Vintage cookbooks from the 1960s


I love cookbooks. I can sit for hours and read them like novels, especially older ones because they feel like a history book. Recently, I received a three volume set of vintage cookbooks as a gift and they are just fascinating. I love to explore how tastes, techniques, and lifestyles have changed in short periods of time.

These are The Illustrated Good Housekeeping Encyclopedic Cookbook set from 1965. That is right around the time they seemed to grow out of the trend of savory, gelatin-based side dishes (spelled gelatine in the books). They were also well into the era of convenience foods; one recipe calls for "canned spaghetti and meatballs" mixed into eggs. 

The books were in good shape but fragile right out of the case. As I gave them an initial flip through, they crackled in a way that made me wince. I had really hoped to put them to use rather than admire on a shelf so I decided to reinforce the bindings with book tape. I’m sure that affects resale but, while treasures to me, in reality they weren’t terribly expensive. In fact, the book set originally sold for $25 (the price is on the case) and mister purchased them for around $30. I guess there is not a lot of inflation over 50 years in the cookbook market. 


The books are in color and the graphics are spectacular. It appears the spreads are in two-color format, long before printers could handle four-color at a decent price. The cartoons are very “Bewitched” looking.  

Some of the graphics have absolutely no correlation at all to what is on the page making them puzzling yet whimsical. I wonder if all these men are named Frank. Or like frankfurters. Or perhaps are all men named Frank who like frankfurters and can sing. It's a quandary.

And the photographs! The color palates are exactly what you’d expect for that decade with bright oranges and olive greens. While we certainly style food today, the days of putting non-edible things on the plate to attract the eye are mostly gone. And for that, I am grateful. 


Oh, and in case you need inspiration on how to use a knife...


The best section of all - DESSERTS!


The dessert section is particularly entertaining, not because of the recipes themselves, but the advice to prepare them. For example, this section states right upfront that dessert isn’t a luxury and no dinner is complete without one. So they’ve included several recipes that can be accomplished by even busiest house wife–in 45 minutes or less. Geez, nowadays if a main course takes more than 45 minutes we are going to a drive-thru, let alone spend 45 minutes just on a weeknight dessert. 

Also, there is a recipe to make a coffee cake where the topping calls for the remains of yesterday’s cake. I. love. that. First, you assume there is leftover cake and that is hilarious. Second, if there is leftover cake from only yesterday, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be looking for a recipe to make another cake. I'm not too proud to eat day-old cake!

The same passage mentions that dessert should be considered a part of the nutritional value for the day. They suggest you look at the menu plan for your entire day (or week) and if one day is missing eggs at breakfast, you could make egg custard for dessert. Interesting. I’d never really thought of dessert as anything other than unnecessary sugar at the end of the last meal. I may have to rethink my whole philosophy of why I don't eat dessert often.

Strange ingredients


The ingredients are mostly what you see today but there are some oddballs. For example, this is a recipe for dessert that calls for suet–you know, the kind of suet people buy to feed chickadees and nuthatches. 

They call for “commercial sour cream” often. I’d never heard of it but after some internet searching it appears to be the full-fat (as opposed to low- or non-fat) sour cream we know today.

So many of the recipes call for monosodium glutamate; something I had never heard of until I stared at it long enough to realize that we just shorten it to the villainous acronym MSG. The ingredient was so important that they actually defined it on the inside cover of volume 2 and tell you to sprinkle it on just about everything savory. Ick. 

Convenience foods


Occasionally, they talked of the convenience foods available. One such entry mentioned that mincemeat pie is sold with the dough needed to make the crust. While I’ve seen mincemeat, I’ve not seen it packaged with the crust anywhere. No wonder I never make it (face palm). Other sections incorporate convenience foods such as processed cheeses and meats (they were obsessed with hot dogs, canned ham, etc.) heavily.  

Random tidbits


The avocados pictured in all volumes have pits as big as the fruit. I’ve heard of crossbreeding strawberries to be sweeter and blackberries to have less thorns but, I had no idea they were working on minimizing the avocado pits, too. Ah, food science. 


And for the Big Bang Theory fans out there, turns out that no, Zack didn't invent the word "Appeteasers."