Pieter Claesz via Wikimedia Commons // Public domain
Pieter Claesz via Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

15 Vintage Recipe Collections to Explore

Pieter Claesz via Wikimedia Commons // Public domain
Pieter Claesz via Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

Cookbooks and recipe collections don’t just record the delicacies and comfort food of the past, but also reflect social trends, immigration, and industrialization over the centuries. Each of these online resources offers a chef’s bounty of historic gastronomy, from 17th-century roasted peacock (served in its feathered skin) to broiled iceberg lettuce salad from the 1980s.


MSU Libraries // Public Domain

Amelia Simmons’s American Cookery is considered the first book by an American about American food, and is the earliest publication in Michigan State University Library’s Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project. The online project, started in 2001, focuses on 76 cookbooks from the library’s collections dating from the 18th to early 20th century. You can explore a glossary of old cooking terms and images of antique cooking implements, just in case you need to track down a sugar nipper, salamander, or centrifugal ice cream freezer for your classic cuisine.


Recipe books were not always just about food. Often home remedies were included too, like the 1621 recipe collection of Grace Acton, which followed up an elaborate roasted peacock recipe with a bedwetting treatment that involved boiling a mouse in urine. The eccentric collection is among the Wellcome Library's trove of online recipe books, which are mainly from the 16th to 19th centuries and demonstrate how cookbooks were a personal connection between food and medicine. The 17th-century recipe book of Lady Ann Fanshawe, for instance, has notes on a red powder she used after a miscarriage, mingling with one of the earliest known recipes for ice cream.


The Henry Ford // Public Domain

The Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Michigan, has an online Historic Recipe Bank neatly arranged so you can explore by category (whether appetizers or poultry) and era (from the 1700s to the 1990s). The resource mainly highlights American cuisine, including the 1894 Mrs. Rorer's Sandwiches, the first tome to focus on the American sandwich; the 1932 Macy’s Cook Book and Kitchen Guide for the Busy Woman with its economic pot roast and graham bread; and the 1960s vegetarian touchstone Diet for a Small Planet.


Hundreds of recipes were clipped from newspapers by librarians at Milwaukee Public Library from the 1960s to the 1980s. Wisconsin residents could telephone to enquire on the directions for Beer-Cheese Bites, Broiled Iceberg Salad (made with a cup of mayonnaise), or the sturdy Breta Griem's Cathedral Fruitcake, which can survive in a refrigerator for a year. Now you can access over 200 of these concoctions in the library’s Historic Recipe File.


The Recipe Project // Public Domain

The Recipes Project is an ongoing collaboration by international scholars to delve into the past through historic recipes, whether for charms, food, or medicine. Their recent explorations include 18th-century perfume, medieval toothache cures, and recipes with plants in Roman Egypt. The site also regularly interviews librarians and curators about their recipe collections, such as the New York Academy of Medicine Library and the University of Pennsylvania Library.


Bookseller Michael Popek regularly updates the Handwritten Recipes blog with scrawled recipes he finds wedged in used titles. He published some of them in a 2012 book, and continues to add to the archive of ephemera with items such as a recipe for hot chocolate from the 1902 The Strollers by Frederic S. Isham, a notecard with a recipe for fudge discovered in the 1903 Capital Stories by American Authors, and a worn recipe for cheezy pretzels that was wedged in a 1914 copy of P. G. Wodehouse's The Little Nugget.


From 1880 to 1930, cooking radically changed alongside industrialization, which increased commercial food in diets and expanded the availability of products. To encourage consumer loyalty you might have received a "Now you're cooking with tomato paste" pamphlet in the mail from Contadina, or an "Around the kitchen clock with walnuts" brochure from the California Walnut Growers Association. The Szathmary Recipe Pamphlet Digital Collection, amassed by Hungarian-born chef Louis Szathmary at the University of Iowa Libraries, has over 4000 recipe pamphlets from these decades of change.


