Some readers may have a craving for their grandmother’s butterscotch meringue pie – but the recipe is nowhere to be found. Others may have yearned for years for those Marshall Field’s frosted chocolate cookies they enjoyed growing up – and have resigned themselves to never tasting them again.
There is hope – with “Lost Recipes Found,” the web magazine started by Evanstonian Monica Kass Rogers. While Ms. Kass Rogers, a food writer for more than 20 years, was writing a column for the Chicago Tribune, she responded to letters from readers who were looking for a recipe that they remembered but could not find. Thousands of letters came to the paper, far more than she could answer. She said she “got hooked on trying to find recipes for people. Everybody has a recipe that they loved.” The result: lostrecipesfound.com.
The website features many different topics, including recipes by decade, recipes for dishes from closed hotels, restaurants and department stores and even recipes from state fairs. People send in their stories and details of the dish they remember, and Ms. Kass Rogers takes it from there.
“I spend a lot of time in vintage cookbooks. Sometimes a person provides a clue, and I may talk to the lady in charge at the historical society in a town and say, ‘Hey, is there anyone here who remembers this restaurant?’” said Ms. Kass Rogers. “If it’s a restaurant recipe, I do what I can to track down the people who are behind it or their family.”
Often the requests are simple, but sometimes much more research is needed to uncover that piece of history, she says. “Once somebody told me they had been on an airplane about 25 years ago, and they read an article in a magazine. They knew it was an in-flight magazine but they didn’t know which airline. They didn’t remember the name of the magazine, but they had seen a recipe for Kirk Douglas’ favorite meat loaf. I figured out which airlines had in-flight magazines and … it was United Airlines.”
Ms. Kass Rogers soon learned that the archives for Mainliner Magazine, United Airlines’ in-flight magazine at the time, were located in a vault below the United Airlines headquarters in Elk Grove Village. “I drove out there,” said Ms. Kass Rogers. “I went through [them] issue by issue and found the article and recipe.”
While finding these recipes nearly lost to time is a satisfying feat, locating the recipe is only the beginning for recipes Ms. Kass Rogers publishes on lostrecipesfound.com. “The [recipes] I publish are the ones I think having a more compelling story attached to them,” said Ms. Kass Rogers. “I can tell the story if it’s a good one, but ultimately I’m going to photograph the dish and prepare the dish, and I want it to look like something you’d want to eat today and taste like something you’d want to eat today.”
Chicken Custard was an example of a recipe that did not travel well through time. “It was just horrible,” Ms. Kass Rogers said. “Completely inedible. I followed the recipe exactly, and it was dreadful.”
However, with recipes like Banana Funnel-Cake Fritters & Peanut Butter Caramel, the site’s recipe index is hardly wanting for delicious dishes from the past.
Those who reach out to Lost Recipes Found can be grateful to be reunited with missing pieces of their pasts, happily reintroduced to the contemporary appetite.