I’ll let you in on a secret-—before embarking on my latest blog post endeavor, I began doing some Google searches to see what the most favorite cookbooks are nowadays. I wish I hadn’t bothered – most of the lists (ten most favorite, fifty most favorite) of popular cookbooks are ones I have never heard of before. What does this say about my collection of ten thousand plus cookbooks? Are they all defunct? So I returned to my original idea which I shared with one of my subscribers—to rewrite or repost my favorite cookbook author reviews including, where appropriate, responses from my readers which have, at times, led to some surprising and remarkable discoveries.

One of the first cookbook authors I wrote about in my blog (started in 2009) was Ida Bailey Allen. Prior to writing about Ms. Allen on my blog, originally I wrote about her in a newsletter called Cookbook Collectors Exchange (around 2001–now no longer being published, a great loss to all of us)

Posted on December 25, 2010 | 13 Comments | Edit

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.

Cookbook author 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:


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


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


1943 DOUBLE-QUICK COOKING FOR PART-TIME HOMEMAKERS was aimed at u.s. women with jobs in war plants, shipyards, hospitals and the like.


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


Posted on January 23, 2011 | 14 Comments | Edit
January 23, 2011

One of the first cookbooks that I read by Nika Hazelton was something titled, “I COOK AS I PLEASE”, published in 1974. It was one of the first cookbooks that I found in which the author had skillfully woven memoir with recipes—and I was charmed. I was also hooked and wanted to learn more about Nika Hazelton. I began searching for her cookbooks.

Researching a cookbook author is not always an easy task—years ago, very little biographical information about cookbook authors was provided by the publishers. Today, any well-known cookbook author (such as James Beard, Elizabeth David, M.F.K. Fisher, to name a few), has biographies written about them and the publisher usually provides a fairly substantial background bio on the book jacket. This wasn’t the case with cookbooks published decades ago. But when the collection of recipes is also a memoir, much can be gleaned from within the pages of the book, and not just from the dust jacket.

Let’s start with what we do know.

Nika Hazelton was born in Rome, (German father, Roman mother), grew up in Switzerland, and received her schooling in England. Nika studied under Harold Laski at the London School of Economics. She spent her early years traveling to the capitals of Europe with her father, who was a German diplomat.

In 1935, Nika made her home in the United States. She was considered an expert in the food of many countries. Nika began writing cookbooks during World War II, and at least seven of those books were on European cuisine. In addition to writing cookbooks, Nika was editor of the Woman’s Day Encyclopedia of Food and she wrote for virtually every major magazine, including The New Yorker, Family Circle, Vogue and Virginia Quarterly. . She also had a monthly column in The National Review and was a regular contributor to The New York Times. In addition, Nika was an editorial writer for Harper’s Bazaar, covering food stories. (With all the writing that she did for various magazines, it’s a wonder she found time to write cookbooks as well!).

One of her earliest books, “THE ART OF CHEESE COOKERY” was first published in 1949 by Doubleday & Company under the name of Nika Standen. Other books were published under the name of Nika Standen Hazelton and, later, just Nika Hazelton.

A clue to the type of cook she was can be found in the Introduction to “FROM NIKA HAZELTON’S KITCHEN”, published in 1985. “FROM NIKA HAZELTON’S KITCHEN” was not intended to be a cookbook for beginners. She lets you know from the onset that she assumes, if you have bought and are reading this book, you know something about cooking. She also explains that she likes simple foods made with the best ingredients available. Nika Hazelton was definitely a no-nonsense type of cook!

She used only freshly grated Parmesan cheese and the finest Tuscan olive oil (although she admitted to frying with peanut oil). She preferred butter over margarine for the simple reason that it tasted better. Nika never worried about cholesterol since she didn’t like fatty or greasy foods anyway and she removed all fat from meats and poultry (except when roasting a chicken!).

