The Vintage Cookbook Vault highlights recipes from my insane stash of books and pamphlets from the early 20th century onward. It's a semi-regular thing.
Good gravy, do I love vintage cookbooks. As much as I love getting my mitts on the newest, glossiest, most porn-glutted, celebrity chef-penned doorstoppers (Noma, you shall yet be mine...), poring over ingredient lists and making animalistic noises at pictures of clever terrines and various roasted things, I rarely use the recipes. They serve as inspiration, to be sure, but those pages will, with a few notable exceptions, remain pristine.
Most of the real war horses in my kitchen are spiral and comb-bound community cookbooks and old product pamphlets. As I've said before, at their best, they transcend time and space to provide a window into kitchens long ago and far away, and are generally guaranteed to work because they're either someone's show-off recipe or have been tested to heck and back in a commercial kitchen.
Scanned from "The Ground Meat Cookbook"
Yes, I wax rhapsodic over Louis Y. Dawson Jr.'s Otranto Club Punch recipe from "Charleston Receipts," Zero Mostel's calf's foot jelly or a "Snappy Fruit Mold' from "The New Joys of Jell-O" (1975). There is, however, a reason we're not all chowing down on Ham Rings and Liver Loaf on the regular.
Perhaps it's the now outre inclusion of the MSG. It could be that America has for the moment fallen out of love with artfully sculpted ground ham. I have a sneaking suspicion that it's the ill-advised inclusion of a rodent illustration on the occasional recipe page. (Yes, I know they're making a mousse/mouse joke there, but 1. they read more as rats and 2. wouldn't you have, I dunno, gone with a moose?)
They're not all winners in the culinary sense, but one of the great joys of these books is in the anachronism. Though I can't really imagine a time period in which the presence of vermin in the kitchen was actually celebrated, I thoroughly appreciate the whimsy, cheer and non-preciousness of the gesture. It may not be brilliant food, but it's a fascinating - and often hilarious - glimpse at America finding its way to the present.
Got a vintage hot mess of your own and want to show it off? Post links in the comments below or upload it through iReport and we'll show off some of our favorites.
Previously – Cookbooks that changed my life