7 Reasons to Buy Old Cookbooks

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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 for other reasons too. And by “old,” I mean cookbooks from the early 1980s or earlier.

7 Reasons to Buy Old Cookbooks via The Survival Mom

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 solar oven, handmade stove or a rocket stove. Check out this yummy rice and beans recipe here!

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). Look at some of these easy homemade recipes that are easy to make and taste so much better than store-bought!

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 (and it’s critical that you know how), 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! If you are without electricity, a little bit of comfort food from your past will make it more tolerable. Now put your Survival Mom hat on and begin making lists that would help your family cope in a power-down situation. Learn more here!

Don’t forget the new …

I’ve found some great “new” cookbooks that provide all these features, too.

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:

7 Reasons to Buy Old Cookbooks via The Survival Mom

49 thoughts on “7 Reasons to Buy Old Cookbooks”

  1. Jenn @ Frugal Upstate

    I love old cookbooks. I have the cookbooks from my grandmothers on both sides (1940’s) and some reproduction books going back to the 1800’s.

    I really love the ones from the 1940’s. They are both thick hardcover books, bigger than a novel but smaller than many contemporary cookbooks. They seem to be written with the idea that this is the only cookbook the woman would own, and so cover how to do everything. Both have “educational” sections on nutrition, budgeting, meal planning, how to choose good produce, dealing with shortages, utilizing inexpensive cuts of meat, meals for the sick etc. Due to the age there are no frozen foods used and minimal processed (occasionally commercially canned). The kitchen tools required are simple (range, oven, maybe a hand held mixer) and as you said they include recipes for many things that have fallen opt of popularity. More fish, things like heart & tounge, various grains, things that require fat/frying (it’s amazing when you realize how the low fat thing changed food/diet) plenty of desserts, breads, and biscuits from scratch, sauces & finishes for vegetables (which again we seem to have foregone as a culture in our quest for low fat). These are my go to cookbooks for if times ever get tough as they were written for women managing homes while/right after times really were tough from the depression & war years.

    The two I have are The Modern Family Cookbook by Meta Given and Americas Cook Book compiled by the New York Herald Tribune Home Institute.

  2. I do not own old cookbook but I share with you the concept of cooking with basic ingredients and no electric equipment. Every week I make a sour dought bred by hand only. The east that I used to make my starter was collected from making hard apple cider. All my pastry is done by hand. The only electrical tool that I have is a hand blender, I cannot reproduce it action by hand.

  3. I started collecting old cook books and now have around 100……I have found so many really good recipes that are so easy. they have simple ingredients. the Grange farmers cookbooks are my favorite. I have specific books that every recipe has a specific ingredients. ex. 101 ways to cook potatoes. 365 ways to cook chicken…..an 87 page book where every recipe calls for ,ketchup…….my oldest is a cookbook dated 1886.

  4. I’ve discovered the same thing about old cookbooks. The Better Homes & Gardens is my go-to book, along with those wonderful old handmade cookbooks put out by church Ladies Aid Societies back in the 60’s & 70’s.
    It’s also important to remember to have non-electric food prep items on hand. I use very few electric appliances, but for every one I do, I have a comparable non-electric version as a back-up – a hand wheat grinder, hand mixers and my absolute favorite, a Mooli, to replace the food processor. A Mooli was a hand grater/shredded put out by I think Ronco back in the 70’s, you can pick them up for about a buck at a rummage sale. I use my Mooli more than I use the food processor, it’s easier to use and to clean up.

  5. It’s all true. My most favorite cook book is a 1942 edition of “The Boston Cooking School Cookbook” that my great-grandmother used during the second world war. My favorite recipe in the book is for biscuits. Nearly every recipe I could find online for biscuits calls for bisquick mix or biscuits from a can. I like being able to (finally!) make these from scratch.

    This cookbook also has recipes for things like homemade ketchup, watermelon rind pickles, and an assortment of chutneys. The only thing I wouldn’t trust 100% are the canning recipes. Because I understand the science of canning has come a long way since 1942, so some of the recipes may be unsafe.

