Are cookbook collections a thing of the past?
Have you ever sat down and read an old cookbook, full of old recipes? I think many of today’s cooks tend to believe that having the latest and greatest information and recipes in the kitchen is the way to go. It seems that so many are turning to the Internet for a recipe rather than picking up a book. It is certainly convenient in a fast-paced world to type in an ingredient and return an unending search list of options. However, there is a charm and a purpose to old recipes/cookbooks that we would do well to honor.
When my parents built their new house the kitchen floor must have needed extra reinforcement to account for my mother’s cookbook collection. In our family, these books are treasured heirlooms that are passed from one generation to another. Both my mother and I have a tradition of asking for a new cookbook each year at Christmas as well, so you can imagine what our collections are beginning to look like. I will admit to being romanced by a new, glossy cookbook, but, rambling through the cookbooks my grandmother used to put meals on the table over 50 years ago gives me more than a feeling of nostalgia.
Hidden gems in old recipes/cookbooks
There is an art to reading a cookbook from the past. It is a little like going on an archaeological dig in a history that is still alive. You cannot pick one of these books up and use the outdated health information to immediately discount the entire book. Yes – I am momentarily horrified when I see a recipe that calls for margarine or shortening, or suggests that I wrap my food in foil to put it in the oven. My grandmother’s Good Housekeeping cookbook from the 1940’s is a moment in our food culture, captured in time. At this time we were losing some of our traditional foodways to the lure of convenience, but we hadn’t totally stepped away from the wisdom of our ancestors. You might still find such gems as:
“Drinks may be chilled, but not iced. If ice is used in their preparation, remove it before serving.”
When this cookbook was written we were still aware of how to care for our digestive system. It was a time when butter was served over steamed carrots and some sort of fermented vegetable was on the table at every meal. The new cookbooks on my shelf either attempt to reclaim this lost cultural knowledge, or represent the newest beliefs in food and nutrition. They are filled with large, drool-inducing photos where the old cookbooks would have filled the page with instructions in proper entertaining or how to properly carve a turkey.
Going through the Joy of Cooking today I found a section on how to cook with herbs. Today’s modern cooks may feel like they are being patronized by the level of instruction. I love all the tips and tricks and constantly find things I have taken for granted.
The Joy of Cooking suggests you “familiarize yourself with herb flavors.”
The book recommends getting to know each herb and its flavor before adding them to your food by doing a little experiment. In a bowl, combine the following:
- ½ pound of mild cheddar cheese
- 2 tablespoons of sour cream
- 2 tablespoons of vodka
Blend all the ingredients together, separate it into several small portions and add an herb or herb combination to each. Let the mixtures sit for an hour and you can easily taste what all the herbs you’ve been curious about might be like in your food. Sounds like a fabulous party idea or afternoon tea with the kids.
Will our children treasure the new flashy cookbooks filled with trendy diet ideas? I suppose there will be a few contemporary examples that might rise to the top. I will continue to comb the used and vintage bookstores for these priceless windows into our culinary past. I suggest you do the same; just try to beat me to the good ones!
Do you have old recipes or cookbooks you’d like to re-familiarize yourself with? Which one?