Family History Never Tasted So Good!

We all have cookbooks in our kitchen, many of which were handed down to us by our mothers and grandmothers. In addition to be overflowing with delectable recipes, they are often brimming with family history. Today I’d like to share with you a recipe mystery that followed me for years, and the bit of genealogical serendipity that solved it. 

family history never tasted so good: cookie recipe

I once gave a presentation called Inspiring Ways to Capture the Interest of the Non-Genealogists in Your Family at a local genealogical society. (Genealogy Gems Premium Members can log in and watch this vide class as part of their membership here.)

In it, I gave an example of some items I had found on Ebay from my husband’s Larson family. If you listen to the Genealogy Gems Podcast then you have heard me mention the Larson family. They hailed from Winthrop Minnesota and owned a hardware store and lumber business there for many years.

LJ Larson Hardware store

LJ Larson Hardware store

While I was taking questions toward the end of the presentation a woman in the front raised her hand. Her name was Harriet, and she said she was sure that she had a cookbook from Winthrop, Minnesota in her collection of books at home. She offered to send it to me and I gladly gave her my email address so we could connect.

Considering that Winthrop is such a small town, it make her statement surprising indeed! To provide perspective: Winthrop is about 1 square mile and the population hovers somewhere around 1300. So, I was surprised indeed to have someone in Pleasanton, California telling me that she had a cookbook that dated back to the early 20th century from this little town.

As promised, Harriett followed up with me by email. She asked for my address and told me that the book “looks a little worn but all of the pages are there. I hope it can be of some use to you. My sister taught either first grade or kindergarten there during World War 2 and that’s how it came in to her possession.”

The Cookbook Filled with Family History

Harriett was a woman of her word because about a week later the 340 Home Tested Recipes cookbook compiled by members of The Ladies Aid of the First Lutheran Church of Winthrop, Minnesota was in my mailbox.

The Winthrop Cookbook

The Winthrop Cookbook

It continues to amaze and delight me how powerful just putting your family history “out there” is. By regularly mentioning real people and places in your own research, it so often leads to information and items that just seem to be waiting to be found. It’s what we call “genealogical serendipity” in genealogy circles. 

But the genealogical serendipity didn’t end there. Not only did my husband’s ancestors contribute recipes to this little community cookbook, which of course I was thrilled to find – but there was a recipe in there that I had been in search of for over 25 years.

The Great Cookie Mystery

You see, when Bill and I got married, he shared his fond memories of a sour cream cookie his grandmother used to make. I’m an avid baker, so I checked with his mom to see if she had the recipe. Sadly, she didn’t.
 
Over the years I have tried to find a recipe for sour cream cookies in an attempt to recreate them. Every time I found one, I whipped up a batch. Bill would take a bite and shake his head saying they’ were good, but they weren’t like grandma’s cookies.
 

Bill enjoying baked treats with his Grandma Helen (Larson) Mansfield.

 
So as you can imagine, the first thing I looked for when I received this cookbook from the town where Bill’s grandma was born, was a recipe for sour cream cookies. There were many yummy-sounding treats to comb through like Pecan Sticks, Victoria Cookies, Father and Son Favorite Cookies, and Sorghum Cookies. 
 
I got excited as I came across names I recognized from the family tree including Mrs. Sheldon S. Larson, the mother of a cousin we had the good fortune to finally meet two years ago when I presented a genealogy seminar in Minnesota at the Swedish Genealogical Society. 
 
But the real thrill came when I made my way to page 42. There I found a recipe for Sour Cream Drop Cookies:
 

Larson sour cream cookie recipe (1)

The infamous sour cream cookie recipe!

 
Surprisingly, the recipe wasn’t contributed by Bill’s grandma Helen (Larson) Mansfield or anyone named Larson. Instead it was submitted for inclusion in the cookbook by Mrs. Hulda Anderson. That fact didn’t deter me from trying it out. In a small town like Winthrop, recipes likely were regularly swapped and handed down through various families. 
 
I immediately baked a batch and served them up to Bill. I’ll never forget his eyes as they lit up in excitement! He took a bite, and was ecstatic to once again be tasting Grandma’s sour cream cookies!
 
It may sound like a small victory in the scheme of thing, but for me it was a thrilling one, none the less!
 
I emailed Harriet and told her the good news and thanked her profusely.
 
