Although many Pillsbury Bake-Off cookbooks have been published during the years, it's the 1959 book that is the classic, assembling the best 1000 winning recipes in the Best of the Bake-Off Collection. The book, which Wiley is reissuing in a facsimile of the original edition on its 60th anniversary, reads like the historic document it is. Or like your grandmother's old recipe cards bound together with period pictures and illustrations, if your grandmother was the sort of woman who won national prizes with her Old-time Butter Sponge Cake (p. 274). The recipes are credited to the women who entered and won the contests, using the contemporary style of address: the sponge cake was by Mrs. Thomas W. Wolfe, of Hagerstown, Maryland; the Frosted Figaroos on p. 356 were from Mrs. Charlotte B. Bruce, of Albuquerque.

Pillsbury started the bake-off competition in 1949, to celebrate the company's 80th anniversary. It was first called the “Grand National Recipe and Baking Contest,” and it was held at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City. The response from the “homemakers” who were invited to share their recipes was so enormous that Pillsbury held it again, and again, increasing the prize winnings over the decades (the first winner was awarded $50,000; the prize is currently $1 million) and becoming more inclusive, awarding the prize to a man in 1996.

Eleanor Roosevelt and Art Linkletter with finalist Laura Rott; Credit: Photo credit: Pillsbury

Eleanor Roosevelt and Art Linkletter with finalist Laura Rott; Credit: Photo credit: Pillsbury

The 1959 book is a fascinating period piece; it's also an interesting way of contextualizing contemporary cooking. All the recipes in the cookbook, for example, were developed for use with Pillsbury's BEST self-rising flour–state of the art in flour in the late 50's–which means that every single recipe that calls for flour has to be recalibrated for salt and baking powder. That would be almost all of them. As you can still find self-rising flour, you might just buy a bag of it if you're going to use this book. Go on, get yourself some horn-rimmed glasses and an apron, and maybe rent some of Rod Serling's Twilight Zone episodes, circa 1959, too.

LA Weekly