Cooking

Vintage Cookbooks from the Internet Archive

Anyone who’s into vintage recipes knows the drill: when you hit the used bookstore or the thrift shop, you scan the shelves for the older stuff. You’re looking for hardbacks with cutesy line art, or maybe one of those binder-style cookbooks with a mix of technicolor and black-and-white photos. It’s like a treasure hunt.

But browsing in person is a bit of a risk these days, and it’s hard to get a sense of whether or not you’ll really use a cookbook based on a couple of eBay photos. Thankfully we live in the future now! We have other options.

The Internet Archive has an entire collection of vintage cookbooks that you can look through. Some of the books are downloadable, but others require a free account that lets you borrow the book for an hour. The collection includes over 10,000 books, which helps preserve that treasure-hunt aspect of browsing in person while letting you stay safe and comfy (and potentially pants-free) on your couch. Here are a few of the things I found:

Betty Crocker’s Cookbook for Boys and Girls

First up is a cookbook full of basic recipes meant for kids. This one is fairly similar to Barbie’s Easy-As-Pie Cookbook, though Betty Crocker includes a chapter on campfire cooking and her cake decorating tips are more advanced.

The book starts out with its “extra special” party and dessert recipes, which is a nice, kid-centric touch. It’s also heavily illustrated, with drawings that show both boys and girls doing standard kitchen tasks. One strange touch is that, like a lot of vintage brand-related cookbooks, it includes some really noticeable ads for Betty Crocker products.

The last big thing that stood out to me is that Betty makes her pink lemonade with food coloring just like Barbie does.

The Mary Frances Cookbook

An earlier cookbook for kids (subtitled “Adventures Among the Kitchen People”) was written as a story about Mary Frances, a young girl whose sick mother goes to rest by the sea after she leaves food in the oven and nearly burns the house down. Despite the presence of multiple adults and an older brother, Mary Francis gets busy in the kitchen with the help of the handwritten cookbook Mother made for her and a set of suddenly anthropomorphic kitchen pots and utensils. These Kitchen People guide Mary Francis through cooking for her family, her dolls, and a homeless man (which turns into A Lesson on talking to strangers).

It’s all very cute, and I like the magical kitchen theme. But even as Mary Frances plans a big steak dinner to celebrate Mother’s return, it’s hard to ignore that this is a book about a literal child who’s expected, because of her gender, to take on the tasks that drove her mom to exhaustion.

Pop Corn Recipes

This short pamphlet of promotional recipes is an attempt to convince the people of 1916 that popcorn should be “used frequently in every home” as more than a snack. As a modern reader, it comes across less like a cookbook than a window on some hellish alternate food reality where we all eat popped popcorn for breakfast (soak it overnight and cook with milk!), serve it as a meat substitute (popcorn cutlets!), or put it in everything from potato salad to custard.

There is a solid chance I’m going to have a nightmare about that omelette recipe.

The Progress Meatless Cook Book

The introduction of this 1911 vegetarian cookbook (and household chore guide) suggests it can help young homemakers avoid the drudgery of spending half their life in the kitchen, giving them enough free time to prevent a “complete nervous breakdown.” Then it praises the virtue of independent thought, quotes Epictetus, and suggests that Americans are a little too wasteful. After browsing so many vintage cookbooks that expect women to figure out an elaborate meal every night, this advice to simplify daily routines is a breath of fresh air.

The recipes are basic enough to line up with its philosophy, but they still seem pretty useful, offering variety without a lot of complicated fluff. And if “meatless” wasn’t right there in the title, I’m not sure I’d have even noticed the lack of meat-based recipes until I got to the parts about making a roast or a stock out of nuts.

The Bartender’s Guide

I’m going to go out on a limb and declare that this was the finest cocktail and distilling guide of 1862. Its Punch Jelly recipe (which is basically a classier jello shot) includes a warning that “the strength of the punch is so artfully concealed by its admixture with the gelatine, that many persons, particularly of the softer sex, have been tempted to partake so plentifully of it as to render them somewhat unfit for waltzing or quadrilling after supper.”