Nika said that she used few herbs and spices in her cooking because she disliked the flavor of too many herbs in one dish. “To my taste,” she wrote, I prefer to taste either basil or thyme or marjoram or sage or whatever in one dish rather than a combination of herbs.” However, she admitted to being less rigid with combinations of spices.

Nika wrote that she made cakes the old fashioned way, from scratch. She described her kitchen as being furnished with basic equipment, which included a KitchenAid mixer to mix, a Cuisinart to mince, a rotary peeler to peel and a small mandolin to cut transparent slices of potatoes and cucumbers. She writes, “My kitchen also sports a couple of balloon whisks, wooden spoons, good knives, and a very sharp pair of scissors, as well as the standard paraphernalia of measuring cups, mixing bowls, measuring spoons and so forth…”

She explains that she lived in the city and didn’t have much kitchen space, so she kept only bare essentials on hand in the pantry and said that she used very few canned foods (tomatoes, chickpeas and beans). Simplicity was Nika’s keyword throughout this introduction and to explain this philosophy, she said that she liked to keep things simple, possibly because throughout her life she had to cook for a family as well as professionally.

Consequently, Nika adopted (to quote her), a “somewhat dispassionate” view of cooking—which may be a far cry from the themes of most professional cooks and cookbook authors. Generally, we expect a high level of enthusiasm from our cookbook authors! On the other hand, “FROM NIKA HAZELTON’S KITCHEN” was published in 1985 and the dear lady had been cooking and writing by this time for quite a few decades. Although I still haven’t determined the date of her birth we do know that she came to the United States in 1935 and wrote a number of cookbooks during World War II.

At the time of writing “I COOK AS I PLEASE”, published in 1974, the author was living on Riverside Drive in New York City, with her husband, with a view that looked over the green trees of Riverside Park and the Hudson River. This kitchen is also described as small and utilitarian. The author says, “It is by no means a display kitchen where I celebrate with imported cookware or run a cooking school. Nor,” she adds, “is it a family kitchen where the folks gather for warmhearted meals. Family meals with children,” she admonishes, “are horrible, yet children have to eat with their betters, as parents were called in a less permissive age, to learn at least a modicum of table manners…”

Nika thought teen-age meals no less awful, “Since fights lie beneath the surface. My children have known all this from early childhood, and even now when we have lived through a family meal, we all say: ‘Thank God, all has gone off well.”

Her kitchen in “I COOK AS I PLEASE” is described as having black Formica counters, a butcher block top and pine cabinets that got waxed three times a year, “and that,” she proclaims, “is it, even in dirty New York.” She describes the contents of cabinets and drawers in this kitchen, with “ironed towels done by the laundry because ironed kitchen towels are nice and life is too short to iron them…” This drawer also contained her aprons because it had been a hard and fast rule in her mother’s kitchen to wear an apron. Another drawer is described as holding “the flotsam and jetsam of kitchen life: Hungarian pastry brushes made from goose feathers, frames for making chocolate leaves, rubber bands, candles for blackouts, bottle tops with artistic design on top given to me by a five-year-old child as a token of her affection, fondue forks, scallop shells, measuring tapes, and a collection of never-consulted food leaflets, including one on how to make cheese at home…”

(This, from a woman who wrote an entire cookbook about cheese!).

She didn’t have a dishwasher—this woman who had a laundry service to iron her dishtowels—and said she could live without one since she didn’t find dishwashing nasty, “whereas,” Nika proclaims, “I find making beds nasty…”

“As I wash up, under running hot water” she explains, “I muse about any number of subjects. Dishwashing is much better for musing than lying in one’s bath or in bed….” (To which I have to agree. But I have to say, I don’t iron dishtowels, nor are they done at a laundry!)

Nika confessed that cookbooks were another one of the subjects she mused about as she washed dishes, and she writes an entire chapter about cookbooks in “I Cook As I Please”—she comments, quite rightly I think, that “cookbooks are mostly bought as escape literature, not to cook from…”

Well, I don’t agree with Nika last sentence but perhaps that is how she felt about too many cookbooks in the 1970s. Of all the Hazelton cookbooks in my possession, “I COOK AS I PLEASE” remains my favorite.

