Why I’ll Never Toss My Vintage Cookbooks by Lisa Wright

Like most home chefs, I adore cookbooks; sadly, though, with a small apartment and not a lot of space, I have been forced to pick and choose which ones to purchase and keep on the shelf. And this most definitely includes ones of the, shall we say, vintage variety.

If you love antique markets and yard sales (who doesn’t?) you most certainly have seen these little beauties nestled among the five-and-dime paperbacks—time travelers from a bygone era, they have mainly been replaced by their newer, more modern cousins with their glossy photos and artful designs that are rife with IG fodder. And, of course, so many of us now rely on digital collections for our recipes, as they tend to take up less actual space—though if you looked at my Pinterest, you would definitely recoil in horror at the unorganized state of it.

Kitschy, illustrated tomes that may even sometimes border on cheesy or downright garish; local church cookbooks with desserts that would make many health-conscious home bakers cringe (4 sticks of margarine?!); and small paperback editions with nary a shiny photo at all (gasp!)–all have their place in the wonderful world of vintage cookbooks. These are the real blasts from the past, these time travelers that have somehow seen their way into the 21st century—maybe not necessarily known for their kitchen contributions, but for their distinctive aesthetics.

I try to make a point of skimming these odd additions to my overstuffed cookbook shelves every now and then, if only to amuse myself with their more blatant absurdities. But to actually cook from them? This I have not had the courage to attempt, even if I could track down the “3 rolls of Kraft nippy cheese” that is required for the “Nippy Cheese Dip” recipe found in my copy of The Lehigh Valley Couturiere Society’s What’s Cooking 1979 (spelling theirs, not mine). However, as the calendar has now flipped its way into a new year filled with new culinary possibilities, I once again find myself tempted by the prospect of attempting to recreate a dessert or side from one of these lovelies; effectively inviting the ghost of culinary past into my own modern kitchen. Ambitious? Yes. Very like the popular book and movie Julie & Julia? Most certainly. And while I do have a paperback copy of Julia’s “The French Chef Cookbook” from 1971 (complete with glorious black and white pics of Julia being her awesome self that are sandwiched in the middle of the book, of all places), chances are my own recipe experiments would include something from “Baker’s Favorite Chocolate Recipes” (4th Edition, 1950), or even a classic from The Galloping Gourmet—you guessed it, I have his 1973 paperback of “The Graham Kerr Cookbook” on my shelf, too.

Whatever I decide, I’m sure it will be riddled with cholesterol, unhealthy fats, and too much salt (or sugar), but will still taste incredibly delicious. For now, I am content to page through these paeans to paperbacks published in a time before Instagram; when the illustrations were hand-drawn (Cutco’s Cookbook is great for this); when the photos were not particularly appetizing—these vintage beauties that paved the way for bloggers and TikTok stars everywhere. Though they may be past their sell-by date, their vintage charm remains just as timeless as ever—and I’m proud to have them taking up valuable real estate on my overcrowded (and often dusty), kitchen cookbook shelves.

Lisa is a freelance writer, book reviewer, and (very) amateur photographer. In her spare time she likes to read, write, bake, cook, cook, watch U.K dramas/police procedurals and panel shows, and have her heart broken by the Philadelphia Phillies (during baseball season, of course). Though she generally avoids social media, you can sometimes find her on Twitter and Instagram @dolphy_jane.

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