On Four Pounds Flour, “historic gastronomist” Sarah Lohman deciphers recipes, mainly from 18th and 19th century American cuisine, and attempts to recreate or interpret the obscure meals. She recently purchased a bay leaf plant just to blend 18th and 19th century ice creams, cooked eggs for seven hours as if preparing for a 19th-century Jewish Sabbath, and tracked down the origins of that Thanksgiving staple: sweet potato casserole. Her upcoming publication Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine will further delve into this savory history.


Duke University Libraries // Public Domain

Among the formidable Emergence of Advertising in America: 1850-1920 collection at Duke University Libraries are hundreds of booklets and cookbooks published to promote food products as part of modern consumer culture. The 1920s “How Phyllis Grew Thin” has lean dishes throughout its pages, but is basically one long advertisement for the quack medicine Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound pills; "Sixty One Uses for Salt with Some Comment on the Kind of Salt to Use" was distributed by the Diamond Crystal Salt Co.; and the 1916 "Excellent Recipes for Baking Raised Breads" extolled Fleischmann's Yeast.


The Indiana University Library and Indianapolis Public Library joined together to create Service through Sponge Cake. Launched in 2010, it celebrates DIY cookbooks from churches, community organizations, and synagogues, where everyone suggested their favorite cookies or casseroles. The resource includes 200 Years of Black Cookery from 1976 by the Indianapolis Black Bicentennial Committee, 1944 baking from the 4-H Club, and a 1975 Spanish & Latin-American Cookbook from the Hispano-American Center of Indianapolis.


The historical cookbooks collection online at Texas Tech University Libraries Digital Collections definitely has a Lonestar State feel. One title is the 1914 Cooking Tough Meats, with a chicken fricasse "for a tough fowl" and directions on how to make mutton stew from neck pieces. Yet there’s a lot to explore beyond such carnivorous conundrums, like the exhaustive 1978 Sixteen Cottage Cheese Recipes, and the patriotic World War II-era Food Is Ammunition put out by the Georgia Agricultural Extension Service.


Virginia Tech's History of Food & Drink Collection features several hundred publications on the culinary arts, mainly from the 19th and early 20th century, although there’s also a digitized recipe book from 1731 [PDF] that opens with guidelines on how to pickle everything from a "great cucumber" to kidney beans. Among the vintage cookbooks, you can also find a 1930s cocktail manual, and the 1923 Salads, Sandwiches and Chafing-dish Dainties which answers such pressing questions as "are midnight suppers hygienic?" alongside its recipes for "pineapple-and-cream-cheese salad, Easter style" and eggs à la king.


The Library of Congress selected works from its cookery collections within the Rare Books & Special Collections to make available online, with material dating back to the 15th century. The gastronomy books include The Accomplish'd lady's delight in preserving, physick, beautifying, and cookery from 1675, with directions for dressing fowl as well as “Excellent receipts in physick and chirurgery.” The 1498 Apicius. De re coquinaria. Milan, Guillermus Le Signerre is the earliest surviving collection of recipes from Europe, believed to have evolved from a 1st century version compiled in Rome. And Lydia Maria Child’s 1829 Frugal housewife. Dedicated to those who are not ashamed of economy represents the thrifty work of one of the first women to support herself as a writer.


The Internet Archive nonprofit digital library is a great resource for just about any media, cookery included. A search for cookbooks on the site turns up over 1000 results including examples from libraries and rare book collections. Among the vintage and historic publications are a California Mexican-Spanish cookbook from 1914, part of the University of California Libraries; a 1928 compendium of "salad secrets" from McGill University Library; and the 1913 The White House Cook Book, also from University of California Libraries.


The British Library’s online Books for Cooks is a chronological exploration from medieval banquets adorned with pastry ships to frugal Victorians in London recycling their coffee grounds. Publications with highlighted recipes include the 1595 The Widdowes Treasure, which advises on killing lice as well as preventing mold on pears; the 1670 The Queen-like Closet with recipes for calves' foot pie and oyster pie; and the 1729 The Queen's Royal Cookery, in which you can attempt to learn how to master the collaring of an eel.

