My mother had one cookbook in her kitchen, a small, tattered Ida Bailey Allen “Service” cookbook that she referred to occasionally for cake or dessert recipes. Most of her recipes were “in her head” as we liked to say, although in later years she collected recipes in a little white recipe box which I now own. My sister in law, Bunny, would tell me years later that her mother’s cookbook was a very old “Joy of Cooking” which she showed me, held together now with a thick rubber band and filled with clippings. I spent an afternoon at my brother Jim’s & his wife Bunny’s going carefully through the Joy of Cooking that had been her mother’s and was now Bunny’s.

As for me, someone gave me a Betty Crocker cookbook when I got married in 1958 and it was the only cookbook I owned for a few years. I started collecting cookbooks about 7 years later. Initially I was primarily interested in club-and-church cookbooks, considered fundraisers, and bought all that I could lay my hands on. My first church cookbook was a little Methodist collection of recipes that my father bought from a coworker at Formica for $1.00 in 1961. He bought one for mom and one for me.

As my cookbook collection grew, I became aware of another kind of cookbook – such as a manuscript cookbook, one that someone has compiled themselves – whether handwriting the recipes on lined paper or pasting recipes clipped from newspapers and magazines onto pages of a blank book. Since then my fascination with personal collections of recipes has never diminished; along with manuscript cookbooks I also began searching for recipe boxes of someone’s personal recipe collection. I referred to them as the Kitchen Diaries.

In 1930, Better Homes and Gardens first published a 3-ring binder cookbook that appears to have been quite deliberately designed to be a cross between a manuscript cookbook and a published collection of basic recipes. A 1930 edition of “My Better Homes And Gardens Cookbook” (subtitled “Every Recipe Tested in the Better Homes and Gardens Tasting-Test Kitchen”) is a 3 ring binder with a green, black, and silver cover. In the very front is an envelope designed for the owner to “use this envelope to hold recipes and food information you obtain from Better Homes and Gardens food manufacturers and other sources…”

The cookbooks contain hundreds of recipes but each section also contained blank pages for the lady of the house to make her own additions which they were encouraged to do.

Also, to this day Better Homes & Garden magazine publishes some recipes submitted by readers—way back in the day, the reward for having your recipe chosen was a certificate of Recipe Endorsement—no cash! –but BH&G has upped the ante quite a bit since 1930 and today if your recipe is selected you will receive a check for $500.00!

I have a collection within a collection of different editions of these BH&G cookbooks – one published in 1930, some of the silver and black edition from 1935, a couple of the gold-cover Souvenir Editions to commemorate the sale of 10,000,000 copies, plus some of the red-plaid covered cookbooks much desired by cookbook collectors—in all, thirteen of the BH&G cook books. Some of them are pristine and have not been written in by former owners – while a few are treasure-troves of recipes handwritten, clipped and pasted from magazines, recipes written by friends or other family members until the binder bulges at its seams. In their own way, these are kitchen diaries too.

Out of the thirteen in my collection, the two that are bulging the most with clippings and falling apart at the seams are, without a doubt, my favorites—although from a collector’s standpoint, the pristine editions are probably the most valuable. But value has never motivated me as a collector. This was probably made evident to you when I wrote “Those Battered, Tattered, Stains in a Church Cookbook” in March, 2010 on my blog. When you open a cookbook and find the most stains on a particular page, you think to yourself “now THIS recipe must be a good one – look how battered and stained it is!”

The oldest BH&G cookbook in my collection has a penned inscription on the inside cover: “To GLADYS From LAFE April 22 1931”. The copyright date of the book is 1930. The cover is green and black with some silver and that cover is about to fall off the book. It falls open, quite on its own, to pages in the middle of the book on which there are recipes for puddings—two written in black ink and about a dozen or so clipped from newspapers when the print for recipes was very small. The first recipe, written in black ink, has “Genevieve Davis” written alongside the recipe. On the opposite pages if Mrs. Badyley’s Rice Pudding Recipe, underneath which is Mrs. H.H. Scott’s Rice Pudding.

Here is Genevieve Davis’ recipe for a peach pudding:

1 lb peaches – 1 ½ cups brown sugar, ½ cup butter*, 1 cup flour, ½ pint cream.
Pare peaches and slice; arrange layer of peaches in baking dish. Sprinkle with ½ cup brown sugar, add another layer of peaches and cover with a mixture of flour, butter and brown sugar creamed together. Bake in a moderate oven** 1 hour. Serve with whipped cream.

Sandy’s cooknote: *½ cup butter is one stick or 4 ounces.
** A moderate oven would be 350 degrees

A few pages later, Gladys pasted newspaper recipes for custards and sauces. I am bemused to find the “Custard & Sauces” written in black ink at the very top of the page the same handwriting as the inscription Lafe wrote on the inside cover. Did Gladys ask Lafe to write on some of the pages because he had such a beautiful penmanship? In the Fish-Game & Chicken chapter a little farther into the book is the same handwriting, “Fish-Oysters-Clams” and elsewhere, the same lovely handwriting; “Salads & Dressings”. I can just picture Gladys asking Lafe to write the headings because he had such nice handwriting. Maybe he had to be coaxed a little because, after all, kitchens and cookbooks were “women’s stuff” in most households in 1931.

I find myself wondering whether or not Gladys and Lafe had any children—because surely, if my mother or grandmother had a cookbook like this one, it wouldn’t have ended up in a used book store or sold at an estate sale. It grieves me, at times, to think how some of these books or recipe boxes end up in my hands because there was no one around to love them anymore.

