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Mar 17, 2013 07:44 AM

Relying on old cook books more than new.

I see many cookbooks discussed here, but I find that too many of them seem to be collections of recipes with a trend toward novelty. I have many, many cookbooks accumulated over decades, and some from my mother. I find that what I use are the one’s that emphasize techniques, not recipes. I think some might be surprising, as one I refer to is an only multi-volume “Women’s Day” encyclopedia that I think came from the supermarket. I also find a pre-Julia Child book, Maipie, Countess de Toulouse-Latreque “La Cuisuine de France” indispensable. These have information about the ingredients and techniques that I find useful, especially when working with unfamiliar ingredients. I also have some old books that are grotesquely awful, too, but some are my real workhorses. What is your experience?

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  1. My experience is that a great many of my cookbooks, old and new, have valuable information about techniques and ingredients. There are old workhorses (1953 Joy of Cooking, my mother's), workhorses of my early cooking (1973 Veg Epicure), recovered workhorses from the middle years (1982 Victory Garden), late middle years (1998 Veg Cooking for Everyone), and my cooking-intensive last five (2007 Art of Simple Cooking).

    Most of the cookbooks discussed here don't strike me as "collections of recipes with a trend toward novelty", but as explorations of cuisines and cooking styles that necessarily have extensive information about ingredients, techniques, and the cultural context of the foods covered.

    7 Replies
    1. re: ellabee

      Sure, but so many are mere collections of recipes. Some of the ethnic ones are interesting to compare to older ones covering the same material. Again, I didn't mean my statements to be absolute.

      1. re: law_doc89

        Impressions will differ, naturally. It might be more fruitful to give some examples rather than re-asserting that many of the newer books discussed here are mere collections of recipes.

        Likewise, what are some examples of newer books covering other cuisines that suffer by comparison to older ones covering the same material?

        1. re: ellabee

          You raise a valid point, as I have raised generalizations, which I stick by, at the moment. I look at the COTM posts and others, and wonder why I am wasting time with these, When I think of the CB's I value, I can look up basic info. So I grabbed a volume of the WD encyc, at random and opened to Hollandiase. 4 pages describing the chemistry, variations, methods; the chemistry of foams; not just recipes.

          I think there are too many cooks who view cooking and cook books as chemistry sets: rules but not understanding.

          I have said that there is no magic in old as there are old books that suck as much as new.

          1. re: law_doc89

            I think that there are many factors involved here.

            The price of books in relation to disposable income has dropped over the years. There are so many ingredients available now that the average cook never heard about or could acquire even 30 years ago. Housing size has increased over the years too - so more room to store stuff. Televised cooking shows, You-Tube, etc. has allowed people a chance to see techniques and feel more comfortable trying something new. All of these factor into why we have such a wealth of newer books, many of a highly specific nature.

            Many cooks of the past had little storage space, limited ingredients available, and the cost of books was rather high. Womens magazines and the once sizable weekly food section of the daily paper provided most of the inspiration for new recipes.

            1. re: meatn3

              I agree meatn, you raise many great points.

              I also think that in this information age, many folks just Google a technique or information on ingredients and there is incredible information out there created by credible sources, including the videos on You-Tube as you mentioned.

              Where years ago folks cooked to put food on the table, now thanks to media and a heightened interest in all things culinary, folks who are not chefs cook as a hobby or because of their passion for food and cooking. We no longer need a one size fits all cookbook. As you say, cookbooks are accessibly priced and readily available.

              Books solely focussed on techniques and the science of cooking exist. For those of us that are interested, information is available instantaneously and, even at no cost.

              I have a sizeable cookbook collection and while I enjoy looking through or reading my antique and vintage books, it's definitely the newer ones from which I cook or draw my inspiration from most frequently.

            2. re: law_doc89

              If I am going to resort to a cookbook then I for one will appreciate what you have described...a *mini* science lesson.

        2. re: ellabee

          I love "Vegetarian Epicure" and the Victory Garden cookbooks!
          I love all of my cookbooks - I give away those that I don't, which haven't been too many. The problem with some of the older paperback ones is that they are falling apart. Now, any new cookbook that I get, I only get the hardbound version if it is available. Unfortunately, some debut as paperbacks and no hardbound editions exist. My cookbooks range from pretty old (1930's) up to the present. I search used bookstores when I have a chance and have found some wonderful collectors items for ridiculously low prices. Each book offers something wonderful - great recipes, techniques, ideas or memoirs. I love and use them all.

        3. All of my cookbooks are somewhat old. "The New James Beard," published in 1981, is one of the newer ones.

          1. I collect and use old cookbooks. I am not fond of the format of books from the 70's for some reason, too many pictures. I love the simplicity of old recipes, basic ingredients and ease of preparation.

