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‘Encyclopedic Cookbook’ Cogitations

While I have written extensively about local history in Mendocino County there is another kind of history I enjoy delving into. Call it culinary history. I enjoy delving into what we eat, how we prepare it, and how we’ve done it for the last century.

Now having been in the 1970s a back-to-the-land hippie and a meat eater I’ll try just about anything edible once. I’ve gardened, raised chicken and goats, canned fruits and veggies and developed great respect for old-time recipes. Nothing went to waste and everything was used. As a senior now I look back at the recipes from the 1930s and 1940s when cooks used what was affordable and easily accessible. And where do you find a treasure trove of such recipes? In a series of 6”x9” paperback 48 page “cookbooklets” produced by the Culinary Arts Institute in Chicago.

I have more than 20 of these little jewels. They never had prices printed on them and each publication had more than 200 recipes. I have been collecting them from flea markets, thrift stores and used bookshops for 50+ years hoping to get a complete set some day. I looked on-line and the volume that collected them all together was called the "Encyclopedic Cookbook" and prices started about $40 and went up. I found this book at the Hospice Thrift Shop in Ft. Bragg last week for $5.00. I was thrilled.

How about 1,014 pages and over 10,000 recipes (the publisher claimed) in very small print. It weighs about five pounds. The index is 48 pages long and that in itself is impressive. Ruth Berolzheimer was the editor of the collected “cookbooklets” for a decade or two. Trained at the Univ. of Illinois as a chemical engineer in an interview her family said she wasn’t a great cook but she was really good at organizing things. Published in 1948 its consolidated 24 “cookbooklets” dating from 1940 forward. After this tome came out another 20 mini cookbooks were published into the 1960s, and yes, I’ve got some of those too.

Obviously Berolzheimer didn’t collect 10,000 recipes, but consider this: every special interest food producer, or cookware manufacturer, had recipes available featuring their product. She just collected them from 120 organizations and put them in order. What? You’ve never heard of the Irradiated Evaporated Milk Institute, the Brazil Nut Advertising Fund, the National Shrimp Canners Association, the Winter Pear Bureau, the Lima Bean Growers Association or the Junket Folks? They all have recipes in the book.

From Anchovies to Zucchini and from all over the world you find recipes here. Some food stuffs appear over and over, like marshmallows and prunes (ready for Prune Ice Cream?), liver and kidneys, and sour milk. Remember, everything was used up in those days. Foodstuffs that are trendy today, like Kale and Jerusalem Artichokes show up here. How about a Chayote, Carrot and Avocado Salad?

Foodstuffs that made me cringe were things like cooking Calf Brain Fritters, or Tongue and Cheese Roll Hors D’oeuvres. If you saw a recipe for Vegetable Marrow, or Samp (pearl hominy) or Green Kern (unripe wheat) would you know what it was or where to find the ingredients? How about some Codfish Balls or Smoked Tongue Slivers to decorate your Lentil Soup? Would you like roasting instructions for opossum, venison or squab?

Get inventive. The book has five variations of catsup, and suggests adding Anchovies to your Beet Salad. Want to jazz up a peanut butter sandwich? Add banana, or onion/green pepper/celery, or bacon, or pineapple, or pickles. Like corned beef sandwiches? The book tells you how to corn the beef.

The “Culinary Encyclopedia” is full of handy tips on food facts, entertaining, canning and preserving, table setting, carving meat, and gives detailed precise instructions and diagrams on how to build a fireless cooker, how to build storage shelters and root cellars and dehydrators, and how to place your silverware for a formal meal. There’s menu suggestions too. If you serve Roast Rabbit serve it with Baked Carrots, Creamed Celery, Green Salad with Grapefruit, Spice Pudding, and if you made it in advance serve your own Dandelion Wine.

So now I have my very own “Encyclopedic Cookbook” and I need to rid myself of 20 “cookbooklets”. I had planned to take them to the book sale I curate at the Kelley House Museum in Mendocino on Memorial Day weekend, but I had an idea. For the first curious food loving reader of the AVA that contacts me at and offers me a $50 donation to the museum I will offer all 20 “cookbooklets” to you and we can meet up and exchange cash and publications somewhere in the county.

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