Nika Standen Hazelton is the author (or co-author) of the following cookbooks:

• REMINISCENCE AND RAVIOLI, 1946, William Morrow & Co.
• THE ART OF CHEESE COOKERY, (published under the name of Nika Standen) Doubleday & Company, 1949
• CLASSIC SCANDINAVIAN COOKING, 1965, 1987 Galahad Books
• THE SWISS COOKBOOK, 1967 Atheneum Publishers
• HOUSE OF INDIA COOKBOOK, 1967, co-authored with Syed Abdullah.
• DINNER AT BUCKINGHAM PALACE, 1972, by Charles Oliver FORWARD by Nika Hazelton
• I COOK AS I PLEASE, 1974, Grosset & Dunlap
• NIKA HAZELTON’S WAY WITH VEGETABLES, 1976 , republished 1995 by Castle Books
• AMERICAN HOME COOKING, 1980, Viking Press
• NIKA HAZELTON’S PASTA COOKBOOK, 1984, Ballantine Books
• THE COOKING OF GERMANY (Food of the World Series)
• LA CUISINE BY R. OLIVIER (translator and editor)
• THE RUSSIAN TEA ROOM COOKBOOK (co author Faith Stewart-Gordon)
• COOKIES AND BREADS; THE BAKER’S ART co-authored with Ilse Johnson and Ferdinand Boesch
• INGREDIENTS COOK’S* co-authored with Adrian Bailey and Philip Dowell (illustrator)

Like I have so many other times with other cookbook authors, I Googled Nika Standen Hazelton to see if I could find some biographical information. I did.

Nika Hazelton, Whose Cookbooks Influenced U.S. Tastes, Dies at 84
Published: April 17, 1992

Nika Hazelton, whose cookbooks have been a mainstay of serious cooks for nearly half a century, died on Tuesday in Manhattan. She was 84 years old and lived in Manhattan.
She died of natural causes after a lingering illness, said her son, Dr. S. A. Standen, who lives in London.

Mrs. Hazelton, the daughter of a German diplomat, was born in Rome, attended school there, and studied at the London School of Economics. She began her career as a reporter in 1930, covering the League of Nations for the German Press Association and then moving on to freelance work.

After marrying and emigrating to the United States in 1940, she began writing cookbooks with recipes culled primarily from home cooks throughout Europe and South America.

She published 30 books and they reflected her firm, no-nonsense taste in food. “American Home Cooking” (Bobbs Merrill, 1967), “French Home Cooking” (Viking Penguin, 1979,) “International Cookbook” (Harper & Row, 1967) and “The Italian Cookbook (Henry Holt, 1979) remain standards.

She was also a frequent contributor to the major food magazines and for several decades wrote a column about food, wine and travel for The National Review.

As cooking became trendy and precious in the United States, she seemed to raise a speculative eyebrow. Facing a group of wine writers in New York several years ago, Mrs. Hazelton waved aside questions about white truffles and little-known family vineyards. “I’m here to show you a meal from Tuscany that has the virtue of not being too expensive and not taking much genius or fuss to prepare,” she informed her audience and proceeded to demonstrate the proper way to make escarole and rice soup.
Her first marriage ended in divorce in 1954. She married Harold Hazelton in 1956. He died in November.(year?)

Mrs. Hazelton is survived by two sons, Dr. Standen and J. O. Standen, a lawyer in San Francisco, and three grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 3 P.M. on April 28 at St. Agnes Church on East 43d Street in Manhattan.

Correction: April 18, 1992, Saturday An obituary yesterday about the cookbook author Nika Hazelton misstated the day of her death and the date of a memorial service. She died on Wednesday, and the service will be on April 27, at 3 P.M., at the Church of St. Agnes, 141 East 43d Street, in Manhattan
I have to tell you, I was bemused to read about her comment to the group of wine writers, as indicated above in her obituary. That is
so Nika.

