July 5, 2006
Supercook Returns

As I watched the flashback opening sequence of “Superman Returns” over the holiday weekend I tried to figure out what era was being represented.

The architecture and the vintage truck of the Midwestern farm where Superman first landed on Earth suggested the 1930s or 1940s.

Then I noticed a small detail in the kitchen scene that told me it had to be 1947 or later, only I didn’t know that until I got home and checked our set of “Meta Given’s Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking.”

In “Superman Returns,” a glimpse of the two-volume set is caught on a kitchen counter.

It was a neat detail, recognizing a cookbook author widely recognized in her day but virtually forgotten now, though her encyclopedia is as relevant and helpful as the higher profile “Joy of Cooking.”

The first printing of the Given’s encyclopedia was in February 1947.

“Every homemaker, whether her family numbers two or ten, needs a cook book that is complete – one that will assist her with any type of meal-making problem,” says Elvera Rest to open the book’s foreword. (Rest was Given’s assistant, and, like Given, a home economist.)

For about 2,000 pages, Given then provides the home cook with all sorts of advice that remains valuable today, from “stretching the food dollar” to taking advantage of just about any ingredient you are apt to run across at market.

It’s complete, all right, and remains the go-to set in our kitchen whenever we need good basic guidance or help in interpreting an old family recipe. Look for it at garage sales, used-book stores or Web sites specializing in rare volumes, such as

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