Cookbook Week: Starting Out in the Kitchen

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It’s Cookbook Week here at The Bastard Title! Over the next few days, I’m going to be posting about some of my favorite cookbooks, from those that include basic and classic recipes, to sweet treats, to weird cookbooks I like to collect but have never used (yet).

But first: a confession. When I initially conceived of this idea back in January, I planned to go all food blogger on you guys and have gorgeous pictures. But you know what? Photographing food is hard. I honestly don’t know how all those gorgeous food bloggers out there do it, but I suspect I was hampered by a) a crummy camera b) no natural light in my kitchen and c) my basic inability to make food pretty. I watch Chopped all the time, but I still can’t get presentation skills down :). So anyway, no food pictures, alas. I hope you’ll enjoy this little diversion from your regularly scheduled programming anyway.

So let’s start things off with the classic of all classics: Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook.

3896The first thing my mother gave me when I moved into my own apartment was the facsimile edition of the Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook. I have to say, I was surprised. While I love my mom’s food, she isn’t exactly a gourmet chef, and when we were growing up she mostly served a rotating stable of basic recipes (meatloaf, mac & cheese & kielbasa, pasta, something we called Sloppy Chicken). I didn’t remember her ever so much as looking at a cookbook for those.

But considering the first thing I did in that apartment was accidentally summon the fire department with a bad burger cooking experience, I figured I should give this whole cookbook thing a try.

The reason my mom gave me the Betty Crocker was that it was the one her mother owned, and what her mother gave her when she married. She still has my Nana’s tattered and loved copy, along with her own, a newer addition that was published in the seventies. The one she gave me was the facsimile, which means it is an exact copy of what was printed in 1950.

That’s right. This thing is 64 years old. If you’re looking for basic, classic American recipes, there’s basically nowhere else worth looking.

This is the cookbook where I learned how to make my own bread. It’s where I go every Christmas for cookie recipes, and what I open every time I have to make a birthday cake. In fact, I still use it mostly to bake, because baking, far more than cooking, is my comfort zone. But one day  I’m totally gonna have to make a molded gelatin salad or “Emergency Steak” with Wheaties (no, really, that’s a thing, a steak made with ground beef and cereal.)

Despite it’s age, the Betty Crocker still provides relevant and easy-to-follow advice about how to pick seasonal produce, how to cook different cuts of meat and vegetables, and how to plan meals for a family.

There’s some not-so-relevant advice for the homemaker as well. It’s easy to romanticize and oversimplify the postwar era, but living in 2014 it’s hard to look at such “short-cuts” as “Notice humorous and interesting incidents to relate at dinnertime” and “If you are tired, lie down on the floor on your back, put your hands above your head, close your eyes, and relax for 3 to 5 mins” as anything but hysterically quaint. There’s even an illustration of a poor 50s housewife napping on her kitchen floor. God forbid she sully the bed.

But if you can make it past the sometimes condescending tone and dated advice, Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook is a great general resource, especially for kitchen novices. It’s simply a classic.

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