An online vintage cookbook extravaganza

vintage books 

If the thought of perusing thousands of cookery books dating back 50 to 100 years or more gives you a tingle of anticipation, you should definitely visit the Cookbook and Home Economics Collection at the Internet Archive. The catalog includes vintage volumes drawn from  the Young Research Library Department of Special Collections at UCLA, the Bancroft Library at The University of California, Berkeley, and the Prelinger Library. These works “take us back to an America in the early decades of the 20th century covering topics on cookery, textiles, family and home, budgeting, domestic sciences, and many other delightful topics.”

Focusing on the cookery section, there are many books that you may have heard about, like A Guide to Modern Cookery by Auguste Escoffier and Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management. The collection also includes obscure yet fascinating volumes like 1895’s Our Edible Toadstools and Mushrooms and How to Distinguish Them,  and The Chinese Cook Book by Shiu Wong (1917). The latter book’s prefaces notes that the book “is meant not only for the housewife but also for the restaurateur. In fact, it is written in such a clear, simple form that any one by following its rules can prepare dishes of rare delicacy and flavor.” It includes not just recipes for meat and vegetables, but also instructions on how to make your own sesame (called ‘sesamum’ in the book) seed and peanut oils.   

In addition to books from the turn of the 20th century, you’ll find volumes dating back at least to the 1700s, like The Art of Confectionary by Edward Lambert, published in 1761. The book’s ambitious cover page announces that it plans on “shewing the various methods of preserving all sorts of fruits, dry and liquid; viz. oranges, lemons, citrons, golden pippins, wardens, apricots green, almonds, gooseberries, cherries, currants, plumbs, raspberies, peaches, walnuts, nectarines, figs, grapes. &c. Flowers and herbs; as violets, angelica, orange-flowers, &c. also how to make all sorts of biscakes, maspins, sugar-works, and candies, with the best methods of clarifying, and the different ways of boiling sugar.”

The collection contains over 3,800 works; most of the older works have been scanned and are available for download in several formats including Kindle and PDF. The books aren’t limited to U.S. or English language publications; I noticed several German and Italian books, and even a Greek cookery book. The archive also includes pamphlets from food and equipment companies; recipe collections from newspapers and women’s clubs; and books on topics ranging from French pastries to homemade wine to uses for canned salmon. The site contains a search function and you can also browse by topic. Make sure you carve out a sizeable chunk of time before entering the site – it will be difficult to tear yourself away once you start reading.   

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  • wester  on  July 9, 2016

    I haven't found any of the vintage cookbooks yet, but I did find some very interesting books when I clicked Zucchini recipes. Definitely worth a look, thanks!

  • Rinshin  on  July 9, 2016

    This is a treasure trove of goodies. Being a military brat I love cookbooks and recipes by military and military wives. Some of my favorite recipes are still from some of these books. But my collection only dates back to 1960's so this is lots of fun reading. Thanks.

  • manycookbooks  on  July 9, 2016

    Fantastic collection! Prior to my current collection, I had a fair number of these cookbooks, which I donated to Duke University advertising collection. Wish I had kept them!

  • sir_ken_g  on  July 9, 2016

    You find out here what scratch cooking is really about.
    Grow your own snails? Roast and press your own sesame oil?

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