I got a reply from her husband George. He wrote:
 
“I thought I would add a little amusement to the coincidence of the Sour Cream cookies. My father, George Anderson, Sr., was a salesman for American Steel and Wire, subsidiary of U. S. Steel, from the 1920s to the 1960s, traveling to every hardware store and lumber yard in southern Minnesota to sell fence, posts, nails etc. I don’t have any record of it, but I’m sure he would have called on your family’s hardware store in Winthrop. He knew all of his customers by first name, no doubt your in-laws included.”
 
Genealogy Serendipity never tasted so good!
 

A Genealogical Look at the Cookbook

 
I looked through the book carefully for a publishing date but none was to be found. However, there were several clues including the name of the church and the pastors name:
 
First Lutheran Church
Lambert Engwall, Pastor
 
To put these clues to use, I headed to Google and searched the name of the church, the location and the name of the pastor:
first lutheran church winthrop minnesota lambert engwall, pastor
 

Googling the pastor

Googling the church, location and pastor

 
The first result was just what I needed. The link to me to a Wikipedia page about the church: 
 

researching the pastor

The church in Wikipedia

 
It was a fairly comprehensive page, and I was specifically looking for a list of pastors who had served at the church. To save time, I used Control + F (PC) to trigger a find on page search bar. I searched for “pastor” and was immediately take much further down the page to exactly what I wanted to know. 
 

previous pastors

A helpful list of previous pastors

 
I quickly learned that Lambert Engwall served at this church in Winthrop, Minnesota from 1944 to 1972. Given that Harriett through it hailed from the World War II era when her sister lived there, and from the condition and style of the book, I feel confident it was published closer to 1944. 
 
The next steps to learn more about the relationship between the Andersons and Larson include could include:

  • Reviewing the 1940 census for Winthrop, Sibley County, Minnesota, and mapping their homes in Google Earth.
  • conducting additional research into church and their available records include church meeting minutes.
  • A comprehensive search of the Winthrop News newspaper, with a particular eye on the social pages. 

Share Your Genealogical Serendipity and Cookbook Stories

Have you experienced glorious instances of genealogical serendipity in your own family history quest? Do you have a cookbook that has been handed down to you that you treasure? Please leave a comment below and share your story!  
 

Resources

  • Learn more powerful Google search techniques and ways to use Google Earth for genealogy in The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louse Cooke (2020) available at the Genealogy Gems Store.
  • The Genealogist's Google Toolbox Third edition Lisa Louise Cooke

    Book by the author

    Learn more here about how to access the 50+ video classes that are a part of Genealogy Gems Premium membership. 

Find Family Recipes in Old Newspapers

Show Notes: Learn how to find old family recipes in newspapers. Lisa Louise Cooke and her guest Jenny Ashcraft of Newspapers.com show you how to find old recipes and discover what newspapers can tell you about the food your ancestors cooked and ate. Genealogy & family history has never tasted so good!

Video Premiere with Live Chat

Watch Live: Thursday, August 11, 2022 at 11:00 am CT 
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Show Notes

Get 20% off Newspapers.com. Click here and use coupon code genealogygems

Do you have a family recipe that has been passed down for generations? Or maybe you wish you could find a family recipe that has been lost?

Jenny Ashcraft of Newspapers.com  is back and we’re talking about food and family history. How to find long-lost family recipes in Newspapers, how history has impacted the food your family ate and the recipes they used, and food trends over the decades.

You’ll learn some of our favorite search strategies, and who knows, you just might discover a recipe from your family in the papers!

Food really evokes powerful memories, brings people together, and strengthens family history ties among both the living and the dead.

Families have gathered around the table forever, and family recipes evoke powerful memories. Have you ever smelled something baking or had a little taste of something, and the memories just flood back? Food is usually a part of family gatherings, and it’s a way to strengthen traditions and express love.

Why did newspapers publish recipes?

In the days before the internet, newspapers were a popular way for home cooks to share recipes. Most home cooks had a repertoire of recipes they cooked often. Newspaper recipes were a way to try something new. Recipe exchanges in the newspapers were popular, with cooks both asking for recipes and sharing one of their favorites. 

