In the house at 1618 Sutter Street, in Cincinnati, Ohio, where I grew up and learned to cook, there was one cookbook. It was kept in a drawer in the kitchen cupboard, along with ration stamp books (one for each member of the family), scraps of paper and pencils, pieces of chalk, rubber bands, cereal box tops that my brother Jim saved to send away for things like decoder rings, and my mother’s collection of WILSON evaporated milk labels. Here’s an interesting aside about the evaporated milk labels. My mother used the canned milk to make formula for whoever was the baby at the time (in a family the size of ours, somebody was always the baby—after Billy was born, he maintained that status for quite a few years). We poured evaporated milk into coffee and what’s more, we all liked it. Even my parents drank coffee this way, along with sugar. The can of evaporated milk was on the supper table along with everything else.
We probably had it with cereal on occasion, as well—it was either that or Starlac, a powdered milk that when added to water, always had indestructible little lumps that never quite dissolved. Evaporated milk was also a mainstay to making mashed potatoes and creamed peas. (I will readily admit, mashed potatoes and creamed peas made with canned milk still tastes pretty good to me. My sister Barbara agreed).
However, I tried evaporated milk in coffee a few years ago, when I was out of Moca Mix—ew, ew! I can’t believe we actually drank that stuff. We also made an equally disgusting ice cream out of evaporated milk and snow, and it seems to me that I even mixed little portions of it with food coloring to make a kind of “paint” to brush on unbaked cookies.
(Isn’t it interesting that one of the most popular fudge recipes to this day is made with evaporated milk?)
The reason my mother had a collection of WILSON evaporated milk labels is that you could redeem the labels for things, sort of like we once did with Top Value and Blue Chip trading stamps. I remember taking the bundles of evaporated milk labels downtown to cash them in for things – tea towels or potholders, most likely. I suspect that it took several thousand labels for one potholder, but I came from a family where free was desirable no matter what it was. Free was always considered a good thing. (Remind me to tell you sometime about the trouble I got into over “Free with Approvals” stamp ads that used to appear in comic books when I was a child—I had no idea what ‘approvals’ were. I only recognized FREE).
My sister, Barbara, had many memories involving the acquisition of free ‘stuff’ including selling Watkins products to get some free dishes, and the free samples of grape or orange juice you could get at the Orange Bar downtown. According to Barbara, our Grandma Schmidt loved anything that was free (maybe we all got it from her!).
This obsession for free stuff probably also accounts for the collection of recipe booklets I amassed, at a tender age – probably 9 or 10 – because of the ads on the backs of boxes and cans of things like Hershey’s cocoa and Calumet baking powder. Post cards cost a penny each. For ten cents, then, you could get ten post cards. All you had to do was write in and request the free booklet. (I also got a lot of free samples of Cuticura soap this way.)
But getting back to my mother’s kitchen cupboard, and her one and only cookbook, if I might digress for just a moment more—this kitchen cupboard was one of a kind and truly spectacular. It was built into the wall and reached the ceiling. The glass panels in the doors in the upper half of the cupboard were some kind of old patterned glass. My sister thinks the pattern was called stars and says you’d see it a lot in bathroom windows. There is a family story about that kitchen cupboard and me, which resulted in my ending up at the hospital getting stitches. Let me just say this: I was 8 years old and too lazy to move a chair over to the cupboard to open the top doors, which were out of my reach. (Barbara had to wash dishes, Jim dried them and it was my job to put them away). So one day, I stood on one of the doors over the lower cupboards—I slipped, straddling the cupboard door and ended up in the emergency room.
In any case, my mother had a cookbook and I couldn’t tell you if she or anybody else in the family ever used it. (most of my mother’s cooking was done sans recipes). Now here’s a funny thing—while my sister, Barbara, remembers the kind of glass in the kitchen cupboard and the color of the Wilson labels, she doesn’t remember the Ida Bailey Allen cookbook at all!
However, I do! I learned to cook from this cookbook. It was called “THE SERVICE COOK BOOK BY MRS. IDA BAILEY ALLEN” which, I have learned through research, was originally published in 1933. I think it may have been distributed by Woolworth’s. Along with authoring numerous cookbooks, Ms. Allen hosted a number of radio programs (radio recipe programs were really big in the 30s and 40s).
I was delighted to discover a dozen or so references to Mrs. Allen in Jean Anderson’s “AMERICAN CENTURY COOKBOOK”, published in 1997 and previously reviewed in the CCE.
Ms. Anderson observes that Fannie Farmer died in 1915 and “Ida Bailey Allen, a Chatauqua lecturer, took the stage and throughout the teens, ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s churned out cookbooks, lectured, wrote newspaper and magazine columns, endorsed products and generally kept her name before the public…”
One of Mrs. Allen’s earliest publications appears to have been published in 1917 (Mrs. Allen’s Cook Book). Anderson also credits Mrs. Allen for publishing a very early version of Swiss Steak in her 1917 cookbook which also indicated she was a hearty advocate of casseroles. Anderson also believes that Mrs. Allen may have been the first cookbook author to discuss broccoli in her 1927 cookbook “Vital Vegetables”.
