Saturday, June 8, 2013

Lost and Found – Part 3

Today’s treasure is a simple thing – a cookbook.

Published in 1956, it is Chinese Cooking for American Kitchens, by Calvin Lee. Young Mr. Lee took on the task of converting the recipes from his family’s restaurant to a practical cookbook for Americans. Not only that, the book contains a short history of the early introduction of Chinese food and the beginning of America’s acceptance of authentic Chinese dishes instead of bland glop like chop suey. There is even a description and definition of the Chinese name of each utensil and cooking method.

The recipes look quite good, but I probably won’t try any of them. When we cook "Chinese" food at home we usually just toss vegetables and spices in hot oil – no recipe required. But more importantly, every recipe in this book contains monosodium glutamate. If you were around in the 50s and 60s, you will recall that this was something you could buy in the grocery store under various brand names (ours was "Accent"), and it was simply a flavor enhancer. MSG was in every can of soup, every box of rice mix, every bottle of sauce. No one thought much about it when this book was written.

But back to the book – the main reason I bought it was for the pictures. Some tiny, some taking up the entire page, they are by Mabel Wong Lilienstein and they are beautiful. Each chapter has a descriptive sketch at the beginning, and then there are tiny pictures dotted throughout.

I think these little scenes are lovely, and they transform a nice cookbook into a real gem.



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  2. What a wonderful find! I too enjoy vintage cookbooks, and the illustrations on this one (plus the story behind the writing of it) is definitely a keeper.