Old Cookbooks

My dear friend Rae recently gave me a book called Eat My Words by Janet Theophano. It’s a wonderful look at how women through the ages tell the stories of their lives through their cookbooks. I’m entranced.

I bought a cookbook at an estate sale several years ago, and I got to meet the woman to whom it belonged. Mrs. Holmes’ cookbook, written by Emma Ewing in 1924, has quite a few practical recipes, and some that are downright scary. The menus at the back give an interesting look at the food eaten by families in 1924.

Mrs. Holmes had tucked newspaper clippings of recipes from her time (the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s) inside the front cover. The recipes for Mrs. Snyder’s caramel creams from 1945 and Making Good Butter from the Farmer’s Wife, June 1925 are practical and straightforward. And pressed between the first few pages is a sweet columbine flower. 


My paternal grandmother didn’t use cookbooks, but put recipes other women gave her on cards (not that she actually cooked any of these recipes for us). I inherited these cards, complete with her notes on them of the recipe being “not good”. Yet she kept the card.

My maternal grandmother would have been incensed at being asked to use a cookbook so I have no record from her. Only fond memories of the food she cooked. 

My mother’s cards

My mother kept her recipes on many, many cards with notes. More than she could possibly ever cook. I picked up her habit of tearing things out of magazines that sound good. Too many to ever make. My husband asked one day if I could just throw away all my piles of recipes. I was offended at first, but after I thought it through, I realized it made sense. It was liberating.

Mostly it shows how far I’ve come in own comfort with cooking. I don’t use recipes often, and when I do it’s usually just to trigger an idea. I‘m actually hoping to leave a legacy of notes in a cookbook I’m writing to leave my daughters. One loves to cook, one doesn’t. But who knows where that will go over time? 

An Old Recipe

Here’s an interesting recipe from the 1924 Art of Cookery

Sea Moss Blanc Mange

Wash a small handful of sea moss, Irish moss or Iceland moss, free from sand and dust. 

Soak in cold water for half an hour, then put it in a quart of boiling milk and let steep at boiling heat for twenty or thirty minutes.

Test it by putting a spoonful to cool, and it if stiffens like jelly it has steepened long enough. When sufficiently steeped drain off the liquid and sweeten and flavor to taste. Serve cold, without without cream.