Researching Recipes

I love reading old recipes, particularly from the 1920s. It’s fascinating to see food preparation through the years change. Today, we have a surplus of food, even though recent trips to the grocery store before a snowstorm might give you a moment of doubt.

When I write a historical piece, I try to find menus from restaurants and cookbooks from that era. I know my character in my 1922 novel wouldn’t eat macaroni and cheese made with Velveeta. Kraft did not invent it until 1928. Kraft initially wrapped Velveeta in tin foil and sold in wooden boxes. Key details that help place the reader in the story are important.

As much as I would love to collect hundreds of recipe books throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, my bookshelves would groan under the weight of them all. Besides, they are full enough already with hundreds of novels. No room on my shelves! I have two great resources for writers and people who love to find unique recipes and foods.

The first one is the Library of Congress. Yes, that enormous library in Washington, D.C. I can hear what you’re saying. “Amy, I can’t travel to D.C. to look at recipes!” No worries. You don’t need to travel anywhere but to your couch with your computer. The Library of Congress has cataloged thousands of resources and either created a digital resource themselves or linked to the Internet Archives or Hathi Trust. Both have digital copies of cookbooks, which is phenomenal. I’ll include the link below to the Library of Congress’s Community Cookbook Collection.

For restaurant menus, I use the New York Public Library’s menu collection. They are looking for volunteers to transcribe dishes from their menu collection if you’re interested. I’ll include a link to their collection below, too.

Image courtesy of LOC; 1921 Book of Recipes by Detroit’s Brewster Congregational

This morning, I perused a cookbook from 1921 and decided I have been too timid in my cooking. I found this little gem for farina balls to try. (Not really. Who needs that many carbs?) What about you? Any old family recipes that you love or hate? Share them in the comments!


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