HOME > Chowhound > Food Media & News >


Before we had the internet.

It really wasn't that long ago.You might have gone to the library or a bookstore to find a recipe you needed. Writing the found recipe on a scrap of paper. Or watching cooking shows on PBS for some new ideas.Finding a restaurant you might like when out of town.It's so much better now with the internet. So what did you do to search a recipe,get ideas, or find a restaurant before you had the internet?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
    1. They were called cookbooks. I bought them in places called bookstores.

      14 Replies
        1. re: Jay F

          Self-edited because I decided I sounded too snarky!

          1. re: Chatsworth

            Oh. Well, thanks for telling us.

            1. re: Chatsworth

              It's ok. I shared your snarkiness on that.

            2. re: Jay F

              Yes, and useful recipes could even be found published in something called a "newspaper," which contained features as well as news. Although usually published daily, typically a food section was included once a week.

              1. re: GH1618

                Sometimes I'll find a recipe I clipped long ago in a cookbook from that era. My favorite beef stew recipe is from an article in the Sunday Washington Post Magazine, and I keep it in Mastering the Art.

                What did we *ever* do before the internet?

                1. re: Jay F

                  I love my old recipes and even more, I love seeing the old ads on the back, with 1970s prices.

                  1. re: coll

                    I was going through some old Bon Appetits the other day, c. 1978. It turns out I paid around $79 for a 7-pc set of Le Creuset.

                    1. re: Jay F

                      ::::thunk::::: If *only* we all knew then what we know now......

                      1. re: Jay F

                        To think I sold my entire, hardly used, Le Creuset 10 piece set at a garage sale for $20 to make way for the new and 'better' stainless steel.

                        1. re: latindancer

                          My MIL started me off with Farberware stainless steel and I still use it as much as my LeCrueset. Each are good/better for certain things.

                          1. re: coll

                            :). I agree. I wish I'd been wiser then before giving it all up.
                            Live and learn.

                          2. re: latindancer

                            I used my Le Creuset so fiercely, they replaced it for free 20 years later.

                          3. re: Jay F

                            I paid around $100 with free shipping sometime in the 1980s, have added a few pieces since then but a great starter set.

                  2. I did the same as the other two. There were a few times I call mom, but really most of the time I looked up cookbooks and even now I do. Unlike Jay, I usually just flip to the recipe of the dish I want to make and try to memorize it without buying the books.

                    1. Besides cookbooks, ( I read Joy of Cooking cover to cover when I was a kid. I don't mean I flipped to interesting stuff. I mean i *read* every page. Learned a LOT.) magazines were a great source. I remember liking Family Circle (I think it was Family Circle) because they would do a "month of menus" feature that I found fascinating.

                      Oh, and PBS for sure. I learned a great deal from Jeff Smith, the Frugal Gourmet. Of course that was before we found out he was what he was.

                      1. Magazines and newspapers.

                        For both cooking ideas and researching restaurants.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          I still have an entire file cabinet of recipes I clipped in the 1970s and 1980s, either the Daily News (Burt Greene mostly), Craig Claiborne in the Times and lots of local recipes from Long Island publications. The Happy Cooker in the Pennysaver was amazing! Magazines like Better Homes and Gardens and Good Housekeeping, there weren't too many "gourmet" publications then. I still go through my files periodically and pull a few out for future consideration!

                          Oh and family recipes from friends at work, every time I make them to this day I think of happy, younger times past.

                        2. Recipes: books, tapes, tv, the library, magazines, recipe swaps, family, friends, cooking schools, grocery stores and the movies.

                          Restaurants: coupon/discount books, the Yellow Pages/phone books, word of mouth, traveling, through work, or just taking a walk or drive into a new town on my radar.

                          The Internet is wonderful, it also makes me lazy.

                          1. I clipped recipes from (mostly) the New York Times and pasted them into a scrapbook, along with various other things I found interesting. My recipe for vegetarian chopped liver shares a page with a sticker advertising Robocop 2 and an article about a woman who shimmied up the foul pole at Shea Stadium, wearing "only a plain flannel shirt," and subsequently plunged to her death.

                            1. Bought a couple of standard cookbooks, Beard and Claiborne, and worked with them.

                              1. Asked others for their recipes at bake-sales, potlucks, religious gatherings, holidays, etc.

                                Before the internet, I would try any recipe that appealed to me.. now I am biased towards recipes with a picture.

