Real Life: My Vintage Cookbook Collection

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Vintage cookbooks are not just tools. They hold memories and experiences.

Real Life: My Vintage Cookbook Collection - Vintage cookbooks are not just tools. They hold memories and experiences.

Lately, I’ve been on a dejunking/decluttering wave. After reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I realized that our home simply has too much stuff. My current mission is to pare down drastically with the hopes that cleaning will be quick and easy.

This has been the biggest dream of my life, I think, so I hope it happens. I’ve struggled with clutter for 42 years and counting. So, I’m following the directions of the book and methodically sorting through our possessions. Once I thinned my wardrobe, I set to tackling our books. After books come miscellaneous. You’re supposed to leave mementos for last.

Well, apparently, the author doesn’t realize that books can be mementos! Yesterday I thinned my cookbook shelves. I had such a nice trip down memory lane!

Most of the books that I keep in easy access – and those that survived the purge — are vintage cookbooks and cooking magazines. They represent my food education in a sense. I learned to cook and experimented with the recipes these resources hold.

Some of my favorites:

Real Life: My Vintage Cookbook Collection

The big yellow cookbook, aka The New Pillsbury Family Cookbook, was my mom’s basic cookbook when I was growing up. Once we hit adulthood, my sisters and I all wanted it. I bought them each a copy off eBay so that when Mom was ready to get rid of her copy, I’d get it. Ha! When she visited in February she brought it to me. It brings back such memories!

Real Life: My Vintage Cookbook Collection

This cookbook my Aunt Cass gave me years ago. It’s a first edition of Betty Crocker’s New Boys and Girls Cook Book from 1965. The photos, recipes, and illustrations are definitely vintage. Oh my! A California Burger contains mayo, onion, and lettuce. How exotic! I love the book all the same.

Real Life: My Vintage Cookbook Collection

I’ve got cookbooks from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, the prime time that my mom was a young housewife raising a family. Some are handed down from her; others are gifts from Aunt Cass. While some of the recipes or ingredients are outdated, there’s plenty of inspiration in these — as well as old favorite recipes.

Do YOU have a favorite vintage cookbook?

About Jessica Fisher

I believe great meals don't have to be complicated or expensive. There's a better way, and it won't take all afternoon.

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Comments

  1. I have the same BC Boys and Girls cookbook! On the very short list of cookbooks I will not part with! My old Mennonite cookbook is right up there too.

    • It’s such a trip to flip through it. The number of hot dog recipes is astonishing. And the thought that our grocery selections are so much more diverse now. Crazy!

  2. Esther says:

    I also have some wonderful cookbooks. After moving, many cookbooks were purged and sold to the used bookshop, but some were kept simply for sentimental reasons. I have one from Redbook that belonged to my Nana. One day, shortly after receiving it, I was flipping through the pages. In those pages I discovered letters and scraps of paper that my Nana had used to mark recipes. It was such a wonderful find! Although we also try to avoid too much “stuff” in our home, having a connection to those who have passed away by holding onto one of their possessions, brings me enormous amounts of joy!

  3. Saam says:

    I have my grandmother’s Heart Foundation cakes & slices book, with all her annotations and extra recipes written in.

  4. Lisa says:

    There was a series of cookbooks put out that is a collection of the best recipes from home economic teachers and there is a separate cookbook for each group (one for Desserts, one for Main Dishes, one for Vegetables, etc.). My mother has several of them and my sister have already started arguing over the Dessert book. Fortunately our great uncle had the dessert book also! Since he doesn’t have children and no longer cooks for himself my sister took his copy and I accidentally brought Mom’s copy to my house.

  5. Sara K. says:

    I have a very old children’s cookbook that was my grandmothers. It has tape on the binding and is pretty much falling apart, but I remember her making penuche using that cookbook when I was little. Watching her test the fudge until it was at the right stage (soft ball maybe?) was a lesson in patience and perseverance!

    I have yet to attempt making penuche on my own, but someday I will. And I will use my vintage cookbook to do it!

