The Book: BETTY CROCKER'S NEW DINNER FOR TWO COOKBOOK. General Mills spiralbound, 1964 (first edition). Good condition; book is slightly age-browned, shows signs of use.
First read: 1970 (best guess)
Owned since: 2007
This book was a wedding present to my mother. I didn't want much, when Dad broke up the house last year, but I did take a few of her cookbooks. Most of the wet fingerprints on the pages must be from us kids, because Mom never had much opportunity to cook for two; Kathy and I were born nine months after my parents' wedding.
Old cookbooks feel like travel guides to the past, and this one is no exception. Recipes are heavy on prepared ingredients -- one for "Southern Burgers" calls for the addition of a can of chicken gumbo soup to ground beef, diced onion and ketchup (spelled "catsup"). A hostess tip suggests heating potato chips before serving: "Spread on baking sheet. Slide into hot oven a few minutes (watch carefully -- they burn)." A two-page spread offers suggestions for "planned-overs" (because, with recipes for two, you shouldn't have leftovers!).
The last chapter of this book, and the most heavily used, is the "Cook's Primer." My Grandmother McLaughlin was a serious cook, but Mom never took much interest in it. She'd taken home economics in high school, but was never someone who cooked for pleasure. Pies defeated her; the page on pie crusts is heavily marked with drips and fingerprints, and possibly even tearstains.
It's pretty amazing, given the fact that she didn't like to do it, that Mom made dinner for a family of eight -- or some subset of it -- every night. She'd get creative sometimes, and when she tried something new, she'd put it on the table and announce "Another culinary triumph."
Today's her 67th birthday. Maybe I'll make something out of this cookbook tonight -- one more culinary triumph.