All of us have a favorite cookbook, or two, or three. You know, the one(s) that you’d take to the proverbial deserted island—assuming the spot had a corner grocery. The Women’s Home Companion Cookbook would be among my stash, for more than sentimental reasons.
I have a 1951 version with its 2,600 kitchen-tested recipes and, at least, a dozen full-page color photos. Unlike their original cookbook printed in 1942, the 50s version included a section on freezing food, pressure cooking and dieting—which they called “weight control.”
Hilarious Hostess Tips
In the entertainment portion of the cookbook, they cautioned the hostess to “keep table decorations low and candles high.” Good advice. Though my favorite admonition is: “Do put cigarettes and ash trays on the table. In spite of the custom of passing these after the salad course, people will smoke throughout the meal and you might as well be prepared.” You don’t see such occurrences any more, except maybe in an old Myrna Loy, black and white film, featuring a New York penthouse dinner party.
My copy of the cookbook has been around the counter a few times. The binding is torn and pages smeared with remnants of meals enjoyed long ago. But to this day, I use the old recipes for pie crust, homemade ice cream, shortbread, and fruit cobblers.
The Red and White Checkered Cookbook
Later Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook found a place on my kitchen shelf with recipes on how to cook everything from squab to tuna salad bake. It’s spiral binding and more colorful pages made it especially appealing and usable, though over time the red ink in the recipe titles faded. Even so, I still recognize the recipes for Lasagna, Chili, and Clam Chowder, that I used most frequently.
Oh, the Joy!
Next I acquired the Joy of Cooking, a popular cookbook first published in 1931 and reprinted and updated, many times. Like other vintage cookbooks, (mine is a 1975 model), this one tells you more than you want to know today about gelatin molds, tomato aspic, and mushroom soup casseroles.
Even so, you might want to hold on to grandma’s old cookbooks. Originals of Joy are now offered on the Internet for hundreds of dollars.
An Old Favorite
Thumbing through the hefty masterpiece, I came upon Joy of Cooking’s recipe for Corn Bread Tamale Pie. What fond memories I have of that ol’ standby, having served it many times for a quick meal or hauled it to a church potluck supper. It was so simple and satisfying, especially for a family meal.
One Bon Appetit food writer called the beef, onion, corn, tomato, cheese, and cornbread dish one of “Great Recipes Of All Time.” To earn the G.R.O.A.T. designation a recipe has to be “unfussy, intuitive, and life-changing.” It must be a survivor in an avalanche of new and revised recipes that flood the Internet.
The Tamale Pie recipe published in the 1943 cookbook called for tomato soup, but was updated and spiced up in the 2006 version. I was about to make the updated recipe this weekend, when I found an Easy Tamale Bake, that included a cheddar cheese layer and a Jiffy Cornbread mix topping for a quicker dish.
Finding old cookbooks and recipes is like rediscovering an old friend. Both bring smiles and fond memories of bygone days.