  6. Sharon W says:

    Old cookbooks are a history of family times gone by. I got an old cookbook at an estate sale that was crammed with hand written pieces of paper. I got the best zucchini bread recipe out of that book. It has become our family favorite.
    I love reading them like novels!

    • Exactly. A good recipe book tells a story and helps you know the person.

      I hope my books read like that. Hmmm…

  7. Megan says:

    I love church/neighborhood/PTA cookbooks…..I have a sizable collection and the ones from the 50s and 60s are priceless. I love to see what people submit as their prize recipes!

  8. Mary G says:

    Well, I can certainly relate. I have a small bookshelf in my kitchen that contains cookbooks, and the open shelf above my fridge is nearly full of books, too. My Mom wasn’t really into cooking, so my cookbooks don’t date back to those early times, but when I met my husband his one cookbook was an old, stained version of Vegetarian Epicure II, and one of the first cookbooks that I purchased on my own was an already somewhat dated Farm Vegetarian Cookbook–very funky and hippyish–but it still contains some favorites, including one I just made the other night (tofu pot pie). Some of my favorite cookbooks were purchased at library book sales. I’m nostalgic about the books that contain some of the first recipes my children loved as tots (and still like as teens and young adults). I have purged some of my less frequently used cookbooks, but I don’t mind keeping them if I’m still using them, which describes quite a few.

    • Looking through those books really is like looking through a scrapbook, isn’t it?

  9. Connie says:

    I love seeing/reading old cookbooks! You’re right, it isn’t just recipes. Memories and how people ate–I find that fascinating. When my husband’s grandma passed, I was given all her cookbooks, copper pudding molds, cookie cutters, some shaped Wilton cake pans, 24 ramekins with a pretty scalloped edge and a fun duck shaped soup tureen. I haven’t picked a favorite book yet but ones I really love are the junior league and church ladies’ group cookbooks, especially if they are bound with those plastic combs. I have that has handwritten (by the contributors) pages instead of typeset.

  10. Karen Fleming says:

    I love old cookbooks too. I have that Betty Crocker kids cookbook and remember my Mom teaching me to cook using recipes from it. I also still use my Mom’s Better Homes and Garden 1950’s cookbook for classic foods. Another favorite is the Women’s Club cookbook from my hometown from the 1950’s where the recipes start with things like “make a roux” and there is no directions on how to do this. You were expected to know the basic skills for cooking.

    • Did you know that they now publish “facsimile” versions of the BC cookbooks? I’ve seem them on Amazon. Not as good as a first edition, though. Hmph, hmph.

  11. Kirstin says:

    My sister and I had the Betty Crocker cookbook for boys and girls, too. Maybe my mother has it now. I think it had a recipe for creamed chipped beef on toast.

    It has been months since I read Marie Kondo’s book, and I haven’t finished tidying up.

  12. Sue says:

    Homemade Bread by the Food Editors of Farm Journal (1969) is the best traditional bread cookbook I’ve ever used. The recipes are absolutely delicious. When I found additional copies for the children, I included the admonition to “use butter when the recipes call for shortening.” Other favorites are the good old Better Homes and Gardens checkerboard cookbook (mine is from the 70s) and the first Moosewood cookbook by Mollie Katzen (1977).

    • Vintage cookbooks definitely tell the story of our food culture, don’t they? My grandma’s recipes all list “oleo” instead of butter. My mom told me about how they would drive to Iowa to buy margarine since it was illegal in Minnesota. Those dairy farmers knew what they were talking about!

  13. Janet says:

    I was simply running out of space for cookbooks, but they brought back so many happy memories. What to do? I made my own combination cookbook/scrapbook. I made photocopies of the covers and title pages. I then transcribed my favorite recipes from the book onto the computer noting the source of the recipe. I also included my notes about the recipes especially any adjustments I make to the recipe. Once I had finished that process, I printed all the recipes out onto 8.5 by 11 sheets of paper. I then put them in sheet protectors and organized them by topic into a three ring notebook. I put the copies of the covers and titles pages in sheet protectors at the back of the notebook. That way, if my daughters ever want their own copies of the books they will have the information necessary to track them down. In the meantime, I love using my notebook. All my favorite recipes are in one easy-to-use location. I especially enjoy the ability to take a sheet out of the notebook while cooking dinner and then putting it back when I clean up. I did keep two old cookbooks as keepsakes. One my mother gave me and one my grandmother gave me, all the rest went to Goodwill.