Mary Drake Mcfeely, author of “CAN SHE BAKE A CHERRY PIE?” provided me with some additional clues about the life of Ida Bailey Allen.
Mcfeely writes, “…she dispensed cooking advice and recipes through her school of cookery in New York, articles in LADIES HOME JOURNAL and GOOD HOUSEKEEPING, a syndicated newspaper column (called, I think, “Let’s Eat”), a radio program, and, in the course of her career, fifty-six published cookbooks…”
“Ida Bailey Allen,” says Mcfeely, advised on everything –nutrition, shopping, pressure-cooker cooking. Her radio and newspaper audience wrote to her asking for help. In her Depression cookbook, ‘Ida Bailey Allen’s Money Saving Cook Book’ she answered some of the questions her readers posed in their letters—questions that reflect the anxiety of the times…”
Ida Bailey Allen, a prominent figure during the 20s and 30s and 40s, was a food authority on hand to provide assistance to homemakers during the terrible times of the Depression.
Allen, like M.F.K. Fisher, also promoted the use of innards. Writes McFeely, “She (Ida Bailey Allen) advocated the ‘clever use’ of innards—items unfamiliar and therefore unappealing, to middle-class Americans…”. (I find myself wondering if this is why my mother so often prepared kidney stew, liver and onions, brains and sweetbreads (it didn’t do any good to say ew, ew, to my mother. If it was on the dinner table, you had to eat it).
The introduction to Ida Bailey Allen’s Service Cookbook advises that “Millions of radio listeners and followers of women’s pages in newspapers and magazines in all parts of North America have bestowed upon Mrs. Ida Bailey Allen, author of this up-to-the-minute cookbook, the affectionate title of “the home-maker”….nearly two million women who have listened to her coast to coast broadcasts over the Columbia network in the past two years have written to her” (this was written in 1933).
The Introduction to The Service Cook Book also lets us know that Mrs. Allen was at one time Home Economics Editor of “Good Housekeeping”, “Pictorial Review” and “Woman’s World”. She was also president and founder of the National Radio Home-Makers Club, and thousands of radio listeners annually visited her “modern home atop 400 Madison Avenue, New York City,” where they could watch her staff of dietitians in their “never ending task of developing and testing new recipes for cooking”. (Sounds like Mrs. Allen was the Martha Stewart of the 30s and 40s, doesn’t it?”)
Ida Bailey Allen has endeared herself to me forever more with her comments in the preface to one of her books, published in 1924, titled “COOKING MENUS SERVICE”. Writes Ms. Allen “It was a long time ago that I had my first cooking lesson. Playing ‘grown up’—in an old dress from my grandmother’s attic—I went to ‘call’ on a neighbor. ‘Grown-up ladies do useful things,’ she said, “I will teach you to cook.’ Standing on a box in her spotless pantry—for I was only eight—I learned to make gingerbread…”
Some years later, I too, played dress up with my two best friends and when I was about eight years old, I too began to learn to cook. Obviously, Ida Bailey Allen and I are kindred spirits!
I have, in addition to my mother’s very battered and heavily stained Service Cook Book, several other copies of the same Number One edition (I have never seen a Number Two; was #2 ever published?). It’s a funny thing about my pristine copies of the Service Cookbook and my mother’s. They’re alike – and then again, they’re not. The pristine copies don’t evoke the same emotional response when I turn the pages. If nothing else, I can tell you exactly what I was learning to cook at the age of eight, from the stains on the pages. The most battered pages contain the recipes for old fashioned raisin cookies, Hermits, something called Rocks and chocolate ice-box cookies. My mother’s Service Cookbook has a history; mine. When I turn the pages, I see myself, a little girl with a big apron tied around my waist, leafing through the pages of my mother’s cookbook, in search of recipes that matched the ingredients in the kitchen cabinets. Often, my two best friends, Carol and Patty, were with me in the kitchen and my two younger brothers would be on the back step happily anticipating the results of our endeavor. (It never mattered to them whether the end product was good or bad – they’d eat anything!).
I have carefully studied the copies of Ida Bailey Allen cookbooks that I own, to perhaps learn why she was such a prolific – and apparently very popular – cookbook author. Bearing in mind that all of her books were written prior to the invention of many time-saving kitchen appliances, you won’t find instructions to “chop in a food processor” or “puree in a blender”—although one of Mrs. Allen’s books was devoted to cooking with a pressure cooker. Cake recipes don’t start out with “one packaged cake mix” – everything is “from scratch”.
I was entertained reading “ROUND-THE-WORLD COOK BOOK” which was published by Best Foods, Inc., to promote Nucoa “the double-purpose food) which is, actually, margarine. Mrs. Allen advises that, “When used as a spread, the New Nucoa may be quickly transformed to a golden yellow color by using the color wafer (approved by the U.S. Government) that is enclosed with every package. For cooking purposes, the New Nucoa may be used as it comes—milky white—or it may be tinted yellow according to preference….” For those of you too young to remember, in the 30s and early 40s, margarine was white. You had to add the yellow food coloring to it to make it look like butter
(James Trager, author of the Food Book, explains, “When the Illinois and Wisconsin Dairymen’s Association was founded in 1867, the dairy farmers could have had no idea that in France that year a man was beginning to work on a product that would one day threaten their livelihood and demand the marshalling of all their powers to resist its inroads.