*The obituary credits Ms. Hazelton with writing 30 cookbooks. Possibly they weren’t including the cookbooks she co-authored.
–Happy Cooking & Happy Cookbook reading!

Sandra Lee Smith


Posted on May 10, 2015:

I’ve posted this before–letters continue to come in from people all over the USA who remember Meta Given’s cookbooks with great fondness and, in some cases, are trying to find one of them. This is what I wrote:

Originally on February 14, 2011, I wrote the following blog post: “Abe of asked 500 customers who owned a cookbook that had been given to them by a family member to tell the story about their handed down culinary companions. He wrote, “Those old, splattered, battered cookbooks found on kitchen shelves are also treasured family heirlooms in many cases. According to research by, Irma Rombauer’s The Joy of Cooking is the cookbook most frequently handed down through the generations. The books often spanned several generations of cooks and had huge sentimental value. In 96 per cent of the cases, a grandmother, mother and mother-in-law had handed over the book to the next generation. The books tended to have a long history within each family – 58 per cent of the cookbooks were more than 50 years old. Thirty eight per cent of the current owners said they had owned the book for more than 30 years…”

Well, recently I had the opportunity to hold in my own two hands a copy of JOY that had belonged, for decades, to my sister-in-law, Bunny Schmidt, who passed away from cancer of the esophagus in 2012, about eleven months after my partner Bob passed away from the same disease. It’s a battered and stained Joy, exactly what Abe Books was talking about. I am delivering it to my niece Leslie in a couple weeks. She is the oldest child of my brother and sister in law, Bunny.

The cookbook I grew up on, and learned to cook from, was – as I have written before in Sandychatter—an Ida Bailey Allen Service cookbook that I believe my mother bought for a dollar at Woolworth’s. (I now have that very cookbook, which is certainly battered, tattered and stained. Years later I searched for, and found, more pristine copies).

When I was a teenager, a copy of Meta Given’s “The Modern Family Cookbook” appeared in our family bookcase (a little cherry wood bookcase with glass doors, that my younger sister now has). I think it was a book club offering but that baffles me as neither of my parents ever joined a book club. I have a vague memory of my mother refusing to pay for it and so it languished on the family bookshelves until I began to read it and eventually claimed for my own. And, to add to the mystery, there is no indication on the inside pages of the cookbook that it was ever a book club selection. The original copyright was 1942. This edition was copyrighted by Meta Given in 1953, which sounds about right to me.

Not surprisingly, the pages most stained are those with cookie recipes on them- rocks and hermits, gum drop cookies, something called cocoa Indians, lemon drop cookies and molasses drop. My mother turned me loose in the kitchen when I was 9 or 10 years old and most of the time, I baked cookies. I really wasn’t. interested in cooking anything else at the time.

I now own a copy of the original 1942 “Modern Family Cookbook” which is somewhat thicker and heavier than the 1953 edition. In 1947, Meta compiled “Meta Given’s Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking which is in two volumes. I had to laugh at myself; I thought I only had a copy of Volume I but when I began going through some of my old cookbooks in our new built garage library, I found a copy of Volume II.

None of my copies of Meta Given books have dust jackets and therein is the crux of the matter – so often, biographical information can be found on the dust jackets of cookbooks. I began a Google search:

Margi Shrum of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote the following in April, 2009 “I spoke last week to a group of parents of special-needs children, and the conversation turned to old cookbooks. Egads, I love them. My favorite is one my late mother used, “Meta Given’s Encyclopedia of Cooking,” which seems to have been first published in 1947. I have the 1955 edition. It’s chock-a-block with antiquated stuff. I never, and you shouldn’t, use the techniques for canning or preserving foods in these old books, and I am never going to make Muskrat Fricassee (calls for one dressed muskrat. If I could picture what a muskrat looked like I’d picture it dressed in top hat and tails. Carrying a cane). But there’s also a lot of useful stuff in this book, which is in two volumes and has 1,500 pages. I’ve tried loosely over the years to find information about the author but to little avail. She was of some note in the 1940s through the early ’60s, if the popularity of her cookbooks is any indication. Her first was the “The Modern Family Cookbook,” published in 1942.”

