The 1930s brought us two of our most famous “cooking icons”. Betty Crocker and Irma Rombouer. Created, and recreated over the years, General Mills introduced us to the ideal woman, the fictitious Betty Crocker. With a pristine white apron and every stand of her wavy hair in place, the self assured Betty gave us a perfect dish every time. To the contrary, Irma Rombauer, author of “The Joy of Cooking” was a cute, petite little woman who openly acknowledged her culinary shortcomings. The public instantly fell in love with this “real person” and “The Joy of Cooking” became the most successful cookbook in trade-publishing history. First editions of both “The Betty Crocker Cookbook” and The Joy of Cooking” are highly sought by cookbook collectors.
In the late 1930s rural areas began to receive electricity and small kitchen appliances such as toasters, chaffing dishes and waffle irons appeared in every kitchen. Ovens that were once either cold or hot were equipped with regulators and the modern age of cooking was born. By 1940 most major women’s magazine were publishing cookbooks and by the 1950s The New York Times and the New York Herald Tribune had followed suit.
As the appliances used in food preparation changed, so did the women who used them. Once content with a high school education, women were now attending college in record numbers.The major food companies took note, hiring thousands of Home Economists to edit their ever-changing cookbooks.
Today’s collectors look for publications before 1969. Advertising, pocket style, and political cookbooks are of interest, as are category books such as Jell-O, Ball Jar, and Pillsbury Bake-Off. Books featuring cuisine from a certain geographical area, like spicy Southwestern cooking or New Orleans style Creole cooking are also in demand. Of all collectible books, cookbooks by nature are the most difficult to find in good condition. If you are a new collector it is important to remember that as with all paper collectibles, condition is a major factor in determining value.