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.

cookbookTaste 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

Photo: Taste of HomeTaste of Home

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.”

Is it any wonder I always cook paella (or any special rice dish) with a sofrito base? Try it with these Puerto Rican recipes: Sofrito and Arroz con Gandules (Rice with Pigeon Peas).

2. Cream Gravy is the Perfect Pairing for Fried Chicken

Homemade Country Fried Steak with Gravy and PotatoesPhoto: Shutterstock/Brent Hofacker

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

foodPhoto: Taste of Home

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

Young woman reading cookbook in the kitchen, looking for recipePhoto: Shutterstock / sheff

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.

You’ll also love The Foods of the World Forums. Already a fan of Foods of the World? I’d love to hear from you.

Here's What Lunch Looks Like Around the World
1 / 21

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by Taste of Home editors, who aim to highlight products and services you might find interesting. If you buy them, we get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our commerce partners. We frequently receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. We welcome your feedback. Have something you think we should know about? Contact us, here.

Popular Videos

Christine Rukavena
Christine loves to read, curate, sample and develop new recipes as a book editor at Taste of Home. A CIA alumna with honors, she creates cookbooks and food-related content. A favorite part of the job is taste-testing dishes. Previous positions include pastry chef at a AAA Five Diamond property. Christine moonlights at a boutique wine shop, where she edits marketing pieces and samples wine far higher than her pay grade.