Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Pocket Cook Book

Continuing my theme writing about the books/documents I received from my aunty, I come to the next book:

"The Pocket Cook Book" by Elizabeth Woody (and members of the Food Staff of McCall's Magazine)
Another interesting and thought provoking read (okay, so I haven't read it thoroughly - 494 pages, but enough to understand the book's 'philosophy'.)

Published in 1942, this book was released "in order to cooperate with the government's war effort... [and] has been made in strict conformity with WPB regulations restricting the use of materials."  Woody published this book because "as a food editor I receive... many letters from women... One question has always left me up a tree:

"'Where can I get a complete and completely reliable cook book for a very little money?'"

Many cook books, it seems had been published that were 'complete and completely reliable', but none "until now has offered such completeness at a nominal cost."

The book is indeed very thorough, covering I think everything you would need to know about cooking, especially in war time (54 pages of thoroughness, in fact).  There was a whole chapter on "Good Nutrition Simplified" and went into great detail about how to buy, prepare and cook food to best preserve the vitamin and mineral content of the food.  Even a calorie counter was included (in my naivety, I didn't even realise that the concept of calories had been around that long!).  Unlike calorie menus of today, this calorie counter was purely on whole foods, back to the basics, not about how much a packet of biscuits would cost you in calories etc.  It was refreshingly simple and unrefined.

There was also a full chapter on "Leftovers".  Waste not, want not!  The first paragraphs of this chapter sum it up brilliantly:

"Somebody has said the mark of a good explorer is that he never has any dangerous adventures.  He plans so wisely they don't happen!  Similarly, it's the mark of a super-cook and a fine idea to avoid having leftovers...

"But it would take an archangel cooking for a family of cherubs to avoid leftovers entirely.  So what to do?  Certainly they should not be wasted!  And, to forget food value for the moment and talk about flavor, it's a well-known fact that good things often taste better in their second incarnation than they did in their first."

The chapter continues with a fantastic index to recipes to use those certain leftovers.

Short on funds?  It's covered in Chapter Nine, "Penny Stretchers".  It includes recipe suggestions and hints and tips.

With a few more helpful chapters, we finally come to the recipe section... 405 pages worth of recipes in fact!  You can't go wrong with that!

My Thoughts:
So, like all the other literature I've been reading, it wasn't simply a matter of reading recipes from bygone years... it actually got me thinking and comparing the then and now.

Back in Grandma Ellie's day, wasting food was not really an option - it was money wasted AND not helpful for the war effort.  These days, we live in such a throw-away, 'land of plenty' society and we take for granted so much of what we are provided with.  We look at all the easily accessible food and see it as a right, not so much of a privilege.  We just expect it to be there.  Someone else has already done the hard work to get it on the shelf.  I'm sure Grandma Ellie grew up with growing many of their fresh produce in the garden (certainly hard work) and skimped and saved to shop for necessities at the grocers; again hard work.

I'm not saying that we, as a society, don't work hard to put food on our tables, but it's a very different mind set.  Perhaps I'm generalising too much but from where I'm sitting with all the prepackaged food and aisles and aisles of products in the supermarket, I see the simple life of my grandma disappear.

I'm not naive enough to think that we could time warp our food production and diet to that of my grandma's era, but I would love to see some of the simplicity of her own growing up and raising a family included in today's world.  Just something to think about! *wink*

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