Food and cooking styles tell us a lot about a culture and cookbooks reveal much about how that culture cooked, ate, celebrated and lived. I began collecting vintage cookbooks by accident while at an estate auction one day. One lot I was bidding on – a box of assorted cookwares and kitchen items – included a cookbook printed in 1949. I was the highest bidder on that lot and when I got my box of cookwares home and began rifling through to see what was in there, I noticed the well-worn cookbook. I took it out of the box and was instantly in love.
The stories this book could probably tell. Within the book’s pages were notes written by the book’s previous owners – hints and strategies, suggestions and warnings. Because of the notes throughout the book, it was easy to tell what had been this woman’s favorite recipes, what had worked and what had not. I felt compelled to try the recipes with notes and exclamations and although I never knew this woman, her favorite recipes quickly became my own favorite recipes.Since that day, collecting vintage – preferably well-used – cookbooks has become a passion of mine. I’m sure there are rules and guidelines to collecting vintage cookbooks – things to look for and things to avoid – but for me it’s all about the learning experience.
Vintage cookbooks contain information that is simply no longer found in modern cookbooks such as how to render fat (and why you would want to), how to pasteurize milk, how to set a proper table, how to plan meals while dealing with rations and a variety of other tidbits that give us a peek into how people not only lived, but how they got by. Below are a few words of wisdodm I learned from two of my favorite World War II era cookbooks.
“Perhaps the most gracious gesture of hospitality one can make is to invite a few friends to one’s home for tea.” Woman’s Home Companion Cook Book, published by P.F. Collier & Son Corporation, 1942
The joys of a beautifully set table
“No matter how simple the home meal you are preparing, you and your family will enjoy it all the more if you sit down to an invitingly set table and your luncheon and dinner, or whatever it may be, is attractively served. This does not mean tha tthe table must be elaborate or fussy. Quite the reverse, for the trend today in table appointments, service and decoration is toward simplicity.” Woman’s Home Companion Cookbook, published by P.F. Collier & Son Corporation, 1942
“The social life of a household, whether the household is a simple one or an elaborate one, centers about its dining table and whether that dining table is simply or elaborately dressed, it should, by its harmony and unity of setting, indicate that it is arranged according to a definite artistic standard.” The American Woman’s Cookbook published by the Culinary Arts Institute, Chicago, 1949
How to budget food dollars
“The food dollar will be used to advantage and serve all its necessary purposes, if it is divided into five, spent and served as follows: one-fifth, milk, cream, cheese and cod-liver oil for growing children; one fifth for vegetables and fruits; one-fifth or less for meats, fish and eggs; one-fifth for breads and cereals and one-fifth for fats, sugar and other groceries.” The American Woman’s Cookbook published by the Culinary Arts Institute, Chicago, 1949
Simple to prepare, wonderful to eat
This recipe was found clipped from a newspaper, its yellowed paper taped to inside cover of cookbook I bought in an antique store. I don’t know which newspaper it is from or what date it was printed, all I know is whoever taped it there loved this recipe.
French Cherry Pie
Blend 9 ounces of cream cheese until fluffy. Spread in bottom of a 9-inch baked pastry shell. Spoon one 16-ounce can of cherries over the cheese and chill thoroughly before serving.
Woman’s Home Companion Cook Book, published by P.F. Collier & Son Corporation, 1942
The American Woman’s Cookbook published by the Culinary Arts Institute, Chicago, 1949