Sunday, July 6, 2003

Collectors share cookbook obsession

Food stuff

Chuck Martin

Carmen Parks and Rebecca Miller share an intense - some might even say odd - cookbook infatuation. They study cookbooks during the day and often fall asleep with them at night. They search out old cookbooks at yard sales and second-hand stores. Although they cook, they usually don't buy books for recipes.

Parks, who lives in Bridgetown, has a special interest in cookbooks covering the food of U.S. presidents and government officials. She's still ecstatic about recently finding a Jimmy Carter cookbook.

A Loveland resident who grew up in Louisville, Miller is most interested in Southern food and home cooking. A few weeks ago, she stumbled onto an early edition of Joy of Cooking that cost $16. Imagine her excitement when she discovered the book might be worth as much as $250.

[IMAGE] Rebecca Miller and Carmen Parks
(Joseph Fuqua II photo)
| ZOOM |
But for these women, there's more to it than hunting for bargains and rare finds. And like many of us who suffer this affliction, Parks and Miller have difficulty explaining it. Their husbands have learned not to ask questions about all those cookbooks on the shelf, much less mention the cookbook reading in bed.

Parks guesses her collection numbers more than 200 cookbooks; Miller admits she owns more than 300.

All of this eminently qualifies the women to lead a Cincinnati organization of cookbook devotees called the Culinary Collector's Society. When Parks and Miller heard about the formation of the group in 2000, they signed up as charter members and quickly became friends. When society founder Jayne Homsher stepped down as president in April, they were elected "co-presidents."

"Jayne had done it for three years," Parks says. "I guess it just took two of us to replace her."

The Parks-Miller administration is intent on growing the Culinary Collector's Society, which usually meets once a month at different locations. Membership is steady at about 55, but the women are sure there are more people out there with similar interests.

They are quick to point out the society is not only focused on collecting cookbooks. Last month, the group met for a food and wine tasting. On July 14, members will sample main-dish salads prepared by cooking teacher Rita Heikenfeld. And in August, Richard Brown, maitre d' of Jean-Robert at Pigall's, downtown, will talk to members about the evolution of fine dining in Cincinnati.

"I think all of us love to travel and try different foods," Miller says of the members' common bond. "And we like to bring cookbooks back from our travels."

Not all of them own 200 to 300 cookbooks, though.

One of the society's early goals was to establish a library of books celebrating Cincinnati's culinary heritage, and the two co-presidents are resolved to realizing that.

If anyone is interested in donating books to the society's library, the two cookbook crazies, Miller and Parks, are, of course, ready to talk.

Culinary Collector's Society membership is $50 per year. For information on joining or donating books: 981-0786 or


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