A few weeks ago, I was trapped at Wal-Mart for 2 hours while
I waited for my bad battery to be replaced. What would have
been a depressing, wasted afternoon turned sunny when I stumbled
across a reprint of Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book, circa
1950. In addition to the most adorable illustrations ever
and mountains of recipes I wouldn't dream of serving, there
were scads of excellent tips and the makings for a lifetime
of retro-themed cocktail and dinner parties.
Granted, this isn't a book you'll turn to for serious culinary
advice. But if you want some post-war charm and delightfully
out-of-place and archaic tips ("Every morning before
breakfast, comb hair, apply make-up, a dash of cologne, and
perhaps some simple earrings. Does wonder for your morale."),
or if you need to know how many marshmallows is in a quarter-pound
(16) or you're craving liberal nutritional advice (butter
"promotes growth" and "builds resistance to
disease"), this book will bring hours of joy. Nestled
in with all the 50s fun, you'll find plenty of genuinely useful
tips and techniques: freezing and food storage guidelines,
blanching nuts, caramelizing sugar, radish roses, how to tell
if eggs are fresh, and so forth.
And of course, the desserts. Frankly, most days I'll take
a simple 50s dessert over those fancy-schmantzy modern architectural
desserts--especially if I'm the one stuck preparing it. And
don't tell me anyone can make a pie better than Betty. Plus,
the naive presentation in the dessert photographs is so endearing.
Imagine the opposite of Martha Stewart Living, and you've
got the idea.
Best of all, this book is ring-bound and broken up with convenient
and cutely-illustrated dividers. Buy the reproduction from
Amazon (it's of the first edition and has a different cover,
but is otherwise very similar), or browse thrift stores or
ebay (there are usually a few dozen of various editions at
any given time).