Half-baked Theory

I recently read that the Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook was the number one cookbook in the U.S. It made me wonder why I didn’t have a copy of it, or the Betty Crocker’s Cookbook for that matter. When I was first interested in learning to cook the cookbook in our home was The Joy of Cooking. I was 13 or 14 so it would have been around 1978. I’ve been curious… can we determine which cookbook someone used to learn to cook by their age?

I was pretty sure that most of us who learned to cook as kids or teens in the 1970’s reached for The Joy of Cooking. I decided to put my theory to the test and created a survey asking friends about their cookbook history.

38 people participated.

The Results

Which decade was it when you learned to cook?
Which cookbook did you use to learn to cook?
Was it your mother’s cookbook?
If it was a gift, what kind?
What was the first cookbook you bought for yourself?
What was the most influential cookbook you ever received as a gift or bought for yourself? Why?
  • The Greens Cookbook Every page, every recipe was a revelation for a budding vegetarian/food lover. It made me see food as beautiful and fascinating and complicated…sigh…I still love it so much. 🙂
  • between the Voluptuous Vegan and a paperback Hare Krishna Cookbook, because they taught me how to feed (and not starve) my new vegan husband with delicious food & the elegance of simplicity. Most influential site: 101cookbooks.com, not that you asked but, there:).
  • Homemade binder my mom made of all her staple recipes
  • The Way to Cook. My big sister recommended it, and since she’s a huge influence in my life, so was the book đź–¤
  • The Joy Of Cooking because it had stories and info about countries and types of food and made everything even folding in egg whites seem doable.
  • Ottolenghi: The Cookbook stretched my experience with spices and ingredients. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat from my sis Stacey! It explained so much deeper the intricacies of combining flavors.
  • Vegetarian by Linda Fraser. My folks bought it for me for Christmas and asked me to cook a vegetarian meal for them.
  • Barefoot Contessa at Home. I loved how most of her recipes were simple but incredibly flavorful. I made more recipes out of that cookbook than I have out of any other. I still have a couple of those recipes in my regular rotation
  • The Fannie Farmer Cooobook. Gift. Simple Easy has every recipe you will ever need
  • The Paleo Approach by Dr Sarah balentine
  • Anything from Ina Garten. Simple, straightforward and delicious
  • Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat for the practical breakdown
  • The Joy of Cooking…basics, I was raised by single mom who worked so not much time spent in kitchen until I married and had kids…it’s my basic text.
  • Taste of Texas
  • The Cuisines of Mexico, because of the history around the preparation of meals, ingredients from the earth and and the travels shared by the author, Diana Kennedy
  • The Pioneer Woman Cooks inspired confidence. Fun. Actually made food people liked. 
  • Rosie’s Baking Book. Awesome piecrust recipe using food processor
  • Denver Junior League Creme de Colorado. Gift from my parents who also had a copy but I inherited theirs eventually. It has my Dad’s annotations in it and I just love it. I’ve made a lot of good meals and good memories from it.
Please share any stories you may have about a particular book.

I would sit on the floor of a little independent book shop in Palo Alto California and pour over that cook book (The Greens Cook Book) every chance I got. It took me forever to be able to afford a copy of my own but I would always buy a cool postcard or greeting card so they would let me come back and read it in the store until I could get my own lol! 

Cookbook whore. I read like a regular book.

Proudest new cook moment was when I baked choc chip cookies that looked JUST LIKE the cover of Better Crocker’s Joy of Baking. Must have been for kids cuz of the very seventies freckle-faced kid on inside cover. The Secret: hand place inverted chips to make nice chocolate circles in each cookie. sadly, my kitchen skills were arrested at this point and I didn’t learn to make pasta till college. No apologies, because there was no need as I had a dad who was and is a GREAT cook!

I have a book that my grandmother’s friends in Medina, Texas (maybe her church group?) put together and had copied and bound. It has the weirdest recipes! Fun to look at, but I have never tried to make anything out of it.

My sister made me a copy of the family Betty Crocker Cookbook when I got married. I use it all the time and my kids know that the best cake recipes are on the pages with all the cocoa and batter smudges. 

I love cooking from so many cookbooks. The Ottolenghi/Plenty books are a big go to for me. I love how simple many of the recipes are and rustic. 

