For a person whose idea of a good dinner is often cheese and crackers, I own an enormous number of cook books. But my favorites are the ones that I am probably least likely to use.
I collect vintage cook books from the 1950s and 1960s. These are just a few of them. I recognize that this is hardly a unique or terribly interesting thing to collect, but I really love them. And this is my blog, so indulge me, please.
The Better Homes and Gardens and Good Housekeeping cook books have found their way into the collection as well, but the Betty Crocker ones are best. If they are spiralbound with garish photos, that’s fabulous. The small format is preferred. Extra-special love is reserved for the “cooking for two” type, as they often contain helpful advice for the new bride as well. Fun reading when you need an ironic chuckle.
The first one I actively sought out is the one on the left, Betty Crocker’s Cook Book for Boys and Girls. This title has been updated many times, but mine is a first edition, first printing of the 1957 version. Not long ago, the 1957 version was reprinted and I bought it as a gift for my young nieces and nephew. Growing up, we had my mother’s copy at home, and I adored poring through it. This page held a special fascination for me.
For one thing, I always wanted that zoo cake. Don’t the animals look like they were painted with semi-gloss interior paint? I was sure that if I were truly a good daughter, I would present Mom with a heart-shaped cake with “Mother” spelled out in Red Hots on her birthday (which falls conveniently close to Mother’s Day). Also, how did they get the icing on the Easter cake so shiny, I wondered? A thin layer of Bonne Bell Lip Gloss, perhaps? In all seriousness, one thing I love about this cook book is that the recipe for the Mother cake does not mention a heart-shaped pan. Today’s home baker would likely procure a special pan from Martha Stewart or Target. Back in the day, people made heart-shaped cakes with one square and one round layer pan. Think about it.
I also loved reading all the quotes from the “Home Testers: The 12 boys and girls who tested all these recipes.” In keeping with the cake theme, I love the one pictured above. I want “keen” to come back. (Some of the quotes are from Betty Crocker herself, such as “You’ll love this gingerbread with a dish of icy-cold applesauce.” I don’t care if Betty Crocker is imaginary, she’s right! I would like that, thank you very much.) Again, not in jest, I think it’s interesting that somebody in 1957 — if only a forward-thinking advertising executive dressed like a character from Mad Men — thought it obvious that a boy should be able to, or would want to, bake his father’s birthday cake. Now if the cook book only mentioned boys in the “Campfire Cooking” chapter, that’s about what one would expect for the era. But no. This book is full of budding male pastry chefs. Awesome.
I have bunches of these. I recently acquired a 1963 Better Homes and Gardens cook book entitled Meals with a Foreign Flair. It includes recipes for parties such as “Salute to the Swiss” and “Honorable Chinese Dinner.” Irresistible.