From Salvador Dali’s collected recipes to Nostradamus’s treatise on jam, the world is full of unusual cookbooks. Last week, we asked Gastro Obscura readers to send in their own. We were blown away by the response: 117 of you wrote in with cookbook suggestions, and hundreds more contributed through social media. You told us about (modernized) cookbooks from Ancient Rome, cookbooks lovingly annotated by your grandparents, and cookbooks filled with treasured (but vintage) recipes from another era. Unusual ingredients abounded: bugs, flowers, and Jell-O in every color of the rainbow.
Most of you found your unorthodox cookbook at a yard, church, or estate sale. “I couldn’t leave without it,” was a common refrain. Other cookbooks were not out of the ordinary, but had a special story. Surprisingly, a number of readers wrote about the same cookbook. Who knew so many of you owned A Thousand Ways To Please a Husband, complete with illustrations and poems? Or the “historical” cookbook that includes Virgin Mary’s favorite recipe for creamed spinach? Whether dead serious or tongue-in-cheek, focused on the future or firmly set in the past, it seems the odd and obscure is alive in the kitchen. Here are a collection of our favorites.
The Dracula Cookbook: Authentic Recipes from the Homeland of Count Dracula
I’m attaching a recipe book that I own; I feel it is fairly unusual. I don’t think I’ve ever made anything in it, although I have owned it since the late 1970s. I was a Dracula aficionado for many years. —Sandra Lent, Weymouth, Nova Scotia, Canada
Festive Food Decoration for All Occasions
Can one call this a cookbook? Although the book jacket states, “Even if you can’t cook, this book will tempt you,” many pages make me gag. Check out “Goldfish Swallowing” for one. Yet something about it is compelling, even haunting. My friend found this at a thrift store probably in 2005, and ever since, it has been a treasured possession. I’d be remiss not to mention that there are several racist “recipes.” —Amanda Rybin Koob, Lafayette, Colorado
I am an unusual cookbook collector! It all started with a book I received called To the King’s Taste, which got me interested in learning more about strange cookbooks. About ten years ago, I visited the Liberace Museum in Las Vegas and found out that Liberace had his own cookbook, filled with his favorite recipes. I bought the book as a gift for a friend. But afterwards I wasn’t able to find a copy of the book again. Recently, my friend got me the original Liberace Cooks! cookbook that was actually signed by Liberace in 1971. It’s so fun! —MJ Dunne
Manifold Destiny: The One! The Only! Guide to Cooking on Your Car Engine
I am writing from Atlantic County Institute of Technology in Mays Landing. We are a technical and career high school, with an Automotive Technology Academy. One of our instructors, Mr. Charles Olinda, donated Manifold Destiny: The One! The Only! Guide to Cooking on Your Car Engine to our library collection, where it remains one of our older (c. 1989) titles. One of my favorite notes in the book says:
“Because the Northeast has the most congested highways in the country, it is very important that you think in terms of time rather than distance when you are car-cooking up this way. Hit I-84 through Hartford at rush hour, and you could do a whole stuffed fish in the space of three exit ramps.” —Amy Ojserkis, Mays Landing, New Jersey
Eat It by Dana Crumb was illustrated by her husband, the famous artist and satirist R. Crumb. It is classic Crumb, irreverent, unapologetic, and classic 1960s counterculture. Many of the recipes were standard sixties fare, created by Dana Crumb. She was a remarkable woman who went on to do much more in food, bringing her social and community awareness to all she fed. —Lisa Gray Millimet, Camden, Maine
La Cuisine est un Jeu d’enfants (Cooking is Child’s Play)
I inherited it from my great aunt, who died at the age of 101 and left it to me along with 100 art books. She was born in Russia, but lived for years in Paris, which is perhaps where she got this book. It was published in 1963, with a preface by none other than Jean Cocteau [the famous French writer and filmmaker]! Inside there’s even a template for a paper measuring cup you can cut out and tape together. The book looks to me to have been printed lithographically by the esteemed Georges Lang Imprimerie. —Lisa Rosowsky, Boston, Massachusetts
DC Superheroes Super Healthy Cookbook
I am not a comic book fan (full disclosure: I did have Wonder Woman Underoos), but I am a cookbook fan. I picked this one up last week at Goodwill for $1.49. I couldn’t put it down. It is so cheesy and corny, and I’m not talking about the ingredients for the “super” recipes.
