Before I begin, I have to say that I have an obsession with recipe card libraries. At this point, I have 10 different card indexes, and I love looking through all of the pictures of the dishes and reading the recipes. Most of the card libraries I own are from the 1970s, but I have one from the 1950s and a couple from the 1980s too. These recipe card libraries are great because they offer a lot of variety for home chefs. They are all organized thematically. Some, like Cookindex, are organized by ingredient. Others, like the Betty Crocker Recipe Card Library, are organized by occasion (outdoor cooking, just for kids, tea time, etc). Most of them have a few international dishes, as well as entrees, appetizers, side dishes, and desserts.
The card library that I’m reviewing today is the Better Homes and Gardens Recipe Card Library published by the Meredith Corporation in 1978. Better Homes and Gardens is the fourth best-selling magazine in the United States. It is the flagship magazine of the Meredith Corporation which was founded in 1922 by Edwin Meredith, US Secretary of Agriculture from 1920-1921 under Woodrow Wilson. The magazine is a monthly periodical that specializes in information about homes, cooking, gardening, entertaining, and crafts.
There have been at least three recipe card indexes published under the Better Homes and Gardens brand. The others include a diet recipe card library (I’m working on adding this to my collection) and one dedicated to microwave cooking. Both were published in the late 1980s.
The 1978 recipe card library came in a large plastic container with a hinged lid that opens lengthwise. The most common colors for the cases seem to be white and yellow, but I have seen a couple of red and avocado green cases as well. There are 39 sections to the card library with 17 cards apiece for a whopping total of 663 cards! Each section is differentiated by a numbered divider card which stands a half inch taller than the recipe cards. As is standard for this type of card library, the divider cards have cooking tips on the back. The recipe cards are lettered from A to P and have a color photograph on the front with one or two recipes on the back. The set also includes a card index and a series of booklets with meal planning suggestions and cooking tips. The box is absolutely packed. I’m missing the recipe index and I can’t see how it would fit in the box.
In many ways, my podcast and blog are a love letter to the creators of recipe card libraries. I was inspired to start this project after I purchased the Betty Crocker Recipe Card Library because I wanted some sort of reason to try cooking some of the recipes.
Some of the recipes may seem appalling to modern tastes, but there is a certain charm to them. These card indexes harken back to a different time. It was a time when there weren’t Mexican and Chinese restaurants in every town and city, let alone Ethiopian and Venezuelan. It was also a changing time when more married women were working outside of the home than ever before, but they were still largely expected to do a majority of the cooking and cleaning. These recipes represent a desire for balance. Rather than every recipe being cooked from scratch, we see a lot of time-saving shortcuts. The Skillet Enchiladas call for cream of mushroom soup, canned enchilada sauce, and canned chili peppers rather than fresh tomatoes and chilies. Canned salmon is used in the place of fresh salmon in many recipes. At the same time, there’s a surprising amount of care written into these recipes. The tops of the Harlequin Sandwiches are decorated with sliced pimiento, and the Della Robbia Wreath Salad is lovingly decorated with cream cheese and frosted grapes so that it looks almost too precious to eat even if it is made with canned fruit.
Below are some of the recipe cards from section 1-13. These represent some of my favorite recipes from the first third of the box. Admittedly, I have not cooked any of these recipes. They are just some that I found interesting.
All of these cards are under the copyright of the Meredith Corporation. I do not claim to have copyright over these images, but the commentary is my own. If you’re interested in learning more about these recipes, I recommend finding a copy of the Better Homes and Gardens Recipe Card Collection. I purchased mine from eBay and there are quite a few still available there and on etsy. The Better Homes and Gardens website and magazines are a great repository of information. It’s well worth picking up an issue or subscription if you are so inclined.