Monday, September 5, 2011

Tales from a 1973 cookbook



While out scavenging for hard-to-find pieces of CorningWare to augment my extensive collection, my bf suggested checking for used cookbooks. Which has led to an accumulation of cookbooks waiting to be paged-through during commercial breaks or in moments of boredom and desperation. Very soon, I shall post a blog detailing all the priceless finds I'll collected from thrift stores - but today I want to share bits of advice from a the 1973 edition of The Good Housekeeping Cookbook.


Now before I poke fun at the rhetoric from the 1970's, let me first praise this book:

  • The book was written before the explosive popularity of microwaves, so the recipes explain how to cook using range and oven; it seems it has become a bit of a lost art in the advent of prepared foods, McDonalds, and restaurant grazing.
  • While the book does take advantage of some pre-prepared shortcuts and prepackaged ingredients (like canned soups, canned tomatoes, and deli meats), the majority of recipes are made from scratch; and in many cases, the book provides recipes for making the shortcut items (like pastry dough)
  • This book is a cornucopia of basics - basic recipes, basic definitions, basic techniques. These are the kinds of basics everyone in the kitchen should probably know and yet never learned because our parents were too busy heating microwave meals and buying pre-prepared food
  • It's written in plain, unpretentious english with easy-to-follow recipes - you won't need to be a chef to understand the terms or instructions
Yet beware - you may be transformed into a barefoot and pregnant housemaid or a chauvinistic gentlemen smoking a cigar while awaiting dinner behind the newspaper.

  • Willie May Rogers, the Director of the Good Housekeeping Institute at the time of publication, dedicated the book to: "All those women across the country whose busy lives vary in many ways but who have one great common interest - a dedication to keeping their families well and happily fed..." Aw yes, I forgot, menfolk don't cook - that's the job and interest of a good woman.



  • In the opening section of the book entitled "Before you cook", the authors instruct readers on the importance of following recipes: "Cooking success comes easy when you start with a good recipe and follow it to the letter."


    Now, I suppose this is sound advice for beginning cooks terrified of boiling water, but words like these only reinforce the idea that cooking truly is terrifying unless you have a good recipe. It suggests that without a recipe, failure is imminent, disastrous, and unforgivable. I've posted my perspective on recipes before, but I believe cooking and baking should be a medium for demonstrating love - with or without recipes.

    You don't need a fail-proof recipe and you don't need The Good Housekeeping Cookbook - you just need love and practice (and a wee bit of instruction when water starts to burn).


Lookout for wacky tips and shortcuts that may save time but will have you cramming your body full of pre-processed ingredients, refined sugars, preservatives, salt, and transfats. For example, here's a suggested list of "Appetizers & snacks" for "spur-of-the-moment occasions and for your own snacking." I've highlighted all the ones I'd avoid:

  • Potato chips
  • Onion-flavored crackers
  • Corn chips
  • Chicken flavored crackers
  • Cheese spreads
  • Luncheon meat or chopped ham
  • Sardines
  • Deviled ham, chicken, liverwurst or corned-beef spread
  • Cheese crackers

Even more appalling, the authors assure readers of the "good nutrition" of canned soups, practically writing a sales promo for Campbells:

"Canned condensed and ready-to-serve soups, and soups made from dry mixes, offer good eating plus good nutrition with the least possible effort. When served as is, a simple garnish or crunchy accompaniment is enough to dress them up."


What?! Soup has to be one of easiest things to make: saute some veggies, toss in some protein (beans, chicken, fish, meat), pour in stock, and simmer for an hour or so. Forget the canned or dry-mix soups and spend a little effort to make it from scratch.

There are glaring gaps in this cookbook.

  • Beans are nuts are easy to cook with and an extremely nutritious, yet the book skips these two food entirely while devoting entire sections to Meats, Poultry, Eggs, Fish, Rice & Pasta, and Cheese. I guess good housekeepers in the 1970's wouldn't serve their families beans or nuts.


  • Another glaring gap are missing salad dressing recipes - there are recipes for 27 dressings, but not for Ranch, Italian, or classic vinaigrette. I may understand the missing Ranch recipe as it was frequently made using dried packets mixed with buttermilk and sour cream. But classic vinaigrette is key to so many salads and has been around for years and Italian was the most popular salad dressing for years.


In truth, all this picking-apart of the cookbook is undeserved as the authors truly seem to write out of concern and caring for their readers. Granted, some of the suggestions and tips are outdated and woefully ignorant with today's knowledge, but someday people will look back on today's most respected cookbooks and shake their heads.

And despite all the flaws and repeated directions to open cans and reconstitute soup, I'm glad I own this book. It's like owning a reference manual - you rarely check it but it's nice to have when something goes wrong or you're not sure where to start.

Although I wonder - has Google rendered these Good Housekeeping books obsolete?





1 comment:

  1. have lost my copy of this cookbook and looking for the pickled egg recipe. any possibility of getting this from you? would be sooo very grateful!...ducksback1@yahoo.com

    ReplyDelete