Book of the Month: Cookery Illustrated (1936)

Looking for a great recipe for Roast Ox Heart? How about for Calf's Head? If so, the 1936 edition of Cookery Illustrated and Household Management by Elizabeth Craig has got you covered. Truth be told, it also has some of the simplest and most effective recipes for anything you could ever dream of cooking at home, along with timeless and useful tips on keeping your home running like a well-oiled machine. As someone who is interested in the history of the domestic arts, and the art of a well-written cookbook, I decided to choose this long out-of-print book to highlight as this month's pick. Searching out old domestic manuals like this one at flea markets and used-book stores can be extremely rewarding, not simply because the books are excellent records of how households used to be run but also because they contain some very good ideas and recipes, actually.
My copy of this book came to me from my mother, who inherited it from her mother, who inherited it from hers. Knowing this book has been in my family since its publication in the late 1930s in England makes it all the more special to me. It has been very well used over its 80 years and I love that the cover and many of its pages reveal the evidence of its use through faded sauce stains and pages that have notes scribbled down with pencil: "keep at a low simmer for longer," reads one note on a recipe for poached eggs.
Since the book was published before photography was widely used in books such as these, there are illustrated examples of some of the dishes, which are really charming. Hand-painted depictions of a freshly-baked pie or a row of jelly moulds really add to the book's vintage allure.
Many of the book's suggestions and much of its information are outdated and not useful to the modern-day homemaker. Few of us, for instance, need tips on how to reduce our coal bills. Nor are many of us searching for how make Creamed Sweetbreads. But these glimpses at bygone domestic needs are fascinating. The majority of the information and how-to presented in the book, however, does stand up today. There are very helpful stain-removing tips at the back of the book and an enormous amount of recipes (many of them sound extremely delicious) that require only the most basic of ingredients. Times then were tough, after all. Their simplicity and purity makes them intriguing.
The book is a vast tome, almost biblical in scale, with 760 pages of content and indexes. It is divided into several chapters and subsections, including cooking methods, cooking in emergencies, cooking for the invalid and infirm, household management, home remedies and household tips. There are vast chapters devoted to various types of foods: meat and poultry, vegetables, preserves, sauces, fish, salads and dressings, pastries and puddings, ices, cheeses, biscuits and cakes, etc. Each section is filled with dozens of recipes - most of them unillustrated.
Martha Stewart referenced many books like this when she was gathering research for her book The Homekeeping Handbook. In her foreword, Martha writes:
"Always fascinated with vintage books on all subjects having to do with home and garden, I found Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management especially charming and curious...So fascinated was I with Mrs. Beeton that I wondered if authors in other countries had espoused similar treatments of 'household management' and I started looking...To me, these books were unusual and actually cutting edge in the way they treated the subject matter of the house, the home and living in general. It was enlightening to find out that these books were very, very successful, some selling millions of copies to avid homemakers in need of help in establishing, running and maintaining households."
Martha's enthusiasm for these kinds of books mirrors my own. I now proudly keep Cookery Illustrated next to Martha's Homekeeping Handbook on my bookshelf and I'm hoping that I'll find similar books on these subjects as well.

1 comment:

Rowaida said...

Greetings from San Francisco Andrew, amazing illustrated book. Wow you are so lucky to have this book.
While in Washington we visited the National Museum of American history, I saw a lot of illustrated posters of food and saw Julia Child's kitchen and it was amazing.
Best wishes xo