A Very Special Cookbook Post

Athena ScalziNormally, I wouldn’t post two cookbook posts so close together, seeing as my last one was just posted a month ago, but this cookbook I’m showing y’all today is very special. Partly because of how old it is, but even more so because a reader was nice enough to send it to me! (And if they like they can out themselves in the comments, but just in case they don’t want the spotlight, I will refrain from naming them.)

This kind person sent me The Home Cook Book, a Canadian cook book from 1877.

The title page to the "Home Cook Book"

As you can see, it is compiled by the ladies of Toronto and chief cities and towns in Ontario. And it’s tried, tested, and proven! So that’s a relief.

The first page of the introductory chapter.

Before you delve into the wonders that are 1800s recipes, you are greeted with this introduction, that states if a woman is not a good housekeeper, “it is fatal to her influence, a foil to her brilliancy, and a blemish in her garments.” I mean, I thought everyone knew that! It’s obvious, really. It also says a man should be able to defend himself if attacked, so, jot that down.

This book is positively filled with funky recipes, like tongue toast and fricandeau, while also being full of completely normal ones, like chocolate cake and Shrewsbury cake! Okay, maybe the normal ones aren’t that normal after all…


Nothing like codfish puffs to really kick off your Superbowl party.

The pages here are yellowed and have grease stains.

This book is wonderfully weathered. The pages are yellowed, stained, and there’s spots where the ink is darker or more faded than normal. I absolutely adore the wear and tear, especially the notes on the inside from previous owners. I even found this corn muffin recipe in between the pages!

A handwritten corn muffin recipe.

Honestly, pretty nice handwriting. It’s a good thing I don’t write in books because the next owner of them would never know what I was trying to say.

A page of recipes for people who are sick. Gruels, teas and jellies.

As you can see, one of the interesting things about this cook book is that it doesn’t have just your everyday dinner recipes, it has recipes for medicines and food specifically for the ill. Got an invalid family member? Just give them some beef jelly! Or some homemade cough remedy that definitely does not have illegal drugs in it!

Besides medicinal recipes, it also contains tips and tricks for washing woolens, polishing silver and tin, preventing fire ants, and making soap.

Got some sugar of lead on hand? Some extra hartshorn? Why not make your own hair tonic!

Recipes, but not for food.

This book is truly fascinating. This unique glimpse into the past is a treasure. It is now the oldest cookbook in my collection, and I’m so happy to have it.

This is the second gift I have a received from a generous reader. The first was also cooking related; cookie cutters! With which I made cookies recently:

Sugar cookies in the shape of stars and hearts.

I am so grateful to have readers as kind as y’all. Your comments, letters, and gifts, mean the world to me. Thank you all for being here. I hope you all have a great day.



32 Comments on “A Very Special Cookbook Post”

  1. I had planned on suggesting that you scan and submit it to the Internet Archive, but there are already copies there, among the (currently) 11,164 cookbooks….


    I’ve been getting lost in there recently. Regional cookbooks from the 1800s are dangerously addictive.

  2. What a wonderful find!
    That beef jelly is a bit worrisome-the mental picture makes me think the invalid might suddenly recover, rather than eat that for long.

    The cookies look great!

  3. That might be a very good cookbook. Some of the old ones are the best. My mom put it in her will that I get her 1950s Betty Crocker Cookbook. It is a treasure!

  4. Wonderful! I’ve always had a thing for old cookbooks, ever since I was little and my mother set me on the kitchen counter to “help” her cook. They often bore the stains of their kitchen service, as all good cookbooks do. Many years ago now, my father (who was an English professor) sent me a poem about the love of books that concluded with this stanza that resonates for me still:

    And the yellowing cookbooks of recipes for glace blanche dupont
    and Argentine mocha toast, their stains and spots souvenirs of
    long evenings full of love and arguments and the talk like as not of
    books, books, books…

  5. Slightly aghast at the idea of brushing one’s teeth with borax and camphor. Old cookbooks are such a time capsule.

  6. That infant gruel recipe, while absolutely not something I would recommend, is not nearly as scary as some of the ones I have seen. It probably wouldn’t kill most babies. Though I have to say that the one baby I’ve personally seen with “failure to thrive” was put on homemade goat’s milk formula when his mother’s supply failed, and got worse and worse (whether due to allergy, or just unable to digest it, I no longer recall) until they gave in and bought some ordinary commercial formula.