The Science Behind Why We Crave Loud and Crunchy Foods

A number of years ago, food giant Unilever polled consumers asking how the company might improve their popular line of Magnum ice cream bars. The problem, respondents said, was that the chocolate coating of the bars tended to fall off too quickly, creating blotches of sticky goo on carpeting. Unilever reacted by changing the recipe to make the chocolate less prone to spills.

When they tested the new and improved product, they expected a warm reception. Instead, they got more complaints than before. While the updated bar didn’t make a mess, it also didn’t make the distinctive crackle that its fans had grown accustomed to. Deprived of hearing the coating collapse and crumble, the experience of eating the ice cream was fundamentally changed. And not for the better.

Smell and taste researcher Alan Hirsch, M.D. refers to it as the “music of mastication,” an auditory accompaniment to the sensory stimulus of eating. “For non-gustatory, non-olfactory stimulation, people prefer crunchiness,” he tells Mental Floss. Humans love crunchy, noisy snacks, that loud rattling that travels to our inner ear via air and bone conduction and helps us identify what it is we’re consuming. Depending on the snack, the noise can reach 63 decibels. (Normal conversations are around 60 dB; rustling leaves, 20 dB.)

When we hear it, we eat more. When we don’t—as in the case of Magnum bars, or a soggy, muted potato chip—we resort to other senses, looking at our food with doubt or sniffing it for signs of expiration. Psychologically, our lust for crispy sustenance is baked in. But why is it so satisfying to create a cacophony of crunch? And if we love it so much, why do some of us actually grow agitated and even aggressive when we hear someone loudly chomping away? It turns out there’s a lot more to eating with our ears than you might have heard.


The science of crunch has long intrigued Charles Spence, Ph.D., a gastrophysicist and professor of experimental psychology and head of the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at the University of Oxford. Food companies have enlisted him and consulted his research across the spectrum of ingestion, from packaging to shapes to the sound chips make rustling around in grocery carts.

“We’re not born liking noisy foods,” he tells Mental Floss. “Noise doesn’t give a benefit in terms of nutrition. But we don’t like soggy crisps even if they taste the same. Missing the sound is important.”

In 2003, Spence decided to investigate the sonic appeal of chips in a formal setting. To keep a semblance of control, he selected Pringles, which are baked uniformly—a single Pringle doesn't offer any significant difference in size, thickness, or crunch from another. He asked 20 research subjects to bite into 180 Pringles (about two cans) while seated in a soundproof booth in front of a microphone. The sound of their crunching was looped back into a pair of headphones.

After consuming the cans, they were asked if they perceived any difference in freshness or crispness from one Pringle to another. What they didn’t know was that Spence had been playing with the feedback in their headphones, raising or lowering the volume of their noisy crunching [PDF]. At loud volumes, the chips were reported to be fresher; chips ingested while listening at low volume were thought to have been sitting out longer and seemed softer. The duplicitous sounds resulted in a radical difference in chip perception. It may have been a small study, but in the virtually non-existent field of sonic chip research, it was groundbreaking.

A view inside a potato chip bag

For Spence, the results speak to what he considers the inherent appeal of crunchy foods. “Noisy foods correlate with freshness,” he says. “The fresher the produce, like apples, celery, or lettuce, the more vitamins and nutrients it’s retained. It’s telling us what’s in the food.”

Naturally, this signal becomes slightly misguided when it reinforces the quality of a potato chip, a processed slab of empty calories. But Spence has a theory on this, too: “The brain likes fat in food, but it’s not so good at detecting it through our mouths. Noisy foods are certainly fattier on average.”

Fatty or fresh, raising decibels while eating may also have roots in less appetizing behaviors. For our ancestors who ate insects, the crunch of a hard-bodied cricket symbolized nourishment. In a primal way, violently mincing food with our teeth could also be a way to vent and dilute aggression. “There are some psychoanalytic theories related to crunchiness and aggressive behavior,” Hirsch says. “When you bite into ice or potato chips, you’re sublimating that in a healthy way.”


