This week, I inherited a family heirloom. Not silver or a tea service, but my grandmother’s cookbook, Meta Given’s Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking, Volume II, printed in 1949. To most people, a cookbook would not be as valuable as silver; to my mother and I, the book is priceless.
My grandmother, Emma, loved to cook. My mother says that of the four grandchildren, I am most like Emma, not only in appearance and manner, but in culinary skills as well. My mother jokes that this talent has skipped a generation, but mum got her use out of the cookbook, before passing it on to me.
The book, my grandmother’s favorite, is worn and stained. Unfortunately, volume 1 of the two-book set is missing. Out of print, I was able to find used copies of the set for sale on Amazon.com. But I was more interested in the reviews by people who still rely on their copy of the book. LO from Arkansas exclaims, “I couldn’t even boil water when I married. I purchased this cook book in about 1952 and learned how to cook from it. It was my cooking bible. … I used this book to teach my children the proper way to set a table. I’ve used the menus. I used it to find out how to dress out ducks that my husband brought home from hunting.” RO from Minnesota gushes, “My wife and I received Meta Given’s cook books, volumes I and II, as a wedding gift 35 years ago. … When we are stuck with a cooking question we go to “Meta” and there is the answer.”
These enthusiastic reviews are from people who aren’t even considering selling their copy of the book. I couldn’t wait to join their ranks.
The cover page of the cookbook promises to make the home cook’s day easier. “A modern cookbook, complete in every detail, brings the latest developments in home economics into your kitchen for a simpler, better and richer life.” Beginning with the very basics of cooking, Volume II starts with simple egg dishes and progresses to more complicated egg recipes like “Spaghetti ring soufflé with creamed Ham” (Page 880).
Once the skills required to cook eggs have been mastered, more complicated dishes follow. “Fish” includes a recipe for Pan Fried Frogs Legs (Page 919). “Game” provides recipes for muskrat, elk, opossum, raccoon, and turtle; “Meat” features recipes like Jellied Veal Loaf (Page 1085). “Variety Meats” details how to clean and prepare brains (Scrambled brains, Brains a la Newburg), sweetbreads, heart, kidney, and liver. All sections are complete with instructions and how-to photographs. This obviously was the most complete cookbook of its day.
This book is not geared to the “light” diets of today. Given suggests using chicken fat as a “delicious substitute for butter in cakes or cookies or wherever small amounts of fat are used for cooking” (Page 1546). “Larding” or inserting strips of fat salt pork or bacon into lean meat is recommended to retain meat’s natural juices during roasting. A section titled “Deep Fat Frying” has 10 pages of recipes. Unfortunately, my health conscience brain has put the brakes on deep-fried “Sour Cream Doughnuts” (Page 1534) or I would be in the kitchen making them right now, instead of finishing this column.
Most importantly, as a home economist, Meta Given understood the importance placed on family life, especially post-WWII. Cooking styles and preparation methods have changed since 1949, but emphasis on family remains. While it seems outdated to me, Given’s “Family Hostess’ Creed” (page 1551) reflects my Grandmother’s attitude towards her kitchen:
Happy family relationships are part of my responsibility; therefore I will save enough energy to do the job of being a happy and helpful hostess to my family day after day.
My family’s satisfaction with my table setting and service is my responsibility; therefore I will manage my linens and other equipment, my method of work, and enlist the assistance of my family to the end that the table shall be clean and beautiful and the service is easy and dignified.
My family’s satisfaction with their food is my responsibility; therefore I will manage so that foods shall come to the table in their prime condition developed by previous care in selection, preparation, and cooking.
Enjoyment of each other and of their food is an important part of successful family life; therefore I shall use intelligence, skill and love in serving food to my family.
The Thanksgiving holiday is approaching. Along with the turkey, I plan to make my Grandmother’s favorite recipe, Pork Chop Suey (Page 1073). I wish that she was still alive to see my mother and I use her cookbook. If I was to review this cookbook on Amazon.com, my review might read: Owned by Emma Jones, now in use by its third generation, this cookbook will remind Teresa of her grandmother for years to come. A must own, never to be sold.” Emma would be pleased.
I can smell the chop suey already.
Photo of Teresa and her grandmother, courtesy the author.
Amazon.com website, Books tab, search under Meta Given.
Given, Meta. Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking, Volume II. J.G. Ferguson and Associates, Chicago, USA. 1949