Margie adds, “The encyclopedia’s foreword says Ms. Given grew up on a ‘Missouri hill farm’ learning to cook with the limited foodstuffs available to her. She then studied home economics and became involved in developing and testing recipes, and in writing about nutrition, shopping and kitchen equipment. Her foreword to my edition — purchased on eBay and immediately chewed on by my golden retriever puppy, who smelled food — was written from Orlando in 1955….”

May I add that the foreword also states that Meta Given..” had good food (growing up) but little variety. The women were forced to be resourceful in presenting the same simple foods in a variety of interesting ways. She watched food grow on her family’s farm and worked to help it develop into a sound and abundant harvest. She learned to store and preserve a summer’s plenty to last through the winter months. And she acquired from her parents a deep appreciation for the goodness of earth’s bounty…”

Sure enough, Volume II of Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking” offers a recipe for Muskrat Fricasse—as well as recipes for antelope, deer and beaver. It also has a recipe for Hasenpfeffer which I won’t ever be trying. Hasenpfeffer was the bane of my childhood. If you came home from school and smelled it cooking, you knew we were having it for dinner and there was no escape.

Also offered in Volume II are recipes for raccoon, squirrel, woodchuck and turtle. Meta lost me at “evisceration and removal of feathers, removal of fur….” But you know what? Of all the comprehensive cookbooks in my collection, these are surely the most detailed (everything you ever wanted to know but were afraid to ask? I wasn’t afraid to ask—I just never wanted to KNOW).
Elsewhere on Google, someone wrote, “My mother was only 17 years old when she got married. Somewhere in that time, she was given a special two volume cookbook set called Meta Given’s Encyclopedia of Modern Cooking. It was a true cookbook of the 50’s, offering advice so basic, the author must have assumed many of her readers couldn’t boil water. Until Julia Child altered my mother’s views on food, Meta Given’s was the only cookbook in our home. The recipes were so simple and straightforward, I learned to cook from them at a very young age. By the time I was nine years old I could make real fudge, basic one-bowl cakes, quick breads, and peanut butter cookies all by myself. I also learned to make a pumpkin yeast bread when I was slightly older. Over the years my mother’s Meta Given’s cookbook disintegrated into a pile of loose pages. However, I was able to track down a used set several years ago. Although most of the recipes seem outdated, it was quite an experience just holding the cookbook while childhood memories rushed back…”

The following single line clue was also found on Google: “When not penning cookbooks, Ms. Given—I don’t think she’d approve the title, but an extensive Google search fails to reveal her marital status— taught Home Ec at the University of Chicago in the post-World War II years…”

Maybe Meta Given tired of teaching in Chicago and returned to her home in Missouri. We may never know- but if you are interested in finding her books, there are umpteen sites to choose from as you browse through Google.

I have the following:

• The Modern Family Cook Book published in 1942
• Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking Volumes 1 and II published in 1947
• The Modern Family Cook Book, published in 1953
As well as the following, which I do not have:
• The Art of Modern Cooking and Better Meals: recipes for every occasion
• The Modern Family Cook Book New Revised Edition
• The Modern Family Cook Book by Meta Given 1968
• The Wizard Modern Family Cookbook
• Delicious Dairy Dishes

On August 10, 2011 someone named Don posted the following comment:
Hi Sandy, Please let me know if you ever find out what happened to Meta Given. I have been going through some old family letters and it turns out that my great aunt, Helen Swadey, was her assistant in the 40′s and 50′s. She would help with the writing and arranging the final meals for the photo shoot. Thanks! Don
I sent Don the following message: “Hi, Don – how interesting that your great aunt worked for Meta Given! I HAVEN’T learned anything more than what I wrote but maybe someone will read this and write, if they know anything else about her. Oddly enough I have had emails from a number of people, in response to other cookbook authors I have written about – so there’s always a possibility that someone will see the inquiry and shed some light on this prolific and excellent cookbook author. Now, that would have been a job I’d have loved – assistant to Meta Given! Let me know if you learn anything else.

