The Perfect Children of Bygone Cookbooks


Music – “Helping in the Kitchen (Family Album / Kitchen and Curate)” from The Pilgrim (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (The Chaplin Revue) by Charlie Chaplin. Released: 2018

One of the more delightful characteristics of older cookbooks is that they open a window to the mood of the people, the prevailing winds of politics at the time, and expectations of and within the family unit. A bonus is that they come filled with recipes!

I recently purchased a reproduction (1983) copy of “The Romanian Cook Book“, originally published by Anisoara Stan, in 1951,  touted as “…the first book published in English which tells how to make the dishes for which the Romanians are so famous“.

“The Romanian Cookbook” by Anisoara Stan, first published in 1951.

Stan not only provides 450 Romanian recipes, but also some insights into her life growing up in Romania during World War I, her family, and life in Transylvania (no mention of Dracula anywhere in her book!)

What strikes me about the “narrative” portions of the cookbook, where Stan discusses her life, experiences and expectations of women in Romanian families during the war years,  is the gay, almost carefree, nose-to-the-grindstone (with good cheer, mind you) attitude of children concerning their participation in daily rituals and chores.  The author extolls their virtues and paints a picture of them as happy, bubbly, do-gooders.  For example, she writes about the role of the children after dinner:

“…the Romanian mother gathers her children around her and discusses with them the next day’s meal.  If they decide on ciorba (sour soup), every one (sic) gets busy.” 

Discussing the next day’s meal, perhaps, so the children can be assigned their chores? (Photo Credit:

“I wish you could watch the little hands of the youngsters, peeling and cutting the vegetables, preparing the meat, bringing in water, getting wood, and do believe me, with singing.” 

This doesn’t look like the smiling child working in the fields, as described by the author of “The Romanian Cook Book” (Photo Credit:


“We LOVE doing chores, like gathering wood. Don’t all children?” (Photo Credit:

“Aren’t we supposed to be singing?” (Photo Credit:

“Once they start to work they concentrate on what they are doing, having pride in their work, and so all their chores which mother or grandmother has delegated to them are done well and speedily, too.  As mothers sometimes work in the fields, the grandmother runs the kitchen.  She is treated with great respect and love, as befits her years and experience.” 

A small child helping grandma in the kitchen in bygone days (when grandmas were respected) (Photo Credit:

“After the children have completed their tasks, they can go out to play, to visit or work on whatever they love to do.  They feel a responsibility to their parents and help them always cheerfully, not with grumbling.  The parents, in turn, know how important it is to teach the girls the art of cooking, so that they in time will be fitted to run their own households.

“Is this a chore or is this child labor?” (Photo Credit:

Wow.  In this day and age, it is hard to read these passages without thinking, “Really?”  It almost sounds akin to a fairy tale, the well-behaved rosy-cheeked children, exuberant in their tasks, which sound more like fun and games.  I am in no way disparaging the author or her interpretation of these events, but it just seems too sugar-coated to be believable and I cite this book, only because it was so detailed in the descriptions of a bygone era.

Perhaps I am jaded in my observations of (many, but certainly not all) of today’s youth, self-absorbed, attached as if by some invisible umbilical cord to cellphones, IPods, smart phones, large-screen TV’s (in every room) etc. and have frequently been referred to as “Millennials” or the “entitled generation“.  Elders in this country today often lack the respect the author of “The Romanian Cookbook” alludes to during her growing up years in Romania.  Today, they are more likely to be ignored, taken advantage of, or even abused.  What happened?

“Grandma? What’s a Grandma?” (Photo Credit:

My EatYourBooks cookbook collection

About vintagecookbookery

Cookbook lover and collector with a burgeoning collection of cookbooks. Reading and researching food trends, history of cooking techniques and technological advances in cooking, what we eat and why and cookbooks as reflectors of cultures is a fascination for me. As of November 7th, 2013, I hold the current Guinness World Record title for the largest collection of cookbooks: 2,970 at the official count on July 14th, 2013 (applaud now, thank you very much!) The current (unofficial) number is now 6,500. What next? More shelves?
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3 Responses to The Perfect Children of Bygone Cookbooks

  1. Margaret Kramer says:

    Thank you for this review! It seems to be the “Brady Bunch” effect via cookbooks. The author of this cookbook was maybe from a very privileged family, but it is impossible to ignore the crises of those desperate times. These “story cookbooks” are still an enlightening glimpse into those dark days of history. I agree, that the elders of today, who sacrificed so much for their families, quietly face the end of their lives alone with their thoughts, their memories, and their untold stories.

  2. That is a very astute comment! I had not even considered this at the time I was reading the book. Of course, it makes perfect sense, now. To me, it seemed a bit unrealistic, but, as the expression goes, “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is”! Thank you for pointing this out!

  3. trkingmomoe says:

    My guess the author had to add the Soviet propaganda of happy workers to her cookbook in order to get it publish. Or maybe the author was commissioned to write a cookbook to teach households the ideal Soviet family. Romania was very poor at that time and I doubt there was much money to buy the cookbook. When this cookbook was published they had only been under Soviet rule for 6 years.

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