One of my favorite things to do is to cook and bake. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen when I have it, and I love to play around with recipes and food. A lot of time, I don’t even use a recipe, but come up with my own versions of classic dishes. My mother really taught me to cook, and I have fond memories following her about in the kitchen, learning how to make a Bechamel sauce or gravy, and learning about seasonings. Most of our family traditions still revolve around food.
But the best thing my mother taught me was when to go to a cookbook. My favorite cookbook is The Settlement Cookbook. Our family copy when I was growing up was a constant reference, with its aged mustard yellow cover and spotted pages. Some of the pages were more well-worn than others, such as the baked pancake I used to make often. When I moved out and was on my own, it was my one wish, and my mother came through, finding another old copy of it, which I still have. I’ve memorized most of my go-to recipes, but the referene is still there.
I’ve also had some luck finding old, public-domain cookbooks online. One in particular that is adorable is 1001 Ways to Please a Husband with Bettina’s Best Recipes. It’s a sweet book that follows a fictional newly-married couple. The wife is ingenious when it comes to the kitchen and seems to be able to put together a four-course meal from an old boot and a tin of sardines. The book is written in little stories that follow the seasons and highlight a menu. They have casual dinners en famille, and big dinner parties. She even teaches her neighbor how to cook and plays matchmaker.
Now, this book was written in 1917, so don’t expect progressive political ideas. But, as another blogger I read has said, one could easily see Bettina in the modern world playing the role of a party planner. And when it comes down to it, you don’t need to cook for a man to cook from scratch. While I do cook for Boyfriend most nights when I’m not at rehearsal, I spent years living on my own cooking simple, delicious food for myself. And that’s where books like these come into play. I’m not necessarily going to cook myself something fancy and complicated, but I will cook a roast chicken that will keep me in meat for a week, or a baked pancake on the weekend, or a batch of biscuits.
And if I need something a little kitschy or vintage? I can go to the older books for colorful fruit and jello salads, or a fun party spread. And since I managed to fry my last meat thermometer, it’s nice to have an outside estimate of how long to roast certain cuts of meat by time (although vintage roasting times are notoriously over-estimated). But simple food never goes out of style.