                                1. The range of new cookbooks in the pre-internet days was much smaller than it is today, and frankly, not as good. If you went to the bookstore there might have been a few shelves of cookbooks and half of the books would be reprints of Joy, Julia Child, Silver Palate, James Beard plus the latest flavor of the year from Betty Crocker and a couple very slim specialist cookbooks. For whatever reason the growth of the internet overlapped with an enormous boom in cookbooks, possibly because the internet helped to fuel greater awareness of chefs, restaurants and cuisines, which in turn increased the demand for high quality cookbooks. I'm not necessarily talking about celebrity chef cookbooks but when I think back to the 1980s there wasn't really anything comparable to the consistent supply of new, high quality, well-tested cookbooks from the likes of Nigella Lawson, Ina Garten etc cetera. I remember when Silver Palate came out for it was a huge deal among home cooks to find a new cookbook that was....oooooh.....pretty good.

                                  Anyway, how did I find new recipes? Sometimes from reading magazines and watching the older cooking shows on PBS. Magazine and newspaper recipes were always a mixed bag and a gamble. My mother was in the Junior League so she was always picking up Junior League cookbooks from around the country which were mostly the same but occasionally revealed a nugget. But most of the time I found new recipes by going through the same Joy, Julia, Silver Palate cookbooks again and again.

                                  The first significant new cookbook that had an impact on my cooking was when someone passed along a Marcella Hazan cookbook to me. This was probably around 1990 and she wasn't very well known in those days. I was amazed by it because not only were the recipes detailed yet simple, the flavors were so rewarding and I ended up cooking almost every recipe in the book. Nowadays when I get a new cookbook I may cook barely half a dozen recipes from it and that's an indicator of how spoiled we've become, I think.

                                  Restaurants - newspaper reviews, word of mouth and trial and error.

                                  13 Replies
                                  1. re: Roland Parker

                                    All due respect, these 'not so good pre-Net days" has me baffled. 100% of what was published before www is still regarded as instrumental, groundbreaking basics through which nearly everything else in the cookbook genre launched. The CHOW Obsessives archive includes an NYC owner of great knowledge who only sells cookbooks; including clientele who work in the food trade. If you have a chance watch the video, and better yet visit his store.

                                    As significant as the Net is today, it continues to do a disservice to what came before it. Especially if smart folks like you believe there wasn't much to learn from before we all bought PCs and used a mousepad.

                                    1. re: HillJ

                                      Perhaps I erred in making the assumption that in the 1980s not everyone lived in Manhattan, read the New York Times and had a specialist cookbook store handy and that for most us in the provincial cities we were limited to the local B Dalton in a strip mall and the Betty Crocker style of cooking prevalent in magazines and local newspapers at the time.

                                      There were certainly books about techniques and that's nothing new as the foundation for modern cooking goes back centuries. The early editions of Fannie Farmer and Boston Cooking School books aimed to provide superior cooking instructions to the home cook as early as the 19th century. I also have several cookbooks from the 1930s and 1950s that were written by classical French chefs, as well as the Time Life series from the 1970s. The gourmets (as they were called) were aware of them and prized them. But there's a significant gap between a technique oriented cookbook (always heavily influenced by classical French and often labor intensive) and the more prevalent "cut the corners and get it on the plate quickly with the help of canned soup" cookbooks aimed at busy mothers. The demand for user-friendly but good quality cookbooks filled with stellar everyday recipes that a home cook could cook on a nightly basis for her family (ie Ina Garten's style of cooking) wasn't easily met in those days, unlike today when I can walk into just about any bookstore and have hundreds of books to pick from. That's the huge difference between now and then.

                                      1. re: Roland Parker

                                        A fine point to perspective on topics like this is access. My first purchased paperback cookbook was off the turnstile of a 5&10 while on my way to the train. 1963.

                                        Even then, I could have easily walked into any retailer that sold books and inquired about purchasing a specialized cookbook for home use or trade. Vintage book shops, antique and collector shops all sold books you're describing. Colleges, regional libraries as well.

                                        I'm not debating when food speak started. I commenting on what we all did before the Net. And my long, long history with owning food books began in the early 60's and my Net experience started in the 80's. Now both play a role in my collecting and education. But I can't personally recall ever having a hard time getting my hands on a massive amount of material related to food, home cooking or trade.

                                        1. re: Roland Parker

                                          I also own the full TL series, those are some wonderful editions.

                                          Home cooking, home canning, gardening, basic bread making all existed through cookbooks for the home cook in my youth and in my first and early career. The biggest difference I notice is how the publications are prepared. I see a lot more style, the inclusion of photographs and illustrations, step by step instructions, cross overs into lifestyle home dining not just recipes. We see nutritional information and portion differences. But, if we're talking sheer access to material, again, I just didn't have any problem getting my hands on the material.

