Collecting (Things of Little or No Value): Vintage Cookbooks and Recipes

So far this garage sale season I have collected this stack of vintage cookbooks. I know that people make a few bucks a piece collecting and selling these types of cookbooks when they are in good condition. Condition doesn’t mean as much to me.  If the cover is missing or the binding is broken but there are good recipes inside, I will still buy them.

I like to pay between a quarter and 50 cents for my cookbooks. Sometimes I will even pay a whole buck! The cheesier the cover and interior art the better: Gals in high heels and full skirts beaming over a pie freshly taken from the oven, guys in goofy chef’s hats outside flipping burgers on the grill, boys with gloves, baseball bats, and buddies digging in the cookie jar while mom looks on smiling fondly.  One cookbook I treasure especially is the Better Homes and Gardens Cookie Cookbook with the tableaus of what looks like a Madame Alexander doll dressed up like Suzie Homemaker rolling out and baking cookies!

One of my most recent acquisitions is a stack of what looked like cooking magazines held together with zip ties. As I thumbed through the top couple and examined them more closely, I realized that each vintage magazine was 3-hole drilled, binder-ready, and entitled Encyclopedia of Cooking (circa 1950s). When I brought it and a couple other vintage how-to books to the card table checkout, the middle-aged man told me that this was the cookbook he had learned to cook from when he first moved out on his own. They were a collection of supermarket premiums, and this was a complete set including index! I asked him if he was sure that he wanted to sell it, and he just laughed and said, “You can have it all for 50 cents!”

There have been times when I have talked people into taking grandma’s handwritten book of recipes back into the house rather than buy it myself. My favorite find the grandchildren refused to take back into the house because “she was always clipping recipes—we all have stacks of these books” was a notebook of recipes (some handwritten), clippings from old newspapers,  Home Extension bulletins dating back to the middle 1930s, and magazines with an oil cloth and white tape reinforced binding. They were mostly canning and jelly recipes. The recipes that she chose told me a lot about this woman. (All estate and garage sales are like this—they tell the story of someone’s life in stuff rather than words.)

I like to give cookbooks as gifts. My high school graduation gift from my parents was the current edition of the Betty Crocker Cookbook. I gave each of my boys one when they moved out and my daughter already has one I found for her at a book sale for a dollar sitting on her bookshelf.  My mom and my youngest sister both enjoy baking cookies. Whenever I find an especially nice cookie cookbook, I save it for them (if I can bear to give it up myself!) to become part of a Christmas or Birthday gift.

These older cookbooks are valuable in another way. They remind us and teach us how to cook again. It is much cheaper to keep a pantry and cook from scratch than to buy something frozen. There are lots of fruits and vegetables out there that people don’t eat anymore because they don’t know how to prepare and cook them! These older cookbooks are the best for people who want to start eating real food again. (Most of the recipes easily can be tweaked to lower fat and sodium.)

I have more cookbooks now than I will ever use. I read them like novels, look at the bright illustrations like children’s picture books, and use them as references.  Sometimes I even cook from them! Mostly I just enjoy them. Begonia

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