Tuesday, April 3, 2012

My favorite cookbooks

First and foremost, Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions taught me what is healthy and what is not healthy, and gave me a framework to begin a new quest for healthy recipes to replace the recipes in my box.  Many.....most....of them are not part of a healthy lifestyle, and many were just plain dangerous.  Low-fat, fat-free, containing ingredients with msg, margarine, shortening, processed flours and sugars, etc.  Not part of a healthy diet, for sure.

Enter my "new" cookbook collection.  The first one was discovered during a quick run into a newly-opened Savers store (which I was NOT impressed with at all) among hundreds of used books.  I'm not sure what caught my eye, but I'm so glad my eye was caught!
Wanna know the title?  Here ya go:
Is that just the best picture?  If you click on it, you'll get a larger version and may even be able to read the text.

This book was copyrighted in 1948 but is really a series of World War II era booklets.  Thus, the recipes tend to be thrifty and simple and favor readily available ingredients....often from your own garden.  There are recipes for squirrel, opossum, rabbit, moose, venison, reindeer, pigeons, ducks, geese (including instructions on skinning a goose!), quail, pheasant, and many more. 

There are also hundreds of recipes featuring beef, pork, lamb, and poultry.  The pictures of the chickens and turkeys look strange by today's standards, with their lack of plump breast meat.....but that is what chickens and turkeys that can reproduce naturally really look like.  I now appreciate a cookbook that shows me pictures of what MY chicken dish will look like when I cook up one of our home-raised roosters.

Although I have many recipe books, I now have four of these very valuable (to me!) older books with real recipes featuring real food that can be cooked by real people.  I learned some tricks to finding them quickly among hundreds of old and new used books that often are not categorized for ease of shopping.

First, stand back and look at the shelves of books from a distance.  The correct distance for me is where I cannot read the titles.  I get very distracted and overwhelmed by the huge selection and chaotic displays.  Rather than read titles, I step back and look for books of a certain heft that simply look old.  Cloth bound and not glitzy, maybe even frayed a bit.  When I spot a likely candidate, I swoop in for a closer look at the title.  If it looks promising, I pull it out for a quick review of the contents.

I've found that I can quickly decide whether to discard a book or hug it delightedly by looking for a few simple things. 
The inclusion of aspics.  Aspics are cold meat dishes made with meat gelatin.  These were considered to be elegant luncheon meals and were garnished elaborately.  They've fallen out of favor and to be honest, I have no intention of making one.  However, if you see recipes for aspic in an old book, grab it.  Other recipes will be healthy and wonderful.  This book was copyrighted originally in 1956, but my pristine edition was copyrighted in 1977.  The recipes come from many different older cooks, including Julia Child.  I love this book.  Many of the recipes are obviously seasonal, with all the ingredients available from one's garden or the farmer's market at the same time, and none shipped around the world.  Wonderful, and very useful to those of us with gardens.  We had celery casserole for dinner....although I admit I bought the celery from the grocery store.  It was wonderful and I'd never seen celery featured so prominently in a recipe before.

Here's my sweet poodle helping me with my pictures by holding up the book for me:
Another feature to look for is the section on offal or variety meats.  These are mostly organs and other cuts that are almost unknown today.  You may or may not use these recipes, but it is a quick way to decide if the book comes home or not.
Gunnar helps me again with the photos:
This one was copyrighted originally in 1942....love those WWII era books!  Very thrifty and not yet afraid of butter and fats.  My copy was printed in 1962.  Notice all the post-it flags?  Recipes I'll be trying!

Tongue molded in aspic.....this one wins on two counts!
However, this book was copyrighted in 1973 and there are far fewer useful recipes.  There still are plenty, though, so it is a keeper.  The author was older when she compiled this book, and many of the recipes are obviously older, although "updated" with the liberal use of ingredients such as shortening.  The recipes are easily converted, though, by using butter in place of margarine and lard in place of shortening.  At least she wasn't afraid of fat.  That is half the battle with modern cookbooks and recipes.
Look!  Homemade puff pastry!!!
Not that I'll be making that anytime soon, but now I know I can, and I will make it one day for company as something special.  Yum.  Getting hungry again!

Reading these old cookbooks also reinforces my choice to embrace domesticity....something that is no longer valued.  The media, being around most people at meal times, and a trip through the grocery store.....we are bombarded with the notion that cooking from scratch is archaic and no longer worth the time.  Maybe even a sign of oppression.  Spending time with books that praise the art of homemaking and value skill in the kitchen....this makes me want to go rattle some pots and pans!  The results are well worth the effort.  My dear husband shows his appreciation by doing the dishes for me.  Unlike the housewives in the books, I do have to work outside the home.  But with a little cooperation, we can sit down to some wonderful and healthy meals.  The shared effort draws us closer, too, a wonderful benefit.

Coming soon:  My favorite sections of one of the oldest books....food preservation!


  1. My mom's favorite cookbook was Haydn Pearson's Country Flavor Cookbook. I found a copy for myself a few years back.

    From this area there was a woman that that had a cooking column in the Greenfield recorder for many years. I got her cookbook from my m-i-l. Her name was Hazel Corliss and the book was Hilltop Housewife.

    I also have NT and also Wild Fermentation. I have 3 about preserving food, and 2 about butchering. One I use a lot for reference is Joy of Cooking. And for secondary reference a copy of Good Housekeeping, also from my m-i-l.

    None of them are pre-WW2, mostly the 70's, just when things were changing. I will have to keep my eye out at tag sales and library sales this year.

    Regarding homemaking, do you know of Shannon Hayes, a grass-fed-livestock farmer in upstate New York and author of “Radical Homemakers,” a manifesto for “tomato-canning feminists” ? Liked this book. An article about it:


    When I was a s-a-h-m I listed my occupation as homemaker. :))

  2. I read that article last month....love the picture! I haven't read the book, however. Sounds interesting, though.

    I love Wild Fermentation, and Sandor Katz is coming out with a new book on fermentation this month, I believe. One of my recipes will be in it!

  3. Thank you, I ordered 2 of these books just now from amazon (I couldn't read the title on one of them)! I'm always on the look out for old cookbooks at used bookstores and thrift stores, they are just right for homesteaders/backyard farmers like me. For these books I splurged a bit I usually don't spend more the $4 for books these days, but I didn't mind since these types of books are soooooo hard to find. Today's cookbooks are just so limiting. I've been collecting cookbooks on cooking pheasant, quail, goose and ducks since I'm raising some of of these birds now and planning on raising all of them this year. Got to be ready with tasty recipes!!

  4. How cool is that!! I will have to try to find a copy, then. :))

  5. The two best ones are the war era ones....the Culinary Arts Institute Encyclopedic Cookbook by Ruth Berolzheimer, and the Modern Family Cookbook by Meta Givens. These two have more recipes that are thrifty, use basic ingredients that are local and in season (with a few lemons and spices thrown in, of course, that is perfectly reasonable! And some of those may be local to you), and are mostly WAPF-friendly or can easily be adjusted and the recipe is still very, very reliable.

    I use chevre in place of cottage cheese, cream cheese, and sometimes even farmer cheese in these recipes, and I use my aged hard goat cheeses for most other cheeses.

  6. Hi freemotion. I just found your blog, and am glad I did. Remember me? I sent you your kefir grains :-). I love old cookbooks, and look for them wherever I go. My very favorite is still the one I learned to cook from - my mother's 1953 edition of Joy of Cooking. I shall have to look for those you mentioned.
    Cheers! Una

  7. Hi Una!! That kefir is still going strong and I've passed on many grains. Nice to hear from you! My mother has that same version of Joy of Cooking and it is a fantastic book.