                                          1. re: HillJ

                                            I was raised on those TL cookbooks. My parents got one volume as a wedding gift, and then ordered the full series. Any time they wanted to try something new or make a special occasion dinner, those would be pulled off of the shelf. They still use them all the time (40+ years later), and I have made it quite clear that I want them to be willed to me. :)

                                            1. re: Wahooty

                                              Some of the TL's I now have were from my Mom who was inspired by the recipes and photos but rarely cooked from them. My sister and I share that series bi-coastally now and we really love them and the memories they hold for us.

                                              1. re: HillJ

                                                One of my few winnowing-out-cookbook-regrets: my TL cooking in India, a 2 volume set that was beautifully photographed, with surprisingly spicy & authentic recipes!

                                                  1. re: HillJ

                                                    and in keeping within the OP, thanks to the Net I can provide those links in under a second!

                                      2. re: Roland Parker

                                        Marcella wasn't very well known in 1990? Laughable.

                                        1. re: Jay F

                                          Agreed. I received copy of her 1st cookbook as a gift when it was published in about 1980 or '81. It was instantly recognized as a definitive work at the time it came out.

                                          1. re: masha

                                            Marcella's first book, The Classic Italian Cookbook, was actually published for the first time in 1973. Like you, I discovered it later; I got it in 1979, after buying her second cookbook, More Classic Italian Cooking, from whatever the Cookbook of the Month Club was called at that time.

                                        2. re: Roland Parker

                                          :: The range of new cookbooks in the pre-internet days was much smaller than it is today, and frankly, not as good. ::

                                          Fewer in number, certainly, but "not as good"? Many of the books that introduced other cuisines to U.S. cooks in the 1970s and 1980s are still definitive (which, as others have noted, includes Marcella Hazan's books).

                                        3. Restaurants: Well, there were these things called books, like the Sterns' Roadfood, Richard Saul Wurman's Access guides....and even a concept once known as "word of mouth."

                                          It was tough, but we managed to not starve when leaving home. 8>D

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: Bob W

                                            How far back does Zagat's and the like go back for restaurant intel?

                                            At the travel agency where (I still go in person) I book flights and family travel they have entire corner of the office filled with books about world cuisine; photo books and books bought while traveling. It's an excellent marketing tool but the collection is also a great example of how important printed in the hand information remains to people.

                                            1. re: HillJ

                                              Zagat's of course! Once indispensible to me. I used to even send in pithy quotes.

                                              I think they have a website, anyone ever go there?

                                          2. I used magazines and newspapers; sometimes TV shows.

                                            1. http://www.chow.com/videos#!/show/obs...

                                              I'm rewatching the "cookbook peddler" Obsessives CHOW video now. Maybe some of you checking out this thread will enjoy it too.

                                              1. I was around 10 when we got the internet at home (1992) so I didn't do anything :)

                                                But my mom relied on a large recipe box that was filled with recipes cards from her friends, my grandmothers, and clippings from magazines. She also had cookbooks too, I remember her using the red binder one from Betty Crocker the most. But, as she was a working mom starting when I was 6, she didn't cook anything too out of the ordinary.

                                                As for restaurants, our town didn't have that many so there wasn't much to choose from. There were 3 or 4 "nice" places, 2 italian places, a handful of mexican places, and the rest were diner type places like Carrow's, or fast food. If we weren't doing diner/fast food, we would go to the places where my parents knew the owners. The town has changed a lot now and there's a lot of really great locally owned places putting out some great food (Visalia, CA).

                                                1. My preferred method to research and find recipes is to go to the library or the bookstore. In other words, I still enjoy looking through books.

                                                  For finding places when I'm out of town, I now rely on the internet. In the olden days I used word of mouth, restaurant guides and newspaper reviews. I prefer the internet.

                                                  1. A roommate in the apartment in 1974 had Joy of Cooking and it was a revelation in cooking techniques. Finally got to be known for more then my omelets.

                                                    Laugh if you will, Europe on $5 & $10 a Day introduced me to a wide variety of decent eats through 6 weeks in Europe. Sacher torte in Vienna, classic smorgasboard in Bergen, Norway, pasta in Florence, and the classic Belle Epoque restaurant in Paris, Le Droite. For an average of $8 per day.

                                                    I quickly started senior year with Joy, Mastering the Art, and the Pittsburgh local cookbook. And have been searching for classic or definitive cook books of cuisines I am interested in ever since. And some of the best are restaurant cook books from the 30's to the 50's.

