cookbooks for an american woman

(The continuing saga of publishing old drafts… I started this in March 2005.)

I love cookbooks. I love food and I love books, so I suppose it’s not surprising. Two of my earliest happy memories are of figuring out how to read and of standing on a chair near the stove, watching my grandmother cook. When I looked at one of my favorite books, Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day, I always said I wanted to be the chef, who was wearing a really tall white hat. It was probably so easy for me to choose because the book didn’t have a writer, with a big quill pen. That would have made the choice harder. One of the amazon reviews for the book talks about the overt sexist roles, and how only three jobs are available for women (homemaker, nurse, and secretary). But when I was little, I didn’t in any way get the message that I couldn’t do the jobs in the book that were being done by men. The chef was a man, but I didn’t think only men could do it.

I’m sure I have more than a hundred cookbooks: shiny new ones with healthy recipes, old tattered ones from days when all recipes called for lard. I just ordered two new cookbooks from amazon, and I like them, but I have one complaint. They’re hardcover and just so big. I realize this is a good thing in the kitchen. They’re sturdy. But the size makes them difficult to read. And I like to read my cookbooks.

If I’m judging my cookboks purely on reading enjoyment, the old ones definitely win out. Take, for instance, The American Woman’s Cook Book. How can you go wrong with a title like that? This book, edited by Ruth Berolzheimer, was originally published in 1938. My hardcover was printed in 1942. I see that lists an out-of-print paperbacka version printed in 1974. I don’t know how much it changed between 1942 and 1974, but one would hope a lot, judging from the reader’s comments. “This book is my cooking bible.”

The first great thing about this cookbook is how it is organized. It has separate sections for: cookies/candies, cakes, ice cream, pies, and of course, the completely different, desserts. Cheese also has its own section. I am all for devotion to cheese, so you won’t get any arguments from me about that.

There is a chart of “alkaline and acid-forming foods”, although it doesn’t go on to say what the importance of knowing this might be. Beware though, that “cheese, cream” is alkaline and “cheese, all but cream” is acid-forming. The cookbook goes on to explain how to buy food. “It is desirable to include fruit twice a day.” “Women and little children will eat about two average potatoes and 1/4 lb. other vegetables daily. Adolescents and men at hard work can eat two to three times that amount.”

And then, we learn about food values. “The modern woman will learn to distinguish between vitamins and calories.” Indeed.

Alton Brown, my TV boyfriend, writes great cookbooks for reading. He probably would have a little to say about the whole vitamin vs. calorie debate.

Mostly, I just like to have the cookbooks around — just in case I want to read them. Or cook with them. 90% of the time, I use the internet when I’m searching for recipes, so you might think I don’t need all these cookbooks around. But you would be very wrong. As great as the internet is, it can never fill the need I have for books. They’re as different as vitamins and calories.

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