We haven’t made anything since I purchased it, but the first thing we will make is “Commissioner Gordon’s Undercover Vegetables.” The copyright is 1981, and it has a lengthy foreword by Dr. Joan Gussow (The New York Times has called her the “matriarch of the eat-locally-think-globally food movement.”) Pretty impressive for a superhero cookbook. —Jamie Richmond, Boise, Idaho
Pâté: The New Main Course for the ’80s
A friend found a copy of Carol Cutler’s 1983 classic on their grandmother’s bookshelf, and my wife and I thought it was odd enough to buy ourselves our own copy from a used bookstore. Since we had two copies in our circle of friends, we decided to throw a pot-luck party where everyone made one recipe from the book. We’d tried this concept with other cookbooks, and it had turned out quite well. But an all-pâté dinner party may be one of the worst culinary ideas we have ever had.
None of the dishes were, strictly speaking, bad. It’s just that we were serving ourselves plate after plate after plate of dense brown and gray mush. Rustic country pâté. Chicken liver pâté. Vegetable and brown rice terrine. I’ve forgotten which others, but I think we had at least five. After just a few bites everyone was full. We had mountains of leftovers that nobody could bear to eat or even look at. —Aaron Weber & Megan Sullivan
Cookery in Colour
Cookery in Colour confounds me. There is the page for potato salads, with multi-faceted dishes shot in blurry photos and set in glaring yellow blocks on the page. The page for pressure cookers gives me an explosive headache. The page for pastries and pies has blocks of bright pink, with wallpaper-style patterns in random places. Swirls of red and green do nothing to evoke buttery, delicious pastries. The soups, no, please don’t make me have the soups. The chutneys just burst with mismatched color and ingredients, and the “easy party sweets” pages are smeared with the colors of a disconcerting rainbow, suggestive of runny jelly and the after-party mess from a toddler’s birthday. —Anna Sublet, Melbourne, Australia
Entertaining with Insects
Entertaining with Insects is from the estate of a friend who passed away a few years ago. I have not tried any of the recipes. —Ron Keillor
Decadent Dinners and Lascivious Lunches: X-Rated Recipes for Sensuous Cooks and their Friends
Prowling through boxes at the Friends of the Library Book Sale, a little gem popped up: Decadent Dinners and Lascivious Lunches. As the title implies, this is not a diet cookbook. Rich in ingredients and calories, it includes drink recipes, decorating tips, and costume ideas. The introductory section is titled “Foreplay.” The dedication is to the author’s late husband, who succumbed to a heart attack. —Gus Shaver
Cross Creek Cookery
It’s a very folksy backwoods cookbook, and has wonderful stories and illustrations. I was particularly fascinated by some of the recipes, although trying them is impossible: The ingredients are either unavailable or off-limits. Except maybe the swamp cabbage, if I could figure out what that was. —Bob Rinker, Lakeland, Florida
The Gourmet’s Cannibal Cookbook
With complete details on the best cuts of meat to carve and cook. —Joanne Hoefer
A Thousand Ways To Please a Husband, With Bettina’s Best Recipes
I acquired this 1912 gem whilst rummaging around in the basement of my husband’s Alberta farmhouse where he grew up. I saved this cookbook from a moldering, damp death and brought it home. Every chapter begins with a cozy story of how the character Bettina has cunning ideas of how to pull off a ladies’ luncheon on a dime. She then provides the recipe. I live for those stories. Bettina is a goddess. She never gets out of her apron and mob cap. Bob is lucky indeed. —Kelly Ulrich, Langley, B.C., Canada
This thing is amazing. It’s the story of newlyweds, Bettina and Bob, and their first year of marriage. It has adorable drawings, poems, and stories about Bettina, always ending each chapter with her menu and recipes. Chapters have titles such as “Bettina Has a Porch Party” or “Bob Makes Peanut Fudge.” I’ve used the recipe for codfish balls, which came out fine, although salt cod is a lot harder to come by these days. —Diane Graft, Centreville, Virginia
Some responses have been edited for clarity and readability.
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