The following was written primarily as a cookbook review for Potatoes & Vegetables but I have been going through some of the many small cookbooks in my possession and wanted to write about them again. Actually—I have two shelves filled with little cookbooks, and packed double on the book shelves. These little treasures really don’t get enough attention!
If you are interested in specializing in a particular kind of cookbook but space is at a premium, small cookbooks might be the answer. Little cookbooks come in many sizes and shapes and cover a multitude of cooking topics!
Pint-size cookbooks (not including paperbacks) have actually been around for a very long time, so the concept isn’t new. One of the oldest “sets” of small cookbooks in my personal collection is a series of 365 recipes –“365 Tasty Dishes”, “365 Dinner Dishes”, and “365 Foreign Dishes” (there may have been more than three books to the series but three are all that I have ever found. These were published between 1903 and 1908 by George W. Jacobs & Company and do not credit a particular author. (Another interesting thing about them is that the idea of 365 recipes in one cookbook has come and gone a few times, too).
Another old set of small cookbooks that I have are a small boxed set by Helen Evans Brown, first published in 1950. There’s a Chafing Dish Book, Patio Cook Book and A Book of Appetizers. The three little books came in a green box.
I also came across, recently, “Chinese-Japanese Cook Book by Sara Bosse and Onoto Watanna, published by Rand McNally in 1914. This also qualifies as a little cook book.
Some cookbook researchers think these little cookbooks were a forerunner of the free pamphlets and booklets that we now pay several dollars for. When I was a child in the early 1950s, these booklets were generally advertised on the backs of boxes of cocoa or baking soda, corn starch or oatmeal. You could get one completely free of charge by sending in a post card with your name and address on it. Post cards were a penny—so, if I had ten cents I could get ten post cards and end up with ten recipe booklets. I guess you could tell which way the wind was blowing even when I was a little girl.
By the time I reached my ‘teens, I already had a cardboard box full of those booklets and pamphlets. One such booklet is an early Watkins Cook Book published in 1925 (presumably, you have to use all Watkins products for the recipes to come out exactly right) while another small book was one written by Ida Bailey Allen in 1927, which expounded the uses of Karo Syrup, Argo or Kingsford’s Cornstarch and Mazola corn oil. (I was surprised to discover that Mazola corn oil has been around so long!)
One of my favorites is a small book about baking—Excellent Recipes for Baking with Fleishmann’s Yeast, published in my hometown of Cincinnati in 1910. It was offered to customers free of charge; all you had to do was mail a request to their office on Plum Street in Cincinnati. I am fortunate that my copy of this little cookbook is in good condition.
I have several small spiral bound cookbooks by Ruth Chier Rosen and Ruth and Richard Rosen; there is one called “The Chefs’ Tour/a visit into foreign kitchens”, another called “Tooth Sweet”, one called “Cyrano de Casserole” and yet another called “A Tomato Well Dressed/the Art of Salad Making”. These were published by Handy Aid Books by Richards Rosen Associates so I assume this was a family enterprise. (I discovered, on the back covers, additional titles of “Epicurean Guide”, “Terrace Chef” “A Guide to Pink Elephants” and “The Big Spread”! These little books, published in the 1950s, measure a mere 3 1/2×5”- are cute as the dickens, nicely indexed, and filled with great recipes!)
Some of my other wee favorites include “Make Mine Vanilla” by Lee Edwards Benning and – my all-time favorite little cookbook, “Favorite Fruitcakes” by Moira Hodgson which I have written about previously in the Cookbook Collectors Exchange.
More recently, even Mary Engelbreit has published some of these pint-size cookbooks. Tiny cookbooks are usually reasonably priced and make nice little gifts (or even stocking stuffers), when you want to give someone something but not spend a whole lot of money. Often, you can find some of these little books near the cash register of your favorite bookstore or Hallmark card shop. They can also be found in some gourmet shops.
One of the oldest small cookbooks in my collection is titled “The Little Dinner”, by Christine Terhune Herrick – and published, much to my astonishment, in 1893 by Charles Scribner’s Sons. Aside from a repaired and re-damaged spine, it’s not in bad condition for a cookbook that is well over a hundred years old. Well, perhaps the little cookbook needs a little TLC.
“POTATOES & VEGETABLES” might be small in size (actually measures only 4”x5”—but, it’s almost 2 inches thick and contains a whopping 240 recipes with beautiful full-color illustrations of each recipe (I love knowing what the dish ought to look like when it’s finished, don’t you?). Unquestionably, we are a society where visual impact is vitally important to us. If you look at a recipe and the illustration that goes with it looks like something the dog dragged around the back yard, how inclined would you be to give it a try?
Although this was originally a potato and vegetable cookbook review, you will find, within its pages, recipes for soups (Indian Potato & Pea Soup, Broccoli & Potato Soup, Potato& Dried Mushroom Soup—and, my favorite, Tomato & Red Bell Pepper Soup); recipes for salads (think: Mexican potato salad, Sweet Potato & Nut Salad, Red Cabbage & Pear Salad). There is a chapter dedicated to Snacks & Light Meals (Thai Potato Crab Cakes, Potato, Cheese & Onion Rosti, Hash Browns with Tomato Sauce, Vegetable Crepes) followed by a chapter devoted entirely to Side Dishes (Potatoes & Mushrooms in Red Wine, Spicy Potato Fries, Steamed Vegetables with Vermouth). Next is a chapter called “Main Meals” followed by one called “Pies & Bakes.”
Many of the recipes in both Main Meals and Pies and Bakes could be considered one-dish meals, such as Red Onion Tart Tatin and Lentil & Red Bell Pepper Flan. Sort of what I think of as a quiche. However, Main Meals offers Spaghetti with Pear & Walnut Sauce—which I think would make a wonderful company dish—and recipes such as Garbanzo Bean & Vegetable Casserole and Pan Potato Bake. “Pies & Bakes” offers recipes such as Potato & Meat Phyllo Parcels and Carrot-Topped Beef Pie but there are also recipes for Sweet Potato Bread, Cheese & Potato Plait (a bread), Potato & Nutmeg Scones and Potato Muffins. There are also recipes for Fruity Potato Cake, Pumpkin Loaf, Chili Corn Bread, and Cheese & Potato Bread. All of which just goes to prove – you can eat your veggies in many different ways, even for dessert!
This is a dandy little book with the most beautiful color photography illustrations. And it’s so nicely priced – you can buy two; one for yourself and one to give as a gift.
“POTATOES & VEGETABLES” is from Paragon Publishing in Great Britain but it has been designed with American readers in mind (i.e., cup measurements, for instance, are for the American measuring cup of 8 ounces equals one cup). . It was published in 2003 and was priced then at less than $5.00. That being said, I am unable to find this particular little cookbook on Amazon.com—however! There are a wealth of potato/vegetable cookbooks on Amazon.com and I nearly got sidetracked ordering some of them.
What you might want to consider, if space is an issue in your life, is collecting small cookbooks. Even Gooseberry Patch has begun to publish small spiral bound cookbooks; I have one titled “Pasta Recipes.” Do you have any small cookbooks you want to talk about?
–Sandra Lee Smith