I collect two kinds of cookbooks: pamphlet recipe books of the ’30s-’70s, and community cookbooks of various vintages. They speak to me.
For example, I have a tiny fold-out sheet from Drake’s Bakeries, vintage 1940s, bearing the title “Snappy Desserts with Drakes Handy Layers – Always Fresh,” with the picture of a goose (is the snappish goose what makes them snappy?) and inside, “He married an angel if you serve him Drake’s Angel Food Cake with any of these icings.” It suggests adding any one of fifteen ingredients to “the basic icings”: fresh fruits, nut meats, tutti-frutti, maple syrup, etc., etc. The pictures of cake slices, raspberry, coconut, boston cream, look like the perfect plastic foods you might have played with as a child.
Moving on. “Good Housekeeping’s Cake Book with decorating ideas for many occasions” has lurid cover cake shots and an interior harlequin theme. A birthday cake glows in one photo with dyed pastel coconut stripes.
From 1941, “300 Tasty, Healthful Dairy Dishes: For health, beauty and happiness, use more milk and dairy products. These economical recipes will add tempting variety to your daily menus.” Oceans of white sauce flow over asparagus and beans. Would you care for some scalloped tuna and cabbage?
And all the booklets from the blender companies. Eerie photographs of beaming, aproned kitchen divas wielding mixing bowls.
But weirder still come the industry offerings. ‘Proven Recipes Showing the uses of the Three Great Products from Corn,” published by Corn Products Refining Co. of New York; “Success in Seasoning” by Lea & Perrins, also located in Manhattan; and “What Shall I Cook Today,” my hands down favorite, published by Spry, a shortning giant that was once a competitor to Crisco – “The new, purer, all-vegetable shortening triple-creamed” and advertised via hopelessly bland, homey comic strips:
“I’m getting another can of SPRY.”
“So am I. I think it’s marvelous. It creams so easily.”
“Spry is so white. I just KNOW it’s purer.”
“It’s more economical, too. You can fry with it over and over again.”
I love to take these booklets out once in a while and just paw through them and imagine a time when women relied upon their recipes, and were inspired by the, rich, technicolor images within.
I’ve never cooked out of one though.