All of these factors explain why crunch appeals to us. But is it actually affecting what we taste?

Yes—but maybe not the way you’d think. “Sound affects the experience of food,” Spence says. “The noise draws attention to the mouth in the way something silent does not. If you’re eating pâté, your attention can drift elsewhere, to a television or to a dining companion. But a crunch will draw your attention to what you’re eating, making you concentrate on it. Noisy foods make you think about them.”

That crunch can also influence how much food we consume. Because noisy foods tend to be fatty, Spence says, they’ll retain their flavor longer. And because the noise reinforces our idea of what we’re eating, it affords us a sense of security that allows us to keep consuming without having to look at our snack—not so important in a brightly-lit room, but crucial if we’re in a dark movie theater. “It becomes more important when you can’t see what you’re eating,” Spence says.

Thanks to this hard-wired feedback, the snack industry has made it a priority to emphasize the sounds of their foods in both development and marketing. In the 1980s, Frito-Lay funded extensive work at a Dallas plant that involved $40,000 chewing simulators. There, they discovered the ideal breaking point for a chip was four pounds per square inch (PSI), just a fraction of what we might need to tear into a steak (150 to 200 PSI). The quality and consistency of the potatoes themselves is also key, according to Herbert Stone, Ph.D., a food scientist who has worked with companies on product development. “Too thick, too hard, and people don’t like them,” Stone tells Mental Floss. “Too thin and they just crumble.”

The right potato sliced at the right thickness with the right oil at the right temperature results in a solid chip—one resilient enough to make for a satisfying break when it hits your molars, but vanishing so quickly that your brain and body haven’t even processed the calories you’ve just taken in. “If they pick it up and put it in the mouth and the crunch is not what they expect, they might put it down,” Stone says. “It’s about expectation.”

A shopper examines a bag of potato chips

Walk down the snack aisle in your local supermarket or glance at commercials and you’ll find no shortage of claims about products being the boldest, crunchiest chip available. For years, Frito-Lay marketed Cheetos as “the cheese that goes crunch!” Even cereals try to capitalize on the fervor, making mascots—Snap, Crackle, and Pop—out of the sound their Rice Krispies make when submerged in milk. One ad for a brand of crisps drew attention for “cracking” the viewer’s television screen.

For most consumers, the promise of sonic flavor will draw their attention. But for a small number of people diagnosed with a condition dubbed misophonia, the sound of a co-worker or partner crunching on chips isn’t at all pleasurable. It’s insufferable.


According to Connecticut audiologist Natan Bauman, M.D., the average noise level of someone masticating a potato chip is between 25 to 35 decibels. (Other sources peg it as closer to 63 dB when you're chewing on a chip with your mouth open, or 55 dB with your lips closed.) When you hear your own chewing, the sound is being conducted both via the air and your own bones, giving it a distinctively unique sound. (Like talking, hearing yourself chewing on a recording might be troubling.)

For someone suffering from misophonia, or the literal hatred of specific sounds, it's not their own chomping that's the problem. It's everyone else's.

When we chew, Bauman says, the auditory cortical and limbic system areas of our brain are lighting up, getting information about freshness and texture. But people with misophonia aren’t struggling with their own sounds. Instead, they're affected by others typing, clicking pens, or, more often, chewing. The sound of someone snacking is routed from the cochlea, or cavity in the inner ear, and becomes an electric signal that winds up in the brain’s amygdala, which processes fear and pleasure. That's true for everyone, but in misophonics, it lands with a thud. They’ve likely developed a trigger, or negative association, with the sounds stemming from an incident in childhood.

“If you are scolded by a parent and they happen to be eating, or smacking, it becomes negative reinforcement,” Bauman says. Chewing, lip smacking, and even breathing become intolerable for sufferers, who often feel agitated and nervous, with corresponding increases in heart rate. Some fly into a rage.

