Why You Shouldn't Discredit Old Cookbooks

With the advent of the internet and information suddenly at everyone's fingertips, the days of perusing cookbooks to come up with recipes for dinner seems to have passed us by. Nowadays, while there are many glossy cookbooks for sale in local bookstores, there are also websites, podcasts, YouTube channels, and even TikTok accounts devoted to food tips and recipes. The information is not only readily available, but in your face all day long. (Do you even know where your old copy of "Joy of Cooking" is?)

While there is nothing wrong with reading food blogs, or other publications (you're reading one now, after all), there's something to be said for valuing our older physical copies of cookbooks, especially those written during the earlier part of the 20th century. If you have good cookbooks, hold on to them. And if you don't, you might want to take a peak next time you walk past a yard sale or used bookstore. 

Here's why.

Older cookbooks tend to cover the basics

When looking at vintage cookbooks from the early part of the 20th century, you are sure to find some seemingly odd recipes that might make your head turn. Many old cook books were teaching home cooks how to feed a family during the depression or with WWII rations and during those times, it was more important to put food into bellies than to stress about hyper-nutrient recipes. Country Living notes that 1924's "Modern Priscilla Cook Book" is full of sugar-heavy recipes. In fact, if you search the word "sugar" in the archived text, there are over 1,000 results. 

While vintage cookbooks may not always take health and wellness into consideration, Backdoor Survival notes that vintage cookbooks are a great way to learn how to cook from scratch.  Need to learn how to boil eggs or cook rice? An older cookbook has your back. Don't have saffron in your pantry, or access to organic short ribs? No problem! You can still cook something tasty from an old cookbook. 

In addition, many cookbooks from the 1940s and 1950s came along before people used fancy kitchen appliances like stand mixers, air fryers, and sous vide machines, Serious Eats explains.

There's history there

Older cookbooks are also a really fun way to learn about what was happening in the world around the time they were written. Many old cookbooks will have introductions or preambles that will tell you about the time they were written in, or give you context clues about that time in history. Making a meal from an old cookbook is sort of like equal parts cooking lesson and history lesson. So if you're a history nerd, this can be a fun experiment. Older cookbook recipes are also really fun for throwback theme parties with friends.

Vintage cookbook recipes can even tap into your own family history. Food52 notes that old cookbooks are a way to connect to self and to family history. Old recipes are like historical markers in life. Is there a cookie recipe you always made with your mom at holiday times? Is her handwriting in the margin of the pages? Did grandpa love a particular pie recipe at Thanksgiving? Does a certain chicken casserole remind you of your dad? 

Holding onto those older cookbooks is a great way to pass on family traditions and to remember family history. So before you go donating all your old cookbooks, consider holding onto a few classics.