- Welcome to The Wise Collector
- Knowledge Changes Everything!
- Buyer Beware!
- Buyer Beware!: Part II
- Caring for Your Antiques
- Coin Collecting
- McCoy Pottery
- Chinese Export Porcelain
- Frankoma Pottery
- The Arts and Crafts Movement
- The Art Deco Period
- Susie Cooper Pottery
- Limoges China
- 18th C American Furniture Styles
- The Bauhaus School: Weimar 1919
- The Bauhaus School: Design & Architecture
- The End of a Century: Art Nouveau Style
- Biedermeier: The Comfortable Style
- The Souvenir Age
- A History of Ceramic Tiles
- Flow Blue China
- Collect Vintage Christmas Decorations
- An American Thanksgiving Through theYears
- How to Find an Antiques Appraiser
- Louis Prang, Father of the American Christmas Card
- Thomas Cook and the Grand Tours
- Harry Rinker's 25th Anniversary
- Mid-Century Modern
- Will Chintz China become Popular Again?
- Ireland's Waterford Crystal
- Vintage Wicker and Rattan
- Fishing Gear Collecting
- Bennington Pottery
- Identifying Pottery and Ceramic Marks
- The Art of Needlework in the Arts & Crafts Era
- The Delicious World of Vintage Cookbooks
- BLOG: RANDOM THOUGHTS
- E-BOOKS BY BARBARA BELL
- First Reader Consulting
The Delicious World of Vintage Cookbooks
Many of us and our mothers as well, probably started out adult life with the classics like Fanny Farmer’s Boston Cooking School, the Joy of Cooking, or a Betty Crocker beginner’s basics. If you fell in love with cooking or baking, you might have expanded your library to include special books on those subjects, or if your family liked to grill outdoors or try exotic new cuisines, you added a few more books about those. Pretty soon, there was a shelf in the kitchen devoted to cookbooks. Maybe, over the years, you picked up a few more at used book sales, or began accumulating all of Martha Stewart’s colorful specialty cookbooks.
Now, you wonder, are any of these worth anything more than sentimental value? What can I find out about some of the older books, the less well-known ones, or the really scarce books in my collection? What should I look for, and how can I take care of my cookbooks?
There are so many sub-categories of cookbooks. Some cookbook collectors specialize in one or two narrowly focused niches of cookbooks, such as regional cookbooks, children’s cookbooks, cookbooks that were promotions by food manufacturers or appliance retailers. Others specialize in chocolate or soup, crockpots or blender cookbooks, or perhaps they only collect the spiral bound little collections put together by church groups, ladies’ clubs and charities.
These are just a few of the types of cookbooks you can find. You might also be a generalist – collecting a few of each genre or time period – and that’s fun, too. You can include advertising booklets, premiums, and appliance manuals that include recipes.
The best part of collecting cookbooks, aside from actually reading them and cooking from them, of course, is that it is a relatively inexpensive hobby. Even the rarest vintage cookbooks seldom cost more than $100 and the majority of books you’ll find today are in the $5 to $25 dollar range.
The condition of the book is your guide to its cost. As with any collectible book, the condition of the cover, especially if there is a dust jacket, is key. A dust jacket will increase the value of a book, if it’s in good condition. Look for watermarks, tears, missing pages, writing on the pages or inside covers, and musty odors. These detract from the value and the book should be priced accordingly. For cookbooks, you’ll probably find some with grease stains or signs of insect damage from crumbs in the pages. It’s nice to know that the cookbook was used lovingly by a previous owner, but it shortens the life of the book to find damage.
On the other hand, a cookbook in pristine condition but which isn’t rare or doesn’t have pleasing illustrations or interesting recipes, probably won’t appeal to you either. Don’t purchase a book unless it really beckons to you and will add value to your collection.
You might find a duplicate copy of one book in your collection that will be in less than prime condition – if you want to actually cook with it and keep it near your stove, go ahead and get it but don’t consider it part of your collection. It’s a “utility” grade, in other words.
Official grades of books are as follows:
- Very Fine (VF) - A flawless, perfect copy, just like brand new.
- Fine (F) - A small bump or two on a carefully read book with an undamaged dust jacket.
- Near Fine (NF) - A little wear and one or two minor flaws (see below).
- Very Good (VG) - Light wear, some minor but no major flaws (see below).
- Good (G) - Your average used book, worn, but complete; minor and major flaws.
- Fair (FR) - Well-read, worn, minor and major flaws. Missing non-essential pages or dust jacket.
- Poor (P) - Okay for reading, not for collecting..
Caring for your cookbooks depends on whether you want to use them every day for reference or only want to display them as a collection. Keeping them free of food, liquids and grease generally means not to keep them near the stove. Use bookmarkers instead of folding down the corner of the page. Wipe the cover with a cloth after you’re finished cooking. Keep them dusted, and take them down from the shelves on a regular basis to make sure there are no insects or other problems. You might want to protect really exceptional books in a Ziploc or protective plastic sleeve, and remove the dust jacket and store it separately.
