An Archive of 3,000 Vintage Cookbooks Lets You Travel Back Through Culinary Time

OC bachelor coobook illustration

By the time I got to high school, home economics classes had fallen out of favor: the boys, of course, considered them too "girly," and the girls considered them enforcers of traditional gender roles wholly out of place in modern society. At that time, America's widespread obsession with food still had a few years before its full bloom, and now I imagine that learning to cook has regained a certain cachet even among teenagers. But what of "home economics" itself, that curious banner that combines a definition of economics nobody now quite recognizes with the less-than-fashionable concepts of domesticity, practicality, and necessity?




You can get a sense of the field's history with a visit to the Cookbook and Home Economics Collection at the Internet Archive. Its items, drawn from the Young Research Library Department of Special Collections at UCLA, the Bancroft Library at The University of California, Berkeley, and the Prelinger Library, "take us back to an America in the early decades of the 20th century covering topics on cookery, textiles, family and home, budgeting, domestic sciences, and many other delightful topics." Some will find them more inherently delightful than will others, but the historical value remains undeniable: each and every book in the collection takes us back to a different time and place with its own interests and priorities, in the kitchen as well as elsewhere in the home.

At the Internet Archive blog, Jeff Kaplan highlights such works as the Pilgrim Cook Bookpublished by Chicago’s Pilgrim Evangelical Lutheran Church Ladies’ Aid Society in 1921 and including recipes for Sausage in Potato Boxes, Blitz Torte, Cough Syrup, and Sauerkraut Candy; 1912's more subdued Food for the invalid and the convalescent, with its Beef Juice, Meat Jelly, Cracker Gruel, and advice that, "among other things, beer and pickles are bad for children"; and even older, 1906's A bachelors cupboard; containing crumbs culled from the cupboards of the great unwedded which, warning that “the day of of the ‘dude’ has passed and the weakling is relegated to his rightful sphere in short order,” offers methods for the making of dishes with names like Bed-Spread For Two, Indian Devil Mixture, Hot Birds, and Finnan Haddie.

If we dismissed whatever they taught in high school Home Ec as old-fashioned, then boy, the wisdom preserved in this corner of the Internet Archive exists on a whole other plane. But it also contains more than laughs: the serious student of cuisine and its history will also find the likes of 1907's A Guide to Modern Cookery, the work of French "king of chefs and chef of kings" Auguste Escoffier, as well as — sticking, sensibly, to that most Epicurean of all nations — Le grand dictionnaire de cuisine, a 1200-page encyclopedia-cookbook published just after the death of its author, The Three Musketeers author Alexandre Dumas. As relevance goes, both of them of them surely hold up far better than, say, The whole duty of a woman, or, An infallible guide to the fair sex: containing rules, directions, and observations, for their conduct and behavior through all ages and circumstances of life, as virgins, wives, or widows.

Enter the archive of 3,000+ cookbooks and home ec texts here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.


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Comments (6)
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  • Dena Silver says:

    Thanks for this list–culinary paradise!

    So true, Home Economics.

  • Jan Murrell says:

    Desperately need Good Housekeeping cookbook, 1963
    Chicken Tetrazzini recipe
    This is the best
    I taught 34 years Home Economics
    Somehow lost my favorite all time recipe,
    Having 8 for luncheon on January 25.
    Help me please
    Jan Murrell

  • Pia Kealey says:

    That’s the worst! As a last resort, there are quite a few copies of that cookbook on Ebay, I see.

  • Pat says:

    Thanks, great looking at all the old recipes, just love it.

  • Jan says:

    Amazing – thank you!

  • Karen says:

    CHICKEN TETRAZZINI
    Good Housekeeping Cookbook. 1963

    1 4-1/2 -lb. roaster,cut up
    3 cups hot water
    Salt
    1 tsp. onion salt
    1/2 tsp. celery salt
    1/2 lb. spaghetti
    6 T butter or
    margarine
    1/2 lb. fresh mushrooms,
    sliced
    1 T lemon juice
    2 T flour
    1/4 t Paprika
    1/4 t pepper
    1/8 t nutmeg
    1 cup heavy cream
    2/3 cup grated Parmesan
    cheese
    1. Day before: In deep kettle, place chicken,
    water, 2t salt, onion salt, celery salt.
    Simmer, covered, until chicken is fork-tender,
    1 to 1-1/4 hr. (As chicken cooks, add water if
    needed.)
    2. Remove bird to bowl (reserve broth);
    when cool enough to handle, remove meat
    from bones in big pieces; cut breast into
    thirds; refrigerate chicken meat, in covered
    bowl, at once.
    3. Set aside 2-1/2 cups chicken broth. To rest
    of broth in kettle, add 3 qt. water, 2T.
    salt; bring to boil, then slowly add spaghetti
    (so water won’t stop boiling) and cook 6 min.,
    or until tender, stirring occasionally.
    4. Drain; place spaghetti in a 12″ x 8″ x 2″
    baking dish.
    5. Meanwhile, in medium skillet, heat 3T butter or margarine. Add mushrooms;
    sprinkle with lemon juice and 1/2 t salt.
    Saute mushrooms until soft, but not brown,
    stirring occasionally; toss them and their butter
    with cooked spaghetti; then refrigerate
    all, covered.
    6. In saucepan, melt 3T butter or margarine;
    then remove pan from heat and stir
    in flour, 1/4 t paprika, 1-1/2 t salt,
    pepper, nutmeg. Slowly stir in the 2-1/2 cups
    reserved broth (1/2 cup sherry may replace 1/2
    cup of this broth). Cook sauce, stirring, until
    thickened ; add cream. Then pour sauce
    over chicken in bowl; refrigerate all. covered.
    7. Next day, 1 hr. before serving: Start heating
    oven to 400° F. With fork, stir up chicken
    and sauce, then pour as much of sauce as
    possible over spaghetti, while tossing to mix
    well. Place rest of chicken mixture in center
    of spaghetti. Sprinkle all with Parmesan,
    more paprika. Bake 25 min., or until hot.
    Makes 8 servings.
    Hopefully, I caught all the errors. Copied from OCR Scan.

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