To everything, there is a season. Spring is coming, and yesterday I went to visit my grandma, who, like clockwork but better, told us that the days were getting longer. While we bemoaned the slow departure of this Connecticut winter, we also talked about how much more enticing it makes the escape into that other world – the one of books. This is a world my grandma is well-acquainted with; she reads more than anyone I know.
For her the reading non-fiction and biographies is only made better with further research. As she says, “a book’s just flat” without all the rich contextual details that surround its text. And, vice versa, sometimes books themselves are great indicators of their contexts. Cookbooks are this way. In fact, two cookbooks I’ve inherited from my grandma's collection are great examples of how reading about the food of an era (trendy ingredients, methods, dishes, who cooks, for what kinds of occasions) can tell you a lot about the era itself.
Case in point: my aunt's oh-so-fifties Better Homes and Gardens Junior Cook Book claims to prepare young girls (let's be honest, brides-to-be) for success in the kitchen. You'll notice the graphic at the top of this post warns Junior cooks to make sure they have a "pretty apron" and "hair looking mighty smooth" before they begin cooking. I mean, the food just tastes better that way. However dated (can you say jello mold?) and sexist this little book may be, it's a heck of a lot of fun to read.
Gee whiz, just look at that boy salivate over Betty's ability to put a hot dog in its bun! But wait, was that double entendre intended?
Perhaps a little more useful is The Modern Family Cook Book, or as we know it in my family, The Meta Given Cookbook. Our 1953 copy was given to me by my dad when I went to college, because his mom gave it to him when he went off to school. According to him, the meatloaf in here is "righteous," and I consider him an expert. But there are also some recipes in this one that just don't quite cut it in the new millennium. Date, cream cheese and iceberg lettuce salad? Uh, yikes. Then there's a whole section on Preserving and Canning, sadly things most people do so very rarely now, except for at country fairs and competitions.
Usually, I read these cookbooks just for the fun of reading them, but because they're just so retro, I decided try the deviled eggs recipe in here. I thought, these will be simple. These will be quick. Oh, was I wrong. The devil really is in these eggs! I had a success of rate of 20%. One in five eggs made it out looking alright. They were good, but way way way too salty. I would cut the salt in half. I also think next time I’ll put a little something green in there, scallions or parsley. But of course, they would probably taste even better if you dressed up like Donna Reed.