This wonderful relationship, as the best love affairs so often are, always feels new and exciting… this, despite the fact that my sweetie and I have been happily ensconced for a good two decades.
Oh, and you should also know that my husband isn’t in the picture.
Even so, he not only approves of what I’m doing, but encourages me on, often and heartily, to please spend more time with my love.
You’ve probably figured out by now that this particular coupling has nothing to do with rolling around in the sheets.
My affair is with vintage cookbooks.
I wouldn’t call myself too obsessive about them. I mean, I keep my two dozen or so in one specific area of the kitchen, in bookshelves designed just for them. I don’t dust the area as much as I should, but I am always organizing them. And when that happens, I can’t help but ever-so-slowly leaf through at least one of the books, at least once a week.
The collection began, modestly and not surprisingly, with what was once my mother’s go-to cookbook—the perky, red and white covered Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book.
This is a first edition, published by General Mills in 1950, with dulled silver duct tape now holding the binding together. Intended for young, post-World War II brides who could barely boil water, the beginning pages of Picture Cook Book feature clear photographs under the title of Useful Kitchen Utensils, and a glossary called Meanings of Terms Often Found in Recipe Directions. There’s also A Dictionary of Special and Foreign Terms (included here is caviar, entrée and macaroons).
I absolutely love the Spanish rice recipe, which begins with a hot skillet and four tablespoons of melted butter. What’s not to like? There’s also a terrific basic sugar cookie to try, and lots of pies not seen much anymore, including New England Squash and Early American Pear.
Along the way, I’ve bought Ruth Wakefield’s Toll HouseTried and True Recipes. Yup, Wakefield is the accidental inventor of the chocolate chip cookie, which she named The Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookie. (More about the cookie is here, at http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2013/03/the-accidental-invention-of-the-chocolate-chip-cookie/). Then, a few years back, my husband gifted me withThe Margaret Rudkin Pepperidge Farm Cookbook, where I read that there really was once a real Pepperidge Farm, part of a 125-acre parcel in Fairfield, Connecticut, purchased by the author and her husband in 1926.
About a year later, in a neighbor’s box of free stuff at her front curb, I discovered, complete with dust cover,The Fireside Cook Book by James Beard. Published in 1949 by the venerable Simon and Schuster, its subtitle, in luxe cursive handwriting, is “A Complete Guide to Fine Cooking for Beginner and Expert Containing 1,217 Recipes and Over 400 Color Pictures.”
Of course, my cookbooks are great fun to look at. But they have imparted two important lessons as well.
One, cooking is not nearly as difficult and labor intensive as so many of us were taught to believe.
Indeed, simply follow the recipe. (And in these vintage gems, most really are pretty easy.) You don’t even have to know how to measure, because a measuring cup and spoons do all of that for you. And after making the dish once, you can always add or subtract seasonings or herbs, thereby making it the signature dish that will become unique to you.
Two, despite the fact that so many of these recipes routinely call for butter, bacon grease, red meat and white sugar, one didn’t really see morbidly obese people when these books were being used by millions of homemakers. Why?
My common sense theory is this: not one of these dishes calls for ingredients that sound like they were created in a chemistry lab.
In addition, meat was purchased in butcher shops run by real meat cutters, and about half of all Americans picked their veggies from their own backyard gardens.
All of these elements, in their own way, make the recipes a kind of clean food. Consequently, what is then put on the table is not only easier to digest, it’s also way easier to not have second helpings because this sort of honest food fills one up the first time around.
All in all, collecting vintage cookbooks, and USING them, has been one of the most satisfying—and certainly the longest lasting—love affairs of my life.
What about you?
If you have a favorite cookbook, I’d love to know about it, and why. And don’t forget to include a recipe… or two or three. I’m already putting on my apron!