Malaysian teacher restores mother's 70-year-old cookbook


Dombey is happy her mother’s cookbook has had a facelift. Photos: Valerie Dombey

As a teenager who grew up in the 1980s, Valerie Joan Dombey loved to cook.

She’d spend hours poring over Singaporean author Ellice Handy’s cookbook, My Favourite Recipes. The book, published in 1952, is known for a compilation of Western, Chinese, Malayan, and Indian recipes, cakes, pastries and desserts.

Dombey referred to the book constantly when she was learning to cook Western and Asian dishes with her mother, Caroline Marjorie Dombey.

“Some of my fondest memories growing up revolved around spending time with Mummy in the kitchen with this very cookbook. As a teenager learning to cook, the book became my source of inspiration as well,” said Dombey, 51, from her home in Shah Alam.

However, due to decades of wear and tear, the book is in quite a bad shape. Its pages are discoloured, and the cover had come off.

The condition of Dombey’s mother’s book before it was restored. Photos: Samsiah JendolThe condition of Dombey’s mother’s book before it was restored. Photos: Samsiah Jendol“It was in absolute ruins – pages were falling out, browning and there were stains on some pages as well. The cover was torn from the book and it was just not going to last another 20 years in that state. I did restore the book myself by trying to fix the cover and stick together the pages that were falling apart.

“But my worksmanship didn’t measure up to the level of a professional bookbinder,” shared Dombey, an English teacher at a private school in Shah Alam.

The mother of two then signed up for a bookbinding workshop with Samsiah Jendol, 50, a Kuala Lumpur-based bookbinder. Impressed with Samsiah’s work, Dombey decided to hire her to restore her recipe book.

“I just knew Samsiah would be the absolute best person to help me restore this precious cookbook,” explained Dombey.

While she has a sizeable collection of cookbooks, My Favourite Recipes remains one of Dombey’s preferred books because it was the book she relied on when she was learning to cook.

Thanks to Samsiah, the book has now been given a facelift and looks almost brand new.

The cookbook has been given a new facelift and looks almost brand new. The cookbook has been given a new facelift and looks almost brand new.In the last decade, Samsiah has restored over 100 books. One was a century-old Quran.

“Restoration is part of the overall bookbinding business. Most of my customers restore their books when they become collectable items or for sentimental reasons.

Restoration is a very delicate area. I’ve had requests ranging from restoring the book as per original to giving a fresh look and feel to the book,” Samsiah said.

Dombey is thrilled with how her recipe book looks now and hopes that it can last for several more decades.

M. Sabariah is another who turned to Samsiah to save a precious book from years ago.

The homemaker tasked Samsiah to restore her 30-year-old copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

Sabariah opted to restore her copy book which was a gift from her husband when she was in hospital. Photo: M. SabariahSabariah opted to restore her copy book which was a gift from her husband when she was in hospital. Photo: M. SabariahOut of the many torn and frayed books in her library, Sabariah chose this one to restore because it was a gift from her husband when she was hospitalised during her pregnancy.

“I was under complete bed rest during the last trimester of my pregnancy. My husband thought the book could keep me occupied in the ward. By God’s grace, I had a safe delivery.

“I felt it was important to restore the book as a keepsake for my son. It would be an interesting story that he could share with his children one day,” explained Sabariah, who is in her late 50s.

She cherishes old books because they have kept her company, whether it is while she’s waiting to see the dentist or travelling on trains, planes and automobiles.

“Nothing beats having a book in hand and letting your imagination run wild. A good book can be a friend or a reminder of certain period in your life. It is important to restore precious books and keep them new for the next generation,” she concluded.

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