            9 Replies
            1. re: Ruthie789

              It is not the case that cookbooks from the 1970s have lots of pictures, although the phenomenon may have started around then (it's still with us). I have a few cookbooks from the 70s and 80s that are all substance, no pictures.

              1. re: GH1618

                I go to vintage shops and buy old cookbooks and seem to come across many with too many pictures although they have great recipes. I am thinking about books that are series and the like. I also do not like the food photography, it is much better today although I really do not enjoy a cookbook with a lot of overdone pictures, I just want the recipes.

                1. re: Ruthie789

                  I don't care one way or the other about the photos, usually. I do appreciate them when I am reading about a cuisine about which I know very little and am trying to learn enough to recognize the ingredients in a market. For example I'm reading through a library copy of Naomi Duguid's Burma right now and the pictures are helpful. On the other hand a book like that is so heavy, largely because of the photographs, that it's really hard to actually cook out of it and I doubt I'll be buying a copy of this book to use. But I'm really learning a lot from reading it.
                  For illustrations of technique I find that line drawings of the kind in the old Joy of Cooking get the point across much more clearly.

                  1. re: ratgirlagogo

                    The Joy of Cooking is a great book and yes the drawings are helpful in the cooking process.

                      1. re: melpy

                        Joy of Sex had great pencil drawings...:-D

                        1. re: melpy

                          The 4th edition (1951) is dotted with drawings of hands doing some of the steps in recipes -- spooning filling into a hollowed-out eggplant, dredging fish, extracting clams from their shells, beating egg whites on a platter with a flat wire whisk. Are these gone in later editions?

                          1. re: ellabee

                            No, they're there. My favorite was always the booted foot and gloved hand pulling the skin off the squirrel. That and the building of the champagne fountain.

                            1. re: ratgirlagogo

                              The squirrel! The squirrel! That drawing is worth the price of admission. It's just so matter of fact, and so unlikely (to these eyes, anyway).

              2. Not me. I am the opposite. I have several old ones that are a hoot to read, but I don't use them. I do read them for entertainment though. Even old "classic" books like joy of cooking and regional ones like River Road are not appealing to me. I can't remember when I last looked at an old cookbook for information about anything, let alone for a recipe.

                I use new techniques and equiptment most of the time. New does not equal trendy but I do learn a lot from food trends and appreciate the new knowledge and skill keeping up with trends can bring. I also really like esoteric preservation like lactofermented foods and meat curing (which are very old techniques) but made new, more interesting, safer and often healthier with renewed interest.

                I only buy new cookbooks that offer me inspiration to explore cuisines I am not very familiar with or comfortable with.

                I use Pinterest and follow great cooks that have similar likes and food styles as I do and that introduce me to cooking and lifestyle blogs that suit me.

                I use YouTube for techniques that are more complicated. Even when the video is in another language, it is nice to watch someone do something you are not familiar with.

                I cook with my iPod in the kitchen. I use the web to find out about obscure ingredients or techniques not common in my country. I use it to research ingredients and how to use and store them.

                5 Replies
                1. re: sedimental

                  Ironically I share your opinion except for the River Road Recipes.

                  I had a 1920's red cook book that had a few recipes for chop suey or pepper steak that were a hoot, but RRR has my favorite pecan pie, lots of different side dishes, and a few sea food recipes (turtle soup!) I love. Sure there are hokey recipes like grape fluff in there and the part "How Men Cook" endeared me to it. But I love RRR and many other junior league cookbooks.

                  1. re: Crockett67

                    Yes, River Road books get lots of love here, but I don't care for them at all. I have tried different recipes out of it for years, trying to see what the draw was. I don't get it, just a matter of different strokes, I think. Jr League books are filled with processed, canned and unhealthy dishes. I just don't eat that way, but i still read them, they still inspire me at times to tweak a recipe so I haven't thrown them all away :)

                    1. re: sedimental

                      I don't cook or eat the recipes with canned and processed junk either. It's one of the things that drives me crazy about some southern cookbooks. I just ignore those recipes.

                      1. re: rasputina

                        +1 And I make the rest.

                        While there is a hearty amount that use canned soup, most do not.

                  2. re: sedimental

                    I also watch for some techniques by Ina Garten etc. YouTube has great instructional videos.

                  3. I love my old books: Good Housekeeping, Fannie Farmer, Joy of Cooking, etc. However, I have to ignore some of the cooking times/temps, especially for meats. Turkey to 185 degrees? Shoe-leather for Thanksgiving. Other than that, I love the oldies! (Have one from 1870.)

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: pine time

                      I was reading one of mine from 1928 last night...all about boiling vegetables with salt and sugar in the water, then dousing them with butter and cream to make them more appealing :)