82 Vintage Cookbooks, Free to Download, Offer a Fascinating Illustrated Look at Culinary and Cultural History

With the hol­i­days fast approach­ing, two interns at the Sal­lie Bing­ham Cen­ter for Wom­en’s His­to­ry and Cul­ture at Duke Uni­ver­si­ty’s Ruben­stein Library turned to the center’s col­lec­tion of vin­tage adver­tis­ing cook­books for inspi­ra­tion.

Their labors, and the fruits thereof—a queasy-look­ing Crown Jew­el Dessert and a savory fish-shaped “sal­ad” as per the Joys of Jell‑O Gelatin Dessert cookbook—are show­cased above.

While the library has yet to dig­i­tize that par­tic­u­lar early-60’s gem, there are plen­ty of oth­er options from the Nicole Di Bona Peter­son Adver­tis­ing Cook­book Col­lec­tion avail­able for free down­load, includ­ing sev­er­al that are gelatin based.

The authors of the pre-Women’s‑Suffrage Jell‑O: Amer­i­ca’s Most Famous Dessert, would have bog­gled at our 21st-cen­tu­ry abun­dance of fla­vors (and our god­like tele­phones), just as our eyes widen at their lush full-col­or illus­tra­tions and hun­dred-year-old social norms.

As one might expect, giv­en the Sal­lie Bing­ham Center’s mis­sion of pre­serv­ing print­ed mate­ri­als that reflect the pub­lic and pri­vate lives of women, past and present, these vin­tage cook­books speak to far more than just culi­nary trends.

Roy­al Bak­ing Powder’s 55 Ways to Save Eggs puts a pos­i­tive spin on wartime economies by fram­ing cheap ingre­di­ent sub­sti­tu­tions as some­thing clever and mod­ern, attrib­ut­es the young house­wife depict­ed on the cov­er would sure­ly wish to embody.

(Shout out to any home bak­ers who were aware that cream of tar­tar is derived from grapes…)

Dain­ty Dish­es for All the Year Round (1900) finds its pub­lish­er, North Broth­ers Man­u­fac­tur­ing Co., sit­ting pret­ty, unable to imag­ine a future some twen­ty years hence, in which tech­no­log­i­cal advances would result in the com­mer­cial mass pro­duc­tion of ice cream, thus damn­ing their star item, Shephard’s “Light­ning” Ice Cream Freez­er, to the cat­e­go­ry of inessen­tial coun­ter­top clut­ter.

Sad­ly, not all of the deli­cious-sound­ing ice cream recipes by Mrs. S. T. Ror­er, a lead­ing culi­nary author and edu­ca­tor and America’s first dieti­cian, are includ­ed, but you can browse many illus­trat­ed ads for North Broth­ers’ built-to-last goods, includ­ing a meat cut­ter, a num­ber of screw­drivers, and a mag­nif­i­cent­ly steam­punk Christ­mas tree stand.

Would it sur­prise you to learn that our cur­rent pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with ancient grains is far from a new thing?

1929’s Mod­ern Ways with an Ancient Food was aimed square­ly at moth­ers anx­ious, then as now, that their chil­dren were prop­er­ly nour­ished.

The grain in ques­tion was not quinoa or freekeh, but rather fari­na, referred to by most Amer­i­cans by its most pop­u­lar brand name Cream of Wheat, a fact  not lost on this vol­ume’s pub­lish­er, Cream of Wheat com­peti­tor Heck­er H‑O Com­pa­ny.

His­to­ry shows that Cream of Wheat trounced Hecker’s Cream-Fari­na.

Giv­en the bland­ness of the grain in ques­tion, chalk it up to Cream of Wheat’s mus­cu­lar adver­tis­ing approach, and robust licens­ing of prod­ucts fea­tur­ing the icon­ic image of Ras­tus, a smil­ing black spokeschef whose pal­pa­bly offen­sive, dialect-heavy endorse­ments are one pit­fall Heck­er seems to have skirt­ed.

Begin your explo­rations of the Sal­lie Bing­ham Center’s Nicole Di Bona Peter­son Adver­tis­ing Cook­book Col­lec­tion here, and let us know in the com­ments if there’s a recipe you’re intend­ing to try.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

400 Ways to Make a Sand­wich: A 1909 Cook­book Full of Cre­ative Recipes

The Futur­ist Cook­book (1930) Tried to Turn Ital­ian Cui­sine into Mod­ern Art

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her in NYC tonight, Mon­day, Decem­ber 9, as her month­ly book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain cel­e­brates anoth­er vin­tage adver­tis­ing pam­phlet, Dennison’s Christ­mas Book (1921). Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

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