Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for July: (7/6) Jennifer J. Chow (7/13) Meri Allen/Shari Randall (Book 1--Ice Cream Shop Mystery), (7/20) Susan Van Kirk, (7/27) Meri Allen/Shari Randall (Book 2--Ice Cream Shop Mystery).

Saturday, June 18, 2022

My Odd Hobby of Collecting Vintage Cookbooks


I don’t consider myself an inveterate collector. True, I’ve assembled an impressive collection of Roseville pottery over the years. And no matter how often I cull my Christmas ornament collection, it continues to grow with the ferocity of a kudzu vine. Still, I do manage to control myself on both counts. But a few years ago, I picked up an obsession I can’t seem to quit: collecting old cookbooks.


When I made the casual purchase of my first vintage cookbook - a cheery 1950s tome titled The Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes from Famous Eating Places – I had no idea I was putting myself on the path towards a collection that now tips over one hundred volumes. I just loved  the yellow cover decorated with colorful 1950s artwork and the recipes from legendary restaurants of the time period. But what really hooked me was the tale the recipes told of dishes that people gravitated towards seventy years ago and how tastes have changed throughout the decades.

At every library sale, estate sale or used bookstore I visit, I head straight to the cookbook section. While I now have editions dating back to the late 1800s, I’m most intrigued by the books from the various decades of the twentieth century. I guess any decades of the last century seems less distant than those of a time before gas ovens. A recipe for mutton broth from an 1875 edition of The Edinburgh Book of Plain Cookery Recipes feels positively Dickensian. I can practically hear Oliver Twist saying, “Please sir, I want some more?”



To answer a perfectly logical question that may have popped up among some readers of this blog, no, I rarely make any of recipes from my collection. I know, I know. That’s a lotta shelf real estate allotted to an impractical hobby. However, my collection did inspire my new series, The Vintage Cookbook Mysteries, where my protagonist opens a gift shop selling vintage cookbooks and kitchenware in a New Orleans culinary house museum. In Bayou Book Thief, you’ll find five recipes I adapted from books in my collection, including Greta Garbo’s recipe for Swedish Salad from 1928’s  Photoplay’s Cook Book {sic}: 150 Favorite Recipes of the Stars. 


I love that my new series allows me to indulge my hobby. Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll even make a recipe from one of my many vintage cookbooks purely for pleasure. Sauerkraut with Frankfurters and Dumplings from 1958’s Betty Crocker’s Dinner for Two Cookbook, anyone?



The Original Recipe for Sauerkraut with Frankfurters and Dumplings

Betty Crocker’s Dinner for Two Cookbook, 1958


No. 303 can sauerkraut

4 frankfurters (1/2 lb.)

½ cup Bisquick

3 tbsp. milk


Add 2 cups water to sauerkraut in saucepan. Simmer 30 min. For Dumplings [sic], mix Bisquick and milk with fork. Bury frankfurters in sauerkraut. Spoon batter for 2 large dumplings onto sauerkraut. Cook over low heat 10 min. uncovered and 10 min. covered. Serve hot. 2 servings.


SYNOPSIS: A new mystery series from USA Today bestselling and Agatha Award–winning author Ellen Byron.


Twenty-eight-year-old widow Ricki James leaves Los Angeles to start a new life in New Orleans after her showboating actor husband perishes doing a stupid internet stunt. The Big Easy is where she was born and adopted by the NICU nurse who cared for her after Ricki’s teen mother disappeared from the hospital.


Ricki’s career dream comes true when she joins the quirky staff of Bon Vee Culinary House Museum, the spectacular former Garden District home of late bon vivant Genevieve “Vee” Charbonnet, the city’s legendary restauranteur. Ricki is excited about turning her avocation – collecting vintage cookbooks – into a vocation by launching the museum’s gift shop, Miss Vee’s Vintage Cookbooks and Kitchenware. Then she discovers that a trunk of donated vintage cookbooks doesn’t contain books – it holds the body of a cantankerous Bon Vee employee who was fired after being exposed as a book thief.

The skills Ricky has developed ferreting out hidden vintage treasures come in handy for investigations. But both her business and Bon Vee could wind up as deadstock when Ricki’s past as curator of a billionaire’s first edition collection comes back to haunt her.


Will Miss Vee’s Vintage Cookbooks and Kitchenware be a success… or a recipe for disaster?


BIO: Ellen’s Cajun Country Mysteries have won multiple Agatha Awards for Best Contemporary Novel and multiple Lefty Awards for Best Humorous Mystery. Bayou Book Thief will be the first book in her new Vintage Cookbook Mysteries. She also writes the Catering Hall Mystery series under the name Maria DiRico. 


Ellen is an award-winning playwright, and non-award-winning TV writer of comedies like Wings, Just Shoot Me, and Fairly Odd Parents. She has written over two hundred articles for national magazines but considers her most impressive credit working as a cater-waiter for Martha Stewart. An alum of New Orleans’ Tulane University, she blogs with Chicks on the Case, is a lifetime member of the Writers Guild of America, serves on the national board for Mystery Writers of America, and will be the 2023 Left Coast Crime Toastmaster. Please visit her at


PURCHASE LINK: Bayou Book Thief by Ellen Byron: 9780593437612 | Books








Jim Jackson said...

Congrats on the new series Ellen. Looking through some old cookbooks we have, I understand why many of our ancestors had heart disease and gout.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Congratulations on your new series. I wish I had taken my grandmother's Fannie Farmer cookbook when we were cleared out her cottage. It was filled with her penciled notes (what worked, what needed improvement, various events listed for which she had cooked certain dishes).

When my daughter needed a 19th century recipe for a school project, we tracked down an 1880's edition of Mrs. Beeton's cookbook at the Cincinnati library. I'm amazed it was still in circulation.

Kait said...

I love old cookbooks – you have to tell me, does the Betty Crocker Cooking for Two feature the instructions on sectioning an orange? The very first cookbook I ever owned was a cooking for two cookbook and it had those instructions. I’ve searched for the correct one ever since! For the record, I attended a school that did not include home ec. Despite that, I – who found boiling water a challenge – won the 1966 Betty Crocker award at my school. It as a paper test and mostly physics – easy peasy! Then, I’d madly flunk it now.

Molly MacRae said...

Vintage cookbooks have some of the best and some of the scariest recipes. So much fun! Congratulations on the new series, Ellen!

Ellen Byron said...

Thanks so much for a fun post!! I had to do an event in the OC today so I've been on the road. Looks GREAT!

Debra H. Goldstein said...

Thanks for dropping by today. Love those vintage cookbooks and the new series premise.