Vintage Cookbook Vault: Hot messes
February 4th, 2011
10:15 AM ET
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The Vintage Cookbook Vault highlights recipes from my insane stash of books and pamphlets from the early 20th century onward. It's a semi-regular thing.

Good gravy, do I love vintage cookbooks. As much as I love getting my mitts on the newest, glossiest, most porn-glutted, celebrity chef-penned doorstoppers (Noma, you shall yet be mine...), poring over ingredient lists and making animalistic noises at pictures of clever terrines and various roasted things, I rarely use the recipes. They serve as inspiration, to be sure, but those pages will, with a few notable exceptions, remain pristine.

Most of the real war horses in my kitchen are spiral and comb-bound community cookbooks and old product pamphlets. As I've said before, at their best, they transcend time and space to provide a window into kitchens long ago and far away, and are generally guaranteed to work because they're either someone's show-off recipe or have been tested to heck and back in a commercial kitchen.

There are exceptions.

meat cookbook

Scanned from "The Ground Meat Cookbook"

Yes, I wax rhapsodic over Louis Y. Dawson Jr.'s Otranto Club Punch recipe from "Charleston Receipts," Zero Mostel's calf's foot jelly or a "Snappy Fruit Mold' from "The New Joys of Jell-O" (1975). There is, however, a reason we're not all chowing down on Ham Rings and Liver Loaf on the regular.

Perhaps it's the now outre inclusion of the MSG. It could be that America has for the moment fallen out of love with artfully sculpted ground ham. I have a sneaking suspicion that it's the ill-advised inclusion of a rodent illustration on the occasional recipe page. (Yes, I know they're making a mousse/mouse joke there, but 1. they read more as rats and 2. wouldn't you have, I dunno, gone with a moose?)

They're not all winners in the culinary sense, but one of the great joys of these books is in the anachronism. Though I can't really imagine a time period in which the presence of vermin in the kitchen was actually celebrated, I thoroughly appreciate the whimsy, cheer and non-preciousness of the gesture. It may not be brilliant food, but it's a fascinating - and often hilarious - glimpse at America finding its way to the present.

Got a vintage hot mess of your own and want to show it off? Post links in the comments below or upload it through iReport and we'll show off some of our favorites.

Previously – Cookbooks that changed my life

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soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. Ann P.

    Great article and I'm happy to see more vintage cooks out there. This is my new obsession to collect and cook receipes from the 30s and 40s or earlier.

    Recently, I made Rice Muffins and Cheese with Tomatoes from my 1932 "Things you have always wanted to know about cooking" book by Margaret Mitchell and The Aluminum Cooking Utensil Co. It was a great find and has beautiful designed pages using silver ink, which also meets my advertising collection needs.

    Happy Cooking!

    February 12, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
  2. Thefensk

    I collect the heck out of these things, although I am picky about community cookbooks these days. I'll still collect any of them pretty old, but newer ones have to be from fairly unique places. But I will pick up almost any cookbook published before 1970. I love them. Yes, they have some really strange stuff, and something about food photography in the 1960s makes me marvel that we didn't all starve to death back then because the food all looked so awful in those photos. But the best thing about recipes from pre-1970 cookbooks is that they were REAL recipes. Real cakes, real casseroles, real food made from real ingredients you probably already have in your pantry. And sometimes you find real gems, such as the thrift store treasure I picked up this weekend: a 1961 "diet" cookbook, and it actually has some pretty accurate information about realistic dieting in it. Not sure I trust the calorie counts though. This was put out by Wesson Oil, everybody's favorite diet aid. But the irony aside, it is a pretty darn good and interesting cookbook.

    February 7, 2011 at 8:34 am |
  3. Mary S.

    I love vintage cookbooks! They're fascinating snapshots of food trends of the past. One of my "favorite" recipes from 1959:

    February 6, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
  4. EdibleMarie

    I love this. I have a thing for vintage Mennonite cookbooks. Those ladies know their pie crust. My mom is a collectibles dealer, and we have an entire room of crazy books in the basement. I wrote about it, among other things:

    February 6, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  5. DD

    I'm still trying to figure out how Jell-O became salad. Noone in my family ever served it as anything other than dessert or medicine.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
  6. Deborah

    Don't kid yourselves. If you made any of these recipes, set them out on a table with doritos and beer. And turned on the superbowl, they'd get eaten, with no complaints. LOL

    February 5, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
  7. OldBuffaloGuy

    My 1904 copy of "consolidated Library of Modern Cooking and Household Recipes" is a treasure. It includes instructions on preparing for a Ball, dealing with servants, the proper way to build a fire in the stove (!), and how to prepare a chicken – starting with what to feed it when you bring it home!

    February 5, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
    • Emmaleah

      I am envious of your book! I love old householding books for Ladies and Young Wives. So much good fodder for writing in there.

      February 5, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
  8. Aaron Carpenter

    I've eaten the best and worst from someone who was able to hang it over my head, but in all honesty, these recipes are for the beggers who only grabbed from what they could find, at home, their place of business, or what was given to them because they couldn't afford another moment without food, that will be the day when it all comes in pill form.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  9. 1_sane_one

    My mother liked to serve a salad consisting of lemon jello, shredded cabbage, carrots, and canned crushed pineapple (and I got plenty of grief for not liking salads when I was a kid–I wonder why??). I think jello was so popular in the 50's because in the early 20th century it was considered a high class dessert. One of the funniest movie scenes I've ever seen was in Dinner at Eight with the aspic. Blink and you'll miss it.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
  10. Mr. Hippo

    The Otranto Club punch is tasty stuff. While not vintage, I do have a copy of Tidewater on the Halfshell that has a latke recipe with ham included. Not surprisingly, the chef was from a country club.

