Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Vintage Cookbook Collection

Please join me in welcoming Ellen Byron to Killer Hobbies today.  Like me, Ellen isn't a kitchen diva.  But she has FABULOUS taste in cookbooks.  Bring back memories, anyone?

One of the ironies of my author’s life is that although my book, Plantation Shudders: A Cajun Country Mystery, contains three recipes that I’m proud to say I created, I am not much of a cook. Which leads to another irony: I collect vintage cookbooks.

 It all started with this book, which dates back to 1950.

I bought it because of the quaint cover, but loved how the recipes offered a window into mid-century culinary trends. If you are what you eat, folks back then were made of red meat and heavy cream sauces.

 My collection has grown over the last couple of years, thanks to our local monthly library sale.

One of the sale volunteers goes to my gym, and she’ll alert me when an interesting donation comes in.
It’s fascinating to compare these Cooking for Two books, the first from 1952, the second from 1968. (BTW, how hilarious is that 1968 cover? Processed ham slices, canned fruit cocktail, Maraschino cherries… that’s what they considered the cover money shot?!)

Sometimes I’m attracted by the shape of a recipe book…

But often it’s the title that draws my attention. How about this one? I bet you can’t guess the year it’s from:

1968. That’s right, this cookbook was produced during the height of the fight for women’s rights.

 But I think this 1928 treasure might be my greatest find…

If you want the recipe for Clara Bow’s Chicken Chartreuse, just let me know.

So, how do these vintage recipes compare to today’s offerings? To be honest, I don’t know. Like I said, I’m not a cook. But also, people cooked differently back in the day. The older the recipe, the vaguer the instructions seem to be. (That Clara Bow recipe is a real headscratcher.) Sometimes they feature ingredients and brands that no longer even exist.

 But I did make at least one vintage recipe. When my daughter was ten, I bought a Good Housekeeping Children’s Cookbook for her. Then I remembered that I still had my Betty Crocker Boys and Girls Cookbook from the late 1960s.

Comparing the two was a lesson in how much healthier we eat now than we did back then. But my daughter wanted to make a recipe from my book.  We found one for a stew made from hot dogs, canned vegetables, and tomato soup. And we threw the whole mess out after two bites.

While I love collecting recipes from decades past, I think I’ll continue to avoid actually making them!

Ellen Byron is a native New Yorker who loves the rain, lives in bone-dry Los Angeles, and spends lots of time writing about Louisiana. She attributes this obsession to her college years at New Orleans’ Tulane University. Her debut novel, Plantation Shudders: A Cajun Country Mystery, was chosen by the Library Journal as Debut Mystery of the Month.  Her TV credits include Wings, Just Shoot Me, and many network pilots.  She’s written over 200 magazine articles, her published plays include the award-winning, Graceland, and she’s the recipient of a William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic GrantVisit


vicki batman said...

I love your collection. I volunteered for our local library board and we host a book sale every year. One year, someone donated their whole cookbook collection. Some went way back into the 30's. So much fun! I consulted several (yes, I just had to buy a few) when I wrote The Great Fruitcake Bake-off for fruicake recipes.

I would not have been able to resist the Mousse either.

Linda O. Johnston said...

Hi, Ellen, and welcome! Your cookbook collection is wonderful. I'm like you, though. Cooking is not my favorite pastime--notwithstanding my writing the Barkery & Biscuits Mysteries.

Anonymous said...

Ellen, I really enjoyed your post. I too love to look back at eating habits of the past. A wonderful resource, and funny as all get out, is this collection of Weight Watchers recipes from the 70s:
Thanks again for the post.
Llyn K.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I guess that I should warn people that some of the comments in the Weight Watchers recipe show are on the crude side, but it's the recipe choices that are so funny, the things that WW suggested would be satisfying diet food!
Llyn K.

Ellen Byron said...

Not to worry, I've spent years in TV comedy rooms, so there's nothing crude that I haven't heard! BTW, I also have a huge collection of WW cookbooks. Now THOSE I actually use!

And thanks, Linda! Happy to be here.

Nancy J. Cohen said...

I collect cookbooks, too, but more recent ones. I buy them as remembrances for trips I've taken. Regional cookbooks make great souvenirs. Then there are the ones that focus on a single ingredient, like lemons or strawberries. The cookbooks with commentary offer a view of life in those days or in that particular place. My latest acquisition is from the Epcot Food and Wine Festival. I've quite a few of those from dates past on my bookshelf.