If you are like me, you have a collection of cookbooks that spills over the bookcase and spreads onto the surrounding flat spaces.
Years of recipes clipped from innumerable sources. Boxes of binders full of ‘must-makes’ printed from your favorite blogs.
But still (even with this overload of recipes) when I find an old cookbook at a second hand store, it’s hard to resist picking it up (especially if it’s from the years of the Great Depression and World War II).
There’s no glossy extravagance or unachievably perfect images – these are the kind of books that you aren’t afraid to splatter and annotate. If cookbooks were sweaters, these would be your dad’s old cardigan with the worn out elbows that got you through high school.
Cookbooks are windows into different eras, and they can challenge our preconceived notions about earlier generations.
For people looking to cook more thriftily, or incorporate more meatless meals into their lives, vintage cookbooks are a great source of inspiration. And fortunately, many old cookbooks and recipe collections are available online.
Here are 10 vintage cookbooks that offer endless hours of recipe reading pleasure (if you like that kind of thing). All are free for download or reading online.
(Note: Before using any canning recipes from vintage cookbooks, check a modern guide for the latest updates for safe canning.)
The Boston Cooking School Cookbook (aka The Fannie Farmer Cookbook)
This is the book that revolutionized cooking in North America. Fannie Merritt Farmer introduced standardized measurements to cooks, and provided explanations for the science behind cooking techniques. Originally published in 1896, the book has been revised and updated many times and remains a best-seller to this day. The link leads to a pdf version of the book that is very slow to load, but once it opens you can read it online or download it to your computer.
Foods That Will Win the War and How to Cook Them
This book from 1918 contains tips for avoiding food waste that are in step with current trends, and has a number of recipes well-worth trying.
Woman’s World Calendar Cookbook (1922)
Then, as now, food companies made spurious claims about the benefits of their particular products, and found cookbooks – written mainly by and for women – to be a powerful space for advertising. Look past that, though, and you’ll find some interesting writing and recipes.
Helpful Recipes for War Time
More recipes from the First World War.
Sunset All Western Cookbook
This cookbook from 1933 is a gem. You’ll be surprised at the range of ingredients it uses.
Imperial Sugar’s Collection of Vintage Recipe Books
If you like baking, you’ll love this collection of recipe booklets from Imperial Sugar. There are dozens of well-tested recipe collections dating from 1915 to the year 2000.
Betty Crocker’s Cookbook for Boys and Girls (1957)
Food styling was in its infancy, and this book has a strange mix of retro illustrations interspersed with full glossy inserts, but the recipes are reliable and easy for young and beginning cooks.
Liberty Recipes (1918)
Another book from World War I, with clear measurements and easy to follow recipes.
Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire is a Canadian charitable organization that has been in operation since 1900. This cookbook was produced to help raise money for the IODE’s war efforts. It contains menus and recipes from members across the country. If you like church-sale or community cookbooks, you’ll like this. This one loads slowly.
Published by the Canada Starch Company Limited during World War II, this little book contains some good baking recipes. It recommends the use of corn syrup in many recipes, but keep in mind that the Crown and Karo brands the company represented are not the high-fructose corn syrups that many people find alarming. For most of the recipes using corn syrup, you can substitute honey, maple syrup or your favorite liquid sweetener.
How to Eat Well Though Rationed
There are some meatless recipes in this little pamphlet, and it’s hard not to be impressed by its earnestness. It makes me think of my paternal grandmother feeding 7 hungry boys through the Depression and War years.
I just found these in 2021. Thanks for the links. Great information!
Glad they are helpful 🙂
Marj French says
Thank you so much for sharing this resource!
You’re welcome 🙂 I hope you enjoy them – thanks for visiting 🙂
Thank you for the lovely contribution.
I hope you find it helpful 🙂