Collecting old cookbooks

I have this thing for old cookbooks; partly it’s the smell. Partly it’s the archaeology of finding the most chocolate-or-butter-smeared page in the book (that’s where ALL the best recipes are found). But mostly it’s for the cooking inspiration and history lesson I get, all in one fell swoop.

I’ve found two of the best places in the world to pick up fabulous old cookbooks are church flea markets and college/university book sales. The first, because that’s where you’ll find the real homey treasures that women have shared between themselves for generations. And the second, because that’s where so many folks end up donating their piles of books when dear Aunt Esther passes away.

A local university here (Toronto) puts on a huge sale every November, and it’s literally one of the highlights of my year (I’m such a cookbook geek!). Here’s my haul from this year:

  1. The Home Cook Book by Ladies Of Toronto *
  2. Breakfast cookbook: Favorite recipes from America’s bed & breakfast inns by Phyllis Winters
  3. Thomas Jefferson’s Cook Book by Marie Goebel Kimball (1949 edition)
  4. Apples to Oysters: A Food Lover’s Tour of Canadian Farms by Margaret Webb *
  5. More Food That Really Schmecks by Edna Staebler *
  6. The Encyclopedia of Homemade Preserves by Myra Street
  7. The White House Family Cookbook by Henry Haller
  8. Notes from a Country Kitchen: A Back-To-homemade Cookbook by Jocasta Innes *

* Canadian books

The Home Cook Book is particularly exciting for me because of its age and history. This is actually a 2002 reprint – the original was published in 1877. It’s got a fabulous range of dishes as well as dinner etiquette and other social notes that, for me, really make it fun to read. It’s like stepping back in time to find out what women just like me had to deal with every day. It’s daunting but fascinating.

More Food That Really Schmecks, written by Edna Staebler, was a must-by for me this year when I saw it in the stacks. I found her first book, appropriately enough titled Food That Really Schmecks, at last year’s sale and it was my first real foray into this wonderful collection of Mennonite dishes and simple country home cooking recipes.

Finally, Notes from a Country Kitchen is an awesome collection of back-to-homemade cooking. It shows you how to corn your own beef, make your own cheese and yogurt, and other from-the-farm skills that we’ve moved away from over the years. It’s also from a Canadian author and is so timely right now it hurts.

Is it just me, with this love of older cookbooks? Would you rather a brand new cookbook or one that’s been used, read, and spattered up a bit in the kitchen?