  7. I’m totally baffled: Why would a 19th-century Canadian cookbook be worried about fire ants??

  8. Bill T. — Former small-town central Ohioan here. “Fire ants” could be a reference to northern red ants (not a scientific term!) that are smaller than black sidewalk ants. Unlike black ants, red ants bite when they’re disturbed.

    Fire ants also could be a reference to the very small and exceedingly annoying red ants that show up on the kitchen counter on hot July days.

  9. My mother used to clean our combs and hairbrushes with ammonia and hot water. These were Fuller Brush (look it up, sold door to door by “the Fuller Brush Man”) type hairbrushes, wooden handles & bases and natural hog bristles. Too expensive to throw out, and with care they lasted decades.

    The extension beyond food cookery gives a glimpse of days when one doctored sick children and old people without benefit of modern medicine. Scary days. No antibiotics. Pain meds that were effective but risked addiction. Something as simple as a cold turned to pneumonia and it could carry you off.

    I have to say if any one of those diligent housewives saw my pandemic-dusty house after a year without a cleaning crew, I’d be ridden out of town on a (grimy) rail.

  10. “Boil the eggs from one to three hours “. What?? Hard enough to grate? You’d think 20 minutes would be sufficient.

    Certainly a gem.

    I’m a collector of old books. Anything older that 1910 are the best.

    I enjoyed reading a recipe for jugged hare where it had to be buried in the backyard for three weeks.
    Ye gads!

    Fortunately we need not resort to such methods today.

  11. Great cookbook! I have one a bit older–1718!–which was brought to the US and handed down to me by my my novelist grandmother–sort of the Danielle Steele of the Weimar Republic, although she herself was Viennese, rather than German. It’s from the state kitchen of the Archbishop of Salzburg, about eight inches thick, with lots of copper engraving illustrations; not all that easy to read, as of course it’s in the old “Fraktur” (German Gothic) typeface.

    Apparently ol’ Bish liked to entertain on a grand scale. A lot of the recipes start out like “take one ox…stuff with a wild boar…stuff that with a sheep…” etc.

    Incidentally, by the time your book was published, “hartshorn” and “ammonia” were the same thing. Earlier, it meant–as its name implies–stag antlers, from which aqueous ammonia could be distilled. Used as a bleaching agent, as smelling salts for swooning ladies (because of its penetrating smell) and as a leavening agent in the days before baking soda. You only need half as much as you would modern baking soda–best for small, flat items like cookies, so the ammonia smell can dissipate. Ew.

  12. Also: sugar of lead” is lead acetate. Used to be employed as a sweetener, often to make bad, cheap wine palatable. Toxic? Well, yeah…it’s lead, and may have either contributed to, or outright caused, the death of Beethoven. Best to just use plain ol’ cane sugar in your recipes!

  13. Reminds me of the White House Cookbook from around 1900. There they recommend putting linseed into your eye to “gel out” wood particles or the like. It might work.

  14. I had an old Russian one, 1897 or so, I think? Molohovets. It was fascinating :) And hard to read, since the language changed quite a bit. I actually used several recipes relatively frequently… Out of gems that I recall…
    Somewhere in the introduction: “If the guests come suddenly, and your pantry is empty, just go down to your cellar and cut off some ham… ”
    Bouillon for the sick: “In the large bottle, put about 1kg of prime beef, cut into small pieces. Seal the bottle tightly, then boil the bottle for 24(!) hours in water. Strain liquid inside and serve”
    And other ones that just start with “take 90 eggs… “

  15. Oh! Hello, reader of “Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded” here. Good-looking cookbook here, I might screenshot it and show it to my grandmother (she lives in the house with me and the rest of my family) for her to use.

  16. I dunno…the next time the New England Patriots make it to a Super Bowl (not holding my breath on that happening anytime soon) Codfish Puffs might go over well.

  17. Okay, so, I was glancing through the recipes and I hit the “sick room” page and read the one about for “Gruel for Infants”–who are, according to the recipe, “suffering from marasmus.” Huh, I thought. Marasmus? That’s a new ailment on me. Wonder if it’s related to colic?

