There are few statements that strike me so bizarre. “I don’t cook.” One might as well tell me they don’t breathe. Or drink. Or use the restroom. If you do not cook how do you eat? I always want to ask, despite already knowing the answer.
For some cooking is a dreaded task; another chore at the end of a day already filled with them. For those people the advent of jarred sauces, loaves of bread in plastic sleeves and whole dinners requiring no more than a swirl or two around a skillet are sanity savers. For me they’re the bane of it. But I wasn’t always this way.
If you’d known me several years ago you never would have imagined me a cook. To be entirely honest, neither did I. During the early days of courtship with my now husband I once fed him stew that more resembled slime than anything edible; it tasted only of corn starch. Another night the dinner I invested my very being to prepare consisted of fish fillets that weren’t just under-cooked, they were still frozen in the center. And on the first night in our new home together, I almost burnt it down just pre-heating the oven for a frozen pizza.
Suffice to say, in earlier years we ate our fair share of boxed dinners and microwaved meals. I feared it was the only way to keep our homeowner’s insurance from sky rocketing.
I don’t remember when — whether it was a momentary epiphany or a slow compounding of events — that my outlook on cooking changed, but somewhere over the course of time it did. It’s been several years now since our pantry has seen the likes of a pre-packaged meal; since our taste buds have been assaulted by sodium and preservatives from our dinner plates.
No matter the time of it’s origin, the preparation of food is now an integral component of our household’s very heartbeat. There are few exercises that render themselves so valuable to me as being wrist deep in the preparation of food; few rewards so sweet as the taste of hard work with a side of homemade biscuits.
Unfortunately, as time wears on it becomes harder and harder to find recipes that don’t call for packaged ingredients. Increasingly recipes are coming from the big processed food companies themselves. Even my mailbox was graced last week with the latest issue of Kraft Food and Family. And while I may be comfortable taking ideas from magazines, The Food Network, and modern cookbooks and improvising with whole foods now, I distinctly remember a time when I wasn’t brave enough to even think about cooking without a full-recipe to follow to the letter.
Enter: Vintage cookbooks.
Without them I’d never have learned. There were times I remember glancing up from a collection of recipes I’d become completely enthralled in to find that the clock was striking one or two in the morning. Even where the recipes themselves may not have been of interest the vintage cookbooks I impulsively collected during that time never failed to provide humorous and yet thoroughly enlightening charts, graphs and tips in their wake.
Luckily, for those still feeling out the from-scratch cooking world, those dorkily obsessed with all things food and vintage combined, or those just looking for an entertaining glimpse into America’s domestic past, Etsy is ripe with vintage cookbooks like the First Edition Betty Crocker featured above. Or you could do as I did those years ago and hit local rummage sales and antique shops in your quest to fill the kitchen book shelves. The latter of course, offers the added perk of getting you connected with your local artisan and vintage community.
Happy shopping, happy cooking! But most of all, happy eating!
Do you have a favorite vintage cookbook? Share the title in the comments and I’ll feature your recommendations in an upcoming column!