My mother’s family has a cookbook they made when I was a child. It includes stories from my great grandparent’s farm throughout it. My favorite recipe from that book is my great grandmother’s double crust pineapple pie. 

I received this book as a senior in high school and used it so must pre internet through college and when I was first married. As a stay at home mom, at the time, cooking was one of my highlights of the day. 

My Sis gave me Home Cooking with Trisha Yearwood. I know – a celebrity’s cookbook. But it is AMAZING. It’s the cookbook my husband and I cook out of together the most. Full of comfort foods and recipes you can cook together as a couple fairly easy. We enjoy Cooking together and this book helped the most.

I found and bought my mom a duplicate of her 1960 Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook because the original was wearing out, but recipes had changed in later additions.

Milling company in hometown was promoting a new cake mix accompanied by a small pamphlet of other easy bake cakes. The new cake was a butter cake. Naturally I thought if a little butter was good the tripling the amount would make it great! Not so….parents weren’t too happy about the wasted eggs and sugar… It WAS 1954 after all.

Worked my way through the Betty Crocker Cookbook page by page.

My poor Fanny Farmer Cookbook is in shreds but I still use it.

My grandmother’s original Joy of Cooking. Still has her cut-out recipes and handwritten notes. A true treasure in time and of love. 

I loved every recipe in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything except one. When I made spaghetti cooked in red wine, my kids refused to eat it because it looked like a plate of earthworms. I should’ve realized that when I read the recipe! This was in the early 90s and I still remember it. 

Tom Collichio’s Think Like A Chef… Thorough and clear explanation without being condescending

Samin Nosrat (Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat) is about experience not perfection. Liberating.

Whole 30 has changed my cooking, eating and how I look at food. I’m woke by how much gross stuff and sugar added to our food. 

I had the Betty Crocker Boys and Girls Cookbook. My mom didn’t have a lot of patience or focus, but on my own I made penuche icing. I still remember: “Penuche is really candy. It comes from Mexico.” That was the most impressed I had ever been with myself. I was around 8, I think.

I learned the most recipes from my American Home Cookbook. It has the most sentimental recipes because I learned how to do EVERYTHING from that book on a limited budget. Dixie marble cake with what I had in the cupboardđź’ś

An early fave was a little treasure called The Impoversihed Students’ Book of Cookery, Drinkery, and Housekeepery. Had easy, cheap, filling meals, how to brew beer, and truly useful household hints – and it was funny

My mom bought me the Betty Crocker Boys and Girls Cookbook when we went to a book sale event when I was about 8 or 9. I worked my way cooking through that book. Years went by, the book was lost. About 16 yrs ago now, I located my sisters. One remembered that book and found me a copy. It was pretty fun to see it again. Pigs in a Blanket… cupcakes topped with those spongy candies cut into shapes… 

I really would like to find a used copy at half price books or the like of The Art of French Cooking…I’m always on the lookout 

My dad made us Linguine Imperial from the above cookbook (Denver Junior League Creme de Colorado). We loved it and made it also. When I got his copy, I flipped to the page and found where he underlined the “raw egg” part of the dish and wrote in his sweet leftie handwriting “salmonella!” Haha. So dad. 

The Takeaway

Did I find the answer to my original question? Kind of.

Yup, The Betty Crocker Cookbook was clearly the most used, but I did find that quite a few bought The Joy of Cooking for themselves at some time. One thing I wasn’t expecting from the survey was the long list of cookbooks I have would need to add to my Amazon Wish List. How do I NOT have a copy of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook? And how cool does The Voluptous Vegan look?

I loved reading the stories everyone had about their favorite. It was so much fun trying to guess which responses were from people I know… I spotted my sisters’ reponses and am pretty sure I can guess who the sotry about Linguine Imperial beloings too.

Also surprising was finding copies of The Denver Junior League Creme de Colorado and The Impoversihed Students’ Book of Cookery, Drinkery, and Housekeepery online. I was happy to see that even in the age of recipe blogs like 101 Cookbooks, Simply Recipes, and The Homesick Texan that cookbooks are still being purchased. I mean, these bloggers wouldn’t be selling them if we weren’t eating them up, right?

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