That's the provocative and completely unsubstantiated hypothesis likely to occur to readers of Handwritten Recipes, Michael Popek's second collection of scrap papers tucked into secondhand books. Popek, who runs a book shop in Oneonta, N.Y., last year released Forgotten Bookmarks, a compendium of ticket stubs, valentines and four-leaf clovers.
The first book was published on the insistence of a literary agent who came across Popek's blog, a page he developed so he wouldn't have to compose individual e-mails to friends and relatives every time his cataloging turned up an interesting find. But Popek wasn't entirely sold on the concept: "I always thought recipes would be a better idea for a book," he says.
Popek claims there isn't any correlation between book choice and gustatory preferences. Although it's tempting to weave conclusions about why a reader of David Williams' Horns of Ecstasy was making squash pickles, or what drove a reader of Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast to scribble down directions for frying spinach, many of the match-ups are confounding. What was an index card with a typewritten recipe for Jewish Apple Cake doing in a 1921 edition of Japan and The Far East Conference, for instance? (The recipe may hold a clue: "Cake tastes better after 2 days," it warns. To judge the book by its cover, it was surely slow-going.)
But it does seem that bakers are less likely to bother with fiction: Although the breads, side dishes and entrees were uncovered in mysteries, romances and sci-fi classics, more than 75 percent of the desserts were drawn from cookbooks or reference books.
Although Popek didn't conduct rigorous recipe testing - "I make no claims about the taste, ease of preparation or completeness of these recipes...a few were chosen simply because the handwriting was clear," he writes in the book's introduction - he experimented with the included desserts.
"Honestly, they came out awful," he says.
It was impossible to trace most of the recipes in the book, so Popek doesn't know whether they were transcribed from radio broadcasts or copied down from friends' recipe files. Still, it seems likely many of the recipes have never before appeared in print. "It's up to you to decide if you're brave enough to try them," he writes.