5 Wacky Vintage Cookbooks from My Shelf and Why I Love Them

published Apr 24, 2015
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(Image credit: Michelle Peters-Jones)

We all have them. Those odd cookbooks that just seem to appear in our collections — some we picked up on travels, or were given to us by friends and family, or came from antique stores or flea markets whose covers we just couldn’t resist.

Here are some of the obscure-ish but much-loved cookbooks in my own collection. I use some of them all the time, while I just enjoy having others on my shelf. Regardless, they have stories, and today, I’m here to tell you what they are.

(Image credit: Michelle Peters-Jones)
(Image credit: Michelle Peters-Jones)
(Image credit: Michelle Peters-Jones)

The Mangalore Ladies Club Cookery Book

→ Where to find it: If you ever visit Mangalore, India, make friends with a member of the Mangalore Ladies Club — you might get lucky and score a copy of this book.

This was the cookbook that my mom packed into my suitcase when I moved to grad school in England. The Mangalore Ladies Club is exactly what it says it is: a club for the ladies of Mangalore with charitable aims. One of their big projects is this cookery book, and it is a real tome.

In it, you’ll find everything from traditional Mangalorean recipes to North and South Indian classics, as well as surprisingly interesting sections on baking and salads. The recipes defy categorization – they are personal recipes from the club’s members and they span the globe. It is a funny book, in the sense that the recipes are all in the voices of the women contributing, and they assume that they are giving the recipe to a peer. This means that you really do have to know how to cook, and to talk the Mangalorean talk — that is what makes cooking from this book a real adventure.

This is also the first cookbook I reach for when I want to make any dish from my childhood, and I have made several of them, including successful adaptation of their recipe for traditional Indian samosas.

(Image credit: Michelle Peters-Jones)

Randhpi (The Chef) by Isidore Coelho

→ Where to find it: Well, the English version of this has been released in a limited print run by the publishers, Jerosa Company in Mangalore, and you might be able to buy a copy if you get to their store in India. You could also try and learn how to speak my mother tongue, Konkani, and state language, Kannada, in which case I’ll lend you my copy.

Mom gave me this book when she realized I’d actually learned how to cook properly. This is the “big girl’s” cookbook of cuisine from my hometown. The recipes are very traditional, and so is the language. I haven’t read the Kannada script for a long time, though, so I do struggle sometimes, but there is something mesmerizing about knowing how to read a book in a different language and absorbing the recipes from it.

Isidore Coelho is a popular figure in traditional coastal Indian cuisine, and when I am looking for that taste of home, this is one of the books I reach for. His egg masala is a staple in our home as an easy weekday supper, and I make his more complex meat dishes when I want to impress my coterie of Indian aunties (who pretend to be unimpressed, but I bet are secretly very impressed).

(Image credit: Michelle Peters-Jones)
(Image credit: Michelle Peters-Jones)
(Image credit: Michelle Peters-Jones)

Farmhouse Cookery: Recipes from the Country Kitchen (A Readers Digest Collection, 1982 edition)

→ Where to find it: Look at that, I actually found a copy you can buy!

I picked up this book from a car boot sale in some rural English town. This was around the time that my interest in cookbooks and cooking was picking up, and I was obsessed with learning as much as I could about British food and cooking. This is a beautiful book if you are into traditional and vintage farmhouse recipes. It has recipes from all over the UK, and also includes some “foreign” recipes from places like Italy and the Mediterranean. Reading this book is like diving into a nostalgic, simpler past world. The recipes deliberately have a ye olde English tone to them, but are actually pretty easy to recreate.

That cockle and corn pie is one of my favorite recipes, though I substitute clams for cockles here in Canada. When I lived in my seaside town in England, I was actually lucky enough to be able to find local cockles from my fishmonger, and this pie was a real treat.

The summer pudding above is also one of my favorites and I can’t wait for berry season to make it again.

(Image credit: Michelle Peters-Jones)
(Image credit: Michelle Peters-Jones)

German Baking Today: The Original by Dr. Oetkar Verlag

→ Where to find it: You can buy a copy for yourself right here.

So this book isn’t as obscure as some of the others, but it is unusual enough that I get comments on it from my friends when they see it on my bookshelf.

This was gifted to me by one of my best friends, Maz, who is German. Before she gave me this book, the only way I knew Dr. Oetkar was through his (surprisingly) delicious frozen pizzas. But this book really opened up a whole new world of European baking for me, and it is a book I turn to all the time, from the classic Black Forest Gateau, to the quirkily named Wasp Nests.

The recipes in the book don’t require that you use Dr. Oetkar products and you can very easily substitute whatever else you have on hand if they do call for, say, a pack of Dr. Oetkar’s vanilla sugar or similar. But it is a seriously delicious-looking book, with photographs that will leave you drooling and very, very hungry. Maz sure knows me very well.

(Image credit: Michelle Peters-Jones)
(Image credit: Michelle Peters-Jones)

Canadian Game Cookery by Frances Macilquham

→ Where to find it: There are a few copies floating around, and I found these here.

With a cover like that, how was I supposed to resist the $5 copy of this 1966 classic? I found this book while browsing at a local antiques market with my friends Cindy and Addie. Addie was looking for vintage glassware for his cocktail concoctions, and Cindy and I were (ostensibly) helping him out. In reality, we were both looking for bargain and vintage food photography props, one of my little luxuries in life. This antiques market is one of those where each booth is different from others, and as we were exploring, I stumbled upon a brilliant collection of old cookbooks. I really really really wanted to take them all home, but by this time, my basket was pretty full (and my wallet was complaining), so I compromised and picked up this one, because we all need to know how to cook wild game in our lives, yes? Yes.

I adore this book, even though I haven’t dared cook anything from it yet. It’s full of illustrations of everything from how to recognize wild game to how to gut, clean, and butcher it before cooking. The writing is beautifully elegant, and I love that even though this book was written in the 60’s, there is a real respect for nose-to-tail eating, which has become so trendy today. The illustration above is for arctic hare, by the way. You know, just in case you decide to hunt one for yourself.

So, what unusual or vintage or just plain weird cookbooks do you own? Tell me all about them in the comments. Tell me where I might be able to find them, too, because I love my collection and I am always adding to it.