The Old and New Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook

Vintage Better Homes and Gardens Cook Books
Photo by Suzanne Waring

By SUZANNE WARING

When the pandemic struck, many families started eating meals at home when they hadn’t before. To prepare those meals, People pulled out the classic, red-and-white checked Better Homes and Gardens (BH&G) New Cook Book to make nutritious meals—so they could start cooking from scratch.

Items such as flour, yeast, and sugar disappeared from the grocery shelves when suppliers weren’t prepared to meet the new demand.

The latest, 17th edition of the New Cook Book (September 18, 2018), however, looks nothing like the first edition, which was published in 1930.

Every edition since then has reflected a response to the times. For example, the early 1940s edition featured a section called “For War Time Meals, Save Time and Points,” which helped cooks stretch ration stamps for sugar, meat, cooking oil, and canned goods during World War II.

The 1950s fad in cuisine was entertaining at home, especially with barbecues. That edition provided a guide to make those outdoor events successful. Among the recipes was the famous “tossed salad,” a term the company coined.

The 1960s found cooking at the table fashionable, so people relied on the red-and-white checked cookbook to learn how to entertain with fondue for entrées as well as for desserts.

Also, as more women who were working and raising families acquired the new, convenient appliances of the decade, they relied on the New Cook Book for microwave and slow cooker recipes, to get meals quickly on the table.

Meals were less formal in the 1980s, so a section on formal table settings was dropped, and recipes resulting in fewer portions for smaller families were featured.

By the 1990s, cooks were always short on time and wanted to know how long it took to prepare a recipe, so preparation times were included.

The New Cook Book’s distinctive cover makes it easy to find on the shelf. Its five-ring binder allows a cook to lay the book down flat while following the recipe directions.

The rings allow one to sort and add pages, and a little coil of plastic beneath the rings keeps ingredients from dropping onto the spine.

The cardboard sectional pages with alphabetical listing of the recipes included also has tabs for food categories, essentially creating a recipe box within a book.

The latest edition has over a thousand recipes and a colored picture for each one.  For consistency, the recipes call for a level amount of an ingredient in measuring cups or spoons instead of the way Grandma cooked. This makes new recipes trustworthy for anyone.

The BH&G cookbook has been a favorite as a wedding gift over the years because it may serve as a cook’s “first and basic” cookbook.

“I received mine from my mother as a gift when I married 56 years ago,” said Anne Baack of Carter, Mont. “I still use it, and I occasionally consult the two that were passed down to me from my mother-in-law.”

It is easy to identify how the cook in the household has used a BH&G cookbook. Most likely the cover becomes faded, and the corners become frayed. Those pages with favorite recipes become sodden with smudges and dabs of dried ingredients and become torn around the binder rings and need reinforcement labels.

As the years pass, the cook may have added a comment or two about a particular recipe, giving the book a personalized quality, especially when the book is passed down to the next generation.

The classic BH&G New Cook Book has sold more than 40 million copies over the years and will continue to make cooking easier and enjoyable. Just ask those who find themselves back in the kitchen. MSN