PRE-WAR COOKERY BOOKS
The number, style and contents of cookery books published in the last 100 years or so illustrate the
way the role of the housewife has altered in that time.
Books about food and cooking never lose their appeal. Many people read them purely for pleasure, and make little or no attempt to follow any of the recipes.
Miss Lathbury in Barbara Pym's novel, Excellent Women, keeps a selection by her bed to lull herself to sleep, but actually subsists on a diet of boiled eggs and sardines.
Victorian books have a fascination all their own. They give a wonderful insight into the customs and fashions of the time.
Many of them not only lay out dinner menus for the novice, but give general tips on etiquette, dealing with servants and acceptable topics for dinner conversation.
They conjure up more gracious days, when it was usual to dress for dinner and when the ladies withdrew after the meal so the men could smoke, swill port and discuss business, politics or
Old cookery books also reveal the ranges of food available in past times.
Some items familiar today were unheard of 50 years ago, while titles such as Open Sesame: The Way of a Cook with a Can explored the possibilities of tins.
Though canning was developed in the first half of the 19th century, it was gradually extended to a variety of products from around the world.
Many books of the 1930s included sections devoted to such delicacies as Australian tinned meats, soups and fish.
Many middle-class women who married between the wars had never really expected to have to learn the culinary arts, as they were brought up in an era when even quite ordinary households employed a cook.
The servant crisis that followed World War 1 left them having to master not only unfamiliar recipes
and techniques, but also the intricacies of new appliances, such as gas or electric cookers.
Kitchen equipment manufacturers quickly realized this and many of them produced cookbooks of their own, such as the English
Electric Cookery Book or the rather ominous sounding New Radiation Recipe Book, which was published by a firm making gas cookers.
Makers of well-known branded foods also got in on the act.
Look out for books and booklets by Tate & Lyle, Oxo, Atora Suet and Brown &
Polson Cornflour. McDougall's Cookery Book, produced by the flour-makers, was a best-seller and is still selling today.
Pre-war cookery books contained tips on running a home alongside the usual lists of recipes.
COOKBOOK COLLECTOR'S NOTES
Some old cookery books, apart from the occasional quaintness of their recipes, also have enjoyable illustrations. Fine wood cuts or delightful line drawings can make a cookbook very collectable indeed.
The popularity of 20th-century cookbooks rests on their authors.
Ambrose Heath and Dorothy Allhusen both wrote particularly attractive collections, for instance, while Elizabeth Craig, Mrs Leyel and Mrs C S Peel an expert on cheap and cheerful dishes - also wrote extensively between the wars.
Some of their hints on domestic economy may make the book pay for itself even today.
A few mail-order dealers specialize in cookbooks, and interest is growing.
You are also bound to find some in large, general second-hand bookshops.
Jumble sales and flea markets are also good sources. Ephemera fairs are a good source for the booklets produced by equipment and food manufacturers.
USE AND ABUSE
The original owners of old cookery books are likely to have consulted them often. Sadly, there is usually plenty of evidence of this in the form of fingerprints, food stains and a generally battered look.
Dust covers are likely to be tattered, or missing altogether. Obviously, the better the condition of a book, the greater the value of it.
You may find hand-written recipes and bits and pieces snipped from newspapers and magazines pasted onto the blank pages at the end of a book.
Some may find this infuriating, because it lowers the value, unless someone famous did the writing and pasting!
You might, though, be fascinated by this evidence of the essentially personal nature of a favourite recipe book.
Do make sure though, that any book that yo are thinking of buying complete, and that no are missing or badly torn. ~ such problems, or
childish scribbles with pen, pencil and crayon, will make a copy of al hut the most desirable cooker books practically worthless.
Dust jackets on cookbooks are rarely in good condition, though the covers are often washable.