There’s nothing stopping me from used book shopping in New York, I’ve just never been fond of the experience here. There’s just no thrill of the hunt. I’ve never understood the big deal with The Strand, and of course for cookbooks one could go to Bonnie Slotnick’s, no hunting and pecking necessary. Housing Works doesn’t even count as a thrift store.
I only buy new books on Amazon anymore when in my younger days I scoured for used periodicals and books on a weekly basis. As much as I like ripping on Portland, the city is rife with book buying opportunities and that hasn’t changed. I don’t necessarily mean at well-curated stores like Powell’s (I did pick up Indonesian Cookery written by a Brooklyn Public librarian in 1963 at Powell’s Books for Cooks, though).
I mean junky discarded books at skuzzy thrift stores in places like Gladstone, Gresham and along 82nd Street. The uncollectables. And being in Oregon over Labor Day weekend, half-price sales abounded. I ended up having to have my mom mail my bounty along, just like she has been periodically doing with the boxes of books I left behind over 11 years ago.
This ungainly set of books includes:
Better Homes and Gardens After Work Cook Book, 1974
Better Homes and Gardens Meat Cook Book, 1971
Better Homes and Gardens Shortcut Main Dishes, 1986
Better Homes and Gardens All-Time Favorite Hamburger & Ground Meats Recipes, 1980
Indonesian Cookery, 1963
The Fine Art of Chinese Cooking, 1962
Sunset Adventures in Food, 1984
Time Life The Cooking of India, 1975
Fondue: The Fine Art of Fondue Chinese Wok and Chafing Dish Cooking, 1969
I used to be drawn to mid-century cookbooks and pamphlets, mostly for the line drawings and highly saturated color photos. Nothing newer than 1969 entered my apartment. But more and more I’m pulled toward cookbooks from the ‘70s and ‘80s, eras when I was actually alive. I’m still on the fence about the ‘90s; they need to simmer a little more before their charms are revealed. A friend recently gave me a 1996 copy of Food Wrap, about packaging design. It’s dated for sure, but most of the products look like things you still see in stores. It needs at least another five years.
The thin hardback Better Homes and Gardens series have been cranked out of years. I have a slew of cutely nostalgic ones from 40 years ago. The late 20th century examples, however, are kind of grotesque, possibly because they showcase the kind of food I grew up with. I think I owe my mom an apology. I hated her cooking when I was a kid, my sister and I made no bones about it, but now that I’m looking at these books with recipes like canned corned beef stroganoff and pizza-style meatloaf, I realize she wasn’t pulling those hideous ground beef, green pepper and Catalina dressing monstrosities out of her ass. I’m sure the women’s magazines of the day were filled with these well-intended family feeders, as well. God, what will today’s children be complaining about in 2039? All the wretched truffle-oiled mac and cheese and chipotle-laden, organic pork burritos they were forced to endure?
The more blog-consumed I become, the more I neglect my old print favorites. I’ve been wanting to cook through my cookbooks for ages, gross recipes or not. And just as how I’ve grown to embrace chain restaurants, I’m thinking about tackling the ugly eras first. I’ll never learn to love stuffed green peppers, though.