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Cookbook collector from Buffalo reaches one last goal: a home for all 700 of them

Jocelyn Ingram's first cookbook was a doozy.

"A Treasury of Great Recipes," published in 1965 by horror film legend Vincent Price and his then-wife Mary, caught her eye.

The book described how to make grand Continental splurges like Scampi Auroroa from Harry's Bar, in Venice, Italy, and metropolitan show-stoppers like steak Diane and soufflé au Grande Marnier, from Chicago's posh Whitehall Club.

"I found it at a flea market and something just kicked in," Ingram said. "I was so turned on to the enormous amount of information, and the way people just threw themselves into things."

In the years that followed, Ingram would collect 700 cookbooks the way some people collect seashells. She returned to her West Side apartment with her latest finds from thrift stores, flea markets and estate sales.

Recently, though, those bound treasures became a burden. Planning to move into a smaller space, Ingram faced the cookbook collector's cruelest dilemma: What happens if you can't afford to keep your darlings?

She turned to an old friend, Bill Nowak. Years ago, they were both part of the Yeast-West Bakery. Born of Buffalo's counter-cultural movement, the bakery was founded to bake bread for the city's two food co-ops. The bakery's whole-wheat, low-sugar products made it to the shelves of Tops and Wegmans supermarkets before the bakery ceased operations in 1996.

Maybe Nowak, now executive director of the New York Geothermal Energy Organization, could help. Nowak started making inquiries.

Looking at books from her collection, you could follow the history of modern food by flipping though the pages crowding her apartment.

(Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

"Everything you'd ever want is in here somewhere," she said. "Look at this, the Mystery Chef."

She picks up a volume authored by John McPherson, whose nom de food was the Mystery Chef. His cooking show, broadcast on radio during the Great Depression, became popular for its no-nonsense recipes.

Besides numerous books, McPherson's success eventually led to a daily recipe program on the NBC radio network in 1949, making him one of the forerunners of the Food Channel.

One of the shiniest newer volumes in Ingram's collection was Gourmet magazine's omnibus edition, 1,000 recipes from the sophisticated glossy food magazine published in 2009.

Between that, Ingram's books covered the natural and organic food movement. Then came the food-of-the-year-diet craze, ongoing since the soybean was first crowned in the 1970s, and now finding expression in volumes like "Paleo Chef."

Many volumes were just plain interesting.

(Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

"I wanted things that were different, that were unusual," Ingram said. "Like 'Why Not Kohlrabi?' "

"The White House Cookbook" is between "The Harley Bikers' Cookbook" and "Mrs. Bridges' Upstairs, Downstairs Cookbook."

She never cooked out of most of them, "but I never really intended to," she said. "I just like them. They all have their little personality about them."

One of the people Nowak contacted was Dave Rennie of the D'Avolio Culinary Institute, a cooking school catering to people with disabilities located at St. Mary's School for the Deaf.

Rennie is the executive chef at the program. And, he admits, a bit of a cookbook hound.

"I'm the same way. I probably have that many cookbooks at home, but I'm a chef," Rennie said, laughing. "It's one way to show how this disease called cooking can really grab you, and before you know it, you want to know everything about it."

He decided to take the cookbook collection. "We'll use part of them as a reference for a baking class," Rennie said. "We have a lot of students who love baking, so if they saw one they would like to take, that would resonate with them, we could use them that way."

Coincidentally, Ingram is coping with hearing problems and is nearly deaf without hearing aids. "It also resonated with me that she has hearing problems and we're here at a school for the deaf," Rennie said.

When Ingram heard her books could end up at a school that helps deaf people, if felt like the answer to a prayer. She filled 46 cardboard boxes with books, and was only halfway done. A truck was coming, and strong backs.

"I think it's going to be good for them to be used," she mused. "That's what they're for. I probably held onto them for too long. I should have gotten them out there before. They're not doing anyone any good just sitting on a shelf."

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