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Mudpuppie

Old cookbooks

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I love old cookbooks. They’re sort of like the next best thing to a time machine. There are some really interesting cultural clues in the old ones. The recipes from, say, the WWII era and the post-WWII era help those of us who weren’t around to understand what a lot of life was about. And the more adventurous old cookbooks are so cute. Despite our ideas of our americanized forebears being strictly meat-and-potatoes folk, some of the most interesting cookbooks encourage housewives to try new foods.

My favorite old cookbooks (at least of those in my possession) are

**Meatless Meals, 1943, geared at helping housewives deal with meat rationing. Its recipes include Sauerkraut Fritters, Succotash and Mushroom Thermidor, and Spaghetti Rarebit.

**50 Dishes from Overseas, 1944. This one has dishes organized by country and by ingredient. Chapters include “Gooseberry Novelties from Brittany,” “New Zealand Beetroot Dishes,” “South African Ways with Steak,” and “Tennis Sundaes from Africa.” Every third recipe begins some sort of appeal to take the recipe seriously, like “veal tongue prepared in the Viennese way needs trying to be appreciated. It will be liked once tried.”

**And the piece d’ resistance, The Housekeeper Cook Book, published in 1894 by the New England Furniture and Carpet Co. This large and decrepit book has many dozen pie recipes, at least 10 recipes for homemade root beer, a whole chapter on ginger breads, and detailed instructions for how to a) boil coffee and b) care for an invalid. It also has a three-meal menu for every day of the year.

If you’re curious about what today’s menu would have been 109 years ago, here it is:

Breakfast: Pancakes, maple syrup, fried potatoes, venison steak, celery.

Dinner: Whitesoup [sic], baked trout, baked potatoes, stewed tomatoes, corn, blueberry pie, apples.

Supper: Butter toast, dried beef, hot biscuit, honey.

(Can’t wait until the 15th – breakfast is something called “California breakfast food”!)

What is it about these old gems that’s so fascinating? Do you have a favorite cookbook, or recipe from an old cookbook?

(edited for editing)


Edited by Mudpuppie (log)

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If I had to grab one cookbook when escaping a fire it would be my grandmother's copy of her Synagogue cookbook. She has a recipe or two in it. It has to be at least 50 years old. I absolutely love it.

The irony is that my grandmother did not like Synagogue and not my grandmother who cooked.

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Mudpuppie, those are CLASS. Love it!

My [least] favorite cookbook is neither old, nor a pleasure. It's from an old friend whose extended family compiles a cookbook from time to time. To say it was a precursor to the Semi-Homemade concept is to be kind. This family likes its biscuits from a can, I tell you.

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Does anyone else find out much more about an historical period by reading cookbooks than the histories people fall for?You betcha!

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I still use the cookbook that first got me excited about cooking: "Cakes and Pastries" from the California Culinary Academy. I marveled at the magnificent works of edible art, chocolate mousse cakes with huge chocolate ruffles, perfectly piped whipped cream on Gateau St. Honore, the 1980s-style sleek glamour of the glossy Strawberry Mirror Cake, and wondered if I would ever be able to make anything that magnificent.

It's a masterpiece of 1980s extravagance, and really fired up my imagination. I've done a lot of the simpler recipes in there, but have never tried any of the recipes that made me go "wow". Either I'm afraid of screwing them up if I'm not "ready", or I always need to keep a few challenges ahead of me...

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I babysat a lot in high school and I used to read the people's cookbooks. If they had a good selection I was free more on the weekend.

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I find old cookbooks very fascinating. Some of the old Betty Crocker books are quite interesting from a cultural point of view. I would love to buy a few reprints of old books to get a collection started. Jessica's Biscuit (www.ecookbooks.com) has a few such books. Are there any other good sources of old cookbooks or reprints of old books?

rkolluri

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This is heresy- Jessica's bisquit is where I get mine- but for different offerings go to dover.

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Ebay's usually a good bet too, but the bidding is a pain. I find most of mine in used bookstores. If it's not a bookstore that specializes in antiquarian stuff or cookbooks, the prices are usually really reasonable.

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I love a cookbook called" A Treasure for My Daughter", originally written in 1950 by the Ethel Epstein Ein Chapter of Hadassah in Montreal; my copy dates from 1975. The book is organized into chapters according to different Jewish holidays and family occasions, and the text reads like a mother explaining the religious and cultural traditions and the appropriate recipes to her daughter. The recipes are easy to follow and quite delicious. I wish I could buy new copies for my 2 daughters, but I haven't found out if it's still in print.

Roz

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I have been collecting old cook books for a while. It's so interesting to compare the menus and recipes of today to that of yesterday. My favorite old book right now is "Househould Discoveries and Mrs. Curtis's Cook Book" copywrite 1909. It includes everything from recipes to home furnishing to raising children and the illustrations are wonderful.

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The oldest book that my sister and I have is the Womans Home Companion that we think my mother got in the late 30s or early 40s. What a treasure.

I would love to start finding some of these things from the turn of the century up until post WWII. Is anyone finding any that are from the various ethnic communities? European books would also be fascinating.

