious to look at the ones for refrigerators. People obviously had no clue in the beginning how to work a mechanical icebox.”
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Finding these food-minded collectibles is a bit harder than one might think. Young says she gets most of her stock through other dealers, though she’s scored some finds at flea markets, especially abroad. “Ephemera is like treasure,” she says. “And you have to hunt for treasure.” If you’re an amateur collector, Young suggests not only visiting her store, but checking out the directory of dealers on the website of the Ephemera Society of America, which hosts a conference in Greenwich, Connecticut, every March. But be warned about storing the stuff. “Collecting this type of thing is a slippery slope because paper’s flat, and you can just stack and stack,” says Young. “What’s really great is if you can find a way to use it.” Below some ideas on how to make use of your own food ephemera haul.
As Table Setting Pieces
Vintage food magazine tear-outs can make great place cards, says Young, as do matchbooks. “I don’t know how many old matchbooks I have,” Young confesses. For dinner parties, Young writes the name of her guest on the inside of each matchbook. “Afterwards, everybody departs with a piece of history.”
Wallpaper a Bathroom
“I love the idea of papering walls with vintage food illustrations—or really any ephemera,” says Young. It also makes for a quick, creative way to gift wrap at the last minute. Think of a pair of candles in an old “Gourmet” cover.
Re-label a Boring Candle
“I’ve seen people take old wine labels and stick them on candles,” says Young “It really finishes the gift.”
Related Video: When Vintage Matters
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Header image courtesy of Heinz.