About 35 years ago, I was wandering through a flea market in NYC and on a table I spotted a carton full of cooking pamphlets–you know, the kind that nowadays still come with a new blender or food processor. Only these pamphlets dated back to the twenties and thirties and were for appliances like the new Frigidaire and the stunning Deco Waring blender. I asked the seller how much she wanted for the whole batch and when she said “30 dollars,” I plunked down the money and dragged the carton home.
The year was around 1975. I was a graduate student in English at Columbia and my medieval cookbook, To the King’s Taste: King Richard II’s Book of Feasts had just been published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was having fun teaching the history of gastronomy in workshops around the country. (This was decades before food history had become a subject of academic inquiry. It was also before my rent-controlled building went co-op and I had to begin making a real living.)
These pamphlets, charming as they were, seemed a little modern to a medievalist and after browsing through them, I shoved them high up onto a closet shelf and promptly forgot about them.
When The Sweetie and I were in Maine last summer, I began encountering these pamphlets in almost every antique store we entered–and we entered many. The prices ranged wildly, from $.10 to $5 for the very same pamphlet in the very same condition. I began buying any that were fun and charming and under $3 and ended up with another carton-full before too long.
Once home, I began studying these pamphlets more closely with the intention of organizing them..but how? By company? By appliance? By year? It all quickly became too confusing and time-consuming and I settled for enjoying the many slices of social history that they offered. Above all, I was totally wowed by the little food paintings done by the prolific artist, Anonymous.
Some day I would like to write a long and definitive article on these pamphlets and what they reveal about how appliance manufacturers and food corporations like Crisco and Jello and shaped American taste. But for now, join me in enjoying them for their charm. They make me smile and I hope they have the same effect on you.