There is no shortage of vintage Better Homes and Gardens cookbooks out there. They put out A LOT in the mid-century. Besides the classic New Cook Book, the editors worked on many other volumes on a variety of topics such as The Dessert Cookbook, The Meat Cookbook, Cooking with Cheese, The Holiday Cookbook, or The Casserole Cookbook. I could go on and on. Today I am going to talk specifically about the eight-volume set called the Better Homes and Gardens Creative Cooking Library. So let’s first introduce each book in the series with the descriptions found in the 1963 ads.
Volume One: Best Buffets includes buffets from the freezer, from packages goods, quick casseroles, lazy Susan supper and buffets for holiday…. for any size “crowd”!
Volume Two: Birthday and Family Celebrations includes fun parties for the children, soda fountain specials for teens, fancy birthday for grown-ups, a frilly Valentine party and memorable bridal showers. (This is the cookbook I used for my 1963 Thanksgiving menu that you can read about here, here, here, here and here.)
Volume Three: So-Good Meals includes meals men like from better burgers to spareribs, delicious dishes children can make, bargain buys and leftovers that turn into feasts and tasty low calorie cooking for two.
Volume Four: Snacks and Refreshments includes dips, spreads and snacks for before dinner, pizza for late, late eating, punches, cookies, how to make perfect coffee and spectacular desserts for club meetings. (This one is my favorite cover!)
Volume Five: Meals With A Foreign Flair includes complete meals for Italian night, Spanish fiesta, Russian classic, recipes for vichyssoise, Italian spumoni, Chinese walnut chicken and Danish kringle.
Volume Six: Meals in Minutes helps you make good use of convenience foods and appliances, freeze ahead for free time meals, delicious suppers in a skillet and quick broiler meals like burger broil.
Volume Seven: Lunches and Brunches includes brunch for the bunch, brunch boutique, cut and run lunches, dozen of delicious ways with toast, eggs, waffles, salads, soups and sandwiches.
Volume Eight: Barbecues and Picnics includes barbecues easy or elegant, company cookouts, go anywhere picnics, tailgate feasts, summer theater baskets, boat lunches, delightful salad plates and sandwich meals.
The first volume was available in March 1963 and the others were slowly rolled out the rest of the year. These books were available in supermarkets and grocery stores such as Safeway and Krogers. Each of the eight books in the set contained 100 to 180 recipes depending on the volume with tons of full-color pictures to entice a homemaker to try a new recipe. They each had wipeable full-color glossy covers designed especially for everyday use. At a dollar each, the cookbooks were considered inexpensive ways to “create excitingly different meals with pride and confidence”. Like all Better Homes and Gardens cookbooks and recipes they held the “Test Kitchen” seal of approval that promises each recipe was “tested over and over till it rated superior – in practicality, ease of preparation and deliciousness”.
A 1964 article talking about the promotion called the books “a group of brilliantly illustrated, expertly written … specifically designed to spark the urge to create new and zestful dishes”. The article goes on to say that these are jammed packed with ideas, menus, and of course recipes that use everyday ingredients. Not meant to be exhaustive encyclopedias, the subjects of the cookbooks were chosen by the editors because they felt these were topics that were of interest to the average cook.
In 1964, other supermarkets, such as A&P and First National started doing the promotion again starting with Best Buffets and slowly rolling out the rest. In some ads, the first book was a special price of 49 cents and then each book were 79 cents after that. While other stores charge 99 cents for each volume of the cookbooks. I am assuming different markets just charged different prices.
In 1965, Johnson & Johnson ran a promotion that if the coupon above was filled out and sent in with proof of purchase of a Johnson & Johnson first aid product along with $2.25, they would mail you four of these cookbooks of one’s choosing. Above is an ad that ran in newspapers along with the display that was in grocery stores.
By the early 1970s, these books were used as promotional items to entice people to sign up for the Family Book Service. For a dollar and signing up for the membership, a person would get all eight volumes. For those who do not know how this work, basically every month some books would be sent out. If the book was wanted, you did not have to do anything and just pay the cost. If it was not something of interest a card would have to be sent in to deny the book. You can imagine how many people probably forgot and how much money Family Book Services made because of this. I am also assuming this is when the books started to not have the glossy finish on the covers.
Even though all the ads and articles allude to recipes being unique to these volumes that is not the case. There is quite of bit of recipe overlap between the New Cook Book and the Creative Cooking Library. Does that mean I regret buying them? Not at all. They do exactly what they are meant to do. Focuses your attention on recipes perfect for specific events. If I had just used the 1960s version of the New Cook Book to pick a Thanksgiving menu, I for sure would have been influenced by my modern sensibilities of what a holiday meal should be. I definitely would not have picked such items as the tomato starter, curried wheat bites, Waldorf salad, or mincemeat pie. I am glad that these cookbooks give me a better idea of the thought process of someone in the 1960s creating a meal.
These are definitely some of my favorite cookbooks in my collection. Actually, I am a sucker for anything connected to the women’s magazines of the past. This collection is especially great for the very mid-century full-color pictures and the menus included in each volume. I think that they would be a perfect addition to a cookbook collection, especially for someone who loves the 1960s.
A&P Supermarket Ad. The Evening Independent. April 9, 1964.
Better Homes and Gardens Editors. Barbecues and Picnics. USA: Meredith Press ,1963.
Better Homes and Gardens Editors. Best Buffets. USA: Meredith Press, 1963
Better Homes and Gardens Editors. Birthday and Family Celebrations. USA: Meredith Press , 1963.
Better Homes and Gardens Editors. Lunches and Brunches. USA: Meredith Press, 1963.
Better Homes and Gardens Editors. Meals in Minutes. USA: Meredith Press, 1963.
Better Homes and Gardens Editors. Meals with a Foreign Flair. USA: Meredith Press, 1963.
Better Homes and Gardens Editors. Snacks and Refreshments. USA: Meredith Press, 1963.
Better Homes and Gardens Editors. So Good Meals. USA: Meredith Press, 1963.
Better Homes & Gardens Creative Cooking Library Volume 4 Ad. The Portsmouth Times. May 7, 1963.
First National Ad. The Lewiston Daily Sun. April 23, 1964.
Food Fair Ad. The Evening Independent. April 9, 1964.
Johnson & Johnson Special Offer Ad. The Spokesman Review. September 18, 1965.
“Lost-Cost Cook Books Made Available by A&P Supermarkets”. The Norwalk Hour. October 28, 1964.
“The Art of Creative Cooking Books At First National” The Morning Record. April 20, 1964.