Heirloom Cookbooks: A Peek Into the Past

“Grandmother’s spicy kitchen with its gay curtains, neat rows of pots and pans, and loaves fresh from the oven is a heritage granddaughter treasures. Around that kitchen centered the heart of the home. Through it strong characters and good communities were built.” These are the introductory words to a cookbook I was recently given by my grandma. Lest you think the grandmother referred to in the cookbook refers to my grandma’s generation, consider this: the cookbook was published in 1942. That means the granddaughter mentioned would have been my grandma and the grandmother would actually be my great, great grandma.


I don’t remember either of my grandmas cooking much, but even so, I treasure the vintage cookbooks passed down from both grandmas. Today I’d like to share a few snippets from the Granddaughter’s Inglenook Cookbook, which was published in Elgin, Illinois in 1942 by the Brethren church. This cookbook is a revised version of the first Inglenook Cookbook, which was published in 1901. As you can imagine, the forty-one years between 1901 and 1942 brought great changes to kitchens and grocery shopping, and thus a new cookbook was needed to serve a new generation.

When I opened the cookbook, the first thing I noticed was the Baking Table on the inside cover. If your oven didn’t have a thermometer, there was an easy way to determine the temperature: bake white flour. If the flour turned light straw color in 5 minutes, the temperature was 250-350°F. If it turned golden brown, the temperature was 350-400°F, and so on. The Baking Table also lists the temperatures and time to cook bread, pies, potatoes, meats and more.

Take a look at the recipes and you’ll realize how important the cooking times and temperatures are. For example, the recipe for Pocketbook Rolls simply directs the baker to “Bake in hot oven.” No temperature or cooking time is given, but the reader can always refer to the Baking Table inside the front cover.pocketbook rolls

I also find it fascinating how simple the recipes are written. Consider this recipe for Crackling Corn Bread:

Crackling Corn Bread
Cut cracklings
1 qt. cornmeal
1 c. sour milk
½ tsp. soda
1 tsp. salt
Warm water
Heat the cracklings. Combine rest of ingredients, using enough water to mix well. Add to the heated cracklings, stirring thoroughly. Bake in a moderate oven.

This recipe doesn’t indicate the quantity of cracklings or warm water or what size pan to use or how long to cook the corn bread. Reading a recipe like this makes me realize that much of what is detailed in today’s recipes was once common knowledge. I like to think I know a fair bit about cooking, but by my great-grandmother’s standards, maybe I don’t know so much after all.

Just as passing years bring changes in clothing trends, so they bring changes in food trends. A few of the recipes in the cookbook made me chuckle for that very reason. Take, for instance, Health Drink.

Health Drink
2 pkg. raspberry jello
2 c. orange juice
4 c. hot water
juice of 2 lemons
Add water to jello and let cool to room temperature. Add juices, ice and serve, or place in refrigerator in jar to cool after mixing with fruit juice.

health drinkYes, friends, a Jello-based health drink. It’s hard to imagine making this in 2012. Then again, Gatorade and Powerade are pretty much the same sugar bombs, aren’t they?

The US has been known as a melting pot for generations, so I was curious to see what recipes were in the International Cookery section. I discovered a few Hungarian sweets, several African recipes that used peanut butter and taro root and many Chinese dishes. There were also four pages of recipes from India, which immediately grabbed my attention because Sam is from neighboring Pakistan. Yes, there was Dhal Curry with the traditional onion tardka; the funnel cake-like jalebies; and pillau, a more obscure rice dish (and one of Sam’s favorites). Who would’ve thought that here in a cookbook from 1942 Sam’s and my heritages would meet? pillau

There are too many interesting snippets from my heirloom cookbook to share with you in just one blog post, so I plan to make this a regular type of post on my blog. I’ll still be doing my usual recipe posts, but you can expect more peaks into the past regarding everything from stain removal tips to canning and candy making.

heirloom cookbooks

11 Thoughts on “Heirloom Cookbooks: A Peek Into the Past

  1. How fun! My mom gave me a cookbook that was compiled from church recipes in the 70s. So I have recipes from my grandma, mom and aunt all in one. I made a zucchini bake of my grandma’s that I didn’t remember having but once it started baking I remembered it!

    • andrea on October 3, 2012 at 1:09 PM said:

      Oh wow! That’s so interesting that you remembered your grandma’s zucchini bread once you tasted it! I’ve never heard of that happening, but it makes perfect sense. And how neat to have recipes from your grandma, mom and aunt all in one place.

  2. Crescent Rainwater on October 2, 2012 at 9:35 PM said:

    This is so cool and interesting, Andrea. I loved reading it. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Fun! I’d be really interested in hearing about your actual experiences cooking/baking from their instructions too!

    • andrea on October 3, 2012 at 1:11 PM said:

      That’s a great idea! I had thought a little bit about doing this, but now you’ve given me motivation to do this for my next post. :)

  4. Fascinating! I think cooking was so commonplace, that you’re right, it just wasn’t necessary to spell out every step. People generally knew what to do.

    • andrea on October 3, 2012 at 1:12 PM said:

      Yes, it interesting to think about what used to be common knowledge in cooking. I’m glad to see a resurgence in canning and making things from scratch. Hopefully we can regain a little bit of that lost cooking knowledge!

  5. This is fantastic girl! My grandmother didn’t own any cookbooks but she gave me her handwritten recipes which I cherish like a treasure. In India I think most recipes were exchanged verbally and the cooking is more “eye balling” than following measurements. I begin to cook the recipe with the hope to arrive at the same taste and aroma I am used to as a child. Loved reading your post.

    • andrea on October 3, 2012 at 1:14 PM said:

      How special to have those handwritten recipes from your grandmother! From seeing Sam’s mom cook, I can totally understand how recipes in India are more about eye balling than following measurements. I bet it’s fun to try to arrive at the same tastes and aromas that you experienced as a child, a bit like solving a puzzle!

  6. Hi, Andrea:

    I just wanted to let you (and your followers) know that there’s more information about the Inglenook Cookbook series on our website: http://inglenookcookbook.org/.

    In fact, a new Inglenook Cookbook is scheduled to be published this summer. There hasn’t been a new Inglenook Cookbook published since the 1942 Granddaughter’s, so we are very excited about this new project.

    Kind regards,
    James Deaton, managing editor
    Brethren Press

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