Antique Cookbooks

Searchlight recipe book
1947 Searchlight Recipe Book. Just like Great-Gramma Viola’s

I’m an avid collector. Broadly speaking, I collect antiques, but specifically, I collect everything from copper gelatin molds and cookware, sewing machines, picnic baskets, unique furniture, anything that sparks a happy memory, and antique books. Most of the books are early editions of classic literature, manuals, and my most favorite, cookbooks.

There is so much you can learn about how foods were prepared in generations past.  What I find particularly interesting is edits to the same recipe from one edition to the next. It makes me curious why the edit was made and then I like to get in the kitchen and make both versions to see which is better and what the difference is.

My second favorite thing about them is when I find one with stained and tattered pages with notes in the margins and grocery lists tucked in. There’s always a story behind something so well-loved. It’s also fun to cook the recipes with the most stains and wonder when and how often they were served. I feel like I get to pay tribute to that family and those happy memories.

cookbook collection
A few selections from my cookbook collection

The best place to start looking is thrift stores. I tend to find quite a few Home Economics books, which are great for explaining technique, etiquette, and if you find an old enough book, you’ll get an in-depth description on how to cook in a fireplace. I’ve also found a first edition of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking while thrifting. Even a copy of Simone Beck’s cookbook (co-author of Julia’s masterpiece).

After that, I usually head to antique stores to see what they have.  Sometimes they just carry the collectibles, and at a higher price, so I haven’t had as much luck finding the obscure books like MEATS. I don’t know why I find that one so funny, but I do.

Really the best thing to do is start with ones you’re interested in. Or if you have a favorite type of food, author, or era, begin (or continue) hunting for those. My friend Mandy collects church compilation cookbooks because there’s such a wide variety of entries. Some are incredibly good, and others are atrociously bad. But she’s made both because, really, why would she not?

Happy hunting and I’d love to hear about your finds!

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