History of Cookbooks
Recipes and instructions for preparing food have been found in ancient Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt, in Roman times and from the Vikings. There is a clay tablet at the Yale Library in cuneiform, from 1500 BC, that is a collection of recipes for braising, boiling and roasting. But among the earliest printed cookbooks there don’t seem to be any earlier than the 14th century. The first known to be written by a woman is from 1598. Of course these books would not have been as widely distributed or used by the household cook until the printing press arrived. But as in all the earlier discoveries and medieval collections, recipes would have been for preparing a feast for royal occasions, so quantities would be large. A very great number of cooks and assistants would be required to prepare food for the king’s company, even on a daily basis. Most techniques would be handed down by observation and one-on-one teaching from the skilled cook to the apprentice. Recipes would evolve according to season, location, and temperament of the cook.
Eventually someone realized that new households might need help training their staff, and especially if the clever originator had an outstanding reputation for his cooking, his “cookery boke” would be very popular. Thus, the cookbook was born.
One of the very earliest known cookbooks was published in 1393. It’s called “Le Menangerie de Paris”, a manuscript edited in 1846 by Jerome Pinchon for La Societe des Bibliophiles Francois. It's illustrated below. As you can see, it’s organized very logically and doesn’t look very different from a modern cookbook. It is transcribed into English by Janet Hinson. http://daviddfriedman.com/Medieval/Cookbooks/Menagier/Menagier_Contents.html
Bartolomeo Scappi was a Renaissance chef who served in the kitchen of Pope Pius IV for most of his career. Scappi is credited with compiling the very first cookbook in 1577, Opera Dell'arte del Cucinare. It contains around 1000 recipes, plus info on period cooking techniques and tools (including the first known picture of a fork!).
The joy of collecting cookbooks is doubled for lovers of history. Not only do cookbooks reflect their eras in the matters of technique but also in local and regional tastes and agriculture, the history of events, the roles of women in domestic life, the ups and downs of economies, and the opening up of curiosity about other cultures and people’s lives. Cookbooks reflect the coping with scarcity, making do, stretching a budget or helping with a war effort. Cookbooks also indicate prosperity and lifestyle changes, and the ability to write and publish a cookbook was one of the earliest ways a woman could provide for her family’s income.
Photography and Cookbooks
You may have noticed that earlier cookbooks are largely in black and white. The earliest ones are illustrated by block prints, woodcuts, and drawings. Some have no illustrations at all. Once color printing became possible for magazines and books, the desire for cookbooks exploded with the public, and they became an easy outlet for advertising.
Color photography in cookbooks wasn’t used until the 1930s due to the difficulty of color printing. (Plimmer, C, 1988, p10). Color food photography can be traced back to as early as 1935, (Thomas Perich, S. 2010) when Nickolas Murray first adapted the three-color carbro process. McCall’s commissioned Murray to create color photographs for their cooking and food pages. The rich colors in these images were used to grab the reader’s attention, and were used throughout the 1950s.
Probably the most revolutionary cookbook of the 1950s was the Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook, which contained lavish color photography. The use of food photography in this commercial resource was significant. As you probably know, Betty was a fictional character created by the Washburn-Crosby Company in 1921, created as an advertising tool to make the company more personable.
Like any kind of book, the evolution of cookbooks paralleled the progress of printing technology. While color photography was still in its early stages in the 1950s, block prints were frequently used in cookbooks, instead of actual photographs. Illustrations were popular too and usually a number of black and white photographs were used to accompany the recipes.
By the end of the 20th century, illustrated cookbooks became more popular than those that were not illustrated. Readers wanted the full-on close-ups of perfectly placed chanterelles or even French toast. They expected to be made hungry between meals.
Eventually, the increasing sophistication of magazines as well as their audience, created the “lifestyle” genre. Food and cooking were primary ingredients in lifestyle glorification, and we saw the rise of such cooking personalities and their empires as Martha Stewart, Oprah, Mario Batali, Wolfgang Puck, Rachael Ray, the Food Network’s celebrities, becoming even more popular than the earlier great chefs such as Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, Paul Bocuse, James Beard, Auguste Escoffier (hailed as the greatest chef of the 20th century!).
Of course we have Julia Child to thank for almost single-handedly inventing the TV cooking show, which has led to successful careers for not only these celebrities mentioned, but also Ming Tsai, Lydia Bastianich, Martin Yan, and the Galloping Gourmet. Everyone of whom, put out at least one cookbook!