  14. Carolyn Stutz says:

    LOL — when it comes to books…yikes! I’ve culled and culled and still have over 500 books. That doesn’t include any cookbooks. I think the only cookbook my mom had was Betty Crocker and is it falling apart! but it’s mine 🙂 I have about 8 years worth of Taste of Home and Quick Cooking magazines. For several years I could remember what magazine a recipe was in by looking at the cover. Then I got so many that no longer worked. I took a summer and went through every magazine and wrote down the names and page numbers and which issue each recipe I used came from, then transferred them all to a master index. I use that constantly. Well, when I want an old recipe. My way of cooking has changed so much over the years – what I use and don’t use. More and more things are made from scratch. Quite a few of the recipes from Quick Cooking are no longer useful to me cause they rely on boxed ingredients. I don’t even keep them around any more and those things used to be staple items. My pantry itself shows how much my cooking has changed 😉
    Anyway, I have numerous handwritten recipes from my husband’s grandmother. I had the opportunity to have my own grandmother’s handwritten recipes, unfortunately, it was during a season of my life when I didn’t appreciate that stuff. Now I could kick myself – I didn’t have to actually make any of the recipes – just have her handwriting! argh! If nothing else, it’s made me realize I need to handwrite some of my own recipes for my son instead of constantly typing them up and printing them off just so they’ll be nice and neat and uniform.

    LOL – Jessica, it’s amazing how often you stir up memories (mostly good ones) just by mentioning favorite foods or kitchen tools or…cookbooks… 🙂

    • I’m so glad that I stir MOSTLY good memories! I’m afraid to ask about the bad ones! lol!

  15. Virginia Brucker says:

    I, and many of my friends, learned to cook from the Betty Crocker cookbook with the red and white checked cover and the book put out by Canadian flour producer, Five Roses Cookbook. It is still in print, although newer copies don’t have a spiral binding. I’ve bought a few copies to give to nieces and nephews starting out on their own or getting married. It’s just a fabulous resource–baking powder biscuits, macaroni and cheese, pies, how to cook roasts and chicken, all those good basics.

  16. Nancy B says:

    I need to go through my cookbook collection and purge too! When I can’t fit it in a single cabinet, that means it’s out of hand. Vintage cookbooks are one of my weaknesses.

    I do have several that I will never get rid of – – a couple that belonged to my grandmother and she wrote notes in the margins or added recipes in the last few pages (priceless), my mom’s Farm Journal and Betty Crocker cookbooks (it’s easy to spot what she made regularly due to the food stains on the pages), and I have the same BC Boys & Girls cookbook that you do. I believe it was a gift to me in the early 70’s.

  17. I have a ridiculous amount of cookbooks and dishes – they are an addiction for me! I am following Marie Kondo too and have to take on the books next that will be an interesting project as I have soooo many cookbooks! I have a cross country move coming up though and have to purge as DH says he won’t move all those heavy books! (I am moving back to CA – yeahhhh). Anyway my favorites I grew up with are from Wisconsin where my family is from (we moved to CA when I was five). The Settlement Cookbook was began here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and has been the go to cookbook throughout generations in our family. It is the first place I look if I need a recipe despite the million cookbooks I own! My kids cookbook was The Better Homes and Gardens kids cookbook of the 1970s I loved that book – the first recipe I made was for “Fluffy Scrambled Eggs” out of that very book – I was so proud! The vintage cookbooks I love to collect are the Christmas cookbooks put out by Wisconsin Electric company. My mom always made all of our cookies for Christmas out of these books and I guess they are pretty well known even outside Wisconsin. The cool part of these books is all the years are on the Wisconsin Electric website for free! I think they go back to the 30s on the site. It is called WE Energies now so just google that with christmas cookbook and it will bring up the page. Great recipes!

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