Cookbooks, mystery, biographies, history, memoirs, what is your favourite collection of books? Are they all the same genre? Are they all by the same author? Do you give them away when you’ve read them? Do you go back and re-read them? Do you treat them as good friends? Are they packed away for another day? Are they on Kindle, never to be seen again once the last words have been read and “delete” has been hit?
A collection of cookbooks is by far my favorite collection of books. 26 cookbooks on the shelves in my office and currently 28 in the kitchen (plus four binders of recipes!) and probably another 40 or 50 cookbooks packed away. Often two or three cookbooks can be found on my bedside table for late night perusing. Cookbooks provide a glimpse into society, recipes and our fascination with food through the ages whether handwritten notebooks or recipes on line.
Let me introduce you to three of my treasured cookbooks.
Upon closing my mother-in-law’s house, we discovered her mother’s recipe notebook tucked in a kitchen drawer. Each recipe was beautiful handwritten in fountain-pen script. This is the oldest cookbook I have. Started in the early 1900’s by my grandmother-in-law, a nurse at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, this volume contains both recipes she might have used at the hospital as well as recipes for home use.
The recipes are very hard to translate into today’s tastes and measures. The composition of the ingredients has changed over the years, and in this case, over many decades. For home-cooks, measurement was often made by using what was handy in the kitchen. One of the Grannie’s recipes calls for “one blue breakfast cup of flour”. There are two challenges here, what size was that blue breakfast cup and where on earth is the blue cup now. I’ll never know where it is, I just know that while this treasure-trove of recipes is currently packed away for safe keeping, it will always be one of my treasured cookbooks.
In 1971 my mom gave me a paperback edition of The all new Fannie Farmer Boston Cooking School Cookbook complete and unabridged.
Quite a title! Mom’s inscription started off by saying, “1001 answers to your 1002 questions”. At that time I had an apartment of my own, and although I had been cooking for quite a few years, she wanted me to have a good cookbook to treasure for many years to come. Containing 565 pages of “Recipes, menus, variations and substitutes, methods, and ingredients” now, 51 years later, it also contains all sorts of scraps of paper marking the location of specific recipes, written on some scraps are recipes. How about a recipe for Skinny Strawberry Cheese Pie. Hum, it looks tasty but really, if you are going to make Strawberry Cheese Pie, why go skinny, seriously!
While the pages have turned yellow with age, and the cover has been reinforced with tape, the spine is still intact, and this little book continues to be one of my go-to cookbooks.
Recently, while exploring an Architectural Salvage store, I came across Carnation’s Easy-Does-It Cookbook. It was only $1.00 – I just had to purchase it! Copywrite date 1958. It is most certainly from the era! Designed for “today’s brides, busy mothers, and business girls” it contains “many bits of ‘know how’, designed to help you run a modern kitchen”.
One of the early chapters has one lists devoted to “must-haves for the successful cook”. 33 items are mentioned. Included were such items as a basic cookbook, measuring spoons, wooden mixing spoons, flour sifter, cake pans, muffin tin, a rubber scraper, and tea towels. It also has a “wouldn’t-it-be-nice -to-have” list of 17 items including a paper towel holder, dish-drying rack, vegetable brush, oven baking dishes, cookie cutters, electric mixer and hamburger press.
For comparison, I referenced an up-to-date list of kitchen must-haves, approximately 100 items considered kitchen essential. Included were the basics mixing bowls, wooden spoons muffin tins and such. Then a list of items the 1958 kitchen novice might have thought would be on a “luxury” list our couldn’t even imagine. The list started with a wok, 3 types of skillets, tongs, garlic press, meat thermometer, eight different types of sharp knives, microwave, food processor and not one mention of cookbooks! Times have changed.
This handy little paperback has sections devoted to how to shop for produce (don’t squeeze the fruit), kitchen safety, party planning, recipes, snacks for kids, housekeeping tips (dust venetian blinds with socks over your hands!), and lots more. Even how to clean-up after a party!
A cup of tea, a cookies and a quick reading of a section of this cookbook makes for a pleasant break in the day. It really is so much fun to read and think about what it would have been like to start a kitchen from the ground up in the 1950’s. While outdated in many ways, and an advertisement for the Carnation Company, it did provide good advice and easy recipes for the novice setting up housekeeping.
These, and a plethora of other cookbooks, keep me inspired and creating in the kitchen. You can check our blog for recipes from the West Hill House B&B kitchen.
Happy cooking 👨🍳
Happy munching 😋!