    February 5, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  11. lacrowell

    My husband just found a great one in a cookbook his family put together in recent years–it dates back about eighty years and is for possum. I'm afraid someone will decide to bring this one to our next reunion...

    February 5, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  12. cookieknits

    "The Ground Meat Cookbook!" Does that have Hamburger Bacon Rollups in it?
    I know my mom had that cookbook, and I know she had a cookbook with that recipe in it from the series that cookbook was in.

    February 5, 2011 at 9:41 am |
  13. QueenJahnine

    My mom passed down a set of Officer's Wives Cook Books- complete with forwards by Lady Bird Johnson! I love them and, yes, there are tons of jello salads! But there are also authentic recipes for foods from around the world, garnered by women who'd been there. A treasure

    February 5, 2011 at 6:55 am |
  14. Sparkle Farkel

    I've been using "Charleston Receipts" for 30 years. A great cookbook – nothing trendy or fancy, just tried and true recipes

    February 4, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
  15. Lola

    Classic, really old-school hot mess: haggis.

    February 4, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
  16. kmr

    These recipe cards are stunningly bad!

    February 4, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • Maria

      I looked at the cards. It reminded me of paging through my mom's 1950s Betty Crocker cookbook.

      February 4, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
  17. lacrowell

    My grandmother's Southern Baptist church cookbook from the mid-60's has page after page of lime green Jell-O "salads" with every imaginable ingredient thrown in. English peas? Check. Grated carrots? Check. Maraschino cherries and pecans? Check and check. Yuck.

    February 4, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
  18. whiteblaze

    i agree the "Gallery of Regrettable Food" is halarious, my co workers would like me to not read it at work as i cannot help but laugh out loud, everyone should check it out....

    February 4, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
  19. Bubba

    I'd sooner eat the mice.

    February 4, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
  20. Meghan

    My all-time favourite is a Czech ethnic sausage recipe. Ingredients include 1 freshly killed pig's head, onion, garlic, potatoes, spices, and two or three extra snouts. Everyone should know that sausage making ain't pretty, and I have a fairly good understanding of why a recipe would start with a pig head. But where in the world am I supposed to get "extra snouts"?

    February 4, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
    • Jean McIntosh

      You used to be able to get extra snouts at City Market in Atlanta, GA. They had piles of snouts, feet, tails, what-have-you. I remember black women getting on the bus with huge shopping bags filled with greens, and I betcha there was a snout or two at the bottom.

      February 5, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
  21. Rhonda

    Something from my Grandma Fleming's 1954 Kansas WRC Auxiliary cookbook, Kitchen Kapers, called English Monkey. Soak bread crumbs in milk, add beaten eggs. Melt cheese and butter together. Combine mixtures, season to taste and serve on crackers. Oh my.

    February 4, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • Lola

      That's sort of like a version of Rarebit, Rhonda.

      February 4, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  22. P

    "There is, however, a reason we're not all chowing down on Ham Rings and Liver Loaf on the regular. "

    February 4, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  23. PK

    If you like this, you should seek out James Lileks and his Gallery of Regrettable Food. :)

    February 4, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  24. Mildred

    Mousses, aspics, and such dishes used to be a lot more popular- and not just in the 1950s. Such things go *way* back- there's quite a number of Victorian recipes (with more spicing) using the same methods.

    Honestly, looking at the Ham Ring... it's like a ham and veal meatloaf baked into a mold. (I'm kinda interested in the Horseradish Sour Cream sauce, actually).

    These days, about the only hot mixed meat based dishes that I see on diner menus or dinner tables is meatloaf, galumpkis, and maybe chicken croquettes (or salmon ones for a little diversity).

    February 4, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Kathleen

      Here's a GREAT Horseradish Sour Cream sauce: 1/3 cup sour cream; 2 Tbls. mayo; 1 Tbls. horseradish (I use a HEAPING tablespoon); 1/4 tsp. garlic salt.
      It's wonderful on steak, salmon, and about anything beef. (I once ate old, slimy salami just so that I could convey that horseradish sour cream sauce to my mouth.)

      February 4, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
      • Horseradish Sauce

        You can even lighten up this recipe by substituting a squeeze of lemon juice for the mayo. Very tasty!

        February 5, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  25. LuLu

    I'm thinking that it would be great to see these hot messes actually made, and results posted in the article as well. It maybe a hot mousse mess to look at but does it taste like one too?

    February 4, 2011 at 11:17 am |
  26. Evil Grin

    None of this sounds particularly appealing today.

    February 4, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • Jerv@EG

      Evil Grin grins. Bad night?

      February 4, 2011 at 11:24 am |
      • Evil Grin

        Bad week, more like. But then again, I'm also not a fan of liver.

        February 4, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  27. Jdizzle McHammerpants

    Hehe. "Hot messes"

    February 4, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  28. Mildred

    Ok- this might take me a while to copy out. :) And we're missing part of the instructions for the ham mousse. :)

    February 4, 2011 at 10:46 am |
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