Thanks for looking out for us all, vintage bar book writer. (And I’m calling Somewhat Unfit for Waltzing as our Friendship Club band name. It’s ours now. You can’t use it.)

There’s a ton of other interesting stuff in that archive, and I could easily have found five more vintage cookbooks to share. But y’all should probably just go dig through it yourselves.

Let us know if you find anything fun!

Recipes

Barbie’s Lemonade, Five Ways

This lemonade recipe is one of the simplest things in Barbie’s Easy-As-Pie Cookbook, but Barbie lists four options to fancy it up for company. Two of them are simple cosmetic differences, one adds fresh fruit flavor, and the last will turn your lemonade into a creamy, beautifully indulgent treat. Read on to check them all out.

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Recipes

Barbie’s Main Dish Tuna Salad

I like tuna salad, but in my house it’s a lunchtime thing eaten in sandwich form. Barbie serves hers with lettuce and a few extras in an attempt to elevate this tuna salad into a satisfying entree.

The cookbook’s structure suggests that Barbie wasn’t entirely sold on the idea of tuna salad as the star of dinner though; despite claiming “Main Dish” status right in the recipe’s title, Barbie’s Easy-As-Pie Cookbook lists it under Sandwiches, Salads, and Snacks instead of putting it in the Most Delicious Main Dishes chapter. Is this a covert acknowledgement that tuna salad is not, in fact, a dinner-worthy main dish? Or does Barbie think that it is a main, just not one of the “most delicious” ones? Read on to take a look at this dish and decide for yourself.

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Girl Talk

Barbie’s Easy-As-Pie Instructions?

The introduction to Barbie’s Easy-As-Pie Cookbook says that “Barbie can’t remember when she first fell in love with kitchens. She thinks it all began at the instant her mother allowed her to scrape and lick the cake batter left in the giant yellow mixing bowl.” The imagery makes me wonder if Barbie might be confusing her love of kitchens with her love of cake, but the point is that Barbie was racking up kitchen experience at a very young age, which is obvious from the way that the directions are often written out in her cookbook.

Barbie’s Baked Custard recipe starts by telling us to “scald milk.” That’s something I’ve done a few times before, but it’s not a typical feature of everyday cooking. And many recipes I’ve seen, even the ones from the vintage Good Housekeeping set I’ve been looking through lately, write out more detailed descriptions for that kind of process.

These days a novice cook can poke around online if they need more thorough instructions on scalding milk or to setting up a makeshift double boiler. But the girls who got Barbie’s Easy-As-Pie Cookbook back in the 60s didn’t have Google. If they needed help, they were expected (as one early recipe suggests for separating eggs) to ask Mother.

The assumption that any young person has a mother (or another nearby adult) with the time and ability to walk them through kitchen tasks is a solid reminder of the target audience for Barbie products of that era. Barbie’s late-50s image as a teen fashion model was considered too sexy by many parents (unsurprising considering that she was partly inspired by a German doll based on an adult cartoon), so during the next decade Mattel softened the doll’s look and gave Barbie a steady boyfriend, a few family members and a girl-next-door best friend. Barbie’s Easy-As-Pie Cookbook was released in 1964, the same year as the first doll for Barbie’s little sister, Skipper, who appears in several of the cookbook’s stories.

With Barbie repositioned as a more stereotypical, but still glamorous, white, middle-class young woman, I guess it makes sense for the writer of her cookbook to assume that it would mostly be used by girls who already had, or at least had access to, a certain level of cooking know-how.

