The Cookbooks of Our Lives.

About ten years ago, I was keeping my brother company while he browsed an antique store in northwestern Connecticut, and I spotted this old cookbook:

Attracted by the vintage 1950s artwork and historic eateries, I bought the book. The purchase kicked off a hobby of collecting vintage cookbooks – a hobby that’s spawned a new cozy series, the Vintage Cookbook Mysteries, which launches with BAYOU BOOK THIEF on June 7. (AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER!! Sorry, had to shout that.)

I’ve noticed that when I tell people about the series, it often triggers fond memories of a special cookbook in their own lives. It might be one handed down through generations, or the first cookbook they bought as a young adult or newlywed.

Through my newsletter, I asked readers to tell me about a cookbook that’s particularly important to them. I thought I’d share a few of their responses with you today.

“This was my very first cookbook, from when I was 9 years old. I shared it with my younger sister. We both learned to cook and bake from this book. We collaborated on Mother’s Day dinner with the meat loaf and mashed potatoes recipes from this book, and my sister baked the chocolate cake for the dessert. That was back in the mid-1960s.

I lost it in the intervening years (with several moves across the country then across the Pacific – my dad was in the US Air Force). I found it, used, on Amazon, a few years ago and purchased it when I was working with my middle school students who chose to join my library class as their elective. My basic chocolate chip and oatmeal cookie recipes also came from this book.” Kat Kan, Panama City, FL.

(Sidebar: I have a copy of this cookbook from my own childhood. I also have an updated version I bought for my daughter. Comparing the recipes between then and now is fascinating. I once suggested making “Hot Dog Stew” from the original book to my kid and she practically turned green.)

Kat’s cookbook

“My parents received this as a wedding present in 1971. The copyright is 1969. My father and his parents were members of this church. Just for fun I’ve included a pic of the recipe we’ve used most often. I just made it again a few weeks ago.” Sue, Greencastle, PA.

About 50 years ago I was a young bride and not much of a cook. My mother-in-law gave me this cookbook. It helped me learn to be a better cook & has recipes I still use today. The marriage didn’t last very long, but I’ll always treasure the cookbook!” Judith Karish Rycar

This was my husband’s Grandma Lou’s (we were very close) cookbook. It makes me think of her and takes me back in time. Good ol’ days .” Patricia M., Ottawa, IL

(This cookbook is from) My paternal grandma’s church where I attended a lot of luncheons.”  Deb, Normal, IL

Deb’s cookbook

Thanks so much, Kat, Sue, Judith, Pat, and Deb. Your cookbooks are wonderful, as are the memories you’ve shared.

If you’re wondering what I’d consider the most memorable cookbook from my own past, I’d have to go with my younger brother’s copy of the Peanuts Cookbook. Sadly, the book has disappeared from our family’s shelves into the mists of time, so I can’t share a photo of it. But to this day, I have yet to find a better lemon square recipe than Lucy’s Lemon Squares.

Readers, do you have food memories of a cookbook from your past?

49 thoughts on “The Cookbooks of Our Lives.

  1. Our Hungarian church put together a Hungarian/Austrian/Czech. cookbook. I still have it and I treasure it, though I use tweaked versions of my family’s recipes instead of the book unless it’s something we typically didn’t make.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. My first cookbook was a Betty Crocker Cookbook, it was a binder style book. My family loved the meals I made from that book. I also liked to try some of the recipes from magazines like Family Circle and Woman’s Day.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. I’ve collected cookbooks for years–I probably have nearly a thousand, both vintage and newly purchased. I have a copy of the Ford cookbook with which you led off this chapter and have cooked from it. One of my biggest regrets is that I did not get the cookbooks from the old house that my mother used. She had likely thrown them out sometime before she passed. Even with years of going to antique shows, I never came across other copies.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. My mother clipped recipes from magazines in the 50s, and experimented on the four boys and father. After one supper gone wrong, my younger brother said, “Oh, my God. Betty Crocker struck again!”

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  5. ELLEN: As mentioned by a few commenters, I also remember the red Betty Crocker cookbook in my childhood home. My (late) mom had immigrated to Canada from Japan in the early 1960s and used it to learn how to make typical North American family meals and treats: meatloaf, roast chicken, pancakes, birthday cake, etc.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. My mother gave me the classic red-and-white checked Betty Crocker cookbook (binder style) for a wedding present 25 years ago and it is still the one I use the most. Betty knows just about everything! The only recipe that has ever failed me is her snickerdoodles, which come out crispy, not soft.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Wow, it’s the Betty Crocker cookbook for the win here! That’s funny about the Snickerdoodles recipe, Liz. They definitely should be soft. I wonder if that’s a cookbook generational thing? I.e., if cookies were more popular crispy than soft around the time your edition came out?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Maybe. I found what I think is the difference. The Betty Crocker version uses shortening. I saw the same recipe, sans shortening, on a website. I need to try it and see if I’m right.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. My mother died in November of 1965, when I was 12. My grandmother, her mother, sent me a copy of THE I NEVER COOKED BEFORE COOK BOOK by Jo Coudert for Christmas that year; it’s inscribed: Maybe this will help when you don’t know what to do nest – Love from Dandy Christmas 1965. This book, tattered and torn, stained and well-used, saved my butt many a time between 1965 and now. I’d send a picture if I could . . .

