A Loved Old Cookbook and the Stories of the Women

inglenook cookbookWe’ve inherited a well-worn volume of The IngleNook Cook Book, circa 1911 (ours is black and white). The book belonged to my husband’s grandmother, then his mother, now us. She’s still living but, sadly, suffers from dementia. Every blank spot on these dog-eared pages are inked in with faded recipes for everything, including croup.  The ones written in pencil are almost beyond deciphering, and the book is full of jottings on yellowed scraps of paper. Originally compiled by Old Order Brethren women, similar to Old Order Mennonite and Amish, each recipe is attributed to sister so and so. My DH’s family is Mennonite and some of his relatives still drive horse and buggies. There are various orders of Mennonites, old, new, and many in between, I discovered when I married into these people. But back to the book. It’s a record of how women went about their daily lives,  a compilation of their history, what mattered to them, their story.

Many recipes use measurements such as ‘butter the size of an egg’ or lard the size of a walnut’ and suggest you let the baked beans, or some such dish, simmer while you make bread, visit after church, or fix the family breakfast because everyone knew about how long that took.

Old Order Mennonite Mother and infantWithin its pages are old-time cures. For chest congestion, make a salve of melted lard and camphor to rub on, or a mustard plaster, and cover with flannel. For croup in infants and small children, apply a milder camphor salve, or give equal parts of butter and honey melted together by mouth. Another remedy for croup is to slice onions very thin and sprinkle with sugar. Allow to dissolve and give the juice in teaspoonfuls frequently. This is from The Shenandoah Valley, I noted. My home base. (Old Order Mennonite Woman and baby outside the church up the road. Image by hubby. Also the one below.)

An interesting treatment for sore throat. Slice a thin piece of bacon (the assumption being that you have a hunk of your own from hog butchering which my husband remembers his family doing) and stitch this to a piece of flannel and make it black with pepper. Warm it and fasten closely around the throat. Do not remove until inflammation has been drawn to the outside. When the meat is removed, anoint throat with Vaseline and bind up in flannel until you are well. It doesn’t say what to do if you never are, but there are other treatment options.

Old Order Mennonite churchHighly evident from all the added recipes and those heavily used in the book is that my mother-in-law,  her mother, their friends and relations, loved cake. Given the hard work these country people knew, not to mention suffering through the Great Depression, a delicious freshly baked cake was a rare treat.

A Cake Recipe from (I don’t know how many ‘Greats’) Aunt Leona:

2 cups sugar, 3 eggs, 2 cups flour, 1/2 cup butter, 1 cup sweet milk, and one level Tablespoon of (I’m not sure of what). Dissolve in milk, 3 blocks of chocolate. Stir in 1/2 cup extra milk (for large cake) and cook, let cool. Got that? This is the way many recipes read. You’re just supposed to know stuff.

Grandbaby Chloe in my flower bedI love this book and the added notes, a wonderful glimpse into the past. The generations roll on, but with the awareness of those who’ve gone before them. My oldest daughter is also fascinated by this book, and my youngest grandbaby, Chloe, sat beside me as we perused its pages.

Chloe in my flower bed, image by daughter Elise. My garden and flower beds used to be my mother-in-laws. I am the caretaker now, until whoever comes after me. I hope they carry on our living legacy.

12 responses to “A Loved Old Cookbook and the Stories of the Women

  1. What a great book to have. So interesting how recipes have changed through the years. Used to have hand written ones from my mom but; sadly lost in a fire years ago. Wonderful post Beth. Your grandbaby is really going up fast. She is cute as a button.
    Sue B


    • Thanks Sue. Sorry about the loss in that fire. Yes, this is a wonderful record of these women. Chloe is growing fast, but still small for her age. Kind of a peanut. 🙂


  2. I treasure my grandmother’s cook books, and yes, many of the instructions are vague, at best. Still, the memories of sitting in her kitchen eating hot “hubcaps” (fried dough dipped in cinnamon and sugar) fresh from the fryer return when I see her handwriting. Thanks for the post.


  3. Love the photos, Beth! My maternal grandmother had a sweet tooth and was always baking cakes. Don’t know if she had a cookbook though.


  4. I love old recipe books. I have some treasures. My father’s mother was Danish and her book was, of course, in Danish. I can remember her writing out a list of ingredients and pinning it on my shirt. I walked to the end of the road and handed the list to the clerk inside the grocery story. He couldn’t figure out what grandma wanted because she wrote it out phonically as she spoke with her accent. Another friend lived until she was 94. I was gifted her recipe book and couldn’t believe the different names for the ingredients. I think one of my favorites was from a 90 plus Miz Ida from Mississippi. Her family wanted her recipes and she wrote them out in the most beautiful handwriting. Those southern recipes are like gold. She had so many recipes she wrote out two books. As ‘they’ say, PRICELESS!


  5. I have some recipes from my paternal grandmother like this. I have tried one cookie recipe several times, but can’t get the measurements right. Lard the size of an egg, a handful of flour, etc. just aren’t working for me. Unfortunately, she isn’t around anymore to get the correct equivalents.


  6. Jennifer Page(JC)

    I should look at Grandma’s old cook books, if I guessed, that tablespoon would be a leavening agent? We still use the compresses for chest congestion. My English Nana used goose fat for chest congestion. When my mother was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, I used a ginger and tarot potato compress to draw out the carcinogens…the doc said it may have saved her vocal cords. A few you mentioned, never have heard before. The information is welcomed! Must grab my note book and pen. Thanks Beth!! Always great:)


    • Thanks! And for sharing your own old remedies. Very interesting about the the thyroid cancer compress. I still use Vicks and a flannel cloth for congestion and coughs.
      As to that cake recipe, a leavening agent makes sense.


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