                                                    1. When I moved out on my own, I was given the Better Homes & Gardens cookbook (red/white gingham check) from Mom, and I got lots of recipes from Mom that she had in other cookbooks and were family favorites.

                                                      Believe it or not, I also had those General Mills recipe cards and used them for awhile. The newspaper also had a *much* better food section than they do now, so lots of recipes cut out of newspapers and magazines (Good Housekeeping, Country Living Magazine, Food & Wine when I started to subscribe).

                                                      But otherwise, it was just having cookbooks in the house, OR having something at someone else's house and asking them for the recipe.

                                                      1. Cookbooks. There were plenty of them, even in the 1950s and early 1960s (Before Julia). There were even more in the 1970s, when major, still-definitive cookbooks introducing other-than-French cuisines to the U.S. came out from Diana Kennedy, Marcella Hazan, Paula Wolfert, Madhur Jaffrey, Julie Sahni, Virginia Lee (w Craig Claiborne), along with Anna Thomas' Vegetarian Epicure, a huge seller. These were available in bookstores everywhere, no specialty stores required. But then, it was also before the takeover of chain bookstores with crappy, churning offerings.

                                                        The New York Times (which arrived a day later in our rural mailbox) and Gourmet magazine (friends' annual Christmas gift to my parents) were major sources of inspiration and instruction.

                                                        Cooking shows on television existed for twenty years before the Food Network appeared (and most were much better shows than anything that's on there now).

                                                        Restaurants were found by word of mouth or travel guides.

                                                        1. Somebody decided that Wednesday would be food day in the rag trade. Oh how I looked forward to the recipes in the paper on Wednesdays! And I still do. My Biscotti di Prato recipe came from a paper in 1991 and I still make it.

                                                          14 Replies
                                                          1. re: pdxgastro

                                                            I had the best recipie for cioppino from the San Francisco Chronicle Wednesday food section.Making the stock and all that had followed.I lent it out and it was lost. I searched all the archives.Mid 80's.I miss that page out of the newspaper with tomato stains on it. Will you share your Biscotti recipe?

                                                            1. re: emglow101

                                                              Never give out the original, amIright? Photocopy or hand
                                                              written ONLY.

                                                              Can you go to the library or the Chronicle itself and look through the microfiche?

                                                              The biscotti recipe is *incredibly* simple. And healthy-no butter or oil. Fat naturally occurring, in almonds & eggs. Julee Rosso's recipe, you can probably find it in her book.

                                                              2 cups AP flour
                                                              7/8 cup sugar
                                                              1/4 tspn salt
                                                              1 tspn baking soda
                                                              2 eggs
                                                              1 tspn vanilla extract
                                                              1/4 tspn almond extract
                                                              1 cup of almonds, roasted, cooled and cut in half
                                                              Oven 350F

                                                              Mix flour, sugar, salt, baking powder in mixer bowl. Mix eggs, vanilla, almond extract in separate bowl. Add egg mixture to flour mixture slowly, until well blended. Lastly mix in almonds. Form into 2 logs on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake 50 mins, or until golden brown.

                                                              Remove logs and cool for 10 mins.
                                                              Slice logs into cookies, 1/2 inch thick.
                                                              Reduce oven to 275.
                                                              Lay cookies on side on cookie sheet, toast 10 mins each side.
                                                              Remove, cool, and enjoy.
                                                              Cookies will get firmer as they cool.

                                                              Options: coat with melted white or dark chocolate when cooled.
                                                              You can sub hazelnuts, pistachios, or use a mixture.

                                                              1. re: pdxgastro

                                                                Thanks for the recipe. Pretty close the one I use. Only difference is three eggs, with 3/4 cup almonds, Oven temp 300 for same time 50 min reduce to 275. Biscotti.Lou Siebert Pappas recipe

                                                              2. re: emglow101

                                                                Well I went looking for your white whale (stew). Perhaps neither are what you seek but I appreciate your quest. :)



                                                                1. re: emglow101

                                                                  Is it, by any chance, this recipe in the SF Chronicle Cookbook?



                                                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                    Thanks for searching. The recipe used red wine. Not the one.
                                                                    Thanks again.

                                                                    1. re: emglow101

                                                                      Ah, bummer. Well, they do have a newer cookbook than the one I linked to, but I'm assuming all of the recipes in that one would be newer, too. But, I suppose it's worth a look if you're super-motivated... You don't remember any other details about the recipe? Like, was it from a restaurant or anything like that? (Sorry, but I can't stand a mystery!)