    So I googled it and “marasmus” is “extreme malnutrition.” Good grief. The idea of believing it would be helpful to put a recipe for what to feed a literally starving baby into a cookbook for the ordinary household just . . . croggles the mind. My mind, anyway. (And I’m fairly familiar with old cookbooks, too, for various reasons, but still–“extreme malnutrition.” Yikes.)

  18. My grandmother gave me her Home Economics textbooks from around 1920, inspiring reading for a non-housekeeper. I have tried a few 18th century recipes, like parmesan ice cream (best fresh). Recently I was looking through Internet Archive to find out why an author born in 1910 said her grandmother taught her to completely unmake the bed every morning and air the sheets and blankets before remaking it. I think this was against damp and bugs, but am not sure. This custom was why those energetic housekeepers would go around making beds in the mid-morning, though.

  19. I am deeply envious of this cookbook. It’s a window on a whole new world. My parents had a copy, picked up at an antique store, of the 1894 White House Cookbook, which not only contains a myriad of recipes that go from barley water for invalids to how to prepare bear (the whole section on game is… instructive), but goes into the niceties of housekeeping in an “establishment large or small.”

    I’m glad I live now, but I have to say there were flourishes of grace in the old days which we seem to have lost. I can’t remember the last time I had tongue toast (care to share the recipe?).

  20. I have an etiquette book on proper womanhood that echoes some of those sentiments from the introduction.

    And for Fraser, my grandparents were simple farmers with a lot of mouths to feed. I remember having (and actually enjoying) head cheese as a young child…and I’m not even old enough for an AARP membership :)

  21. Hartshorn! You can get it modernly under the name “baker’s ammonia” from places like King Arthur Baking. I’m not familiar with it as a cleaning or personal care product, but it is an ingredient in certain Scandinavian cookie recipes as a leavener. It gives them a crispness that baking powder does not.

    Just, uh, don’t open the oven to check on them while they’re baking.

  22. It’s remarkable how much cookery and medicine used to overlap. I have a “Home Physicians Guide” from the 1930s that has a recipe for beef tea. I thought I remembered it being a pretty similar method, but I just re-read it, and it seems to be actively snarking on your book’s method and presents a much more involved recipe. 😂

  23. Fried bread in batter? Isn’t batter bread? Breaded fried bread. Reminds me of the restaurant that had chicken fried chicken on the menu, as if there were a need to distinguish it from fried chicken that is not chicken.

  24. Antique books are, for me, most fascinating in their assumptions. “Beef jelly”!!!! “Fire ants”!!! The purported main topics are usually straightforward, but the between the lines stuff is FASCINATING.

    I recommend reading “Life With Father” by Clarence Day for a glimpse of a bygone New York City.

  25. Oh, the cod balls! I have a Little House on the Prairie Cookbook (written in the 1970’s but sourced form old recipes) and the author suggests making fried cod balls for breakfast as a gentle way to wake up the family.

    Yeah, not my family, thanks.

    @jlanstey: I think the whole “strip the bed all the way down” thing is covered in one of the episodes of “If Walls Could Talk” with Lucy Worsley (on YouTube). As I recall, the wool mattresses could get very sweaty and needed to dry.

  26. I have a few older cookbookd. I always am a bit either amused or taken aback by all the details of preparation of small game in The Joy of Cooking from just a few editions back. If you ever need to know how to prepare muskrat, it’s there to help.

    About chicken fried chicken… You’ve maybe heard of chicken fried steak? It’s called that because it’s steak that’s fried the way chicken is—but not exactly. There are some specific changes characteristic of chicken fried steak. If you do chicken the way you do chicken fried steak, that’s chicken fried chicken!

  27. My copy comes from around 1877, given as a gift to my Great Grandmother as a house warming gift in the early 1930’s when she immigrated to Toronto from Russia. It’s a wonderful snapshot of Historic Life and Culture. Hadn’t looked at it in a while. Thank you for the reminisce… Have a wonderful warm and happy weekend!

  28. Well, basically the beef jelly is somewhere in the range of beef stock or bone broth, or even just gelatin. Jello is gelatin with fruity flavorings.
    The calf’s feet contain a lot of gelatin, the rest is mostly there for flavor.
    Fried Bread in batter appears to be close to french toast, the batter is egg heavy.
    The handwritten corn muffin recipe seems to be pretty close to the cornbread recipe still printed on a brand of cornmeal.
    Boiling eggs 1-3 hours must be to get them really hard, like a hard cheese hard.

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