The photos showed rubber bands, burn marks, almost-illegible margin notes and corners so torn that some of the text is missing -- and, of course, many varieties of duct and packing tape for bindings. More than a few of the cookbooks had no binding left at all.
The accompanying stories were of moms, grandmas and great-grandmas, often telling how the cookbooks had been used by the current owner and generations before -- sometimes all together in the same kitchen. Other notes recounted how the books reminded their owners of special places or people.
Picking the winners from almost 100 entries in a Best Worst-Looking Cookbook contest was next to impossible, but these six stood out for combinations of tattered looks and the sweet stories behind them.
"The Rumford Complete Cook Book" was given to Louisa Schinka Kline for Christmas in 1923. Kline's cooking was well-known to a generation of St. Louisans: She was the pie cook at the Chariton Restaurant on South Broadway in the 1950s and 1960s.
The book was submitted by Kline's daughter, Beverly Belaska, 70, of south St. Louis County. "I remember when a mouse got into the stove drawer and nibbled on it," Belaska says. "She was so upset!"
"I still enjoy looking through it and seeing her handwritten notes and recipes," she adds.
"The Settlement Cook Book" was given to Ruth Filiput for Valentine's Day in 1937 by her husband, Frank, as shown in an inscription on the inside front cover.
"I have a newer version that I got in the '80s because I got tired of always asking her for the recipes," says her daughter-in-law, Shirley Filiput, 69, of Florissant, Mo. "The book came to me after Ruth passed away in 2007."
"I didn't know how to cook at all when I got married," Shirley Filiput adds. "I had the in-laws over for dinner and made fried chicken, and my father-in-law said it was like potato chips with bones in it. And he was right!"
"The Good Housekeeping Cookbook" is a fairly common title, but this version holds special meaning for Jan Polizzi.
"My grandmother Sue Lee (Gray) was a wonderful cook who didn't use cookbooks or written recipes in general -- she just used recipes from her farm experiences when she came to live in St. Louis from Sparkman, Ark.," says Polizzi, 61, of south St. Louis County, Mo. "She worked at Famous-Barr and would take me on shopping trips with her discount. It was a big treat to take me there for onion soup."
"She found this cookbook on the sale rack, and in her golden years and with her new income, wanted to try some new things."
Polizzi loves the recipe for Fruited Carrots. "People who won't eat carrots will eat these carrots," she says.
The "Joyce Chen Cook Book" caught Mary Beth Keppel's fancy after having a meal at a friend's house that used some of the recipes.
"My edition has been loved nearly to shreds," says Keppel, 63, of Chesterfield, Mo. "I acquired it in the early '70s. I've probably tried every recipe in here -- I think pretty much all of the stains are soy sauce."
Keppel adds that because of the age of the book -- copyright 1962 -- the recipes use very easy-to-find ingredients.
"The Farm Vegetarian Cookbook" reminds Mariella Funk of growing up on a small farm in Rushville, Ill.
"For my parents, this was an important book to have, as it has recipes for all the standard vegetarian fare," says Funk, 28, who lives in the Soulard neighborhood of St. Louis. "Shortly after this book was published (in 1975), my parents purchased 60 acres in central Illinois and went back to the land. This cookbook represents so many standards from my childhood."
The Farm was founded in Tennessee in 1971 by members of the San Francisco youth movement (hippies). It's still in existence (TheFarm.org).
"The Deaf Smith Country Cookbook" was purchased new in 1979 by Jay Diamond while he was living in Big Fork, Mont.
"I belonged to a food co-op at the time, and [the cookbook] was definitely in tune with the way I was eating," recalls Diamond, 55, of the Tower Grove South neighborhood of St. Louis. "Deaf Smith has been a friend of mine for over half my life."
Erastus Smith, a Texas frontiersman of the early 18th century, was known as "Deaf" because he had been partially deaf since childhood. A Texas county named after him is famous for its whole grains.
Some recipes in this story have been modified from the original to make them more understandable.
> Spiced Beef with Soy Sauce
1 (3- to 4-pound) boneless beef chuck roast
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 slices peeled fresh ginger
1 or 2 star anise
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Put all the ingredients in a heavy pot. Add 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer slowly, covered, for 3 hours or until tender. Turn occasionally for even flavor and to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pot. Check the liquid level every hour, and add 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup water if necessary.
Serve hot or refrigerate until cold. Serve in slices. Serves 5 to 8.
Per serving (based on 8): 475 calories; 29g fat; 12g saturated fat; 120mg cholesterol; 45g protein; 5g carbohydrate; 4g sugar; no fiber; 960mg sodium; 25mg calcium.
Note: You can decrease the cooking time approximately by half by cutting the beef into chunks. To save even more time, Mary Beth Keppel cooks this beef in a pressure cooker for about 1 hour.
> Lemon Meringue Pie
1 cup water
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 eggs, separated
Juice and grated zest (colored portion of peel) of 1 lemon
1 pinch salt
1 baked pie crust
Boil 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar together. Moisten the cornstarch with a little cold water. Stir into the boiling syrup. Cook 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
Beat together egg yolks, lemon juice, lemon zest and salt. Add a little of the hot mixture and blend. Add the remaining hot mixture. Cool slightly and pour into crust.
Cover the filling with a meringue made by beating the egg whites with the 2 tablespoons sugar until stiff. Place into a moderately warm (375 degrees) oven to set and brown the meringue. The reason so many meringues are failures is because they are baked in too hot an oven and consequently browned before the white of the egg has had time to set all the way through.
Serves 6 to 8.
Per serving (based on 8): 240 calories; 7g fat; 2g saturated fat; 55mg cholesterol; 3g protein; 41g carbohydrate; 29g sugar; 0.5g fiber; 180mg sodium; 20mg calcium.