    Liked by 4 people

  8. I have way too many cookbooks for someone who rarely cooks anymore … including one I wrote! I love the cookbook I bought from the lighthouse we stayed in of their 7-course breakfasts. I’m a huge fan of the show “Bob’s Burgers” so my husband bought me a copy of their Burger of the Day recipes, which is a hoot. I also have several of those “church lady” cookbooks and a huge one my sister put together with tons of family recipes. Many of my grandma’s recipes elicit howls of laughter from my kids, but I ate all of them including her Jell-o vegetable mold (made with vegetable flavored Jell-o), her Seafoam Salad (Jell-o, cottage cheese, horseradish, pineapple, mayo, celery, marshmallows, and nuts), and her Frog Eye Salad (pasta, pineapple, mandarin oranges, eggs, sugar, marshmallows, and Cool-Whip). But my favorite is my dad’s martini recipe. Among other very specific instructions, he says to “whisper the word vermouth into cocktail glass. For a softer drink you my whisper vermouth a second time. No more than twice, as this will dilute the beverage.” He was particular about his martinis!

    Ellen, I had that Peanuts cookbook too!

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    1. Becky!!! That martini recipe!! 🤣🤣🤣 And I’m sorry, but that Seafoam Salad recipe sounds terrifying. I’m so mad. Before I officially began collecting cookbooks, a friend gave me one from the 60s with Jello recipes. I figured, I will never need this and gave it away. I could kick myself now because I can’t find that specific one anywhere. And those recipes are SO crazy fun to look at.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. They really area hoot! As I recall, Seafoam Salad was tasty, but the only thing good about Frog Eye Salad was the name. I wonder if they still make vegetable flavored Jello. I could terrorize my sisters with it at our next family party.

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      2. Frog Eye salad sounds like something you’d have at a Halloween haunted house. You know, when people would say, “It’s a bowl of eyeballs!” and you’d be putting your hand in a bowl of grapes. 🤣

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I have a collection of cookbooks–most were gifted to me. There are a few treasured ones from relatives. The flimsy “unofficial” ones from groups and clubs are also a hit. I also recently found a few great ones at local Little Libraries.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jen!! I didn’t even THINK to look at Little Libraries for them. I’ve been waiting for my branch to start its Friends sales again. That’s where I’ve gotten so many good ones.


  10. I had that Betty Crocker cookbook too! (May still have it, as a matter of fact.) I have some other fun cookbooks I’ve collected over the years: The Elvis Cookbook (featuring his famous peanut butter and banana sandwich); The Coca-Cola Cookbook, which we bought at the Coca-Cola Museum in Atlanta, GA; and my favorite, The Galloping Gourmet Cookbook. My grandmother had a huge crush on the GG, and I was fascinated as a youngster how he’d tipple wine throughout his TV show…

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Leslie: I remember watching the Galloping Gourmet TV show (on reruns) in the late 1970s. Did you know the Galloping Gourmet show was taped in Ottawa (Canada)? Yes, Graham Kerr’s drinking while cooking was different. I was also envious that he chose an audience member (usually female) to join him at the dining table at the end of each episode.

      Liked by 3 people

    1. Mark, here’s my worst-kept secret. I’m not much of a cook either. Which makes my obsession with old cookbooks extremely odd. Shhh! Don’t tell! BTW, sidebar: Wednesday’s guest column will be right up your alley. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  11. My mother had the old red and white Betty Crocker cookbook (as do I). She had others, but my absolute favorite to read, growing up, was A General’s Diary of Treasured Recipes by Brigadier General Frank Dorn. I loved reading about all the places he’d been stationed at, the food there, and the people.
    My own “first” cookbook was The Good Housekeeping Cookbook, 1963, bought for a class in 1967. I still have it and use it. It’s a good basic cookbook. Wherever my husband was stationed, I bought a cookbook or two.
    And I can’t not mention MFK Fisher’s The Art of Eating and With Bold Knife & Fork. Simply wonderful.
    Is there such a thing as too many cookbooks? I think not. (Is there such a thing as too many books of any kind? Never.)

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    1. Mary, that general’s cookbook sounds absolutely amazing. I dream of coming across something like that in my cookbook searches. And I totally agree. I have books everywhere in our house. I’ve run out of room, so they’re even under the bed – where I’ve also run out of room! But too many? No such thing.

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      1. You might find a copy at Abe Books, it’s very good, except I kind of avoid it. (I always buy more than the original title or author I was looking for!)

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Literally, I relied on the Better Homes & Gardens basic cookbook when my kids were little (I also fortunately had the Betty Crocker Junior Cookbook from childhood–still do). I need very specific, short & easy directions with photos or illos and/or humorous quotes. I never really graduated from there, although I later added the Little Irish Cookbook and Forum Feasts from a Women’s League in NJ. I blame all of this on my mom, who owned Peg Bracken’s I Hate to Cook Book. I’m not sure she ever cracked it open, but I thought Peg was hilarious when I found it on Mom’s bookshelves–in her bedroom with the other best-sellers, not the kitchen. I’m happy to report the chain has been broken: My daughter cooks like Julia Child.

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  13. My fave cookbooks are one from my mom’s church — my go-to broccoli casserole recipe is in it! And a small Smith Family Reunion Cookbook I made for our first-Sunday-In-June gathering with my mom’s family. I printed copies for everyone and it includes faves from my aunts. They’re all gone now except for my mom. I treasure having Aunt Doris’ French Coconut Cream Pie and Aunt Beanie’s Chess Pie recipes!

    Liked by 2 people

  14. When I was a young bride-to-be lo those many years ago, my friends threw me a “Kathy Can’t Cook” shower. (It was true. Heck, it still is true!) I was gifted with a number of cookbooks, but my fave was the classic Betty Crocker red binder!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I have an old cookbook dating back to the early 1900s. The Corydon (Indiana) Christian Cookbook is filled with recipes from my grandmother and many of her cronies. She made the best rhubarb pie in the world.

    Liked by 2 people

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