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You don’t need a physical copy to read Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book. I first fell in love with the digital version here, on Google Books. I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to curl up with it in bed, which is difficult to do even with a laptop, so I ordered a copy from Alibris. The one I got was printed in 1912, falling apart (I sort-of fixed it with packing tape), and contained a clipping from another book tucked between its pages (“Miss Olive Allen’s Tested Recipes,” which turned out to be an ad for Crisco).


Unfortunately, it had a disappointing lack of penciled notes in the margin. I did so want my old cookbook to have penciled notes in the margin.

It’s obviously been used, though; some of the pages are a little grease-spattered and wrinkly, and it has that general air of being heavily thumbed through, even more than you can chalk up to its being 100 years old. I started at the very beginning and have read straight through page 475 so far. (OK, I’ll admit I skimmed some of the recipes for cold jellied fish soup and stuff like that.)

Why do I love a 100-year-old cookbook?

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Years ago, when I was young and idealistic, I was a vegetarian.  I purchased an Indian vegetarian cookbook (by Julie Sahni, if I recall correctly).  Indian cooking is very well-suited to vegetarianism, and I eagerly anticipated turning out my own complex, boldly flavored dishes.  I was dismayed to find out that Indian cooking is often very complicated and time consuming.  I was even more dismayed to find that the recipes required incredibly exotic spices: fenugreek stands out in my memory as an example.

Now that the internet has forever changed commerce, formerly exotic spices are now as close as  (In fact, I plan to tell the above story to my children to impress them with how ancient I am, along with stories of phones that were tethered to walls and had no way to record a message.)   My family recently moved into the wilds of Northern New Mexico, far from civilization, by which of course I mean good Indian restaurants; I find myself again interested in Indian cooking, though I am now a confirmed omnivore.  Now that I have kitchen “help” in the form of a three-year-old and a one-year-old, however, I certainly don’t have time for the day-long endeavors that I remember from the cookbook of my youth.  I was therefore delighted to find Madhur Jaffrey’s Quick & Easy Indian Cooking and gleefully brought it home the first time I saw it.  I’ve since made a number of recipes from the book.

Ms. Jaffrey’s recipes are clearly written and easy to follow.  They do not require years of kitchen experience to prepare: she provides precise times and/or descriptions for adding different ingredients, or for when dishes are done.  It’s not the cookbook for the can’t-boil-water set, but it’s not experts-only, either.  The recipes cover all the categories you’d expect: appetizers/small dishes, meat, poultry, seafood, vegetables, desserts, and a few drinks.  Enough of the book is dedicated to meat that a vegetarian would not find it worth the purchase price.  Ms. Jaffrey has a couple of vegetarian books that are supposed to be excellent, though.

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