Old Cookbooks


I have another slightly overgrown collection in addition to the aprons and cake pedestals, cookbooks. In the cookbook collection is a mini collection of church cookbooks and old cookbooks. I have a very hard time sitting down to read anything that is not some sort of instructional book or cookbook. If I’m going to sit down I either need to be working on something or learning something (sometimes both). Cookbooks are the relaxing reading that I do and old cookbooks are usually the most entertaining.

I like food history. Though these are not an actual history lesson there is something to be learned. I like to see the trend of ingredients with the year that the book was put out. Early books using very little sugar and more molasses, lots of nuts and dried fruits. Oleo and cakes of yeast. Then there’s the books where you start to see corn syrup and cans of soup. These start to get a little upsetting with the use of more processed ingredients, but there are still some good and easily convertible recipes. The current church cookbooks are the most upsetting. Most of the recipes, are a box of this mix and a container of that, and a can of the other. They call it homemade. What a load of crap! At this point a frozen pizza and oreos are just as healthy (food additive and chemically speaking).

I don’t tend to buy current church cookbooks for that reason alone. Instead I pick up old ones from second hand stores and garage sales. My favorite ones I received from Grandma. A couple, I believe first belonged to Great Grandma, the third is from the Willing Workers group in the area. The third is a current one but the recipes haven’t degraded to crap. Those ladies still know how to cook. The other two are a Slovak Women’s Union Cookbook and a Croatian Women’s Willing Workers of sorts. The copy write on them is pre 1950. The recipes are great. Some of them don’t work but that I expect with any cookbook, others are better than anything you can find in any fancy cookbook.

I was reading a Strudel recipe the other day (one recipe that didn’t work) and in the directions it said remove your rings. I read and reread the recipe looking for where the rings were added, thinking English muffin or cake rings. Neither of which would have made sense in this recipe. Then is dawned on me, your rings, like wedding rings. Duh! I would find that to be common sense when kneading dough or in this case stretching dough paper thin. Of course, I still forget to do so sometimes but that’s besides the point. Reading these old recipes you find interesting little notes and tips that you don’t see in the new publications. Not that they are necessary or unnecessary just fun to read.

The pages are usually yellowed, sometimes tattered and stained. The most used recipes are obvious just by looking at the wear on the page, and the light dusting of flour that never seems to go away. I like the little notes in the margins. Those too show the generation of the owner. Great Grandma’s generation’s handwriting is very neat, slightly larger and decoratively flowing, Grandma’s is also neat, tighter and had crisp points, Mom’s is wider, clean and rounded, and then there’s my generation a hodge podge of styles, mine is unfortunately exceptionally sloppy. I usually stick to smiley faces and “nope” rather than  Any way it’s written, I like to read the notes.

The recipes range from “put everything in the bowl, stir and bake” to very lengthy, step by step instructions. None of which take any extra magic to get them to turn out. I have a few cookbooks that I love but every recipe needs a little tweaking or the stars to align for them to turn out correctly. It’s like the author wanted to write the book but not actually give out the recipes. I have yet to find an older cookbook that intentionally has incorrect recipes. (Again, politically correct, only very few new ones seem sabotaged).

The recipes can be just as “fancy” as newer ones or have an old fashioned comfort. When you feel like a good book grab an old one you may find something you don’t expect.


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  1. I love the remove your rings part! I collect old cookbooks. If I thumb through it and it looks good, I’m hauling it home. haha. But I am a bit picky. I won’t buy one just because. My favorites are the well worn and well used. 🙂

    1. I really like the little notes in the margins, “Good” “Needs xxx”. I have one that listed a recipe as good, then stated what she made it for and that the neighbor lady made it after her for a lady’s guild meeting. Haha!