And it’s not as if the recipes are all that difficult to follow. There’s a glossary in the back too, which has a brief entry on scalding should any befuddled aspiring custard cook with no Google (or mother) around remember that the glossary exists. It’s just that even as an experienced home cook, some of these recipes send me looking for clarification. Other recipes are surprisingly time consuming or finicky for a cookbook meant for young people. Barbie absolutely relies on a few convenience-food shortcuts, but for every frozen chow mein or canned biscuit she uses, there’s also a scratch-made marble cake or a dish that will burn almost instantly if you give it a few seconds too long under the broiler.

I haven’t read any other vintage cookbooks for kids, but I did recently pick up a copy of another of Barbie’s cookbooks: Barbie Fun to Cook from 2001. It’s a DK book, so there are photos of every single step. The recipes chosen are a little more basic, and there’s also a reminder for young cooks to get adult supervision whenever they use the stove or touch a knife. And Fun to Cook shows you how to use a heat-safe bowl and saucepan to melt chocolate instead of just assuming that there’s a double boiler in every home. Making something from it would be a very different experience.

While some of the recipes in Easy-As-Pie seem abrupt to me, all of the ones we’ve tried so far have worked. Some were under-seasoned or involved a combination of flavors we didn’t care for, but we haven’t run across the kind of spectacular failures that I half-expected from a fashion doll tie-in cookbook. At least not yet.

My guess is that despite having some real effort put into its recipes, Easy-As-Pie was partly aspirational. The kind of thing a Barbie fan might like because it let them picture themselves as the happy, competent Barbie of its stories rather than the easily overwhelmed Skipper. That sense of “I could be like this” is a common element of a lot of Barbie toys—as well as a lot of today’s glossy, photo-heavy cookbooks.

Recipes

Barbie’s Baked Custard

It’s been a busy few weeks around here, and halfway through planning the big batch of freezer meals that my husband and I made over the weekend, I realized that I hadn’t started a post yet. I was also low on pretty much everything other than basic pantry staples. Thankfully when I cracked open Barbie’s Easy-As-Pie Cookbook to look for something to make, there it was: Baked Custard. A relatively quick prep dish that would work with the few ingredients I had on hand. Read on for the recipe…

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Recipes

Pressure Cooker Applesauce

When I tried the applesauce recipe from Barbie’s Easy-As-Pie Cookbook, I kept thinking that my usual pressure cooker applesauce was more hands-off and predictable. It also cooks up faster.

The disadvantage of the pressure cooker method is that you need a pressure cooker, but if you’ve got that covered (or if you’ve considering picking one up and want a delicious, apple-flavored excuse), then read on!

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Recipes

Barbie’s Easy Homemade Applesauce

I’m a big fan of homemade applesauce.

I practically lived on the jarred stuff as a kid, but after years of inching back from processed food, it tastes too sweet to me now. So once a month or so I break out my electric pressure cooker, grab a bag of apples, and pressure cook my way to apple heaven. Barbie’s stovetop method is a little more hands-on. It’s still pretty easy though, and it works with fewer apples.

To find out how Barbie does it, read on.

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Cooking

Quarantine Pasta

I’ve been making a lot of quarantine pasta lately. And yeah, I always make a lot of pasta, mostly because it’s a versatile way to throw a bunch of flavors I love into a single dish. In recent weeks I haven’t bothered to plan out what kind of pasta I’ll be making though.

The grocery stores in our area always have plenty of food, but since they rarely have everything on my list, my mid-February habit of “I’m going to make this meal and buy those ingredients” doesn’t work very well. Instead I think about the overall type of sauce that would suit the things I already have on hand or managed to grab during my weekly shopping trip. It’s a more improvisational process that’s easy enough to change up if I find myself with unexpected leftovers or produce that’s going off faster than expected. And since it’s different than how I usually plan meals, I keep thinking of it as quarantine pasta.

To keep myself from just grabbing the same handful of stuff every week, I put together some lists of ingredients that work well with tomato sauce, olive oil, or pesto pasta. So read on if you want a few too many tips to Choose Your Own Pasta Adventures.

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