Really how many new tricks and recipes can there be? Obviously there are new ingredients, methods of cooking and books catering for all manner of ethnic cuisines.
I like a nostalgic wade through my old books, and cooking from them reminds me of happy childhood meals at both sets of Grandparents’ tables, surrounded my family.
Mrs Beeton’s Cookery Book
Mrs B is a classic and well loved writer, known for her book of Household Management. Despite its small (5″ x 7″) size this book packs in 1,200 recipes, and promises to be a “handy reference book which will solve all the housewives’ problems”. All the recipes have been “examined by a fully qualified expert in domestic science … always with due regard to economy”, perfect for these recession ridden days.
Succinct in words, the book gives clear instructions for cooking almost everything (I am fairly sure that salsify does not feature in my other cookbooks) with information on when fresh produce is in season. Chapters are dedicated to different types of dishes, including invalid cookery – eel broth or toast water – to a more appetising coddled egg.
There are menus planned for you, and sections on folding napkins, how to treat your servants and a guide to labour saving devices, including the vacuum cleaner which must be oiled every 3 weeks.
Given the propensity amongst some foodbloggers to cook pigs’ heads last year, the appearance of a calfs’ head on the recipe pages does not look too out of date.
I imagine to many a newly married woman the book was a godsend.
O level Cookery
I am not quite old enough to have taken O Levels, and my school deemed me too academic to be allowed to study Home Economics for GCSE. Given the path my life has taken I rather wish I had, and then studied Home Economy at university.
This books covers everything including nutrition and associated biochemistry, methods of food production, methods of cooking and the science behind them. It explains why you do things and the science behind it.
It is my go-to tome for pastry and batters, and who would not be proud to make a pie as good as the one on the cover?
Published in 1945, Cook Happy, is charmingly illustrated and whimsically written, no doubt in an effort to lift the mood after WWII. It is unashamedly aimed at newly married women, and contains delightful phrases such as “When a man and woman marry, there closes behind them the door of the thrilling maze in which they met”, this makes me smile.
After advice on how to deal with every sort of meal – with guests ranging from the Important Man, our Rich Friends, Nice People – very dull, the book contains nutritional advice, and then dietary tables. Rather exciting (and unusually) the chapters are in reverse order starting with puddings, cakes, cookies & candies, jams and fruit. Rather less of the book is devoted to savoury recipes, with a chapter on Salpicon “The word is pronounced ‘Sal-Pee-Kon’ and if you feel like it, you can give a French intonation to the final syllable”
All the recipes are utility based, using dried eggs and margarine, notes are given “for better times” encouraging the use of fresh eggs and butter. I am thankful to live in better times, and awed by all who fed their families during the war and rationing.
Marguerite Pattern’s Book of Cakes and Baking
Published in 1961 and containing a massive 600 recipes, I imagine that this is the only baking book that many people ever owned. All though the photography is of its era, and styling has greatly changed there are many similarities with modern books, which just goes to show that there are only so many ideas. (There is also a maypole cake in both books)
In the introduction Patten expresses delight at the continued interest in homebaking, and urges everyone to go forth and bake, which just goes to show that nothing really does change.
Variations are a plenty – there are more than 20 – scone recipes for example, and there are tips on how to successfully ice and decorate, including how to make a piping bag. Apart from some modern decorating techniques, some pâtisserie, and sourdough (if you are inclined) you actually would not need another baking book.
In all these books I am struck by just how much information that there is in them, how concise and tightly emitted they are, how little white space there is on a page and importantly how relevant they are to me today.
What is your favourite vintage cookbook?