Monday, October 25, 2010

What Did Your Family Eat in the 1920s?

Ever wonder about your ancestor's life in the 1920s?  The website, The Roaring Twenties: A Historical Snapshot of Life in the 1920s and their  blog, provides some great information about all sorts of social history including food.

The short article on food includes information on what foods were ate, appliances and prohibition. A list of food advertisements provides an idea of what was available from various companies.

Other pages that relate to food include Prohibition and Garden.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The El Paso Cookbook

In many cases, community cookbooks are self published in small runs so that many are never archived. The total number of community cookbooks ever published will probably never be known.  But in a rare case, a cookbook may be reprinted and annotated for a modern audience.  Such is the case for the El Paso Cookbook, originally written to benefit the Ladies Axillary of the Y.M.C.A. in El Paso, Texas. This book is available to read at Google Books and available for sale at Amazon.

This cookbook provides a short history of charity cookbooks in Texas.  Edited by Andrew F. Smith, a Culinary Historian, he writes in the introduction, "The El Paso Cookbook is valuable from a historical standpoint-for what it tells us about El Paso and what it tells us about cookery at the beginning of the twentieth century."

This reprinting of an 1898 cookbook provides us with the names of 85 recipe contributors. According to Smith, women contributing recipes were local women, women whose husband's were stationed at Ft. Bliss, and women from other cities in Texas, Pennsylvania and Minnesota. In the case of women who were not living in El Paso, their city is listed next to their name just under the recipe title. Along with recipes, there are also advertisements for local businesses.

Looking for cemeteries in El Paso?  Well this cookbook includes a full page advertisement for Concordia Cemetery (page 65).  The ad states "This cemetery is situated upon high ground thirty feet above the river level. It has been greatly improved and beautified under the new management and no effort will be spared to add to its attractiveness. The Masonic and Odd Fellows' Societies, the Jewish and Catholic Churches and other organizations have their burial grounds immediately adjoining this cemetery."

One of the funnier ads found in this cookbook is for an insurance company which proclaims "Before trying the recipes in this book, have you lives (sic) insured with The Equitable Life Assurance Society." (page 98).

Those with ancestors in El Paso at the turn of the century might find the ads, and the names of the women contributors in this volume, of interest to your research.

Monday, October 18, 2010

On the Bookshelf: The American History Cookbook

I've been reading various cookbook histories and picked up The American History Cookbook by Mark H. Zanger at my local library. This book provides the reader with  historical information on food and recipes throughout American history. These recipes are largely from cookbooks published in each historical era. Recipes begin with America before it was "discovered" and then continue through history to include the Revolutionary War, Early American Health Food, The Civil War, Settlers and Homesteaders, World War I, The Great Depression, World War II and ends in the 1970s. With over 50 chapters providing information on food during different time periods, you are bound to get some ideas about what your ancestor may have ate or may have had access to.

One aspect of my own family food history I find interesting is the differences in the diet of my mother's family vs. my father's family.  For example, my paternal great-grandmother use to make a bunch of pies each Thanksgiving.  There were many different flavors to choose from. One was mincemeat pie.  Now as a young girl, just the name of that pie was enough to make me run.  The name alone made it seem like a pie to avoid, especially since the pumpkin pies were plentiful.  Her version of this pie is probably what many people are familiar with.  It was a mixed fruit pie.  I have noticed that some stores even sell mincemeat in jars that you can then pour into a pie crust.

For my mother's side of the family, mincemeat was a lot like it sounded. It was a meat pie. There was no fruit in it.

Reading The American History Cookbook provided me with some other versions of mincemeat pie. One of which, is found in the Temperance and Prohibition Recipes (1837-1930) section on page 195. This recipe calls for beef  heart, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, salt, molasses, apples and raisins. So a mixture of meat and fruits fill this pie. This recipes was found in a temperance cookbook, substituting the brandy usually found in the recipe from that era, with molasses.

The second recipe a Green Tomato Mincemeat from 1940 (page 394) shows a version where green tomatoes and apples are used in a "mock" mincemeat pie version.

Obviously, food preferences change over time. What may have been considered everyday fare in the past may have all but disappeared in the present. Food availability, food storage methods, money and other factors largely determine our diets. Reading cookbooks like The American History Cookbook provides us with some ideas about the food lives our ancestors lived.  And doesn't that make for a more interesting family history?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Church Record Sunday: Historic Paxton Church Cookbook

You have to love a cookbook that has so much rolled into it. Not only does the cookbook, Historic Paxton, Her Days and Her Ways 1722-1913. Family Recipes Contributed by The Women's Aid Society of Paxton Church have recipes but it also has a comprehensive history of this Paxton, Pennsylvania  church. This history includes not only the church, the ministers, and the attached school but even the history of the graveyard.  This is my kind of cookbook! There is 144 pages of historical content before you reach the recipes section.