The man was a chemist, Hypolite Mege-Mouries. Napolean III offered him a handsome prize if he could ‘produce a cheap butter for the Army, Navy and needy classes of the population’. After a sojourn of work on the Emperor’s farm, Mege-Mouries won the prize with a pearly-white product made of suet, or animal kidney fat, melted down and clarified, freed of its softer fats….mixed with milk and churned into solid fat. Mege-Mouriese named the lustrous butter substitute after the Greek word ‘margarites’ meaning pearly…”
Says Trager, the process was patented in England in 1869 and soon American meat packers were producing it as well. And the reason you had to add the little color wafer to turn it yellow? For many years, yellow margarine was outlawed in the dairy states. Wisconsin was the last holdout, yielding in 1967. (As for me, I still prefer butter to anything else—but now you know the rest of the story!).
Another entertaining little book written by Ida Bailey Allen was “The Modern Method of Preparing Delightful Foods”, which is (albeit hard cover), what we now think of as “pamphlet size”, a mere 4”x7”, which sold “for the exceedingly low price of 10c (which does not cover the cost of printing, wrapping and mailing)” advise the publishers, Corn Products Refining Company, the original manufacturers of products such as Karo Syrup and Mazola Corn Oil. This was published in 1927 and in it, Mrs. Allen refers to her work “with the National Food Administration during the Great War..” which was World War I. You’ll find a lot to entertain you in this little book, from the legend of corn to advice on caring for the table linens. Very little escaped Mrs. Allen’s attention!
If you happen to come across some of Ida Bailey Allen’s cookbooks, check them out.
Jean Anderson thinks that Mrs. Allen’s last cookbook, “Best Loved Recipes of the American People” may have been a compilation of recipes collected throughout her long career. Ida Bailey Allen passed away in 1973. But she left us with a legacy.
The following list of cookbooks authored by Ida Bailey Allen is incomplete but it’s what I have been able to find:
A NEW SNOWDRIFT COOKBOOK, 1920
WOMAN’S WORLD CALENDAR COOKBOOK, 1922
VITAL VEGETABLES WITH ANALYSIS, 1927
MODERN METHODS OF PREPARING DELIGHTFUL FOODS, 1927
WHEN YOU ENTERTAIN, 1932
THE SERVICE COOKBOOK, 1933
ROUND THE WORLD COOKBOOK, 1934
IDA BAILEY ALLEN’S WINES & SPIRITS COOKBOOK, 1934
COOKING MENUS SERVICE, 1935
IDA BAILEY ALLENS EVERY DAY COOKBOOK, 1938
IDA BAILEY ALLEN’S KITCHENETTE COOKBOOK FOR TWO, 1938
COMMON SENSE COOKBOOK 1939
IDA BAILEY ALLEN’S NEW MODERN COOKBOOK, 1939
MONEY SAVING COKBOOKI, 1940, 1942
COOKBOOK FOR TWO 1947
STEP BY STEP COOKBOOK, 1952
SOLVING THE HIGH COST OF EATING, 1952
BEST LOVED RECIPES OF AMERICAN PEOPLE, 1973
DATE OF PUBLICATION UNKNOWN:
MRS. ALLEN’S BOOK OF SUGAR SUBTITUTES
LUCIOUS LUNCHEONS & TASTY TEAS
YOUTH AFTER 40
GOLDEN RULE FOODS
DOUBLE QUICK COOKING FOR PART TIME HOME MAKERS
The following references can be found in THE FOOD CHRONOLOGY by James Trager:
MRS ALLEN’S COOK BOOK by Ida Cogswell Allen, published in 1916, – author was 32
1924 MRS ALLEN ON COOKING, MENUS, SERVICE; 2500 RECIPES BY IDA C. BAILEY ALLEN
IN 1932, MRS ALLEN’S MODERN COOK BOOK provides a recipe for escalloped tuna fish using canned tuna and instructions match those given by Mrs. Beeton in 1865 for cod a la bechamel.
1939 THE COMMON SENSE COOK BOOK was published
1940 IDA BAILEY ALLEN’S TIME-SAVING COOK BOOK was published
1943 DOUBLE-QUICK COOKING FOR PART-TIME HOMEMAKERS was aimed at u.s. women with jobs in war plants, shipyards, hospitals and the like.
1952 SOLVING THE HIGH COST OF EATING: A COOKBOOK TO LIVE BY
1962, A COOK BOOK FOR GOURMETS, (author was now 72)
As a final note to this almost-completely-forgotten cookbook author, who set me on my path of cooking and being interested in anything about food, I simply want to add that, recently I scoured the shelves of four used book stores that have fairly comprehensive collections of cookbooks. I didn’t find any written by Ida Bailey Allen. But, Ida Bailey Allen, I love you where ever you are.
–Sandra Lee Smith