Mid Century cookbooks are a treasure trove of quirky recipes, cultural oddities and eccentric little drawings called spot illustrations. Stylishly designed cookbooks in the digital age just can’t compete with the artistic whimsy of the black and white illustrations in this week’s Thursday Three Cookbooks.
#1 The Art of Mexican Cooking, published in 1965 by Jan Aaron & Georgine Sachs Salom, is a wellspring of simple designs with a distinctive mid century modern sensibility. Stylistic drawings are randomly scattered throughout the book; including a trio of whimsical owls oddly paired with vegetables for a salsa chapter. My daughter the artist noted the owls could be a prototype for today’s ubiquitous illustrations of retro woodland creatures.
The illustrations in The Art of Mexican Cooking even have a literary pedigree. They were drawn by Deirdre Stanforth, an author and writer who also illustrated the classic Betty Crocker’s Hostess Cookbook and the best selling Brennan’s New Orleans Cookbook. The latter was published by her family who owned the storied Basement Bookshop; the literary epicenter of New Orleans in the 30s and 40s, where legends including Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas visited. It was also raided by the police for possibly having erotica!
#2 Paul Child, who at the time was retired from the foreign service, did all the illustrations and photographs for Julia Child’s 1968 French Chef Cookbook. The cookbook is a classic collection of recipes from Julia’s groundbreaking cooking show on PBS called The French Chef. I can’t help but think of Paul lovingly drawing this classic picture of his larger than life wife marching confidently forward carrying a large spoon in one hand and a large braid of garlic in the other. You can actually see her determination in his clear and forceful drawing
#3 Love and Knishes, first published in 1956 by Sarah Kasdan, was a popular cookbook for Jewish newlyweds in the late 50s and early 60s. My edition is a Ninth Printing from October of 1964. The book instructed and inspired a generation of young Jewish homemakers with solid Ashkenazi recipes and a tongue in cheek tone. Witty chapter titles include: Put Some Schmaltz in It, Papa Called it Grass (Salads), and How to Pickle a Tongue so It Won’t Talk Back (Pickled Meat and Pickles).
The illustrations done by Louis Slobodkin are just as offbeat, particularly for the wackily titled chapter So Why Should You Kill Yourself? Or Short Cuts. My millennial daughter said it’s the kind of odd image that today would be accused of “triggering people who might be suicidal” which is even more curious because when these illustrations were done Slobodkin, a sculptor and artist, was already an award winning children’s book author and illustrator. (I even researched to make sure there weren’t two illustrators named Louis Slobodkins before writing this post!)