Why This Vintage Cookbook Series Was a Half-Century Before Its Time
This series is rich with good, authentic recipes from all over the world.
Taste of Home
Published in the late ’60s, Time-Life’s Foods of the World cookbook series was a good 50 years before its time. Truly from the golden age of publishing, these books were intended to educate and entertain. Today, the authentically ethnic and American regional cookbooks have a certain charm as the “exotic” ingredients introduced are readily available in supermarkets today—things like chorizo, tahini, hoisin sauce, fresh bay leaves and jasmine rice.
Feeling nostalgic? Try these 50 vintage recipes from the ’60s for a taste of the past.
As a cookbook editor and trained chef, I adore trying new recipes and exploring the world through the foods I eat. And while I’ve never read an entire book from the series from cover to cover, I love to pick up a section of interest for good bedtime reading, and I especially like to learn about the countries and cuisines I have less experience with. Culinary school taught me a lot about French, Italian and contemporary American cooking—and dabbles of international—but nothing like this. Here’s some of my big takeaways (so far) from this giant series.
1. What Sofrito Can Do For Hispanic and Latin Dishes
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I first discovered the technique for making the flavorful onion-and-garlic base in The Cooking of Spain & Portugal cookbook (1969), by Peter Feibleman. Feibleman, a New Orleans novelist and playwright, was probably best known for his acclaimed Broadway play Tiger Tiger Burning Bright.
His lyrical description of a Spanish cook making sofrito, a base for paella, over an open fire took my breath away: “The cook throws in a loose handful of opaque thin onion slices, fries them almost to the color of rust, and adds tomatoes, mashed garlic and coarse salt … He slides the pan off the fire and adds some paprika that is so dazzling red that it seems like red dye… He tosses the saffron into the sofrito, puts the meats and the langostinos back and gives the whole thing a stir.”
2. Cream Gravy is the Perfect Pairing for Fried Chicken
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We all know that Southerners adore fried chicken. But did you know that Marylanders like theirs with a rich gravy made from the pan drippings? Neither did I. But as a huge biscuits and gravy fan—who learned the specialty from a Tennessee cook who starts with a base of sausage fat and flour—I knew it sounded like magic. When a friend turned up last summer offering to share his cache of just-harvested chanterelle mushrooms in exchange for cooking them, I knew exactly what I would do: a riff on this Southern fried chicken with chanterelles in my cream gravy. Oh, yeah!
I learned it in American Cooking: Southern Style (1971), a part of the Time-Life series that focuses on American regional specialties. You wouldn’t believe who consulted on American regional cuisine for this series—none other than James Beard! These cookbooks really are a treasure.
3. You’ll Find French and Arabic Influences in Italian Cuisine
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I’ve never made Sferia, an Algerian chicken and chickpea stew seasoned with cinnamon and parsley and served with fried cheese croquettes, but it’s on my shortlist. I discovered the dish (and the centuries-long history of conquering and colonizing the Mediterranean regions) in A Quintet of Cuisines (1970), which covers north Africa, eastern Europe, Switzerland, Poland and the Low Countries. It’s here that I learned why northern Africa and southern Italy have such an unusual mix of Arabic and French culinary influences.
Now when I find a tasty Italian recipe with a strong French influence, like these amazing fried rice croquettes from Sicily, I go for it! Ditto for Moroccan stuffed mushrooms with a definite Arabic flair. I know I’ll love it.
4. A Good Cookbook Can Be Incredibly Compelling
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If you like exploring the world and its history through food, or if you’re looking to discover great food writing from such icons as M.F.K. Fisher and Waverley Root, you should add some of these books to your library. You can find individual books and their companion spiral-bound recipe booklets for next to nothing, or the entire series for the price of a new set of encyclopedias.
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