I’ll admit it. I’m a compulsive hoarder of cookbooks. I haven’t counted them lately, but ever since I discovered a wonderful monthly book sale with a big cookbook section ($1 for hardcover and 50 cents for softcovers) at the Verona Public Library, my collection had increased geometrically
I’m especially charmed by vintage volumes where everything is made from scratch. Give me enough of these cookbooks—and enough time and energy—and I’d never have to buy packaged foods again! Do we need crackers? I have a recipe. Out of cereal? I have 20 recipes! An overabundance of eggs? With the help of 300 Ways to Serve Eggs, “They’re what’s for supper.”
The older books in my collections are fountains of arcane knowledge. I recently found a 1918 high school home economics text with instructions on everything from building a proper fire in your wood stove to how to make gruel for an invalid and serve it attractively!
What about those pamphlet cookbooks put out by flour mills, baking powder, and gelatin manufacturers? Love them. I am fascinated with the old pictures of gals in bib aprons measuring ingredients into pots set on their state-of-the-art coal-burning stoves!
I mine my cookbooks for recipes as I need them. Many times I combine three or four versions to suit my families’ tastes. We combined three recipes to arrive at the final recipe for my daughter’s blue ribbon Black Raspberry Peach pie (see my July 21, 2011 blog, “Black Caps: Free Food from the Forest”). Bits and pieces of three recipes went into creating the following recipe for “Cornish” pasty.
- 1 lb. ground beef
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 4 small red potatoes, finely diced
- 4 medium carrots, finely diced
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 2 tablespoons dried parsley
- 1 teaspoon celery salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon garlic salt
- Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and set aside while you make the pastry.
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 4 cups flour
- ½ cup water
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- 1 ½ cups vegetable shortening
- Sift together dry ingredients.
- Cut in shortening.
- Whisk together wet ingredients and add to shortening mixture.
- Mix with a fork until wet and dry ingredients are combined and you can gather the dough into a ball and turn onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the pastry into 12 or more equal parts (depending on how big you want each pasty to be).
- Roll out each portion of pastry dough and fill one side with ½ cup or more of filling. Fold dough in half and seal edge by pressing together with tines of a fork.
- Place on an ungreased baking sheet and bake for 90 minutes in a preheated 350°F oven.
Lately, I have been picking up cookbooks on single types of food or methods of cooking. I have and extensive and growing collection of cookbooks on scones, muffins, pies, cakes, cookies, bread machine recipes, meats, even donuts, pizza, and ice cream! Specialized cookbooks on fruits and vegetables, such as pumpkins, cranberries, apples, blueberries, and tomatoes and beans come in handy when I cook with garden surplus and other seasonal foods. I found a nice retro cookbook on clay baker cooking at a thrift shop recently for 50 cents, along with a pamphlet cookbook from WWII on how to get the most from your refrigerator and cooking with leftovers!
Cookbooks bring out my inner cultural anthropologist. I squint at picnic tables in vintage barbeque and outdoor cookbooks to see what kind of condiments people were using in the 1950s and the patterns and types of dishes and serving pieces they used. I peer into pictures of 1960s kitchens, scanning tables and counters to learn what popular gadgets and kitchen machines lessened women’s time in the kitchen, allowing them to pursue other goals.
Advertisements in supermarket bake-off and dessert cookbooks reflected the role of homemakers of another century. A woman was judged by her work: a tidy home, cakes that didn’t fall, children she sent off to school in the morning and welcomed home again in the afternoon, and a husband who expected a hot meal and pie for dessert when he arrived home in the evening.
I’ll probably never prepare even a fraction of the recipes contained in my collection. The thing is—I DON’T CARE, I love the feel of them in my hands and the smell of old paper. Sometimes I just like to look at the pictures! Begonia