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Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook

Meridith Publishing, N.Y. 1968.

I grew up using this cookbook, in the 1968 edition, since my mom had a copy. It's still in print, in the umpteenth version. Each edition has the same red-and-white-checks on the cover, and each of them after the very first has had "New" in the title. Successive editions have each been carefully adapted to the current era for each edition; as of the 2006 edition, we're at the 16th. This was the "go to" cook book for me when I was learning to cook, so much so that I asked for a copy when I left home for graduate school, and my mom cheerfully complied (she has equally cheerfully promised me I can have her copy of the 1968 edition). My spouse's mom had the earlier edition, the one with the spoons on the cover. The edition I'm writing about right now, though, is the 1968 one. It's a good cookbook, especially as a "first" or every day how-do-I-do-this cookbook. For one thing, it's relentlessly practical about time, and money, and feeding a family. There are several appendices that, by themselves, make this a useful cookbook: things like a discussion of cheeses, various decorative garnishes, guides to storing, and freezing, a glossary, instructions about measuring ingredients, and an exceedingly nifty section on meal planning, nutrition, and cooking for a crowd.

But mostly, I remember it as the cookbook that I used when I learned to make pancakes as a kid. It's the cookbook I used when I needed to make a roast for the first time, and it's the cookbook I used to find "typical American dishes" to cook for my peers and hosts as an exchange student in Britain. There's a lovely ruthless practicality about the way this cookbook works; there's a deliberate methodology of offering a basica recipe, often clearly labeled as "Basic X," followed by several simply modifications and variations to create new dishes. The Pancake recipe, for instance, is immediately followed by instructions regarding modifying the recipe for buttermilk, blueberry, and "Featherlight" pancakes (less flour, and more leavening).

It's also a little bit odd, and yes, nostalgic even, to see how many recipes call for Jello, Cool Whip and "Instant Coffee powder." I confess to being a coffee snob, who, while I grew up with instant coffee, very much like local small batch roasted fresh ground coffee. I don't have, or intend to buy, "Instant Coffee Powder." At the same time, it's a bit disconcerting to see, on p. 18 the directive to "Use black tea, green tea, oolong and other teas interchangeably; they differ only in processing." Nonetheless, I'm very glad to have a copy, and, I note, I'm not the only fan.