Muffin recipe in the newspaper

Courtesy of Newspapers.com

Sometimes newspapers called for readers to submit recipes, and they would choose a few to publish. Other times the paper published the recipes of contest winners. Papers also published brand recipes like this 1928 recipe for brownies using Borden Magnolia Sweetened and Condensed milk.  https://www.newspapers.com/clip/106800978/borden-sweet-and-condensed-milk-brownie/. Many newspapers also had official food columns. Just the other day, I went to my cookbook to find a recipe and noticed that I still have all kinds of newspaper clippings in my own recipe collection.

1920s Brownie recipe

Courtesy of Newspapers.com

How to Find Family Recipes in Newspapers

Finding a recipe from one of your ancestors is so exciting! Let me share an example of how one of our customers discovered his grandmother’s recipe for kolaches.

In July, we published a Newspapers.com blog about finding your ancestors in the newspaper Society Pages. Maurice, one of our readers, commented that he searched the society pages to see if his grandmother was mentioned. Initially, he didn’t have success. However, as he continued to search, he found his grandmother listed under her husband’s name, Mrs. Frank Vonasek. This was 1932, and it was common for women to appear in the paper using their husbands’ names.

Maurice found his grandmother in several articles. In one, she shared her recipe for kolaches. Maurice said it was such a thrill to find this family recipe and just about brought tears to his eyes. Notice how this recipe says cook in a hot oven (usually 375-400) In 1932, some cooks were still using ovens heated with wood or coal. Ovens with temperature settings were invented around 1915, but not everyone had one. Without the ability to set your oven to a designated temperature, cooks became very adept at determining if the oven had reached the desired temperature.

Old kolaches recipe

Courtesy of Newspapers.com

It was a thrill for Maurice to find his grandma’s recipe, but what if you can’t find your ancestor’s recipe? Chances are, you will find one very similar. Let me share a personal example.

My family loves fresh English peas that come on every spring. We go to the fruit stand or farmer’s market and buy a bag. We just shell them and pop them in our mouths. Every year, my husband talks about the new potatoes and peas in a white sauce that his grandmother used to make.

I decided to search for this recipe on Newspapers.com. I began by searching “new potatoes and peas” in the search box. I started finding some recipes, but none that were similar. Then I added the term, “white sauce”. Again, I wasn’t finding much. I wondered if the white sauce was a cream sauce, so I searched, “New potatoes, peas, and cream”. When I entered those terms, I saw a few recipes that said, “Creamed New Potatoes.” As I looked over the ingredients, I realized I was getting warmer. So, then I started searching for “Creamed New Potatoes and Peas,” and I found tons of recipes.

1937 Creamed New Potatoes and peas recipe

Courtesy of Newspapers.com

It’s not uncommon to find ingredients that are now unusual in historic recipes. For example, in my recipe for Creamed New Potatoes and Peas, one of the ingredients is irradiated evaporated milk. I didn’t know what that was, but after a few moments of searching, I learned that irradiated milk simply meant that the milk was treated with ultraviolet light to get rid of any bacteria.      

Learn about history from the food your ancestors cooked

Another thing that impacted the way your ancestors cooked and ate was history. What was happening in the world around them, and how did it impact what they cooked?

Great Depression recipes and food.

One example of this was the Great Depression. How did the Depression impact your family? Was the father out of work? Could they afford to buy food? Where were they living?

Your family’s experience could be dramatically different if they lived in California, where they could grow food in a home garden, or if they lived in the Midwest and were impacted by the Dust Bowl. Growing food was a huge challenge for those people. Residents not only had great difficulty growing food, but they contended with swarms of grasshoppers that destroyed crops.

When you search for recipes during the Depression, you’ll see recipes that used cheaper food and recipes that utilized leftovers, so nothing went to waste.

One example of this is a gelatin loaf. These loaves were used during the Great Depression as a great way to use anything leftover.

For most of us, that is not very appealing. Our Newspapers.com social media team has a lot of fun trying and sharing historic recipes on our social channels. If you are not following us, check us out on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok.

Dandelion greens were another way to get some nutrition. People could go outside and pick dandelions or buy them at the market for a low price. This clipping from 1930 tells readers how to soak the dandelion greens and then the best type of salad dressing to use over them.

old Dandelion recipe Great Depression

Courtesy of Newspapers.com

What are some other examples of the times impacting food?

Another example of how history impacted the way our ancestors cooked was World War II. Food availability during WWII was different. The world was at war, so some items were hard to get – just like today’s supply chain issues. Foods like sugar, coffee, canned foods, meats, cheese, butter, and oil were rationed. To purchase these items, families presented the grocer with the correct stamps from their government-issued ration books and the money to buy these items.

