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17.November 2009

A few weeks ago, Dan and I went to the Brattle Book Shop in search of cool old books and I hit the Mother Lode. (I mean, the real mother lode was upstairs in the rare book room where they had a first edition of Ulysses among many other drool-worthy items, but I liked my bargain basement find a lot.) I found the 1950 Gourmet Magazine Cookbook and the second Volume, from 1957. Since the magazine was so cruelly taken away from us, I was doubly excited to find these books intact and available to me at such a reasonable price!
Both volumes are pretty beat up, but still in good working order – I don’t do a very good job of keeping my cookbooks clean, after all. This one also had a bunch of things between the pages, one magazine cutting with an apple pie recipe, a postcard with some notes on the back, and one little slip with notes about a day’s worth of menus. Apparently they had oeuf au miroir for breakfast (p. 503 in Volume II) and Chinese fried rice (with either chicken or ham) for lunch. I’m also kind of obsessed with the handwriting on these notes. Relics of a kind. Was it some fifties-style optimistic and ambitious newlywed, planning menus for each menu? A man teaching himself to cook? Who owned these books before? I’m especially intrigued because there’s no inscription! (This is why I always write my name in my books.)
These books are full of all sorts of old school images and recipes that I think (it’s safe to say) have fallen somewhat out of favor. The chapter titles are charming and hilarious. My favorite (above) is Man’s Meat. The Scottish poem just below the meaty illustration also makes me smile. More lovely chapter titles below.
And then there are the full color illustrations. Some look good (Black Bean Soup, Crêpes Suzette, Chocolate Cake Florence) and others are, well, glazed meat. In this most disgusting example, Cold Glazed Ox Tongue. It has flower shapes cut out of, I believe, ham.
In any case, expect to hear more about this book. At some point, I’m going to start cooking out of it – none of the more exotic meats and certainly no aspic in the near future – but I do want to try some of these recipes! I’ll keep you posted. (More images of the books here.)I’ll leave you with a favorite cookbook-reading guilty pleasure: biscuits (the kind from a can) with honey and butter.

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