The other bulging BH&G cookbook is a thirteenth edition dated 1935, of the 1930 copyright. It will take days to wade through every piece of paper but the first piece of paper is a rice krispies treat made with peanut butter and written on a piece of paper with Manatee County shopping guide printed at the top – and Bradenton Florida printed underneath. Actually – the recipe sounds interesting and I will share it with you.

Next are a couple of pages from Parade magazine, dated December 9, 1956. Presumably it was the candy recipes for chocolate marshmallow velvet, cherry pecan logs and peppermint patties that I think were the primary interest of the person who saved the paper (although there is an interesting short piece about the running boards and rear platforms for the secret service agents who guarded President Eisenhower when he rode in his two convertibles!).

Next is a page taken from the Kalamazoo Gazette for Wednesday, September 27, 1972; it features recipes for Fall picnics.

Then I found a page from BH&G magazine for October, 1949 – one side of the page provides instructions for washing in an automatic washer while the other side has instructions for baking in the oven “cooking without looking”! This is followed by cutouts from BH&G magazine for October, 1949…followed by a dozen or more small clippings and a recipe that just reads “raisin cake” but sounds suspiciously like War Cake. Next, is a page from the magazine Country Gentleman, dated August, 1949 for a lot of peach recipes.

From Prairie Farmer magazine for September 2, 1950 is a page full of “Recipes for Cool Days” which includes peach marmalade, pear conserve and shepherd’s pie.

On a sheet of paper with F.M. Bridenstein/Dealer in Farm Equipment, Fulton Michigan printed at the top, someone wrote out in beautiful penmanship a recipe for “Ice Box Rolls” – but what has piqued my curiosity most is what I found next, a large fold-out of recipes from General Foods—and it isn’t the recipes that interests me most; it’s a label to Mrs. Homer Leach of Monrovia California! So far, the owner of this cookbook has been to Florida, Michigan and California! Curiouser and Curiouser!

For now I would like to share one recipe from this BH&G book. It’s undated but on the opposite side of the newspaper clipping is a rebate offer for 25 cents from Pepperidge Farms that states in the fine print, “offer expires June 30, 1968”

I am choosing this one to share because some years ago, I discovered a jelly roll recipe in a Sunset cookbook and this is SO easy to make—I think this is the same recipe and would like to add—you don’t have to use just jelly as a filling in a jelly roll. I have made them using sliced and sweetened strawberries and then served it with whipped cream.

To make a delicious jelly roll:

Beat 4 egg whites until stiff but not dry. Gradually beat in 1/3 cup granulated sugar. In another bowl beat 4 egg yolks and 1/3 cup sugar until thick; beat in 3 TBSP water and 1 tsp vanilla. Carefully fold beaten egg yolks into egg whites.

Sift together 1 cup sifted flour, 1/3 cup sugar, 1 ¼ tsp baking powder, ¼ tsp salt; fold into eggs. Pour into a greased 15×10” jelly roll pan lined with waxed paper. Bake at 375 degrees for 15-18 minutes.

Quickly turn from pan onto a damp towel; remove paper and cut crisp edges off cake. Roll cake quickly in damp cloth. Let cake cool. Unroll; spread generously with jelly, using about 1 cup. Remove cloth, gently roll cake up again. Sift confectioners sugar lightly over the top of jelly roll. Serve the slices topped with sweetened whipped cream. Any kind of jelly or jam may be used for the filling.

Here, also, is the recipe for the peanut butter rice krispies:

1 cup light Karo syrup
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup peanut butter

Cook above ingredients until it bubbles. Add:

6 cups rice krispies

Mix and spread in 14×9” pan. Melt

6 oz chocolate chips and
6 oz butterscotch chips.

Frost over top of krispies.

Farther along inside the book I found a clipping dated September 27, 1951 from a newspaper in Battle Creek, Michigan – the bottom of the clipping is too frayed and shredded for the recipes to be of any use. Else where I found even more recipes written on the receipt pages of F.M. Bridenstein. One is another jelly roll recipe while the other is a recipe for meat balls.

Inasmuch as F.D. Bridenstein has turned up so often in the book, I am inclined to think that either Mr. Bridenstein or Mrs. Bridenstein was the owner of this particular cookbook.

I’ll never know. But I know what the previous owner liked to cook!

–Happy Cooking and Happier Cook Book Collecting – you never know what treasures you may find.




  1. Yes! on so many fronts, Sandy! I got MY first cookbooks about when you started collecting them. I am not sure when I deliberately started collecting foreign cookbooks (the collection of vintage and antique cookbooks started much more recently). If I could choose between a pristine, unused cookbook and one full of handwritten comments and recipes and perhaps clippings too, I would choose the latter.

    I, too, am mystified by the lovingly compiled recipe collections, be they in notebooks or index card boxes, that end up in dealer’s shops, at estate sales, etc. I can understand this if there were no children, but otherwise? Two or three years ago, I was at an estate sale, which had been pretty picked over by dealers and other folks. I had been busy in the basement, exhausting myself by hefting and movings boxes of books. As I was leaving, I spotted three thin volumes in the kitchen. Could they be manuscript cookbooks? Yes! Of course, I got them. Why were they there? Had they been overlooked? I should add that when I find such things, I try to document as much as I can ferret out about whose books or boxes they were, and when, where, and how I acquired them. I think we are both preserving a bit of history.

    Keep up the good work–both collecting and writing about your books and other materials.

    Jean B.

    • Oh, what wouldnt I give to see those manuscript cookbooks! What a find!

      In 1961 when my father bought a Methodist church cookbook from a coworker at Formica, it was the only church one I had for a few years; then I began wondering if there were more of them…out there. I had NO CLUE. And I think I had only 2 recipe boxes for about 15 yrs of marriage…..

  2. Pingback: Better homes cookbooks | Books

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