WWII rationing in newspaper

Courtesy of Newspapers.com

Newspapers became a valuable source for home cooks to share ideas and recipes to navigate rationing. Home cooks had to get creative. For example, In WWII a chocolate chip cookie recipe caleld for using honey instead of the hard-to-obtain sugar.

Newspapers sponsored contests and awarded cash prizes for the best wartime recipes using small amounts of rationed food items or substitutes for rationed foods.

Another example of how rationing impacted cooking during WWII was cooking with meat. Nicer cuts of meats required a higher number of ration points, but organ meats like kidneys, liver, and heart had relatively low point values. So, we start to see a lot of recipes using these low point value meats. Maybe this is why your grandparents ate liver and onions.

old liver recipe pork livery loaf

Courtesy of Newspapers.com

Fresh fruit and veggies were not rationed, but canned, bottled, and frozen food was. WWII recipes focused on high nutritional value to make sure people were still getting vitamins, minerals, protein, and energy even though their diets may have changed due to rationing.

1950s and 1960s Recipes and Food Trends

There have always been food fads and trends, and as we move out of the WWII era, we see evidence of this.

For example, in the 1950s, we see lots of recipes with canned pineapple. During the 1950s and the 1960s, many Americans loved anything tropical, and canned pineapple represented the islands. Here’s a reader-submitted recipe for pineapple cookies in 1954:

1950s pineapple cookies recipe

Courtesy of Newspapers.com

Bourbon balls were also very popular in the 1950s. Apparently, they are still popular today because this is one of our viewers’ favorite recipe posts.

Pimientos were big in the 1960s, and you’ll see that manifest in recipes:

pimento recipe

Courtesy of Newspapers.com

The 1980s brought an excess of cheese. Starting in WWII, processed cheese was a commodity that was controlled on a federal level. The cheese was stockpiled in warehouses around the country, and by the early 1980s, there were more than 2 lbs. of cheese stored for every person living in the United States.

cheese surplus 1980s

Courtesy of Newspapers.com

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan signed the Agricultural and Food Act and began distributing all the stockpiled cheese. As a result, in the 1980s, we start to see a plethora of recipes to use all of that processed cheese.

cheese recipe

Courtesy of Newspapers.com

How recipes changed over the years

Once you find your ancestor’s recipe in the paper or just one you think looks interesting, it’s important to know that there may be differences in historic recipes and recipes today.

Some ingredients or brands are no longer available. Here is a 1918 ad for a product called Egg-O. It was a common ingredient and an egg substitute.

What is Egg-O baking cooking

Courtesy of Newspapers.com

Package sizes are different. An example of this is bakers’ chocolate.

The way recipes were written can be different. Some old-time recipes used hyphens instead of slashes for fractions. So, it may look like 2-3 cups of sugar, but it is really 2/3 cup of sugar.

what dashes mean in a recipe

Courtesy of Newspapers.com. Dashes mean the same as a slash. They are fractions.

Recipes also might taste different today. If you have your grandmother’s banana bread recipe, it was likely made using a different variety of bananas called Gros Michel. In the 1950s, a disease destroyed wiped out the banana crop, and farmers started growing a variety of bananas called Cavendish. Apparently, the Gross Michel bananas were better, so your banana bread will never taste quite the same.  

Many old recipes called for sour milk. Before milk was pasteurized, it soured very quickly. When you combined the sour milk with baking soda, it created a chemical reaction that was just like using baking powder. The reaction also removed the sour taste from the milk. My sugar cookie recipe calls for sour milk, and I add a bit of lemon juice or vinegar to the regular milk.

Uses for sour milk in recipes and cooking

Uses for Sour Milk in cooking. Courtesy of Newspapers.com

Exact measurements may not be used in older recipes. Standardized measurements didn’t come out until the Victorian era and even then they took a while to catch on, so up until the 1940s or so, it’s not uncommon to see a recipe that calls for terms like a teacup of sugar, butter the size of an egg, or a gill of milk (which was about 4 oz).

What a gill is in cooking

Courtesy of Newspapers.com

Recipes were often in the paper in paragraph format, not the column format we are used to today.

