Cookbook user: 49 years, 24 Time/Life volumes and 3,300 recipes

The Peking Duck recipe was particularly tricky.

When Carolyn Bohler was 20, she subscribed to Time/Life cookbooks — the innocent beginning of a 49-year “hobby” she just completed in February.

“I made a pie dough and cried because I couldn’t get it in a perfect circle like my mom’s,” said Bohler, a downtown Dayton resident.

“Someone knocked on my door. Ironically, he was selling Time/Life cookbooks, with recipes from all over the world. I agreed to start with the American edition, the first in the series. I had no idea there’d be 24 volumes.

“I didn’t marry until I was 31, so had a decade when I was invited to dinners as a solo, and I’d make something from the cookbook.”

When she married, she and her husband, John, made their own wedding cake. A California native, Bohler came to Dayton to teach at United Theological Seminary. When the couple had children — a son and daughter that were raised here — she found herself using the cookbooks for family meals and potluck dinners, and she’d use a new recipe to prepare a celebration treat for students at the end of classes.

“Each volume contains recipes from a different country, so it helped me understand other cultures.”

She never forced family members to eat her experiments, but some of her creations became family favorites, like tuna Rangoon, oatmeal pancakes and a 3-layer chocolate cake that her daughter still wants on her birthday.

By the time she made chitterlings, which her son-in-law’s family said were fragrant but she didn’t, she had 400 recipes to go out of a total of 3,300. “In retirement, I was determined to complete all of them — it became a compulsion.

“It was a great hobby because nothing accumulates and I had to cook anyway,” she observed. “I was very grateful that my husband was accepting of this, and was involved. He’d go to the grocery to search for ingredients, which were often hard to find.”

When they couldn’t find Tamarind for a chutney recipe, a Persian neighbor led them to a grocery that carried it, but she occasionally had to make substitutions. Elk, eel and truffles were problematic, and when a nephew finally gave her a truffle and she used it in scalloped potatoes, “I really didn’t like it.”

She noted that there are inherent problems with 50-year-old recipes. “Eggs have changed in size, and there are other differences in ingredients and the processes. I often revised and improvised.”

She kept notes on each recipe, writing down the dates, occasions and successes or failures.

John recalls her Peking Duck recipe, since the duck had to hang in the shower for several days. “It’s part of the process to get the juices moved to the exterior,” he said. “That was a fun recipe.”

Although she only cooked the “iffy” recipes for her family, Bohler recalls one recipe for guests that was a complete flop. ”It was chicken and wasn’t done — something was wrong, and it was a real mess.”

Then, there was the black-bottom pie she carried to a dinner, “But, by the time I got there, the pie was out of the pan — I had to invest in good food-carriers.”

She didn’t do the recipes in order, and her last recipe was a French pastry she made on Feb. 11, the night before her 69th birthday. “We’d invited couples, my daughter and her husband who had enjoyed and endured my recipes before,” she said. “The recipe, which took 14 hours to prepare, included puffs of pastry filled with cream – but they didn’t puff. I served the cream on the side and that worked, but I won’t try that one again.”

Now that she’s completed all recipes in all the volumes, she says “I feel a bit of relief. I’m more daring with my cooking and can dream things up on my own.”

And, when she has to have a successful recipe, “I can check my notes and select one that says ‘excellent’ or ‘superb.’ ”

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