Misophonics don’t necessarily recoil at all of these sounds all of the time: It may depend on who’s doing the snacking. Often, it’s a co-worker, spouse, or family member munching away that prompts a response. Fearing they’ll damage that relationship, sufferers tend to vent online. The misophonia subreddit is home to threads with titles like “And the popcorn eater sits RIGHT next to me on the plane” and “Chips can go f-ck themselves.” (The entire content of the latter: “F-ck chips, man. That is all.”)

Bauman says misophonia can be treated using cognitive therapy. An earpiece can provide white noise to reduce trigger sounds while sufferers try to retrain their brain to tolerate the noises. But even the sight of a bag of chips can be enough to send them scrambling.

People with misophonia might also want to exercise caution when traveling. Although some Asian cultures minimize crunchy snacks because loud snacking is considered impolite, other parts of the world can produce noisier mealtimes. “In parts of Asia, you show appreciation for food by slurping,” Spence says. Slurping is even associated with a more intense flavor experience, particularly when it’s in the setting of a comparatively quiet dining establishment.

Western culture favors noisier restaurants, and there’s a good reason for that. Supposedly Hard Rock Café has mastered the art of playing loud and fast music, resulting in patrons who talked less, ate faster, and left more quickly, allowing operators to turn over tables more times in an evening.

Spence believes sound will continue to be important to gastronomy, to chefs, and to food companies looking to sell consumers on a complete experience. Snack shelves are now full of air-puffed offerings like 3-D Doritos and Pop Chips that create pillows of taste. With less volume, you’ll snack more and crunch for longer periods.

A woman snacks on a chip

But the sound of the chip is just one part of the equation. The way a bag feels when you pick it up at the store, the aroma that wafts out when you first open the bag, the concentration of flavor from the granules of seasoning on your fingers—it’s all very carefully conducted to appeal to our preferences.

“When we hear the rattle of crisps, it may encourage people to start salivating, like Pavlov’s dogs,” Spence says, referring to the Russian scientist who trained his canines to salivate when he made a certain sound. We’re conditioned to anticipate the flavor and enjoyment of chips as soon as we pick up a package. Even hearing or saying the words crispy and crunchy can prime us for the experience.

When we’re deprived of that auditory cue, we can get annoyed. After news reports emerged that Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi had mentioned her company might consider a quieter version of Doritos for women—an idea PepsiCo later denied they would label in a gender-specific fashion—women Doritos enthusiasts rallied around the Texas state capitol, condemning the perceived gender discrimination. To protest the possible dilution of their favorite snack, they made a spectacle of crunching Doritos as loudly as they could.

London Grocery Chain Encourages Shoppers to Bring Their Own Tupperware

Why stop at bringing your own grocery bags to the store? One London grocery wants you to BYO-Tupperware. The London Evening Standard reports that a UK chain called Planet Organic has partnered with Unpackaged—a company dedicated to sustainable packaging—to install self-serve bulk-food dispensers where customers can fill their own reusable containers with dry goods, cutting down on plastic packaging waste.

To use the system, customers walk up and weigh their empty container at a self-serve station, printing and attaching a label with its tare weight. Then, they can fill it with flour, nuts, or other kinds of dry goods, weigh it again, and print the price tag before taking it up to the check out. (Regular customers only have to weigh their containers once, since they can save the peel-off label to use again next time.)

Planet Organic is offering cereals, legumes, grains, nuts, chocolate, dried fruit, and even some cleaning products in bulk as part of this program, significantly reducing the amount of waste shoppers would otherwise be taking home on each grocery trip.

Zero-waste grocery stores have been popping up in Europe for several years. These shops, like Berlin's Original Unverpackt, don't offer any bags or containers, asking customers bring their own instead. This strategy also encourages people to buy only what they need, which eliminates food waste—there's no need to buy a full 5-pound bag of flour if you only want to make one cake.

The concept is also gaining traction in North America. The no-packaging grocery store in.gredients opened in Austin, Texas in 2011. The Brooklyn store Package Free, opened in 2017, takes the idea even further, marketing itself as a one-stop shop for "everything that you'd need to transition to a low waste lifestyle." It sells everything from tote bags to laundry detergent to dental floss.

[h/t London Evening Standard]


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