Old Cookbooks, New Inspiration

July 27, 2011 | By | Comments (7)

Like most people I know who like to cook, I love cookbooks.  And like most people who love cookbooks, I cherish old, out-of-print volumes that capture one place or period in time.  I spent a recent Saturday browsing through a used book store and came across two fantastic finds:

The Virginia House-Wife

A decades-old edition of the classic The Virginia Housewife, first published in 1824 by Mary Randolph, is ever-so-precisely written with exacting (for its time) instructions.  Randolph emphasizes order, structure and efficiency in the kitchen, and it is possible to read the book as the author’s treatise on democracy in America, as seen from her pre-Civil-War-Virginia home.  Or not.  It is also a darn good cookbook full of memorable recipes, for Chicken Pudding (a local favorite) and cold orange cream, buckwheat cakes and hundreds more pickles, preserves, cordials, meats and vegetables.

An even better find is The Political Palate: A Feminist Vegetarian Cookbook, published in 1980 by the Bloodroot Collective, a restaurant in Bridgeport, Connecticut.  Like me, you may have asked: What is feminist food?  Well, to the ladies of Bloodroot, it is vegetarian and seasonal.  It is produced collectively, with consideration for every cook’s opinions and tastes.  It is also an artistic expression and a means for women to learn to trust their intuitions.

To me, both books are fascinating glimpses into the past, and I can’t wait to read–and cook–my way through them, guided by the voices of these inspired women.

What are some of your favorite (old or new) cookbooks and why?

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