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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The New York Times Makes 17,000 Tasty Recipes Avail­able Online: Japan­ese, Ital­ian, Thai & Much More

Cook­pad, the Largest Recipe Site in Japan, Launch­es New Site in Eng­lish

53 New York Times Videos Teach Essen­tial Cook­ing Tech­niques: From Poach­ing Eggs to Shuck­ing Oys­ters

1967 Cook­book Fea­tures Recipes by the Rolling Stones, Simon & Gar­funkel, Bar­bra Streisand & More

Archive of Hand­writ­ten Recipes (1600 – 1960) Will Teach You How to Stew a Calf’s Head and More

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 (8)
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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:

    Good House­keep­ing Cook­book. 1963

    1 4–1/2 ‑lb. roaster,cut up
    3 cups hot water
    1 tsp. onion salt
    1/2 tsp. cel­ery salt
    1/2 lb. spaghet­ti
    6 T but­ter or
    1/2 lb. fresh mush­rooms,
    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
    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
    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.

  • Martha Davis says:

    I have hun­dreds if not thou­sands of cook­books, some old and some not so old. I’ve built this col­lec­tion up over 50 years of my life and would like to find some where to donate them that they would be appre­ci­at­ed like they should be.
    Thanks for any help

    Martha Davis

  • Martha says:

    Would you be will­ing to sell your cook­books? I’m look­ing for cer­tain ones for my col­lec­tion.

    Thank you

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