Vintage Cookbooks: Useful or Outdated?

(Image credit: Kathryn Hill)

A highlight of cooking with my mother as a kid was always her pulling out a worn and weathered copy of the Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book. Pages were tattered and stained with dollops of this and that, while a binder clip precariously held the whole thing together.

Of course, the reality was that this “New Cook Book” wasn’t new at all. The book was a gift from my parents’ wedding, and despite my countless suggestions that she purchase a fresh copy, the volume continues to be a mainstay of her cookbook collection. “They’ve changed the new editions! It’s not as good!” she would always say.

And so when I shipped off to college my mother presented me with a vintage copy of the same book that she had secured while rummaging at neighborhood garage sales. With a copy in great condition, I thumbed through the recipes, finding great amusement in dishes like “deviled nut sack,” “pizza pork chops,” and “braunschweiger glace.” Not to mention an entire section devoted to microwave cooking! Particularly hilarious is a chapter declaring the need to learn the metric system in advance of the United States’ inevitable switch over due to “legislation now pending in the United States Congress.” Ha!

Over the years though, I’ve found myself coming back to this manual for bits of advice here and there. What temperature is the soft crack stage when making candies? What can I do with leftover egg whites besides make meringues? The book became particularly useful for brainstorming appetizers in advance of hosting a Mad Men season premiere party — Fruit-Crab Cocktail, anyone? More than anything, I use it as a starting point for basic recipes — biscuits, sauces, breads. Sure I could look these things up on the Internet, but isn’t this more fun?

What cookbooks do you come back to again and again? Are there are any older cookbooks in your collection that have outlived any usefulness other than a nostalgic glimpse of the past?

(Image: Kathryn Hill)