The stretch of Greenwich Street between Spring and Canal is one of those blocks we often walk down and think, “Man, it would be cool to have a place right around here.” And situated along the street, inside a circa-1820s rowhouse, is one of those gems we often find and think, “Man, this is what New York is all about.” Inside the ground-floor room of the home, past the wide-framed wooden door, sits one of the greatest collections of rare and antiquarian cookbooks in the world. Welcome to Joanne Hendricks Cookbooks (488 Greenwich Street, 212-226-5731).
Hendricks stands somewhere slightly north of five feet tall, and, in her soft gray cardigan sweater, white collared shirt, and khaki pants, looks and acts like the greatest and sweetest aunt you never had. She has been running this shop out of the same room since 1995, but she’s lived in the neighborhood for much longer. “Back when we moved here [in 1975], the neighborhood was garbage trucks and warehouses,” she says.
The store is bedecked with vintage wallpaper and wooden shelving. A vintage French poster advertising a food co-op hangs on one wall, and a black-and-white photo of Woody Allen carrying a giant banana hangs on another. Classical plays from the speakers, and Hendricks always seems so happy, sitting behind her wooden desk typing away and cataloging books. Along with Kitchen, Arts and Letters and the in-transition Bonnie Slotnick’s, it is one of three such cookbook stores left in Manhattan.
Hendricks has a childlike enthusiasm for her business and books, and she jumps out of her seat to show me some of her favorite books currently for sale. A small collection of late-1800s books stands on a shelf. “These are books on telling fortunes by tea leaves,” she says, smiling. “It’s important stuff, at least to some people.”
Next she shows me a copy of Ellen Terry Johnson’s Hartford Election Cake and Other Receipts Chiefly From Manuscript Sources. From 1889 and priced at $425, the book showcases recipes on puddings, creams, and election cakes. Yes, those are cakes made specifically for election days. “They were a big part of American history,” Hendricks says matter-of-factly. On another shelf sits Mary L. Wade’s The Book of Corn Cookery. The book, written sometime around 1917, contains 150 recipes on, you guessed it, cooking corn. There are mint-condition Julia Childs books and eloquent, dust-jacketed copies of M.F.K. Fisher’s earliest works.
Hendricks is from New Jersey, and she started her store after leaving the now-closed Ruby’s Book Sale on Chambers Street. “There were guys chomping on cigars and buying Westerns who lived in SRO [single-room occupancies],” she says of her past job. Today, she is not really sure where the idea for the cookbook store came from, only that she had always enjoyed reading them. She buys books from all over, from book fairs and online sources; recently, a 99-year-old Upper West Side woman sold her a collection of rare French pastry books, worth thousands of dollars.
A self-proclaimed “non-adventurous cook,” Hendricks was still contemplating what she would make for dinner that night with her husband, John, an artistic curator. A large smile washed over Joanne’s face as she said, “Last night, I made macaroni…it was so delicious.” And she seemed surprised to realize she had yet to make cheese soufflé in the new year.
“Uh, I just love this,” she smiled, pulling another book from the shelf.