  6. War Time and Depression Era Cookbooks Take Scratch Cooking Right Down To The Basics Of Having Pretty Much Nothing. Definitely A Must Have In A World Without Electricity.

  7. If you have older relatives, see if you can scrounge their cook books IF they aren’t still using them. You may find their “alterations” on a recipe in there that you remember them making. My moms old Betty Crocker cook book has my dad’s additions and measurements he did for recipies to make them for our large family.when we were younger.AND I have an 1801 “encyclopedia” that not only has recipes but how to lay a table, manners when calling on people, etc as well as academic subjects like speaking german, french or how to defend one’s self with (the newfangled) “Oriental hand to hand combat”, (this is directly from my book). The most important area I feel in my book is how to butcher cows, pigs and chickens. Does you no good to have a side of beef and not know what to do with it to maximize the meals from it.

  8. Felicia Callahan

    People are horrified by the fat used in old cookbooks, but now they are finding that our low fat cooking is actually contributing to our health problems. I love old cook books and have collected them for years.

  9. I get most of my recipes off of the internet, but this post has given me some more inspiration to go pick up some older cookbooks. I also didn’t realize microwaves weren’t a household item until the 1970s.

  10. I found a Betty Crocker cook book at a garage sale some years ago and love it. It is from 1950 and has hand drawn pictures and some real ones. Most of the desserts have a base recipe and then build from there. Nothing in the book is canned or boxed, all real ingredients. I love old cook books.

  11. Margaret Miller

    I have a lot of old and new cookbooks but my Favorite is a cookbook from World War 11 they used in the Army still in very good condition

  12. I was given a reprint of the 1953 BH&G New Cook Book (it’s at amzn.to/1LvugNp), and it’s my go-to book. There’s also the added bonus that it’s not technically an antique, so you don’t have to feel guilty adding in your own notes!

  13. I mainly cook that way already but I love to read cookbooks. Now I can justify my collecting. It’s not an addiction (books are my favorite activity)- it’s preparing! Thanks. I love it when something gets a new thought process in my mind.

  14. i love love love the ones put out by the ladies groups of churches for fund raisers and the newspapers. most of my favorites are those from the 30’s-50’s. i have 2 from the wichita eagle beacon. they ask women from all over kansas to send in recipes. what a treasure trove of information.

  15. I have found that the best of the best are the vintage church/school/ladies auxiliary fundraiser cookbooks where everyone contributed their favorite recipes. Grandma’s recipes are in there. And these were the grandmothers of the 1950’s, 1960’s. Pure gold

  16. My daughter collects cookbooks, so I added a couple that I inherited years ago. My favorites are those from the WWI and Depression years. Like was said above, they teach you how to cook with basic ingredients even when you don’t have experience. There may come a time when I need to know how to cook blackbird or squirrel pie!

  17. I have a copy of the New England Yankee Cookbook from 1939. It’s a favorite of mine and I find myself returning to it over and over again. I have several old cookbooks dating from the 1940’s through the 1960’s. There’s more than recipes included in those old books. Many of them have folklore and stories of everyday life from the time period in which they were written. I love the stories and have picked up quite a bit of gardening, canning and preserving information from them.

  18. BTW… I loved the One Second After, by William Fortschen book that you mentioned in the helpful resources section. My husband and I have read it through at least three times! Lots of info in that one.

  19. I learned to cook from a 1950 Betty Crocker cookbook that had been a gift to my Mom (who never used cookbooks!). Imagine my surprise and pleasure when my own daughter, in leaving home to set up her own household, asked if she could have that very worn BettyCrocker cookbook, covers nearly completely torn away and all.

  20. I agree about the older cookbooks. I learned to cook from my mom and her dad. We did not use any prepackaged ingredients. Most came out of their garden in the back yard. She bought from farmers or orchards for the things she could not grow. After I married and left home, I started collecting cook books.
    I still enjoy cooking with home canned or fresh food.

  21. I have an old (1940s) Sears US regional cookbook and a Betty Crocker cookbook from the same era. Also, I have a 1973 version of Joy of Cooking. Everything is scratch and it is an encyclopaedia of cooking! If I need to know how to do something, that’s where I look.

