The joy of vintage cookbooks

How can you not love a cookbook that looks like this? The recipes have names like "Broccoli-and-Cheese Custard" and "Broccoli Piquant," but I think we can safely classify them all as "Broccoli Glop." Would you eat this stuff? Can you believe that anybody ever did?

How can you not love a cookbook that looks like this? The recipes have names like “Broccoli-and-Cheese Custard” and “Broccoli Piquant,” but I think we can safely classify them all as “Broccoli Glop.” Would you eat this stuff? Can you believe that anybody ever did?

In recent years I have become something of a sucker for vintage cookbooks, with an emphasis on ones from  the 1950s and ’60s. Buying the Queensborough house where I spent my childhoodin the 1960s and early 1970s has only encouraged my enthusiasm for these relics of another culinary time.

My collection – pretty much all of them finds from yard sales and thrift shops – includes several old editions of The Joy of Cooking (the edition published in the middle of World War II is interesting, what with rationing and all), a book dedicated to casseroles (remember when casseroles were just the thing?), another dedicated to salads (which, at the time it was published, were something of a novelty, what with fresh produce not being all that common) and also several guides to entertaining that are – well, entertaining. Here’s a typical excerpt from one of them, How To Give Successful Dinner Parties (published in 1963):

Even if a roast burns to a crisp … a hostess neither weeps nor wrings her hands. Again she smiles – and asks for volunteers to scramble eggs, male volunteers preferably. In these days of “togetherness” many men take pride in their culinary ability. Also, when a man undertakes to do anything in the kitchen he will, almost certainly, ask for and receive assistance. Whether he simply scrambles the eggs or, on a whim, decides to add tomato paste, mushrooms, if there are any, or grated cheese, there will be women eager to wait on him. And such guest participation could result in a better party than it would have been had the roast been done to a turn instead of a burn.

Now you just try to tell me that that isn’t good stuff. (Maybe I should start a whole other blog with daily excerpts and pearls of wisdom from these classics.) And I should note that as I write this, my husband (Raymond) is behind me in the kitchen preparing lamb and mushroom stew. Oddly enough, he has neither asked for, nor received, assistance.

At 50 cents – or maybe it was 75 – I just couldn't pass up this early-1960s classic.

At 50 cents – or maybe it was 75 – I just couldn’t pass up this early-1960s classic.

But meanwhile, at the Manse: I was going to tell you that I’d found yet another great addition to my vintage-cookbook collection on our last visit. I like to check out the local second-hand stores, especially since a woman I met in the Tweed Home Hardware told me about finding a set of copper pots in one of them. (Sadly for me, another set has yet to materialize.) My most recent find was Vol. 2 of the Woman’s Day Encyclopedia of Cookery, and what made me decide I had to fork out the 50¢ or whatever it was for it was not the photos of limp broccoli dishes with all manner of gloppy sauce on them, or those of (utterly unsuccessful) efforts to make cabbage dishes (translation: cabbage wedges with more gloppy sauce) look elegant – though those were of course very appealing.

No, it was the section on “Canadian Cookery,” and most especially the inclusion of one classic dish known, of course, to every Canadian household: Roast Snow Goose.


But if you’re interested – well, stop by the Manse and I’ll give you the recipe.

16 thoughts on “The joy of vintage cookbooks

    • I don’t think I could ever bear to part with it, Nancy! That hilarious bit that I quoted was found absolutely at random – that was where I opened the book. It is jam-packed with such little nuggets, giving one an amazing insight into the manners and mores of the Mad Men era – and the wife’s role (hostess with the mostest) therein.

  1. I just bought a 1999 reprinted copy of the original 1915 Five Roses Cook Book. In its various incarnations it was supposedly the most popular Canadian cookbook ever. You know it’s old when the instructions read: “Make sure you have a hot fire . . .”

    Then there is the aptly-named Canadian Cookbook, used in home economics classes for an eternity. My copy is falling apart but still frequently consulted.

    • Aha! Another fan of old cookbooks! I confess, Elinor, that I am not familiar with the Canadian Cookbook – I avoided home-ec classes as much as I could, not always successfully – but your mention of the Five Roses Cook Book brought back memories. I believe it was my Aunt Marion who had the 1960s version, and I remember thinking that any cookbook with a cover that pretty – snow-white background and flour (of course) and blood-red roses – had to be full of delicious recipes. Mainly involving chocolate cake, in my mind.

  2. Yes! The Canadian Cookbook. I have mine from Grade 9. Have to go look it up, and revisit some favourite bits. Yellow it was – outline design of a spoon on the front. Cooking one semester, sewing the other. Both rather intimidating. Cheese biscuits. Fitted broadcloth blouses with set-in sleeves. Oh my goodness, time travel.
    And Katherine…thanks for ‘glop’! What a great word, will go play with that for a bit. Glop from the Kraft Test Kitchens…miniature marshmallows, jello, fruit cocktail. All the things farmers are just hoping for when they return from the barn, or the fields.

