Although there is nothing quite like a new book, I have a certain fondness for my old cookbooks.
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some foodbloggers to cook pigs’ heads last year, the appearance of a calfs’ head on the recipe pages does not look too out of date.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?
I love old recipe books and have quite a collection. My favourite is simply called “Economical Cookery” and was published in 1937. As well as a huge collection of simple, practical recipes, many of which I use time and time again, it has a fascinating section with a full day’s meal plans for every day of the year, with Sunday’s dishes costed out.
Today we should be eating grapefruit and scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast, cock a leelike soup or cold posrk with pickled beetroot and postatoes followed by pancakes for lunch, and savoury liver, potatoes, cabbage and prine pie for dinner.
On Sunday we’ll need a 4½lb piece of topside costing 3/- (15p)
Oooh didn’t I get my fingers twisted there? Iwas reading the book while I typed. Cock a leekie soup, pork, potatoes, prune. Hope that makes more sense now!
no mention of your erotic baker cookbook?
I love my vintage cookbooks. My favourites have to be the Tate & Lyle Golden Syrup book that insists that Golden Syrup is healthy and ‘stops kids getting fraght’ and my Good Housekeeping from 1940s. If you can’t find a classic cake or pastry recipe you can guarentee it’ll be in Good Housekeeping.
It makes me wonder what current cookbooks will be the classic vintage books in a few decades.
I suspect not that many of them Jules, as in comparision they are so light on content.
I also love my Katie Stewarts. Great food. No pretension.
The old ones are the best (possibly)! My mother’s most used recipe book is her ancient and much battered edition of Mrs B.
I do wonder what today will be a classic? Short and Sweet maybe?
Sarah, Maison Cupcake
Fab post! I have a collection of vintage cookbooks I’ve always meant to blog about too.
I never cease to be fascinated by ancient food photography and styling. The naffest has to be 1980s Sainsbury’s books!!
My favourite is Fanny Cradock Cook Hostess book which is all prose with a few cartoon drawings but makes a hilarious read.
I love Cook Happy, I smile when I read it.
Surely Fiona Cairns must own a copy of Marguerite Patten.
Oh I love Maguerite Patten – I used to look amazedly at all the photos in Mum’s books and love trying to make anything else.
Katie Stewart also a stalwart – there was a Times Book of her’s that was a staple as was the Good Housekeeping Book of Cookery which told you everything from how long to boil beans to cooking more complicated things.
I also remember the enticing Cook now dome later and Freeze now dine later which looked so terribly enticing.
My Mother still uses her Times cookbook which is in pieces, I am always on the lookout for a new one for her! I also have a copy of it.
I must do a post on the old books that I own. I also have lots of old newspaper clips from the 1930s which were collected by my husband’s grandmother, the illustrations are brilliant. Shockingly, many of my own cookbooks would count as vintage (more than 20 years old) including Delia’s complete cookery course!
I too have the O level cookery book, only because I did take it, the o level not the book, well until a few months after I had left. A great post, reminding me of all the books I have too.x
I love these, I swear by my Mum’s Hamlyn cookery book that she got just before I was born, and Mark’s Mum lets me read and copy down recipes from her Mum’s books and notebooks. It’s where I got the marmalade and Christmas pudding recipes from.
crikey that Margurite Patten one takes me back.. I think my mum had that one. Is it the one with orange layer cake in it?? I remember making it for my mums birthday.
I had some old ones too. A M&S one I bought when we got married (35 years this year!) and the Dairy Book of Home Cooking my mum bought from the milkman when I was 16. I gave both of them to my son when he moved out last year. I do miss those books..well used and loved.
I am going to order a Dairy book on e-bay or Amazon as it is consistently good, and still highly recommended.
Orange chiffon layer cake is in Marguerite Patten! ;-)
I have been using the same Marguerite Pattern Every Day recipe book since I got married in 1969 always simple no fuss recipes The Grapefruit marmalade cake is fantastic I make it with orange marmalade it tastes like ginger cake ….other books come and go but always go back to this old favourite one .only other one that comes close is Delia Smith