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What a wonderful site. Many thanks, deibu. :wub:

I am off to read for a while. (Ooops. Supposed to be working.)

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Ebay's usually a good bet too, but the bidding is a pain. I find most of mine in used bookstores. If it's not a bookstore that specializes in antiquarian stuff or cookbooks, the prices are usually really reasonable.

I am with you on the bidding process being a bit of a pain on ebay. I think I will hit the used book stores around here.

rkolluri

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I still use the cookbook that first got me excited about cooking: "Cakes and Pastries" from the California Culinary Academy. I marveled at the magnificent works of edible art, chocolate mousse cakes with huge chocolate ruffles, perfectly piped whipped cream on Gateau St. Honore, the 1980s-style sleek glamour of the glossy Strawberry Mirror Cake, and wondered if I would ever be able to make anything that magnificent.

It's a masterpiece of 1980s extravagance, and really fired up my imagination. I've done a lot of the simpler recipes in there, but have never tried any of the recipes that made me go "wow". Either I'm afraid of screwing them up if I'm not "ready", or I always need to keep a few challenges ahead of me...

Ouch. The 80's as history! By that standard, Julia Child, and the early NYTimes Cookbooks are very old, the Rombauer Joy of Cooking(s), Boston Cooking School II have my MIL's from the 30's) & Fannie Farmers antiquarian! It's true that they do give snapshots of the food of their time, but for home cooking they're still useful.

This is a wonderful thread. I love checking out old cookbooks. Or contemporary books on older cooking.

Dorothy Hartley's Food in England is a history book, but inludes recipes, drawings of old equipment and kitchens. It's a great read and particularly interesting as she emphasises the link between food and its originating local, the consonance between the foods the animals eat and the herbs we use to garnish them (i.e., Lamb & Mint).

For really old food, check out Phyllis Pray Bober's 1999 Art Culture & Cuisine includes some ancient recipes and has extensive footnotes and bilbio if you want to follow anything up. And don't forget Clifford Wright's Mediterranean Feast which has lots of recipes.

My favorite "old" book is Graham Green & Norman Douglas' Venus in the Kitchen, though its interest is not solely historical. There's supposed be a second volume in the future.

I do have some recipe books and pamphlets that show old fashioned home cooking, mostly reprints or more recent compilations. For example:

The King's Bread: 18th Century Cooking at Niagra by Hallatt & Lipa (publ Youngstown, NY, 1986)

Ma's Cookin' by Sis and Jake (pub Osage Beach, Mo, 1966)

Cooking with the Pennsylvania "Dutch' edited by A Monroe Aurand, Jr (pub. The Aurand Press, Lancaster, Pa)

Cape Cod Secrets by the Yarmkouth Branch ...CapeCod Hoispoital Assn 1961 edition (1st ed. 1949) some of these are printed as handwritten

Good Savouries by Ambrose Heath (Faber & Faber, London, 1934)

Mountain Makin's in the Smokies by the Great Smoky Mtn Nat'l History Assoc (pbl 1957)

Recently my DIL gave me a set of 5 books from Heirloom Publishing in the 50's covering Early America, Young Republic, Westward Empire, Ante Bellum America, and Victorian America. These have drawings and photos of old kitchens and equipment.

Edited to include a really comprehensive 12 volume encylcopedic review of Women's Day recipes from the 50's and 60's (Fawcett).


Edited by Mottmott (log)

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The oldest book that my sister and I have is the Womans Home Companion that we think my mother got in the late 30s or early 40s. What a treasure.

Fifi, I have the same cookbook from my grandmother. She married my grandfather in 1945 (after he came home from the South Pacific), and it was her first cookbook.

I found a copy of Joy of Cooking from 1943 and it has fascinating stuff in it, like what to put in a care package to ship overseas, rationing, Victory Gardens...

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The oldest book that my sister and I have is the Womans Home Companion that we think my mother got in the late 30s or early 40s. What a treasure.

Fifi, I have the same cookbook from my grandmother. She married my grandfather in 1945 (after he came home from the South Pacific), and it was her first cookbook.

I found a copy of Joy of Cooking from 1943 and it has fascinating stuff in it, like what to put in a care package to ship overseas, rationing, Victory Gardens...

My mother and dad married in 38 and my sister was born in 39. Now we think she got it when they first married but we aren't sure. Dad went to the pacific and then I was born in 46. Dad's Scotch Raisin Bread recipe clipping from a newspaper is taped inside the front cover. My sister says that he first made it in 46. She remembers holding me while watching him work on it. Old cookbooks can mean so much.

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Time Life did some amazing books and managed to hire great people to write them . I just bought three at a fabulous little used cookbook store in Tribeca: Sauces, Variety Meats and Terrines and Galantines. All written by none other than Richard Olney. Also, Time Life did a big series of food around the world, a book for each region or country. MFK Fischer wrote one of the books on France. The photographs and printing are fantastic. A favorite photo of mine is of some swedish men eating sausage and beer in a sauna while their wives eat lobster by a pool overlooking the ocean.

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