    • Oh dear, yes, cheese biscuits! They are one thing I do remember from my undistinguished time in home-economics class. And sewing – was anything more intimidating? But I really don’t think we were given copies of the Canadian Cookbook, which means I’m going to have to try to find a copy at the yard sales and auctions we love to haunt. I do, however, have the vintage Laura Secord Cookbook, and I think the c. 1970 Chatelaine Cookbook is kicking around here somewhere. (I remember my mum using the Laura Secord Cookbook for a recipe for “johnny cake” – which to the rest of the known world is, of course, cornbread. We had it with maple syrup on top, which was supremely rich.)

      And Lindi, you brought me some time travel with mention of the “Kraft Test Kitchens” – remember those ads on TV, when I swear every single recipe included Kraft miniature marshmallows? But you are absolutely right that such treats would have been – well, a real treat, for hard-working farmers and other rural folk. Perhaps I should just climb down from my high horse now.

  3. For anyone interested in historical cookbooks, you might try Fannie O’Dells simple recipes from the 1880’s. She apparently left a handwritten recipe book from that time, and it resurfaced at the Annapolis Royal archives a few years ago. Some of the recipes point to New England connections, or, the “Boston States”. Hear that Raymond ?! This describes the cookbook a little more:

    11 more recipes from fannie’s cookbook:

    • Mark, thanks so much for the link to those 19th-century recipes – my goodness but Fannie was fond of cake, wasn’t she? Or at least, I suppose her family was. And thanks for the link to the Annapolis Royal Heritage blog, period. As someone who is most interested in heritage matters, I am always happy to find such excellent repositories of knowledge. I have not yet been to Annapolis Royal, but I would love to!

  4. Pingback: Cross Creek Cookery by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Experimenting through her book | Pesky Apron Strings

  5. Cookbooks? I know what you mean. I have some gems. I have at least three of Mme. Benoit’s set (remember her? She was on TV in the 60s and 70s). I even had the chance of seeing Mme. in person, at Eaton’s in Toronto Eaton Centre, doing a noon-time cooking presentation. Also, I have some old Better Homes & Gardens books. They are a riot — casseroles galore. But my favourite are the Time-Life books, “The Good Cook”. There were 29 in the series and they are long out-of-print. I had four of them, and over the years, and with much diligence, I have found 18 more in the second-hand stores and op shops. Each one is about a particular topic: Sauces, Pasta, Cheese & Eggs, Lamb, Classic Desserts, etc. They’re beautiful books, with ribbon markers. Oh, I also have an old Betty Crocker cookbook that was my mother’s, so that’s from around 1950, and who knows what else, because I have too many.

    • Those old cookbooks are just so much fun to leaf through, aren’t they? Yes, things sure were casserole-heavy in those days. It’s interesting how you’ll go through page after page of jellied salads (also huge back then) and casseroles built around tins of Campbell’s soup, and then suddenly you’ll come upon something that sounds downright delicious. I am not familiar with that Time-Life series, but if you let me know the ones you’re missing I’ll be happy to keep an eye out for them!

  6. Oh, thanks. The Time-Life ones rarely come up, and I was lucky to get one here, another there for a few years. Then, last year, Luck was on my side. I was in the Value Village in Belleville (Bell Blvd.), and I found 14 — eight of which I did not have, so I snapped them up, and now I’m up to 23 out of 29. A couple of them had UK printings, which differed from the US versions, but I’ve managed to find both “Cakes” and “Cakes & Pastries”, with different recipes for each place. The ones I don’t have are: Confectionery/Candy; Game; Grains, Pasta & Pulses/Dried Beans & Grains; Offal/Variety Meats; Soups; Wine. I’m just back from a used book shop and I’m delighted to have found, “Celebrate the New York Legend: Tavern on the Green”. I’d never been there, but I’ve heard so much about it.

    The old books that you’ve mentioned are a lot of fun. Jellied salad? Yep!! Who can’t recall having their mandarin orange jelly or grape & raspberry jello melt into the turkey on Christmas Day? Another of that line is one that’s sometimes known as “Five Cup Salad” or “Ambrosia” (mandarin oranges, shredded coconut, pineapple tidbits, sour cream and mini marshmallows). I still love it!

    • Sash, the volumes you’re missing from the Time-Life series have been duly copied into my phone notebook, and I will totally keep an eye out for them. And given the kind of antique barns and flea markets and whatnot that Raymond and I love to frequent, both here and Stateside, I have high hopes that I might dig up a find for you!

      • Thank you very much! I know how surprised I was when I found the UK version of Cakes in the Belleville Library — for sale, $1.00! And, it is in perfect condition. I’d already had the US version, so this was a double bonus. Thanks again.

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