Many years ago, I became fascinated with old cookbooks. At Haslam’s Bookstore in St Petersburg, FL, I found wonderful used cookbooks. My first treasure was the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, a slightly later version of the classic ring binder that everyone’s mother had, filled with good basic recipes that always (at least ALMOST always!) come out well. A vast array of the SOUTHERN LIVING cookbooks also tempted me.
One of my favorites is THE QUALITY COOK BOOK modern cooking and table service by Dorothy Fitzgerald. This gem was published in 1932 and has fascinating illustrations. It also provides instructions on serving, instructions and appropriate uniforms for the maid (!), courses, and, of course, recipes. (A previous owner was particularly fond of one for Strawberry Parfait.)
A real treasure was given to me by my mother when I got married. The Favorite Cook Book A Complete Culinary Encyclopedia, edited by Mrs. Grace Townsend, was published in 1894 and originally belonged to my great-grandmother. It was passed to my grandmother, then my mother and now to me. It is intact, though delicate, and is a delight to go through (albeit with great care). It includes instructions and recipes for the feeding of invalids, a schedule of when various foods are in season, pages of laundry hints (remember, this was long before Oxy-Clean and dryers!), and other fascinating information, as well as hundreds of recipes for classic dishes. One of my favorite sections is “Perfumes and Toilet Recipes” and includes a recipe for a Cure for Pimples, how to care for your teeth and ears, and recipes for perfumes and other toiletries.
I have also acquired facsimile copies of two classics: The Compleat HOUSEWIFE or Accomplished Gentlewoman’s COMPANION by Eliza Smith (16th edition, about 1758) and THE ART OF COOKERY MADE PLAIN AND EASY by Mrs. Glasse (first American edition, 1805). Both of these books cover a wide range of information, from selecting food to pickling and preserving, and other practical information. Some of the recipes can be easily adapted today, while others….. well, not so much. Sometimes I don’t even recognize the ingredients. Who knew that cubeb was the dried unripened berries from an Asian shrub with a spicy, rather peppery flavor that became popular in Europe in the Middle Ages? Old cookbooks have much to teach us about how people lived their daily lives, what they liked to eat, and how they took care of their family’s health. They open a window to the realities of earlier times. They are fun to read, and contain a treasure trove of information for historians and novelists, as well as those who like to cook. Many classics, including Hannah Glasse’s book, are available on-line. Take a look! You’ll find something delicious, I’m sure…