Do Cookbooks Go Out of Date?

Have you ever thought about whether a cookbook can go out of date?

I have to confess, this question never even occurred to me until a reader asked it in a comment on one of my Retro Sundays posts.

And so I thought I'd throw this question out to my 2,500 followers on Twitter to see what kinds of thoughts might emerge. And my followers responded with a truly insightful discussion (and at least a small amount of evidence that Twitter isn't as narcissistic as everybody says it is). Read on to see what they said, and as always, share your thoughts in the comments!

1) I would say no...not the good ones at least. Recipes are timeless - aren't they? @nithyadas

For my part, I don't necessarily agree with this: for every timeless recipe, there's a Betty Crocker-esqe cookbook needlessly spiked with much salt and fat (ironically, the affiliate link here is to this book's tenth edition. I rest my case: not every recipe--or cookbook--ages well).

2) Each time I look at Mollie Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook it seems new to me. I'd never want to be without it. @cindyshay123

I couldn't agree more, but even the great Mollie Katzen updated her own cookbook...twice. Do you think she agrees or disagrees?

3) My favorite go to book is from '59. @HeatherHAL

4) I would agree with that. A lot of cookbooks don't expire. I still reach for my Joy of Cooking. @eatthelove

5) I have some cookbooks from the 50's and 60's, the food is heavier but there are still gems I use in them. @HeatherHAL

Bottom line: recipes you love are recipes you love--no matter how old they are. My precious Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen came out in 1984, and yet it's a timeless (and gloriously unhealthy) cookbook if there ever was one. Our copy of The New Vegetarian Epicure dates from 1972 and our excellent Laurel's Kitchen is "new" from 1976. Both books are immortal.

And last year when we were leaving Chile, we received a wonderful gift: a precious piece of Chile's culinary history in the book Cocina Popular, a traditional cookbook first printed in 1964 (warning: don't buy it unless you can read Spanish).

But then again, there are other equally reasonable sides to this issue:

6) When they talk about a newly popular fish called orange roughy which is now on some endangered lists, you know it's outdated. @eatthelove

7) Copy like "One of the hottest restaurant trends..." in any cookbook is going to sound dated in a few years. @eatthelove

8) cookbooks, like recipes, definitely go out of date! Best become culinary heritage! @cachandochile

9) cookbooks can be out of date! best eg. Is joy of cooking.1970 version has recipes for possum and squirrel while 1990 doesn't @CarleneFutureRD

Wait: how could they pull out the recipes for possum and squirrel???

10) Some absolutely do. Like all the miracles of microwave cookery cookbooks from the 80's. @tjotjoc

11) I have an amazing vintage 1960s knox gelatin cookbook. It's stunning. Gelatin tuna fish salad anyone? @eatthelove

...Somehow, I'm thinking that last cookbook was never "in date" in the first place.

Readers, what do you think? Do cookbooks ever go out of date? Why or why not?

Related Posts:
How Have Your Tastes Changed Compared to Your Parents?
Cookbook Review: 5 Ingredients, 10 Minutes by Jules Clancy
Six Cookbooks That Should Be the Foundation of Your Cookbook Collection

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Emmy said...

Maybe it depends on how "trendy" your cooking is? We don't tend to follow the fads - even though the fad right now is following US (frugality is tres chic!) I'm with the commenter about the orange roughy - as we become more scientifically aware, cookbooks can show their age. I struggle with recipes that incorporate margarine and (GASP) shortening. We're butter people, and sometimes they're just not interchangeable.

That being said, the classics are called that for a reason. And the fad ones make for some entertaining reading a few decades down the road. :)

Eleni said...

I think "out of fashion" rather than "out of date" would be more appropriate in the majority of cases, but because I pinch recipes from all over the place (my mum's/gran's hand-scribbled notes, cookbooks old and new, and the mighty Internet) I am forever looking up conversion tables for weights/measurements and oven temperatures - old Enlgish cookbooks only give temperatures in Gas Marks, and some recipes use imperial weights (pounds/ounces) while modern ones use grams/kilos. And then there's you Americans with your cups! So, in terms of cooking technology, I think that yes, some recipes are out of date.

The DutchMac Tribe said...

I think it depends on what kind of food you're looking for. I have my grandmother's original BHG cookbook from 1953, and any time I want to make a pie (especially pumpkin at Thanksgiving) I always get my recipes from there. That era was a time when people knew how to make wonderful pies/cakes, and none of those recipes have ever failed me.

That book also highlights some main-dish meat recipes that are economical, which can be very helpful. It's insightful to see the difference in priorities from one generation to another. Back then, it was money. Now it's time and fat content.

As far as I'm concerned, food is food, and if you enjoy it, the age of its source is completely irrelevant.

looloolooweez said...

Maybe a part of what makes a cookbook a "classic" or "outdated" is what kind of recipes it contains and how well-written they are. Super trendy topics are just that: passing trends. But then some topics just stand the test of time, like Thanksgiving dishes or ethnic specialties. And then the recipes themselves-- not the dishes, but the ingredients list and the instructions and so on-- make a big difference. A cookbook that's just a collection of untested ingredients lists with cursory instructions won't last very long, but a book that has some meat to it, like an actual book is more likely to be relevant (or at least entertaining) in the future.

Sally said...

"For my part, I don't necessarily agree with this: for every timeless recipe, there's a Betty Crocker-esqe cookbook needlessly spiked with much salt and fat (ironically, the affiliate link here is to this book's tenth edition. I rest my case: not every recipe--or cookbook--ages well)"

Dan, I don't think the fact that a cookbook is in it's 10th edition has anything to do with it's not aging well. It has a lot to do with the publisher wanting to continue to keep sales up by following trends in the food industry and appealing to a younger audience. Those aren't the same thing.

Until recently I had my mother's 1940s era Betty Crocker cookbook. I'd stack those recipes against anything now. My own 1970s Better Homes and Gardens cookbook was better than subsequent editions of the book.

Also, some of those older cookbooks have been updated to reflect the wider availability of many ethnic ingredients. My 1970s BH&G cookbook has a great recipe for lasagna that uses cottage cheese because ricotta was not widely available. Now ricotta is available everywhere. However, the recipe is still perfectly good.

Many of the best cooks I know have one or two older editions of classic cookbooks. They've never felt a need to update. I think they might be on to something.

Daniel said...

I hear you Sally--you make an interesting point. And yes, clearly it's about maintaining sales too. It is a lot easier to kick out a "new edition" of a cookbook with minor changes than to write an entirely new one.


Dave said...

It really depends on the cookbook. My grandmother's 1942 copy of Woman's Home Companion Cook Book still has some of the best basic recipes, but some of their assumptions and ingredients are starting to get dated (first, kill the chicken...).