  22. I think modern British cook books do this less than American ones but saying that my absolute favourite is1960’s Good Housekeeping book, cracking basics for you to adapt.

  23. I also watch for old recipe cards at estate sales and auctions. These treasures often include adaptations and/or substitutions, prep notes. I once picked up a vintage recipe box and then asked about the cards…we retrieved them from the trash. Great find!

  24. Susan Peterson

    I have a reprint of a very old Fannie Farmer, one of those which is made from photographs from the pages of an actual old cookbook, including someone’s comments. This contained a section on how to get the best out of your wood range. For instance, how to get the oven hot enough for biscuits. This turned out to be a great help when for several years In was in the situation of having to cook daily for ten people on a wood range!

  25. i love old cookbooks! My mom got me reprint of the first BH&G one because I was always complaining that the ones I got at my bridal shower didn’t have super basic recipes…good for altering! My dad has one he inherited from his grandmother that the whole family likes to use. While there are some interesting ones (jellied meatloaf anyone?), there are those recipes you can’t get anywhere else!

  26. My favorite is Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking by Meta Given. First published in 1947, mine is a 1952 9th printing. It’s a must have.

  27. You’ve forgotten my very favorite thing about old cookbooks… All the notes and scribbles in the margins! And when you find a page that has lots of stains on it, you know that is a well loved recipe.

  28. I’ll go along with this insofar as cooking goes, but NOT canning. I have a Ball Blue Book from the 1970s and a LOT of the techniques and recommendations have changed over just the last decade as super bugs (bacteria, etc.) have developed and testing procedures have improved. That being said, I love old cookbooks and have a substantial collection, including a number of true antiques.

    If you’re interesting in learning how to CAN safely, search out “Safe Canning By The Book On Debbie’s Back Porch” on Facebook (no affiliation except being a member of the forum). They’re unquestionably serious about using only the latest canning techniques, proven in certified laboratories.

  29. My favorite cookbook is a 1973 edition of the BETTY CROCKER COOKBOOK (it was my Mom’s…don’t know why she had it because she cooked the same things all the time and none of them were from a cookbook!)…This poor thing is held together by duct tape and that’s getting pretty frayed! This is my “go-to” when I’m looking for a recipe.

  30. archive.org is a free download site. I have downloaded about 15 older cookbooks in pdf format for FREE!! There are many books (I love old books, I have downloaded close to a gigabyte of books on many subjects) on most subjects, some are linked to Google books.

  31. Natasha Luckett

    Sorry for the long comment but this is a passion of mine. If anyone lives near Assonet MA I highly recommend a stop in at Eagle Trading Company, a wonderful older gentleman owns a used cookbook book store you can also call him and see if he has titles he’ll ship. If I could only pick two I’d go with an older version of the JOY of cooking the newer editions don’t have sections on canning or game. Anything pre 1975 is a decent edition. The other one that I’ve read half a dozen times is by Lin Pardey she kept a daily food log of their sail across the nothern pacific for 51 days. In addition to that she addresses provisioning, and spoilage issues that I knew nothing about. They had no power on their sailboat just kerosene lamps, and a propane stove. She did a new edition in the last few years the book is Called ” The Care and feeding of the sailing crew”

    Others I’ve found useful
    “Maryland’s Way The Hammond Harwood House cookbook” Colonial Recipes
    “Housekeeping in Old Virginia” Marion Cabell Tyree original printing 1879
    “Old Sturbridge Village Cookbook” New England Pilgrim Recipes
    “Recipes from America’s Restored Villages” Jean Anderson Recipes from 44 historic villages in the US
    “The Yankee Cookbook” Imogene Wolcott originally published in 1939
    “Cooking In America 1840-1945” Alice McLean this is a historical text book with recipes out of logs and journals.
    Woman’s Day Encyclopedia of Cookery 12 volumes from the 1960’s their isn’t a topic I haven’t found at least one answer to.
    A modern cookbook that I have found useful is “Cooking from the Cupboard” Jeanne Jones cooking with canned and dried goods over 200 recipes.
    I also like the older canning cookbooks. I know each person has there views on canning and safety, but there may come a time when gulf wax, and honey maybe all thats available and pectin and sugar maybe things of the past. I see no harm in at least educating oneself about these older canning techniques. Several of these cookbooks have older canning recipes, as well as recipes for making pickles, sauerkraut etc. I look for most of my cookbooks at goodwill, libraries, and yardsales. That being said I’ve been able to find rare titles on Alibris.com A search engine of used bookstore titles available nationwide. I also use ebay. Happy Cooking!

