Save These Books
Classic cookbooks from America’s food icons
By Kate Ramos
Although these vintage cookbooks were deemed dated by their publishing companies long ago, collectors and cooks still ask for them, says bookshop owner Bonnie Slotnick. Cooking trends come and go, but reliable recipes and comprehensive how-tos are evergreen. Here are Slotnick’s 10 most requested kitchen classics (we’ve linked to current editions, in some cases; for the vintage versions, contact Slotnick or someone who specializes in out-of-print books).
1. Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book
This was the model for the heavily illustrated cookbooks of today. Step-by-step photographs and illustrations of skills, like how to brew a good cup of coffee or frost a cake, make this book the gold standard for the self-taught cook.
2. Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book
The 1963 edition of this cookie-baking authority has more than 450 recipes, with an entire section devoted to holiday treats. Favorites include the ginger almond cookies, the Norwegian kringla, and the lemon bars.
3. Craig Claiborne’s New York Times Cook Book
(Harper & Row, 1961)
Full of worldly recipes for dishes like feijoada and cassoulet, Claiborne’s book also has helpful reference guides, including a timetable for roasting meats and a conversion chart for foreign equivalents.
4. Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book
(Meredith Press, 1965)
A beginner cook’s wonderland, thanks to detailed guides to canning, baking bread, and rolling pie dough.
5. Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Cookies
(Alfred A. Knopf, 1977)
Heatter was one of the first food writers to take a more professional approach to baking, providing clear, concise recipes. This book is full of cookie recipes like homemade fig bars (she calls them “Big Newtons”) and rugalach.
6. Good Housekeeping Cookbook
This is a great gift for both new and experienced cooks. The dessert chapter is especially tempting, with treasures such as crumbly topped rhubarb and custard bread pudding.
7. Woman’s Home Companion Cook Book
(P. F. Collier and Son, 1951)
Known as a “mother book,” an all-inclusive homemaking guide from the first half of the 20th century, this cookbook by Dorothy Kirk may be sought after more for nostalgia reasons than for its detailed instructions on how to train servants or raise children.
8. Antoinette Pope School Cookbook
A book from a series of courses in Chicago on “fancy cookery.” Full of postwar charm, and particularly loved by Chicagoans who remember the baked Alaska.
9. Time-Life Foods of the World Series
This collection is broken into countries of origin, each edition featuring one book of background information, photos, and a few recipes, and a spiral-bound recipe book. The American installment includes icons from M. F. K. Fisher to James Beard.
10. The Settlement Cook Book
An early American classic. Cooks still reach for their copies for basic tips on table settings and a recipe for good Kuchen (though you’ll have to determine for yourself how much “one cent’s worth of yeast” is).
Kate Ramos is the assistant food editor at CHOW.