Most people buy cookbooks for practical reasons: they want to learn how to cook a particular dish or, in the case of skilled cooks, want to expand their culinary repertoire. But there’s a segment of cookbook readers who love collecting vintage cookbooks, not only for their nostalgic value but also because they like the simplicity of its recipes.
Vintage cookbooks don’t require you to have lots of equipment or ingredients. As long as you have basic pantry staples, a mixing bowl and an oven, you’re good to go. They’re basically about technique because these books were instructional manuals for housewives of a bygone era. They taught one how to set a table, plan meals and cook practical and healthy dishes for a household.
The best vintage cookbooks are those that have reliable and timeless recipes. You’ll know they have become a classic over the years because publishers keep turning out new editions with updated recipes and new techniques that reflect contemporary cooking. Any newbie looking for fool-proof and easy recipes would benefit from reading the latest editions but for those looking for recipes that their grandmothers used to make, they should check out the vintage editions.
But first, some caution. Because these are used copies, it’s best to check the quality of the vintage cookbook that you want to buy. It’s rare to find a copy that’s in pristine condition; such a cookbook would also probably be very expensive.
Be prepared for soiled covers, missing dust jackets, ripped pages, and food stains. Some will even have scribbled notes or tips on the margins. Personally, I draw the line at missing pages; there’s no sense in splurging for a vintage edition if you’re not getting a complete copy.
By and large, vintage cookbooks are a great way of treasuring our own culinary history. Not only are they a timeless resource for reliable recipes but they also are a great way to revisit the past. Here are my top ten picks for the best vintage cookbooks on Amazon.
Best Vintage Cookbooks
- Betty Crocker Cookbook Hardcover
- The Joy of Cooking: A compilation of Reliable Recipes with an Occasional Culinary Chat
- Mastering the Art of French Cooking Classic Cookbook Vintage 1966
- Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book
- James Beard's American Cookery Hardcover
- The Classic Italian Cook Book: The Art of Italian Cooking and the Italian Art of Eating
- The Fannie Fannie Farmer 1896 Cook Book: The Boston Cooking School Hardcover
- The Moosewood Cookbook Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant In the Dewitt Mall Ithaca
- The Silver Palate Cookbook Paperback – Deluxe Edition
- The New York Times Cook Book Hardcover
1. Betty Crocker Cookbook, Hardcover
This is a reprint of the 1969 edition which was published in 1976. According to online reviews, this copy is one of the best cookbooks and contains everything a new housewife needs to know. Basically a 1970’s home economics class in book form, readers say that 90% of its contents are still relevant today. One noteworthy fact: this edition has a special section that features 1970s Christmas recipes from Sears.
As classic cookbooks go, the Betty Crocker Cookbook is considered one of the reliable titles, with its contents constantly updated and recipes added for new generations. Its latest edition now has 1,500 recipes with more than 1,000 photos.
Those nostalgic for the earlier versions say that this particular edition is their favorite. One said that this copy “hits the sweet spot of real cooking” while using ingredients that are still easily found today.
2. The Joy of Cooking: A compilation of Reliable Recipes with an Occasional Culinary Chat(1946 Edition) Hardcover
This copy is a reprint of the 1946 edition and was published in 1967. It contains older recipes that are no longer found in contemporary editions. The recipes have a simple quality to them and feature a lot of ingredient substitutes as well money-saving ideas. Particularly noteworthy is the inclusion of recipes that were popular in the 1940s during the rationing period.
The Joy of Cooking is your quintessential culinary bible. Over the years, it has been regularly updated by members of the author's family. The latest edition, edited by her great-grandson and his wife, now contains new techniques, the latest ingredients, and an additional 600 new home recipes that reflect modern American home cooking.
Those nostalgic for the home kitchens of the Depression era will find this book comforting because the recipes are written in a way that the older generation are familiar with. One reader said that these recipes hold true to an older style of cooking that’s no longer practiced today.
3. Mastering the Art of French Cooking Classic Cookbook Vintage 1966 DJ
This copy is a 1966 edition that has a worn jacket but the condition of its inside pages and hardbound cover is relatively good.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking is a classic reference cookbook for learning French cuisine. It contains 524 recipes and over 100 helpful illustrations to guide the home cook step-by-step. The latest edition, issued during the book’s 50th anniversary, is a two-volume set that includes its companion book on mastering French baking. Both books are essential reads for anyone interested in replicating French cuisine.
This book cemented the author’s iconic place in culinary history. Many credit this book for giving them the basic foundation since it focuses on key recipes that form the backbone of French cooking. Once the reader masters them, they become a springboard for various creative variations allowing anyone to expand their repertoire.
4. Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book (5-Ring, 1962 Revised Edition) Ring-bound
This is a ring-bound 1962 edition that contains old recipes and includes the section on emergency substitutions.
First published in 1930, this book is now in its 17th edition and is fully updated with the latest cooking techniques and features more than 1,000 recipes. The improvements to the book design make it easy to follow the recipe instructions while presenting cooking tips in easy-to-access bites. It’s also now in a lay-flat hardcover which makes it convenient to use in a kitchen setting.
Readers who prefer the vintage edition liked the idea of being able to reproduce the dishes that their grandmothers and grandaunts used to make. This is a used book and will therefore have some pages with sauce stains.