  32. For my wedding, I received “The Joy of Cooking”, 1967 version, and it surely got me through my early years of cooking. It has been published from 1931 on, and the 1967 edition still contains the real basics, including game. Another, more recent find is the 1950 edition of “Charleston Receipts” – treasured in the South, with many Southern classics, many from scratch. Of course, there are the occasional ‘This is so easy’ (valued even back then) recipes like baked ham in Coca-Cola! I’ve got my 1960s edition of Betty Crocker. Thank you for reminding us how valuable these recipes are, and how we’ve drifted away from them.

  33. You can also pick up old cookbooks at charity shops and jumble sales quite cheaply. I also have a little exercise book with my grandmother’s neat, hand written recipes in. It’s a bit crumpled now, but it means a lot and reminds me of enjoying meals at my grandparent’s house as a child.

  34. Like so many here, I love old cookbooks and find them useful, informative, and fun! Potentially, the most useful aspect of cookbooks from the World War II era are the sections on substitutions and “wartime cooking.” One of my Mother’s cookbooks has a whole section on cooking despite food rationing. Wartime rationing spurred creativity in the kitchen – information it might be good to have in an emergency.

  35. I was given a 1929 Jello cookbook by a senior at a previous Church. She knew I collected cookbooks, the older the better.
    Wow! The recipes! One that sticks out is “Green Jello and Saukraut mold”.

  36. Pingback: Why Old Cookbooks Are a Prepper's Best Friend - The Prepared Homesteading Survivalist

  37. I love old cookbooks, the older the better! To me they are like reading history. The really old ones have household hints, how to preservation, etc. Don’t discount cookbook club editions, they may be copies but they have the same information in them as the originals. To me an old scruffy, well used cookbook is a true treasure.

  38. I love old recipes but I use my recipe box as well. I have 3 x 5 recipe cards from both grandmothers, one aunt, tons from my mother, friends and my own. Some are cut out from magazines, some are in the donor’s own handwriting. I won a football pool once and used the money to buy a 3 x 5 laminator. So ALL my recipe cards are laminated and don’t deteriorate, if they get splattered they just wipe off! I have them in a two-drawer card file cabinet on my kitchen counter where they are easy to access.

  39. Pingback: 7 Reasons to Buy Old Cookbooks | Sarah Anne Carter

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  42. We decided against a microwave for our new place. I don’t miss it. In its place is a toaster oven that is much more useful. Btw I’ve never been in a thrift store that didn’t have old cookbooks. Often they’re only .50 to $1.00.

  43. I enjoy collecting old cookbooks too. You can find lots of them online in PDF form.
    What you wrote makes sense.
    But you need to consider one thing: The odds of an E.M.P. incident are extremely unlikely. The only way I know of causing one requires an AIR BURST NUCLEAR WEAPON. Yes; It can happen. But WHY HASN’T IT BEEN BEFORE?

  44. My first cookbook was Betty Crocker. I purchased it back in 1966. I was 13. I still have it. I prefer old cookbooks to the new ones. Better food, better methods, and people want to eat it. I have old cookbooks my grandmother had from a time when Church Socials were going on. I passed some of those to my Granddaughter.
    The older I get the less I care for the quality of food you get from most eating places. It is strange, but they all must purchase from the same companies. Because things pretty much taste the same no matter where you eat.
    I remember as a kid my family use to get together and have fish fry days in the summer. My uncle was the cook. Family gatherings like reunions and tables full of homemade everything. Great foods. I miss those days.

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