Start finding recipes in old newspapers

Take the opportunity to ask your parents and grandparents about the types of foods they prepared and ate. Start a family conversation. We can learn so much from these oral histories.

If you’ve been lamenting that long-lost family recipe, you’ll probably find it on Newspapers.com. We have nearly 775 million pages of newspapers dating back to the 1690s. You can search papers from every state and international papers from the UK, Canada, Australia, Ireland, and Panama.

Get 20% off Newspapers.com. Click here and use coupon code genealogygems

Resources

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout for Premium Members

 

This Victorian Pumpkin Pie Recipe is Light and Delicate

This Victorian pumpkin pie recipe calls for milk instead of cream, an economical choice that results in a lighter, more delicate pie than we often taste today.

victorian-pumpkin-pie-recipe

 

This holiday season, Victorian expert Sarah Chrisman is sharing her favorite holiday recipes with us. This week: a Victorian take on the classic pumpkin pie. Reformatted in modern recipe style, here is the original recipe for 3 pies, followed by Sarah’s version, adapted for modern cooks making a single pie.

Victorian Pumpkin Pie Recipe

Image courtesy of Sarah Chrisman

Image courtesy of Sarah Chrisman

Ingredients:
1 qt rich milk (a little cream is a great improvement)
3 cups boiled and strained pumpkin
2 cups sugar
little piece of butter
4 eggs
1 Tbsp ginger and cinnamon (scant)
Rich crust

1. Mix milk, pumpkin, sugar, butter, ginger and cinnamon.
2. Separate the eggs. Beat the yolks thoroughly and stir into above mixture.
3. Beat the whites to a froth and add to mixture just before putting the pie in the oven.
4. Have a rich crust and bake in a quick oven.
Should you desire to use squash instead, you can make equally as good a pie as with the pumpkin. Makes 3 pies.
– From The Women’s Exchange Cookbook. 1890s, p. 250.

Sarah’s version of Victorian Pumpkin Pie:
Ingredients
Pie crust for 10″ pie
1 cup pumpkin, cooked and mashed
1 tsp. butter
1 cup milk + 1/3 cup heavy cream
1 egg yolk
2 egg whites
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon

1. Bake the pie crust unfilled, with pie weights holding down the middle, for about 7 minutes. (If the filling is added to a raw pie crust then baked, it makes the crust a bit soggy.)
2. Cook and mash the pumpkin.
3. Stir in the butter while the pumpkin is still warm. Let this mixture cool thoroughly (preferably overnight).
4. Mix in the ginger, cinnamon, milk, cream, and egg yolk.
5. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Gently fold into the pumpkin mixture and pour it into the pie shell.
6. Bake 40 minutes (or until edges are set) at 375 degrees.  Cool overnight before cutting.

Here’s what Sarah has to say about this recipe: “This pumpkin pie is made primarily with milk instead of cream for economy’s sake—milk being much cheaper than cream, then as now.  The result is a much lighter and more delicate pumpkin pie than most. With very little cream it doesn’t have the heavy, custard texture of most pumpkin pie, but instead gets its body from the egg whites.”

womans-exchange-cookbook

“This recipe comes from an 1890s Woman’s Exchange cookbook. (My copy is in pretty bad shape and is unfortunately missing an exact date to document its publication.)

Women’s Exchanges were organized by middle- and upper-class Victorian women as a way to help poorer women earn money and improve their situations. The organizers would suggest which products were able to be made at home and most marketable in their particular community; then they provided a venue for the sale of those products.

Foods of all sorts were particularly popular products for sale at Women’s Exchanges. Recipes in Women’s Exchange cookbooks were designed especially with economy in mind, so that the financially challenged women making them could a.) afford the ingredients and b.) realize the biggest possible profit when they sold the finished product.” 

Check out these other Victorian recipes we’ve published as part of our Victorian holiday celebration with Genealogy Gems Book Club author Sarah Chrisman.

Sarah will join Lisa Louise Cooke on the December Genealogy Gems and Genealogy Gems Premium podcasts to talk about what it’s like to “live in the past” in her chosen Victorian lifestyle.

More Victorian and holiday recipes

cranberry-sauce-sarah-chrisman

Roast Thanksgiving turkey with chestnut stuffing and gravy

Sarah’s homemade cranberry sauce and hearty vegetable hash

Lisa Alzo’s Christmas cut-out cookies

 

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