Sunday, September 15, 2013

How to pick a prep book Cook Book

     SO, this weekend, like many weekends, I was out at a yard sale.  I was looking over the knick-knacks and the lady had not priced anything so she was calling out prices, "the jars are a dollar each, the set of cake plates are $20..."  I was totally losing interest when she said the hardback books are a dollar, and the ...I interrupted "any cook books?  Old cookbooks?'  She said yes, but they are $2 each because they are good cookbooks.  I sort of shrugged and she pulled out a box under a table and right away I knew she was overcharging.  

     All the books were thick with bright colored pictures and lots of professionally photographed food.  I told her that wasn't what I had in mind exactly.  I want the old kind that are a little dingy.  She said oh, those, they're in the garage and she invited me in to look.  I walked away with two good prep book cookbooks for a dollar.
     A good prepper's cookbook is a book that dates back all or in part to a time when cooking was done over open flame.  A really good prepper's cook book will have a section on Game, it's butchering and it's preparation.  A crown jewel of cookbooks is the Fannie Farmer cookbooks.  This book is a jewel.  It is a Victorian homemaker's kitchen bible.  It does have a draw back of assuming you know what she is talking about.  It was common for the homemaker to make her own gelatin so the instructions for aspic state "start with a plain gelatin."  It assumes you know to boil the feet of calves because that is the most dense yet soft  bone in the cow that will gel the most with the least of its own flavor, lacking a lot of meat.  You are to cook the feet, pull the meat to make a soup stock then return the bones to the pot to boil out the fat and marrow.                 
     I have a modern printing of the Fannie Farmer Boston School of Cooking cookbook with many additional editorial notes.  Yesterday, I bought The Junior League's first printing of the Taste of Oregon cookbook.   I settled on this book for my stash because it came as it's cover stated, from Oregon.  I am sure it is a very modern urbane state, but I felt it was worth looking into because it is not from the swinging tourist locations Like New Orleans or New York or Miami.  I find these books to be trendy and needy of electricity and the trend to eat from the local farm hasn't quite impressed the printers yet. I like a cookbook that is less sophisticated.  The recipes translate to a time without electricity and very few of them have a recipe called hobo stew, like the campout cookbooks.  
     I bought another book called Cooking From Scratch Overseas because the forward told the story of following her husband overseas for work and finding no electric oven and only a two burner propane stove for cooking.  It looked like a page turner.  It has a section titled Cooking during a Revolution.  Can't wait to get into it, because their are several pages that are stained from dripping.  

     That is a good sign.  When a recipe appears on two pages and requires turning the page to follow the directions, the staine pages mean that recipe or, better, that book was used and was good enough to use more than once.  A pristine cookbook, no matter how old it is, is an unused cookbook.  If the recipes were too hard to follow or the book too clumsy to stand on the counter, it stayed on the shelf and that makes it pretty useless.  This book in the photo right , I would pass up.  It has sticky pages, but, it is falling apart and most of the staining is foxing from water or humidity damage. There are no written notes on the pages but there are clippings from magazines.  It was a filing cabinet, not a real cookbook.   

     I can look for a few recipes I am familiar with and tell if the book is at least a valid collection of genuine recipes.  I know my biscuit recipe inside out, since my sister and I did our demonstration for 4H at the county fair.  I know I don't like Scottish shortbread cookies, because they turn out like sand if it's not done right, but I know the recipe that works and if I check that one, I can tell if the author actually made them or just added in the recipe to fill the pages.
     Cook book Encyclopedia are nice.  The Betty Crocker Encyclopedia of cooking is a favorite of mine as it includes the skinning and butchering instructions.  It tells you how to test for a hot oven without a thermostat and things like preserves, drying fruits, root cellaring and reconstituting stored foods.  Try the site, Abe Books.  IT is a sales port for used and hand me down books.  The encyclopedia to the left here, is listed for $6 and $3.50 shipping.  You can't beat that with a stick!  

Get yourself a new/old cookbook and see how it was done when food was fresh, not wrapped in plastic and cooked over wood or gas.  It will change your thinking.  Oh, and I also bought the biggest hulking NERF machine gun with three 18 dart cartridges, but THAT is another story!

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