5. James Beard's American Cookery Paperback
This is a paperback copy of a 1980 edition and features old-fashioned recipes that are usually prepared in WASP households. One reader noted that this book is valuable for interesting recipes that illustrate American culinary history.
The modern edition of this book features more than 1,500 recipes with a new foreword and a repackaged book design.
Readers consider this as a classic starter cookbook because the recipes are reliable and are written in a simple “how-to” format. The older recipes are also easy to modify for modern cooking. One reader purchased this paperback edition to replace their copy that had fallen apart through decades of use.
6. The Classic Italian Cook Book: The Art of Italian Cooking and the Italian Art of Eating
This is a 1976 hardcover edition of The Classic Italian Cookbook with clean and unstained pages.
This is a beloved cookbook among American-Italian households because it’s a good starter cookbook for anyone interested in cooking authentic Italian cuisine. Marcella is also gifted at providing clear and comprehensive instructions so that the techniques are easily picked up by the reader.
The latest edition has a new title, The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, and includes her follow-up book, More Classic Italian Cooking. It’s been expanded and updated with new entries and 50 new recipes.
Readers consider this a classic cookbook. Like most vintage books, there are no photos that accompany the recipes but readers love the ton of useful information present in the book. One said that this is a very rich source of recipes and the recipes are very well described.
7. The Fannie Fannie Farmer 1896 Cook Book: The Boston Cooking School Hardcover – Facsimile
This is a facsimile of the original 1896 edition which was released in 2012. It contains 1,380 recipes that range from how to boil an egg to preparing a calf’s head. This is a teaching cookbook that gives you a picture of what was eaten in the early 1900s, how things were cooked, and what kinds of pans and utensils were used.
The latest edition, released during its 100th anniversary, retains all the good and reliable recipes and adds new ones that reflect ethnic influences in American cuisine. It now has 1,990 recipes and includes an expanded nutritional chart that includes a breakdown of cholesterol and fat in common ingredients.
Readers like this book for having the right mix of basic instruction and culinary advice. One said that this has the most approachable recipes among all the vintage cookbooks.
8. The Moosewood Cookbook Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant In the Dewitt Mall Ithaca, New York, Plastic Comb
This is a 1st edition copy that was self-published by the author in 1974. It features its original title along with photographs of the restaurant staff, with hand-drawn illustrations and hand-written text by the author herself.
The Moosewood Cookbook is considered one of the classics in vegetarian cookbooks. Succeeding editions, however, have revised the original recipes selection, resulting in the omission of some favorite recipes and the alteration of most of them.
The latest edition now includes more recipes, 16 pages of full-color food photography, and a conversion table for measurements. It still remains to be a very useful plant-based cookbook for anyone looking for delicious starter vegetarian recipes.
Readers love the family style recipes which can easily be adjusted according to your taste or available ingredients. One found it a useful starting point for anyone trying to transition into a vegetarian lifestyle.
9. The Silver Palate Cook Book
This is a deluxe edition that was released in 2007 to mark its 25th anniversary. It contains 350 recipes and includes a ton of useful information ranging from cooking tips, quotes, menus, and information about local and imported ingredients.
First published in 1982, this book was instrumental in introducing Spanish, Mediterranean and Asian flavors during a time when French cuisine was all the rage. It showed people that good food made from scratch is achievable without spending hours laboring in the kitchen.
Recipes are written with easy-to-follow instructions. Most of them are one-half or one-third of a meal (e.g. just meat with no accompaniment), and some recipes reference a side dish elsewhere in the book to cook with them.
One reader commended it for its enlightening discussion of food and ingredients. Another found this to be one of the best classic cookbooks ever published.
10. The New York Times Cookbook Hardcover
This is a 1st edition copy of what has been called the first quality gourmet cookbook for home kitchens. It has 1,500 recipes that have been kitchen-tested by the NYT staff from more than 10,000 recipes that have been published in the newspaper. It also includes 133 black and white photographs of the food and cooking procedures.
The recipe selection is heavy on the cooking basics which are mostly French in origin. There’s a wide range of difficulty but all are well-written and simply laid out. Succeeding editions have omitted most of these original recipes but added new ones to reflect the modern food trends. The latest one now includes 70 new ones to its current selection which already runs to a thousand recipes. It also comes with cross-references, a table of equivalents and conversion, and an index to make it user-friendly.
Readers liked that none of the recipes are “fillers”. One said that the selection is vegetarian and vegan-friendly. Another recommended this for its more carefully adjusted and seasoned recipes.
THE JOY OF COOKING: A COMPILATION OF RELIABLE RECIPES WITH AN OCCASIONAL CULINARY CHAT 1946 EDITION by Irma S. Rombauer (Author), Marion Rombauer Becker (Illustrator)
Just for its nostalgic value, this book is my top pick. A lot of Americans grew up with later editions of this book but this one is worth having for its original recipes which may be useful for households trying to cope with limited resources during this particular time. Because this is a Depression-era edition, its recipes can provide inspiration for simple, no-frills dishes.
This used copy is also in relatively good condition. While its edges and covers are soiled and rubbed, the inside pages are clean, flat, and tight. You probably won’t find any edition that’s in better condition anywhere else. If you want to splurge on a vintage book that you can hand down as a prized heirloom to your kids, this is a great one to have.