Le Menagier de Paris
Translated by Janet Hinson
Table of Contents
- Hereafter follow some dinners and suppers
- Here Follow Some Incidents Also Serving This Purpose
- Arrangements for the wedding done by Master Helye in May
- The arrangements for the Hautecourt wedding
- The Quantities of the Above Items
- Which Speaks of Ordering, Devising and Having Prepared All Manner of Soups, Broths, Sauces and All Other Foods
- Common Soups Without Spices Or Thickeners
- Other Soups With Spices But No Thickeners
- Other Thickened Meat Soups
- Other Thickened Soups Without Meat
- ROAST MEATS
- FRESHWATER FISH
- ROUND SALTWATER FISH
- FLAT SALTWATER FISH
- EGGS IN VARIOUS WAYS
- SIDE DISHES, FRIED FOODS AND GLAZING
- OTHER SIDE-DISHES
- SAUCES MADE WITHOUT BOILING
- BOILED SAUCES
- BEVERAGES FOR INVALIDS
- SOUPS FOR INVALIDS
- OTHER ODDS AND ENDS
- VARIOUS OTHER ODDS AND ENDS NOT NEEDING SEPARATE CHAPTERS
History of Cookbooks in America
The first cookbook to be printed in the United States (then the American Colonies) was by a woman named Eliza Smith in 1742. The book is called “The Compleat Housewife”, and included instructions for everything from preparing eels, carving a swan, to medical compounds to assist “your poor neighbors.”
Twenty years later Hannah Glasse published “The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy.” This became the standard kitchen reference for the next fifty years. It was directed not to the chef of a wealthy noble, or the cook in a tavern, but to the everyday cooks and those who hired them. These included, for over two hundred years, African slaves who proved to be excellent skilled cooks. It remained for the lady of the house to plan daily menus, make sure foods were purchased and stored properly, and perhaps read the recipe to the cook.
Both of these cookbooks focused on English foods and tastes. England was still the mother country whose standards were followed on these shores even after the Revolution. Even though early settlers learned to adapt to the vegetables and game available here, it took many years before recipes for these native foods appeared in cookbooks. Adapted recipes evolved from trial and error, and became our true regional cuisines.
The first American-centered cookbook was published in 1796, by Amelia Simmons, in Hartford Connecticut.
From the early 19th century on, we begin to see much more evidence of women writing cookbooks (as well as novels and poetry and contributing to magazines). Regional cooking and ethnic cooking became more interesting to the public. Cookbooks finally became personal statements and reflections of a native American food culture. American cooks were no longer beholden to Europe for originality, nor for their ingredients. While French, Italian, German and English recipes continued to be served in American dining rooms, especially among the wealthy, it was not an embarrassment to feature local foods and regional specialties.
The next big changes to come to cookbooks, were the Industrial Revolution and the inventions of many time-and-energy saving kitchen appliances and tools. Taking the cook away from an open fire in a fireplace to an iron stove, saved many lives. Sanitation improved as well. The means of keeping food fresh in an icebox, of storing bulk flour and sugar in a Hoover cabinet, the ability to weigh out ingredients on a scale – all contributed to better homemaking skills as well as improved health of one’s family.
Fanny Farmer, author of the Boston Cooking School cookbook, is widely credited with popularizing accurate measurements in recipes and advocating consistency in temperatures. For young housewives without servants such accuracy enabled a much more confident and successful household.
Some Kinds of Cookbooks
There are so many types of cookbooks that are still available to collect, that wherever your interests lie you will find cookbooks to match. Here are a few:
US Regional – North, South, Southwest, the Plains, Texas, Hawaii, Northwest, Alaska, New England, Caribbean.
Fund raisers – churches, settlement houses, Junior League, orchestras, public and private school parents’ organizations, hospital guilds, book clubs, scout troops.
Food brands (a huge category and one of the oldest) – Rumford Baking Powder, Hershey and Bakers’ Chocolates, Borden, Kellogg, Maxwell House, General Mills, yeasts and flours and mustard and cheese and cream cheese and bratwurst and apples and seafood.
Appliances and stove manuals – Waring blenders, woks, Weber barbecue grills, Westinghouse Electric Stove, Fondue and Chafing Dishes, KitchenAid mixers, General Electric refrigerators, electric frying pans and microwave ovens. Also George Foreman grills, KitchenAid and Cuisinart appliances, and ice cream makers.
Foreign Lands – Japanese, Mexican, French, South American, German, Polish, Scottish, Irish and Welsh, Moroccan, Indian, Thai, Russian, Chinese.
Types of Cooking techniques – barbecues and grilling, baking, slow-cooker, pressure cooker, frying, candy-making, stir-fry, tagines.
Healthy and Diet cookbooks – South Beach, heart-healthy, low or no salt, paleo, gluten-free, Weight Watchers, Atkins, early Kellogg and Graham and Post healthy living plans.
And there are still more! Children’s cookbooks, humorous cookbooks, entertaining and lifestyle books that include recipes, die-cut cookbooks, Farm Bureau and USDA issued cookbooks. You can be as narrowly focused in your collecting niche or as broadly general as you please. You'll never run out of possibilities!
Web Hosting by iPage. The copyright of the articles in The Wise Collector is owned by Barbara Nicholson Bell. Permission to republish any articles herein online or in print must be granted by the author in writing.