About

I’ve developed an obsession with “The Modern Family Cook Book” by Meta Given, originally published in 1942 and reprinted multiple times through at least 1969.  Instead of seeing a psychologist to discuss my fixation, I’ve decided to blog about it instead.  “The Modern Family Cook Book” features a full year of daily menus (breakfast, lunch and dinner) with the shopping list printed alongside and a numeric reference to the recipe for cooking each item.  Genius.

The Project:

I’m going to try to cook every one of Meta’s over 1139 recipes (with exceptions-see the fine print here).  Preferably, I will make the recipes by following the entire menu recommended for specific days of the year (but with the exceptions, there will be, of course, some exceptions to this).  I’m not going to this all in a year (a la Julie and Julia), since I might be required to see that psychologist if I tried.

Why:

I love this book, cooking and history.  I’ve read many, many cookbooks, but have yet to find one so masterfully done.  I want to take a step back into American culinary history and recreate food that I think still has value and a place in our modern food landscape.  This cookbook captures a pivotal moment in our culinary history; it’s poised between a pre-modern society where food is seasonal, local and regional, grown at home and purchased at small stores, and made primarily at home and a modern post-WWII society where food is much more industrial and mass-produced, with frozen and convenience foods available at supermarkets and chain-restaurants.  The original publication date of 1942, so close to Pearl Harbor (12/7/1941) and the entry of the U.S.A. into WWII, makes this a very interesting snapshot of the American food landscape before it changed radically.

This book is not just a time capsule though; even if some of the recipes show their age (Heart Chop Suey, Tomato Aspic, or Jellied Salmon Salad, anyone?)  A great many of the simple, time-tested recipes are just as good today. The fact that this cook book was reprinted through at least 27 years is a testament to it’s timeless value.  I love sushi, cronuts and Greek yogurt, but I also think traditional American foods have worth and shouldn’t be forgotten.

I’m looking forward to some delicious food!

13 thoughts on “About

  1. Are you still doing this? I have the 1961 edition and have really enjoyed trying to prepare some of the sample week’s meals pretty much as written. What a lot of work! But also some surprisingly delicious food…I’d love to compare notes. I would also really like to get the menus for the other days of the year, as (as I gather you know) the 1961 edition only gives a sample week of menus. Cheers!

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    • How awesome to find someone else who’s tried Meta’s menus! I am still working on this project, but only occasionally since it is a lot of work! I’m always surprised at how good her simple recipes turn out. The book is really quite the masterpiece.

      The 1942 edition is well worth the effort of finding. It’s about 300 pages longer than the 1961 edition (with great stuff like a chapter on “The Social Use of Food” and one on garnishing) as well as the full years menus.

      I’d be glad to compare notes. 🙂

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  2. Wow thank you for sharing this! I found Meta’s “Encyclopedia of Modern Cooking” in the trash bin at an estate auction – I took it home and it’s been my go-to cookbook for years, complete with handwritten notes from the little old lady that had it for a lifetime before me. I’ve found the recipes healthy, and the HUGE 2-set encyclopedia covers everything imagineable, and has really enabled me to escalate my cooking skills. I love that the recipes pre-date processed foods and start from scratch with whole, raw ingredients. I really look forward to following along with your walk with Meta.

    Bon Appetit!

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    • I’m happy to hear from another Meta fan! I’m glad you were able to find such a treasure in someone’s trash (especially with handwritten notes–I’m sure she tested all of the best ones).

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  3. Love your blog! Would it be possible for you to email me the chicken fricassee with sour cream recipe? I just found out from my mother over the weekend that this is the recipe that my grandmother used to make that I love so much. And unfortunately my mother threw the cookbook away because it is deteriorated so badly because it had been used so much. Thank you for resurrecting a family tradition!!!

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  4. Hi! I did not realize there were other Meta fans out there, so imagine how glad I was when you stopped by my blog (which has two Meta recipes – the Tuna Casserole Supreme and Special Salad dressing, as well as a page with a quote from Meta I call False Frugality.) and I clicked on your name to be led back here.

    What a fun idea. I only have the Enclopedia of Modern Cooking, which was given to my Mother on her 1 month anniversary – I always wonder if there was an explanation for that…perhaps a friend asked my Dad how married life was; perhaps he mentioned Mom didn’t cook, and perhaps the book was gifted, one month after the wedding, to remedy the problem. I guess I’ll never know.

    I’m going to have so much fun browsing through your blog and reading about the recipes I’ve read and wondered about…better you than me, I might add!

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    • I found your blog through a search for Meta and I’ve read (and enjoyed!) your Meta posts. I’ve been combing through your archives because I’ve been trying to reduce my groceries bills since I’m about to become a stay-at-home mom. Your blog has been so helpful and has really increased my confidence that we’ll still be able to eat well.

      I also have a copy of the Encyclopedia and it’s a pretty impressive tome. I hope it helped your mother figure out how to cook!

      I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog!

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  5. What a fun project! Until I landed on this blog, I’d never heard of Meta’s cookbook–now I want to look for a copy the next time I’m in a used bookstore. It looks like a cookbook that I’d enjoy.

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  6. I love these books so much! I had two sets; when I bought the second one I meant to give it as a gift but couldn’t bear to part with it until last month when I moved states and left one set with my daughter-in-law. This is the best cooking/ reference book I have ever seen and have yet to find a recipe I didn’t love. I have change so many techniques since I found Mets Givens. As yet no one knows why I put out such a fabulous Thanksgiving turkey and people will do anything for the basic shortbread cookies I make every Christmas. I came to this website because my set is still in boxes and I was looking to make applesauce cake with caramel frosting for dinner. My bread is currently rising (recipe memorized).

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  7. I love Meta Given’s modern encyclopedia of cooking. The mystery meats section has always fascinated me. I particularly like the baking recipes – the meats, meh, her times for pasta, usually too long. My friend found this blog for me – we are in the middle of selling our home. We have 3 kids, all in school – and my husband travels 5d a week. I decided to have friends over for dinner, and was making a soup/salad/roasted chickens & a couple of apps (olive tapenade with roasted garlic, goat cheese, black garlic & leek dip – leeks, garlic, butter, white wine, sour cream, yum.) I usually make dumplings for pea soup – starch bomb, hurray, and as I was wandering through big box store on phone with friend I realized, CRAP! My green bound cookbook with dumpling recipe is packed and I have *no* idea where! I knew the proportions, but I wasn’t sure. All of that to say, THANKS! I loved this cookbook so much that my mom bought me a copy at an antique store many years ago.

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  8. I didn’t know about your blog until frantically searching for a version of her Banana Nut Cake. She changed the ingredients in different versions of the book! I have had 2 versions and my favorite one has mysteriously disappeared(I really think my sister has hidden it).I am looking for the one from the 1957 or 58 printing. My mother got it from the Book of the Month club in 1958. This version uses buttermilk in it.
    Thank you!!

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