On February 2, someone named Brenda sent the following message to my blog:

I am preparing a Birthday Party for my mother who turns 80 this July. We are having a picnic theme, and we are replacing my mother’s Meta Given Cookbooks with a better set. The sisters of the family are HUGE fans of Meta Given, and I am trying to find anything out about her to have it framed for my mother to put in her kitchen. She raised all of us girls using this cookbook and we all have copies!! I know I am a little late adding this comment, but can you or anyone help me out? Sincerely, Brenda

On February 22, 2012, Karen wrote the following message: I had to comment because one of my earliest memories of Thanksgiving is my mother and grandmother quoting Meta Given about making turkey gravy: “You can only make so much fine favored gravy.” I haven’t even looked at the recipe in years, but must admit that I do know how to make fine flavored gravy and I don’t even eat gravy! Thanks Meta. I have my grandmother’s copy. My mother still has and uses her own copy. My oldest daughter has her other grandmother’s 2 book set. Over the years, I have managed to collect one of the single book editions for my sister and two copies of the 2 book sets for my sisters-in-law. Just recently, I finally got the single book edition for my youngest daughter. We are a family devoted to Meta Given, which is why I found your blog. I was looking for some information about her and started to do some research. So, if you find out anything else about her, I’d be delighted to hear it and then I will in turn share it with the rest of the family. Thanks!

On February 25 2012, Neil sent the following message: I’m a 44-year old single guy who grew up with a mother who occasionally whipped out this tattered, index-missing BIBLE. I have no other name for it… other then the BIBLE that was in our kitchen. Meta Given’s Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking. The version I’m most familiar with is the single volume gem published in 1955 on its EIGHTEENTH printing (35,000 copies). My mom was inspired by the “White Sauce” in that book – creamed onions were a Thanksgiving tradition. Like most people who are reading this, when I finally understood the power of Google I FINALLY had a chance to have my own copy of this piece of history – it’s WAY more than a cookbook and we all know it. I paid almost $200 because I just had to have it. Since then I purchased a “backup” copy – you know… just in case. That one is in a safe room where the temperature and humidity is just right. A few years ago I stumbled upon a dessert recipe that blew me away – Lemon Chiffon Custard on page 746 in my book. “A puffy cake-like topping and a creamy custard bottom layer.” OMG”

On May 2, 2013, Janice King Smith sent the following
message: “According to census reports she (Meta Given) returned to her hometown of Bourbios, MO, and later relocated to Florida. Being from the general area, I was happy to have The Modern Family in my collection and enjoy seeing the differences between how she prepared the meal versus what we were taught by my grandma who lived during the same time frame literally 3-4 hours away from each other.”

On May 24, 2012 Anna wrote the following message: I am doing a little research on Meta Given… My Mother’s maiden name was Given. I was told Meta Given was a Great Aunt of mine from Missouri that wrote cookbooks, and I have all copies of her cookbooks, and learned to cook from them. The books I have were been passed down through the years from my grandmother..Ruby Given, to my mother Anna Jane Given, and now to me. I will be passing them on someday to my children and grandchildren!

On June 22, 2012 Gil wrote the following: I have the 1953 version of Meta Given’s Modern Family Cookbook. I turn to this book when I need to know how I should cook a vegetable that won’t be listed in most cookbooks and I have more than 100. I am going to cook turnips today and I want to know a cooking time. I recently checked in this book for a cooking time for beets. I have two of these books but one is so battered that I am afraid to open it.
Gil Wilbur Claymont,DE.

Now, many months later, after years of searching and speculating about the unknown later life of Meta Given, my new-found friend, Bonnie Slotnick, who owns a cookbook store in New York** (see address at end of article) managed to unearth information about Meta that no one has been able to discover.

