11 Vintage Cookbooks (1861-1920)

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These days, cookbooks are all fairly similar in that they offer photos of the food and maybe a few pictures of the celebrity chefs responsible for the creations. But long ago, drawings had to suffice, making these recipe collections far more artistic.

Since all these books are in the public domain, many sites have scanned in all of the pages for you to enjoy. I’ve only included the covers here, but follow the links and you can read the contents of most of these titles.

1. Beeton's Book of Household Management - 1861

Originally published in 24 parts between 1859 and 1861, the complete set was bound together for sale in 1861 bearing the cover above. It was an immediate success, selling over 60,000 copies in the first year and almost two million before 1868. The book was revolutionary in its format, particularly in the author’s decision to list the ingredients first, setting the standard for cookbooks in years to come. Unfortunately, Mrs. Beeton did not enjoy the spoils of her success very long as she died in childbirth in 1865.

Her husband soon sold off the rights to the book, and over the years it has been changed repeatedly to the point where the last edition, published in 1960, bears barely any resemblance to the original. These days though, the 1861 version is considered a classic, giving a detailed glimpse into the life of a typical English Victorian housewife.

Read the whole thing here.

2. Sloan's Cook Book and Advice to Housekeepers - 1905

Dr. Earl S. Sloan was the head of his family’s liniment treatment company (Dr. Earl S. Sloan, Incorporated) and was known for being an excellent spokesperson and a great advertiser. In 1905, he released this book dedicated to "the women of America who are the home-makers" in order to gently market his products while creating goodwill towards his brand.

The organization of the book is a bit odd, transitioning abruptly from vegetables to the care of a child and from how to treat a horse to preparing lobster, but I guess you can’t expect too much from a fake doctor releasing a cookbook to sell liniment.

Read the whole thing here.

3. The Vital Question Cook Book - 1908

If you immediately ask yourself what the “vital question” is, well then, you just fell victim to the marketing ploy of the Natural Food Company who created this cookbook to promote their shredded wheat products. In fact, the title should hardly be considered a cookbook at all given that most of the text is dedicated to educating consumers on the benefits of eating shredded wheat and about the Natural Food Company’s Shredded Wheat Plant. There are some general cooking tips and a few recipes which include shredded wheat, but the majority of the book is dedicated to showing why shredded wheat should be in every home.

As for the vital question, it’s “how to best maintain vitality in a person?” The answer: eating shredded wheat, of course.

Read the whole thing here.

4. Oysters and How to Cook Them: 100 Delicious Meals at One Half the Cost of Meat – circa 1910

Yes, there was a time when oysters were far cheaper than other, more common meats. That’s why the Oyster Growers and Dealers Association of America wanted to help frugal housewives learn to save money by making delicious meals with the shellfish with the help of this short recipe book. Even knowing their historically low cost, it sounds bizarre to read how “the high cost of living can be greatly reduced by eating oysters more frequently.” Perhaps the organization promoted their product a little too well.

Read the whole thing here.

5. Home Helps: A Pure Food Cook Book - 1910

While created to help promote Cottolene, a shortening made from cottonseed oil and beef suet, this cookbook covers everything, including a number of recipes that do not require shortening. It even tells readers how to make incredibly simple things like tea and boiled eggs. Interestingly, while Cottolene is no longer produced, it is still fondly remembered by many people precisely because the company released so many useful cookbooks like this one.

Read the whole thing here.

6. The Kitchen Encyclopedia - 1911

Like other recipe indexes in this list, this title was created as an advertisement –this time for Swift’s Oleomargarine. Aside from recipes, this book also provides household cleaning tips and gardening advice. It must have been a fairly successful compilation, because this 1911 version was already a fifth edition printing.

Read the whole thing here.

7. Choice Recipes: Chocolate and Cocoa Recipes, Home Made Candy Recipes - 1913

This book was unique for the time in that there are actually photos for many of the recipes inside the book and they do look tempting indeed. Like many cookbooks today, the recipes include a specific brand of cocoa to use, but any chocolate could suffice, making this seem like a fairly useful dessert cookbook even if it was intended to be a marketing tool.

Read the whole thing here.

8. Proven Recipes Showing the uses of the Three Great Products from Corn - 1915

This one was printed by the Corn Products Refining Co., which represented Kingsford Corn Starch, Karo Corn Syrup and Mazola corn oil. While the recipes inside actually look pretty tasty and were supposedly endorsed by the legendary Oscar Tschirky, maître d'hôtel of the Waldorf Astoria, I don’t know that most modern readers would ever be able to get past the image of a Native American girl dressed as an ear of corn.

Read the whole thing here.

9. War-Time Cook and Health Book - 1917

Printed shortly after America entered World War I, this book had two goals: to teach women to better ration and save their food, and to help promote Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound. The first goal is obvious in the recipes in the book, most of which were created by the U.S. Department of Food Conservation or the U.S. Food Administration. The second goal is obnoxious in its persistence. That’s because practically every page contains a paragraph telling women why they desperately need to start using Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound, whether it’s to give them energy, stop their headaches, ease their p.m.s. symptoms, make them more focused, or help any other ailment they may have.

Read the whole thing here.

10. How To Do Pickling - 1917

As far as advertising cookbooks go, this one is unique in how it handles the ads. In fact, the pickling recipes are printed in their entirety without any ads. Instead, the ads are inserted on every other page, featuring information on maladies and how Dr. D. Jayne's Family Medicines can help treat them.

Read the whole thing here.

11. Selected Recipes and Menus for Parties, Holidays, and Special Occasions - c1920

While the artwork and photos from this book are definitely dated, the recipes from this book would mostly seem right at home in a modern cookbook. Indeed, Calumet Baking Powder, the main product advertised here, is still commonly used and is even still issuing promotional cookbooks. In fact, if you want to print out one of these cookbooks and actually start using it, this is certainly the one I’d recommend, if for no other reason than the ingredients are all still readily available.

Read the whole thing here.
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Do we have any vintage cookbook collectors out there? If so, what’s your favorite piece from your collection? Have you tried any of the recipes from it? How did they turn out?

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May 11, 2012 - 8:11am
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