I keep my eye out for old cookbooks when I go to thrift stores or garage sales. They are part of the books we keep on hand for reference material and I like to buy old cookbooks for many reasons.
By “old,” I mean cookbooks from the early 1980’s or earlier.
7 Reasons to buy old cookbooks
1. Cooking without a microwave
Microwaves didn’t become household items until the mid-1970s, according to the IEEE Global History Network. If the power ever goes out for any amount of time, the microwave will not be an option. We will be cooking on the grill, over a fire, on a rocket stove, a solar oven, or on a handmade stove.
While I do know what recipes I can make out of my food storage, my husband and children might need to figure things out if something happens to me. Or, if we get bored with the meals out of storage, we can find new recipes for variety. Older cookbooks rarely, if ever, have you use the microwave as part of the recipe. This makes it easier to convert the recipe to another cooking method.
2. Fewer convenience ingredients
How many of the recipes that you use contain baking mix or canned beans as ingredients? What happens when the Bisquick runs out and you only have dry beans? Older cookbooks have you use the ingredients that you would probably have in your food storage because there weren’t as many convenience products to buy in the stores, which also means fewer processed foods, with their GMO ingredients and additives. That’s a win-win, all the way around.
3. More real ingredients for healthier eating
This ties to fewer convenience ingredients, but older cookbooks usually use more “real food” ingredients. You need to have the basics on hand – flour, sugar, salt, beans, seasonings, butter, etc. They won’t call for Hershey’s syrup or pre-mixed seasonings. This can be helpful not only for cooking from the food pantry but also if you want to move more towards a real food diet. For example, the older cookbook I have has six versions of a basic fruit cobbler (7-10 ingredients), while the new one only has a version that uses quick-cooking polenta mix or cornmeal (about 10 ingredients).
4. Calls for using fewer kitchen gadgets
Electric mixers, food processors, blenders are all part of most people’s kitchen and cooking routines. However, if there’s no power, there’s no way to use those gadgets. An EMP, as featured in One Second After, could eliminate every electric appliance in your kitchen.
Do you know how to knead bread without your mixer? Do you have a way to blend ingredients without the blender? Good knives and the right non-electric tools would come in handy. Older cookbooks have tips on how to make recipes using these types of tools instead of electric kitchen gadgets.
For example, I found a 1989 Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook (I’m still looking for an older one). While it does say how to proof yeast in a microwave, it also explains how to alter a recipe if using a hand mixer instead of an electric mixer.
5. More variations for recipes
I noticed more recipes with cornmeal in older cookbooks, like corn waffles and fried mush. There are recipes for sauces and salad dressings. If you want to make anything from scratch, you can usually find a recipe for it in an older cookbook. The older the cookbook, the more it will use basic ingredients and have more variations on the recipes with fewer ingredients. (Think of depression era recipes). The older cookbook I have has recipes for rabbit and spiced tongue. Whenever I can, I buy old cookbooks!
6. They’re inexpensive
A new cookbook with glossy photos can easily cost $20 and more. Especially when purchased at a bookstore. Old cookbooks can cost fifty cents, or less, in second hand bookstores, thrift stores, yard sales, and similar places. You can easily buy several for less than ten bucks.
7. They bring back memories of old favorites
Thumbing through an old cookbook, you will probably come across recipes that you remember from your childhood, your grandma’s kitchen, and potlucks from past holidays and church events. It’s a little bit like going on a treasure hunt — you never know what you’ll find!
Don’t forget the new …
I’ve found some great “new” cookbooks that provide all these features, too.
- Cooking with Fire by Paula Marcoux
- The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila
- 100 Days of Real Food by Lisa Leake
Have you found any hidden gems in old cookbooks? Do you think they are worth looking for and adding to your reference library?
Helpful resources mentioned in this article:
- Better Homes and Gardens Cookbooks — lots to choose from!
- DIY 5-Minute Rocket Stove
- EcoZoom rocket stove
- One Second After by William Forstchen — a real eye-opener that goes way beyond having to make food without convenient appliances!
- Sun Oven, possibly the best commercially made solar cooker on the market
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