The DIY Bistro’s favorite culinary reference, or “kitchen bible,” is the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. This red and white checked classic has been “new” since 1935. Last fall they published their freshly updated 16th edition. It was originally published in 1930 under the name “My Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.” This book is not the star of our cookbooks because it has remarkably unusual recipes, though there is a wide variety of excellent recipes within its pages. It’s full of basic information that every cook needs – consider it a culinary reference library. And it’s organized in a way that makes sense. It’s a ring binder that allows you to reorganize it to suit you and to enable you add your own recipes as you go. I keep little pockets at the front of each section to store old family favorites and clipped recipes from my kaleidoscope of foodie magazines.
In my humble opinion, every home should have one of these awesome old standbys. I feel so strongly about it that I often give one as part of our gift to a young couple who is getting married. It’s rare that a week goes by that we don’t find some reason to refer to it. Need to know how long to roast that 19 pound turkey? Go to the Poultry section. Wondering how to make fresh pasta? There’s an entire section on pasta, sauces, etc. The Fish and Shellfish section doesn’t just tell you how to cook it, it covers how to tell if shellfish is fresh and walks you through how to properly disassemble a lobster. Want to get the temperature on that rare beef just right? Try Meat or Grilling, depending on how you’re preparing it, but it’s all in there.
Our current copy is the 15th edition, published in 2010. I had to break down and replace my old one because I spilled water on it and all of the pages were stuck together. My mom, who isn’t as big of a klutz as her oldest daughter, kept her original copy, which was given to her as a wedding gift in 1960, until 1987, when she finally replaced it with a “new” one, which was the 9th edition. I remember her first copy well, though, from when I was a girl. It was faded and worn and had scraps of recipes protruding at odd angles from its pages. It was a true classic…and she still has several of the pages, which she was able to move right into her new one, of course.
The first section of the book is titled “Cooking Basics,” and it covers exactly that. Cooking Methods, Equipment, Seasonings, Nutrition, Techniques, etc. There are lovely pictures that show you what many of the various kitchen gadgets look like as well as some simple how-to’s and some suggestions on what to keep on hand. It’s helpful if you’re just starting out, or if a recipe calls for some contraption you’ve never heard of. There is also a section that covers things that used to be done in almost every household, but are now becoming lost arts – things like how to make jams and jellies and pickles, and how to can and preserve food. There are also recipes and directions for how to make candy and desserts that don’t come out of a box. There’s even a metric conversion chart for all of those fabulous foreign recipes you’re eager to try and a list of alternatives to help you out when you’re an ingredient short.
I’ve become pretty high-tech in the kitchen, in fact, I have a little 7” ASUS® pad that is practically dedicated to recipes and cooking, but in this instance, there is just no substitute for an old friend. If you don’t already have one of these great “new” cookbooks in your kitchen, you might want to consider taking a look. My even more high-tech husband endeavored to find me a digital version of this old favorite, but met with challenges, because it doesn’t seem to be available in a digital format, at least not in its entirety. There are some apps that have some of the recipes here and there, but none that have the whole cookbook, let alone all of the added instructions and info that are so helpful in a pinch. I guess the moral of this story is, sometimes you just have to go old-school.