It turns out that food writer Jane Nickerson***, writing for the Lakeland Ledger in 1981, interviewed Meta and in an article that appeared in the December 10,m 1981 Lakeland Ledger food column, discovered “the rest of the story” –the details no one knew about Meta Given once she disappeared from the cookbook publishing limelight.

By Jane Nickerson, writing for the Lakeland Ledger on December 10, — wrote the following: “A few lines the other day in this paper reporting the death of Lakelander Meta Given in no way hinted the professionalism of that nonogenarian, [sic] author of the monumental, two-volume cookbook ‘Meta Given’s Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking.’

That brilliant work, published in 1947 by J.G. Ferguson and later distributed by Doubleday, contained in its 1969 edition 1,665 pages, 71 tables and charts, 230 photographs in black-and-white and color, 2,906 tested recipes and more than 200 drawings. Considerably in excess of a million copies are now in use.
Born and reared on a farm in the Ozarks, where, as she once put it, ‘my parents had no money,’ Miss Given remained throughout a vigorous life essentially modest and straightforward.

At 15, she had finished her own education, or so she thought, and was teaching in a rural grade school. Later she instructed high-school students in physics, chemistry and agriculture.

But she began to feel she needed more training. In 1916, she enrolled in the University of Chicago to study a subject still in its infancy at that time—home economics. She went on to work for the Evaporated milk Association, developing recipes for that trade group. Then came a stint as food editor of the Chicago Tribune”.

“But the Depression came along,” Meta told Jane in a 1975
interview, “and in 1931, the Tribune fired me. By that time I had my own test kitchen and staff and was also doing freelance work in recipe development and food photography for Kraft and other companies.

“I couldn’t fire my staff. But the jobs that came along were spasmodic, and so to keep my people busy, I started them working on a household cookbook.” In 1942, J. G. Ferguson, a Chicago printer whom Miss Given had consulted, published the “Modern Family Cookbook.” From it, the encyclopedia developed.
A heart attack in the late 1940s persuaded Miss Given she should pursue a quieter life. The tall, spare, broad-shouldered woman, with a coronet of white hair, wound up her hectic career in Chicago, and retired to Florida, where, among other things, she grew oak leaf lettuce and developed recipes for pies using loquats and other local fruits.

Her inborn modesty made her hard to interview. Among the first “career women” in this century, she wore her accomplishments lightly, and could not understand why anyone should be especially interested in recording them.

This article was unearthed for us by Bonnie Slotnick of Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks 163 West Tenth Street New York, New York 10014-3116 USA –so if you are searching for your mother or grandmother’s tried-and true-cookbook you might want to contact Bonnie.
Happy cooking and happy cookbook collecting!

UPDATE! May 10, 2015

If you have ever read the above, which was posted on my blog February 11, 2011, under the title “Searching for Meta Given”, you will no doubt notice the many readers who have written about Meta Given – – mostly people who had her cookbooks or were looking for them.

Meta couldn’t bring herself to fire her staff during a particular stringent period, she put them to work on a cookbook – a cookbook which turned out to be the nucleus of the two volume cookbooks published in 1947, that people are searching for still, today. Some of whom are paying big bucks for! But I get it. As all of you know, you who have some of Meta Given’s cookbooks—they are timeless, recipes you can follow from start to stop without wondering if it will turn out right. And there is hardly a topic that Meta doesn’t write about!

**Looking for a particular old cookbook? Contact Bonnie Slotnick at or at 163 W. 10th Street, NY NY 10014-3116

***Jane Nickerson, food writer for the Lakeland Ledger also wrote a cookbook about Florida food and recipes. Jane passed away March 2, 2000. She was employed as a food writer from 1973 to 1988 for the Lakeland Ledger.

–Review by Sandra Lee Smith with a special thank you to everyone
who ever wrote to request or provide information. A special thanks to Bonnie Slotnick whose culinary sleuthing provided “the rest of the story” as Paul Harvey would say.

=–Sandra Lee Smith


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