To get to the recipes you will need to forward the book to page 145 which begins the cookbook portion with bread recipes. The names of the women who provided recipes in this cookbook are largely listed by their husband's names.  While this does happen occasionally in early cookbooks it still provides information on when your family lived in a certain area and what organizations they belonged to. Names of those who submitted recipes in this book include:

Mrs. Marshall Rutherford
Mrs. J. E. Rutherford
Mrs. Bellett Lawson
Mrs. Thomas Lyter
Mrs. F. O. Tayler
Mrs. J. Q. A. Rutherford
Mrs. S. F. Barber
Mrs. W. Franklin Rutherford
Mrs. Charles Smith
Mrs. John Y Boyd
Miss. Eliza E. Rutherford
Mrs. J.A. Lutz
Miss Margaret S. Rutherford
Miss K. Virginia Ruhterford
Mrs. Charles Forney
Mrs. James Boyd
Mrs. Edgar Martin
Mrs. J. F. Myers
Miss Janet Elder
Mrs. S. Gray Bigham
Miss Keziah Rutherford
Mrs. Arthur Bailey
Mrs. Alison Mayhew
Mrs. H. F. Kramer
Mrs. Howard A. Birchall
Mrs. John Wensell
Mrs. Thomas Smallwood
Mrs. John Elder
Mrs. Wm. Sourbur
Mrs. Ricker
Mrs. S. H. Rutherford
Mrs. Donald I. Rutherford
Miss Eleanor G Rutherford
Mrs. George C Martin
Mrs. Hudgins
Mrs. J. H. Sheesley
Mrs. Harry Holmes, Jr.
Mrs. George Sheaffer
Miss Isabella Rutherford
Mrs. A. P. L. Dull
Mrs. Kochenderfer
Mrs. H. A. Rutherford
Miss Helen Rutherford
Mrs. Daniel Ricker
Mrs. J. C. Wensell
Mrs. John Schuster
Mrs. William Kunkle
Mrs. Harry Fitting
Mrs. Joshua E. Rutherford
Miss Matilda Elder
Mrs. Harry Holmes
Mrs. S. Ralston Dickey
Miss June Rutherford
Miss Mary B Rutherford
Miss Martha K Rutherford
Mrs. Howard A Rutherford
Mrs. Robert C Welsh
Miss Margaret Brown Rutherford
Mrs. E. M. Mulock
Mrs. Darwin F. Pickard
Miss Eva Kunckle
Miss Caroline Smallwood
Miss Inda H Kauffman
Mrs. J. S. Rose
Mrs. J. A. Rose
Mrs. Francis W. Rutherford
Mrs. David Martin
Mrs. Kochenderfer
Mrs. Matthew B. Elder

Women are also acknowledged in the beginning pages by the editor for their contribution to this history.  This cookbook is rich with detail and if you ancestor is listed, you will learn much about their time and their religion as well as what they ate.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Recipes from the Past: Vinegar Pie

Have you ever thought about the food that generations past ate but that for whatever reason is absent from your dinner table?  I'm always interested in knowing why some of the dishes of our parents or even grand-parents generation no longer are fixed.  Now, I do realize that in some cases you wouldn't want them to end up on your dinner plate. My grandmother made head cheese and though I realize some people like it, I'd prefer not eat it.

One of the mailing lists I subscribe to is sponsored by the Association for the Study of Food and Society.  In one of the threads there was a mention of vinegar pie. I, like others, have not tasted vinegar pie. However, I have seen mention of it in several of my older cookbooks. I wonder why it has lost favor in the pie world?  The name may be the reason, but maybe fruit pies are just preferred in our era of access to fresh fruit all year long.

So fast forward to today when I was doing some research and saw an article by genealogist Myra Vanderpool Gormley entitled, Vinegar Pie, Cat's Eyes and Tales From Grandma's Kitchen from the Nov/Dec 2006 Ancestry Magazine.

In this article she talks about her favorite pie being vinegar pie.  She describes the ingredients as "eggs, sugar, cornstarch, apple cider vinegar, cream of tartar and vanilla extract.  Later meringue is added to the top of the filling and browned.

So have you had vinegar pie?  What does it taste like?  Do you make it still or is it simply a pie of the past in your family?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Libraries and Websites to Find Community Cookbooks

This list will be migrating over to the right side bar but for now I thought I would bring your attention to just a few places that have collections of community cookbooks.  These resources are not just regional, they have collections from all over the United States. This list is in no particular order.


Los Angeles Public Library

University of Illinois Library

Library of Congress 

Radcliffe Institute Schlesinger Library Harvard University


Internet Archive