Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Cook Book Love

For those of you who don't use Twitter, I can understand why you would think that it's largely a time suck of people posting the minutiae of their lives. But not using it means you don't get to have great conversations with friends, like the one I had this weekend with Trish (@trinicapini) and JoAnn (@lakesidemusing). Trish was talking about using her mother's old Betty Crocker cookbook to try recipes for cream puffs and cobbler. It got the three of us to talking about the old cookbooks our moms have or that we've inherited and eventually prompted me to pull mine off the shelf.

This little baby was published in 1951 and it is both a wealth of knowledge and and a source of amusement. It's a five-ring binder, divided into sections which sometimes baffle me; I often find that recipes are in sections where I wouldn't expect to find them.

I'm impressed with the fact that the very first section is one on nutrition. It has a table for the recommended daily allowances, broken down by men, women, pregnancy, children, male adolescents, female adolescents. Would you like to know what they figured as the average weight of the men and women they were calculating caloric intake for? For men, 154 pounds; for women, 123 pounds. Yikes! I know we're taller than people were in 1951 but for a society so obsessed  with body image and healthy lifestyles, we really have let ourselves go! And these were people for whom Better Homes & Gardens recommended "butter and other spreads" be eaten every day for their vitamins. By the way, American cheese slices are listed under desserts on the calorie chart.

The next section is one for meal planning. It really does have some very practical tips but when it launches into some suggested meals, things get interesting, if for no other reason than the number of courses they seemed to think people would serve. All meals included: meat, fish poultry; appetizer; starchy food; vegetable; bread; salad; dessert; and something labeled "nice to serve." Here's a sample meal you will not be seeing on my table any time soon: veal birds (what is a veal bird?), tomato juice, paprika potatoes, fried onions, Parker House rolls, head lettuce with french dressing, apricot whip and for your "nice to serve" item, bacon.

Just as I did with the first two sections, I found the section labeled "Special Helps" to be both helpful and ridiculous. There is actually a page titled "Gay garnishes." Apparently you're meant to surprise your baked ham with a new garnish - pineapple and cloves. The spice list has about half of the spices shown that I use in my kitchen and the recommended list for things needed to start a kitchen includes only one spoon for cooking. ''Cut your cooking corners" includes a tip on getting onion juice (have you ever seen a recipe that calls for onion juice?) and a suggestion to "spank that cooky with a fork."

I was surprised that there weren't fewer "strange" recipes. When I tried to find images for the recipes that I did find strange, quite a lot of them are were recent pictures. Evidently they aren't as strange as I think they are. Clearly in places like Estonia, for example, aspics are still quite popular. I was surprised to find "foreign cookery" making an appearance already in 1951.The book is loaded with recipes and tips that we may all need to fall back on as a way to stretch our grocery dollars (an entire chapter on canning and freezing, for example). I'm definitely going to be trying the recipe for what is essentially homemade Bisquik.

I have a lot of cook books but, to be honest, I've never really "read" them. I pull them out when I'm looking for recipes. That changes as of yesterday - I have a couple of dozen books in my kitchen that are begging to be read and discovered! Do you read cook books?


  1. Lisa, I had a good giggle when I read your article. I love those television programmes about the history of food and am amused at the way life has changed in the home, especially with tastes in cooking. Everything retro is quite fashionable at the moment and I bought a retro designed box to put my mother's old recipe books and recipe cards in. The cards are filed under different types of food and quite useful.
    My favourite recipe books that I read include anecdotes by an author or information about the country or region that the food comes from.

  2. What a treasure to own! I bet it was fun to go through! I'm wondering what a veal bird is as well.

  3. I am a cookbook junkie. I have way too many at the house and get one from the library every time I go. My favorites are older cookbooks with comfort food recipes.

  4. I read them but very rarely make a recipe from them!! LOL! Can I just tell you how much I loved this post. I liked experiencing this book through your eyes and the hilarity of the recipes and location of some of the food! Even though this was filled with creams, butters, and fats...the people in the 50s were obviously a lot healthier than the people of today. I think that has to do with our sedentary lives.

  5. I'm still laughing over "Party Tricks with Butter"! That's the same cookbook my mother had when I was growing up. Can't wait to borrow it from my sister and take a closer look.

  6. Aspics are hugely popular in some places. It was a way to stretch a dollar for sure.

    I have a copy of the original Betty Crocker cookbook and there are lots and lots of recipes that still work today. Classic recipes for potlucks too. Now I am gluten free I can't make use of them anymore but I used the cookbook a lot when I was in my 30's.

  7. You know, I have a ton of cookbooks and I don't think I've ever really read any of them. Probably should after reading this post. There might be more gems like "gay garnishes"...priceless! I think I have this cookbook, but it's a new edition. I wonder if it's still the same. Hmmm...note to self!

  8. I love this post SO much Lisa. And yes, twitter might be a little hard for people to understand but I do get amusement out of it. ;)

    So many things to comment on but ultimately you make a good point about falling back on the basics as we try to make our buck stretch. I've actually started to look into canning and freezing--something my mother did but let go when we moved to the states (our produce down here isn't the best).

    Cookbooks seem to be the only thing that I can read these days and get anything out of them (that and sometimes magazines). Honestly there have been nights when I've gone to bed with a cookbook to read!

    Finally aspic and molded salad couldn't have ever been a good idea. Blech!