                                                                      1. re: emglow101

                                                                        OK, this one is called California Cioppino and came from the newspaper (they don't say which one) and calls for red wine... http://www.food.com/recipe/california... The timing would be about 1986.


                                                                  2. re: pdxgastro

                                                                    I forgot about Food Wednesday. Yes, once I was cooking myself, I often bought the Wednesday paper *just* for the Food section. Sadly, it shriveled up to a ghost of its former self, no matter what state I lived in. I don't even check the Boston Globe online anymore on Wednesdays for any recipes they might have posted.

                                                                    1. re: LindaWhit

                                                                      Oh, wow. It's been so long since I picked up an actual newspaper, I also forgot about Food Wednesday! Yes, I absolutely looked forward to it.

                                                                      1. re: Violatp

                                                                        Some of the best recipes I've ever found were those from the newspaper. My lemon tart, printed because someone asked for it from a famous bakery & the newspaper printed it, will always be in my top favorites.

                                                                        1. re: latindancer

                                                                          My newspapers always had various home cooks' favorite family recipes, as they still do now, although everyone is so much more "gourmet" and "trendy" these days. Those are always my favorites, at least the ethnic and down to earth ones. We even had a kid's edition and some of those recipes (obviously with parental assistance) are also among my collection.

                                                                      2. re: LindaWhit

                                                                        Wow, also forgot about how much I looked forward to the Wed. food section. Still have originals cut from the Cincinnati newspaper (mid-70s) for dolmas and banana bread (well, separate--not 1 dish!). Mom would go through the Wed. grocery ads and put giant check-marks on the items she would stock up on.

                                                                        Mr. Pine was in the computer biz, so we had early, early access to the Internet, back when we had a "node" subscription (and it was, natch, all DOS-based)--took forever to log on, but oh, how the world opened up!

                                                                        1. re: LindaWhit

                                                                          I still get a "real" newspaper (the NY Times) and it still has "food wednesday". My favorite day of the week!

                                                                      3. Once when I found myself in Wilmington NC and craving some barbecue, I went to the local Chamber of Commerce and a kindly older gentleman gave me the name of a good place.

                                                                        1. Hmm, before we had the internet, I had a job, haha! Oh, wait, back to recipes. I had a few cookbooks, but never really got interested in cooking until the internet was big. It's just such a good way to have information anytime about anything. And it made the process of really learning to cook so much easier for me.
                                                                          I still buy cookbooks, though. I just like to flip through and get ideas without burning out my retinas.

                                                                          1. My aunt, who was a restaurant general manager and impromptu dinner-party host extraordinaire before she passed in 2001, left a collection of some 300 cookbooks. They included some classics (Beard, Child, McGee, The Cake Bible come to mind) and a host of regional cookbooks she'd collected in her travels -- some published by local restaurants, some collections published by church and civic groups. I claimed a small (relatively) selection of these cookbooks.

                                                                            My mother and grandmother, who see each other maybe once or twice/year (they live 900 miles apart), have a habit or tradition of copying recipes onto recipe cards during visits. (They both belong to churches who do potlucks once/month or so, so they're always looking for ideas.)

                                                                            Also: backs of cans and boxes ;-) I think I even had/have a book called something like that. Here we go: http://www.amazon.com/Best-Recipes-Ba...

                                                                            Remember when you wanted a recipe from a TV show, you could either scribble really quickly, or write into the TV station and ask for recipes from episode ## whatever? Pre-DVR as well as pre-internet.

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. re: momjamin

                                                                              "Remember when you wanted a recipe from a TV show, you could either scribble really quickly, or write into the TV station and ask for recipes from episode ## whatever? Pre-DVR as well as pre-internet."

                                                                              Omigosh. I SOOOOO remember that lol. "For today's recipes, write to the station at .......". I feel ancient.

                                                                            2. I still do all those non-digital things, and prefer them. When I traveled more, I knew I'd rarely be disappointed if I went to a diner, or looked for places that had a lot of long-haul trucks in the lot, or asked a police officer for a recommendation. For fine dining, the hotel concierge or the AAA guide.

                                                                              1. <It's so much better now with the internet>

                                                                                Really? Most of my recipes (2 large boxes) are written on paper or notecards, from my grandmother or mother or friends or magazine/newspaper recipes. They're the recipes I cherish and have used over and over again. Of course my collection of cookbooks I've collected over the years, both bought new and from rare book stores.
                                                                                I really can't think of a recipe I've found on the internet that I find more compelling than what I already have. I actually don't even go looking for recipes on the internet.