Thursday, August 17, 2006

Thrift Book Score!

So, I've been checking out food photography sites lately. I've noticed that more than one of them talk about plating. One of the things they talk about is where to find good plates for photographs. Thrift stores are great, because the plates are going to be cheap, and it doesn't matter if you don't get a whole set because you're only using them for photos anyway. Bearing this in mind, today I headed down to our local thrift store, Deseret Industries. Yes, that's Deseret, not Desert or Dessert.

Unfortunately, the DI stores in Utah Valley are pretty picked-over, much more so than they used to be, so there weren't really any decent dishes to be had. But I'm not one to leave the store without checking out the place, so I mosied around a bit. I discovered a beautiful score! This place not only had books, they even bothered to sort them. Even better, there was a pretty decent-sized cookbook section. I don't know if I saw more than three books less than fifteen years old.

There's just something about old cookbooks. Something... alluring, and yet something almost repulsive. Maybe repulsive isn't the right word. It's just fascinating for me to see what food trends were like, thirty, fifty, heck even just five years ago. And yet, I don't want to look. It scares me. But I did find some real jems.

The Yogurt Cookbook by Olga Smetinoff was the first book I spotted that I knew I had to have. Printed in 1966, I wasn't even able to find an ISBN number on it. With a cover price of $1.98, I managed to pick this baby up for half price, at only $1.00. Not only does it have recipes for "Yogurt w/ eggplant", "Yogurt w/ zucchini" and the ever-so-popular "Yogurt broiled tomatoes", it also has a section on how to make homemade yogurt. Actually, the recipes seem surprisingly simple, and try as I might, I have yet to see the words "chanterelle" or "truffle". This was written in a different time, with a different outlook on food. We don't need no creme fraiche. We got yogurt.

The Gluten Book by Le Arta Moulton is another sans-ISBN book, published in 1974. My copy was actually the fourth printing, from 1977. That's right, this was a popular book. BYU grad and mother of four, Le Arta covers methods that I'd never even thought of before, such as "washing the dough to extract gluten". For those of you not in the know, gluten is a protein formed with two other wheat proteins (gliadin and glutenin) get together with water. Gluten extraction seems to be important for this book, which treats the bread protein as a meat. That's right, a meat. Page 19 includes three, yes, three cooking methods for gluten steaks. You can cook jerky, mock liver and something called "Carob Crackle". I will definitely be spending some time with this book.

Food Science by Helen Charley is my third book with no ISBN. Mine is the first edition, published in 1970. This is kind of like a forerunner to On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee, currently regarded by many chefs as a sort of bible of food science. This book is fascinating. I don't even know what to say about it. I picked it up because I was really interested to see how the face of food science has changed in the past 36 years. I'll have to update you on this later, this is going to be an interesting read.

So next time you see a stack of old cook books, take a look. There may be some scary things in there, but if you're lucky, you'll find some real gems, just like I did.

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