Full Belly Files | Food & Wine Books, Now and Then

On Collecting Dusty Recipe Books from a Neighbor’s Yard Sale

From 'Dishes Men Like' to 'My Fair Lady Cooks,' it was quite a mid-century cookbook haul a few weekends ago. | Credit: Matt Kettmann

This edition of Full Belly Files was originally emailed to subscribers on June 10, 2022. To receive Matt Kettmann’s food newsletter in your inbox each Friday, sign up at independent.com/newsletters.

One recent Saturday morning, I returned from walking my dog to see neighbors setting up a yard sale in their driveway. Well, it was really Bob’s driveway, but Bob had been moved to a facility that could better care for his aging mind, so his family was peddling his old furniture, fishing poles, and assorted items as they prepared the house for his granddaughter.

The wine lockers, full-size bar set, and various utensils like the fish mouth corkscrew were quite interesting, but I wasn’t in the mood for moving furniture or adding to my cluttered kitchen drawers. Then I found boxes of dusty old books on the ground, many of which focused on food & drink, their ancient culinary wisdom ripe for the taking.

I’d recently read a New York Times story about a resurgence in young book collectors, and while I don’t quite fit the definition of young, I figured collecting a few old tomes might be good for my already overstuffed bookshelf. While perusing through Old Mr. Boston’s De Luxe Official Bartender’s Guide (the 1964 edition), The Avocado Bravo (published in 1976 by the California Avocado Advisory Board), and Bottle Fatigue (a 1950 collection of Virgil Franklin Partch’s boozy illustrations), I also realized that some of these might make excellent gifts one day to the right friend or family member. 

Here’s a look inside The Avocado Bravo. | Credit: Matt Kettmann

When I was ready to pay, I mentioned that I was the neighbor who regularly gives out wine bottles, and they gave me my treasure trove for free. Only when I got home did I uncover the hilarity to be found on these pages, a time-capsule blend of mid-century misogyny, possibly revolting recipes, and a spunky confidence that’s become less common in our eggshell-walking, ever-so-introspective era.

In Dishes Men Like, a 1952 cookbook published by worcestershire sauce makers Lea & Perrins, the unnamed though apparently female author begins, “If you have a husband who likes to cook, pamper him. Encourage him! You are lucky indeed, even though you find yourself only a fetch-and-carry handmaiden while his genius glows. But men are wise, not one in a thousand really wants to take over the job. They usually have a few specialities to produce on occasion and leave the rest of the cooking to us.” Among other highlights in the pages to come are clam juice cocktail, sardine stuffed eggs, calf’s liver supreme, and four types of rarebit.

In My Fair Lady Cooks, an American Airlines-sponsored “Cookbook for Fair Ladies” from 1964, Emma Dempster declares that women don’t cook as well as men because they “stick too slavishly to that handed down old recipe of Mother’s,” where men are “more daring and uninhibited. Bottle in hand they will happily add just that extra dash of whatever they happen to be drinking at the time, then perhaps get a bit reckless and pop in another dollop of butter and a pinch or two of that exotic sounding herb, thus creating something entirely different to what they started out to make.”

Virgil Franklin Partch’s drawings from Bottle Fatigue. | Credit: Matt Kettmann

But there’s hope, ladies. “You don’t have to be plastered of course,” writes Dempster,” and you can cut out the vino for the kiddies, but you can at least use your imagination.” Pulling in advice from the cast of My Fair Lady — which included her husband, Hugh Dempster, played Colonel Pickering — the extremely unique book includes Julie Andrews’ Oeuf Florentine, Charles Victor’s Tripe and Onions, and Audrey Hepburn’s Date Torte. 

There was plenty of more practical advice in French Country Cooking by Elizabeth David (written while food rationing was still in place in 1951) and Fernande Garvin’s French Wines from 1960 (wrapped in a Beverly Wilshire Hotel jacket). But the most impressive set I picked up was the 1946 edition of Charles H. Baker Jr.’s The Gentleman’s Companion, featuring Volume I’s “Being an Exotic Cookery Book” and Volume II’s “Being an Exotic Drinking Book.” A blend of travel journal and narrative cookbook, the recipes include guinea fowl basting sauce from West Africa, conch curry from the Bahamas, and Cajun smothered turtle from Mississippi, plus beverages like Peking Tiger’s Milk, East India House Cocktail, and the Mexican Firing Squad.

I’m already in talks with some folks to fix up some of these dishes to see, for instance, if men do indeed like things like veal in jelly sauce and tuna chip casserole. In the meantime, they’re just fun and funny to read, revealing the now-foreign tone of past generations while offering epicurean ideas that I’ve yet to see on modern menus. When in doubt, chefs, there’s always easy beef pie with cheese and chicken a la king.

Eating Around Town 

Here are some of my edible highlights from recent weeks around town.

Credit: Matt Kettmann
  • Aguachile and shrimp-stuffed peppers plus a massive tamarindo-flavored michelada at the brand new Mariscos Santa Barbara in Old Town Goleta. A great place to watch the afternoon traffic go by.
Credit: Matt Kettmann
  • The chicken is super crispy and quite spicy, even at the medium level, from Matty’s Hot Chicken in the S.B. Public Market. Blow your mouth even more by dipping in the housemade hot sauce.
Credit: Matt Kettmann
  • Chef Craig Riker is now at the helm at Finch & Fork, serving fancy pork belly deviled eggs (he made one with a scallop for my wife), sweet potato soup, hamachi crudo, and tuna poke — that’s all before the entrees.
Credit: Matt Kettmann
  • I took my son to Sama Sama Kitchen for his sixth grade graduation celebration. It had been awhile, but those chicken wings are still ridiculously addictive, and the crispy duck salad reminded me of my favorite Chinese chicken salad of my childhood.
  • I finally made it to the Timbers Roadhouse in western Goleta after a day of golfing. The onion rings were solid and the lettuce tasted freshly grown. The fried chicken sando and baby back ribs could have used a touch more flavor, but I look forward to enjoying the  massive space a bit more this summer.

From Our Table 

Java Station’s Out & Proud Mocha | Credit: Rebekah DeAnda

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