by Jessica Kosinski
Have you ever wondered what people used to do back before there were restaurants and fast food joints on every corner? And what used to go on before cell phones, iPods, and other technologies existed? The answer is simple. Families spent more times cooking and eating with each other in their own homes. Years ago the family dinner was a nightly, or at least multiple times a week, tradition. The meals were often based on recipes from the family cookbooks. Today, many of those cookbooks have been forgotten. But, once we take a peek at the family cookbook, you may just want to dust yours off.
These days, the phrase “just like Grandma used to make” is not nearly as prevalent as it used to be. Often the family cookbooks are only brought out around the holidays when we need to find our favorite cookie or cake recipes, but family cookbooks should really be constant companions. They can be valuable tools, or even cherished collectibles.
Vintage Cookbooks to Create or Recreate Family Memories
One reason that some people collect vintage cookbooks is to create or recreate family memories. Serving your kids some of the same meals you remember from childhood can be a great way to connect with them. You can even teach them to cook using the vintage cookbooks that you have inherited from your parents or grandparents (or otherwise acquired over the years).
Another great thing about digging out vintage family cookbooks from the 50s, 60s, and 70s is that many cooks loved to adapt recipes to suit their own needs. As a result, you might find hand-written notes from your parents, grandparents, or other relatives inside your family cookbooks. If you come from a line of people who loved to cook, that can be a fun piece of family history.
How Vintage Cookbooks Got Their Start
While cookbooks in the United States can trace their roots back to one like “American Cookery by Amelia Simmons (1796),” the vintage cookbooks of the 1950s through the 1970s were quite different from those early American cookbooks.
In that era cookbooks were often used as marketing tools. Companies like Pillsbury would give away free cookbooks to help sell their flour or other baking products. There were also many appliance companies that used free cookbooks to coax people into buying their products as well. Today, some collectors covet those cookbooks specifically and have large collections of them.
Another thing that happened around the 1960s is that celebrity cookbooks started to grow in popularity. One of the most well-documented and popular of those was “A Treasury of Great Recipes by Vincent and Mary Price (1965),” which can sell these days for $250 or more, depending on the condition.
The Betty Crocker Cookbook Series
Of course, some companies actually began producing cookbooks in series form around that time as well. One of the most well-known, which is still being produced today, is the Betty Crocker cookbook series. Collecting the books in that series can really show you how recipes have changed over time. Even the Betty Crocker name and mission itself evolved quite a bit over time.
The Betty Crocker name was first used in 1921 as part of a printed advertising campaign for Gold Medal flour. Later, Betty Crocker recipes and cooking tips were routinely given on the radio. However, it wasn’t until the 1950s that the first Betty Crocker cookbook was published. Since then there have been hundreds of different Betty Crocker cookbooks and recipes. Copies of the one called “Betty Crocker’s Cookbook (1969)” have sold recently for $40 to $50. But many other books in the series are just as popular, and some have immeasurable value to those who remember certain books or recipes from their childhoods that they want to find again.
Interesting Things to Look for in Vintage Cookbooks
Many of the cookbooks produced during World War II list very inexpensive recipes. They had to be basic because certain foods and cooking supplies were simply unavailable or far too expensive at those times. Those recipes are totally unlike those found in some of the fancier cookbooks of today.
Vintage cookbooks also often used fun and quirky images, language, or directions that might seem strange today. For example, recipes calling for a “box” or “package” of something, even if that thing still exists today, may not be accurate in today’s terms because the item may be sold in different sized packages now.
Tips for Collecting Vintage Cookbooks
If you have a casual interest in vintage cookbooks then flea markets, yard sales, and antiques shops in your local area are good first stops. Many of them may have inexpensive cookbooks you can enjoy without draining your bank account. You can also try online sites like eBay, which can give you access to a much larger search area when you’re looking for a specific cookbook.
When collecting vintage cookbooks purely for their monetary value, remember the two “tions,” which are edition and condition. Those are the primary ways that many vintage cookbooks are priced. A first edition is usually going to be a lot more valuable than a reprint, which is true of most books of any kind, not just cookbooks. However, there are some newer editions of certain cookbooks that are valuable as well. You can easily browse websites devoted to selling vintage cookbooks to find cookbooks you are seeking. On those same websites you may also find out more about the history behind some of the most popular vintage cookbooks, such as “The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer” – a signed first edition sold for $3,800.
Of course, the best way to discover or rediscover vintage cookbooks is to find your family’s own stash of them. So, be sure to search your attic, closets, or pantry and see which ones you can find. You’ll love looking through the old recipes and being transported back in time. At the same time, you can establish your own family cooking traditions.
Jessica Kosinski has been a freelance writer specializing in writing short articles for 15 years. She is also an avid collector of both antique books and Star Wars memorabilia. Although she is not in the antiques industry professionally, she has learned a lot about antiques over the years by periodically helping out at her mom’s antiques shop in Greenville, NH. She currently balances maintaining the antiques shop’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/MallofNE, and working on various freelance writing assignments. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.