Food Books That Stir Family Memories


Marcel Proust (Circa 1900)

Marcel Proust (Circa 1900)

Marcel Proust with his madeleine was not the only one to be drawn into the past with a bite or a sip. Have you ever wondered what foods your ancestors ate? Or do you still cook their recipes?

I just can’t help relating the various fragments of my life. I review books that inspire travel at  A Traveler’s Library. Many of the books that cross my desk have to do with food, and most of those illustrate how food triggers memory. Additionally, I used to buy every cookbook I saw, until I ran out of space. I still have some oldies worth sharing.

If somebody pressed me to the wall and asked me to justify myself, [for her collection of cookbooks], I would have to say that it is very true that there is nothing like a cookbook to explain to you how we used to live.  If you want to know what real life used to be like, meaning domestic life, there isn’t anywhere you can go that gives you a better idea than a cookbook. Laurie Colwin, from the Introduction to More Home Cooking.

On the page I will list food books–books about food, books about cooking, and cookbooks that relate to food, family and memory. Some will come from my own collection of books about food. Some will be new books. Winthin each section, I arrange the books by publication date, so you can see which ancestors/family might have used them.

I hope they give you food for thought.




1925 Cook Book

Buffalo Evening News Cooking School Cook Book by Jessie M. DeBoth (1925). This is a valuable guide to what the ordinary housewife might be preparing during the twenties and thirties. I will continue to use it as a reference for recipes here. (Personal collection.)






Vintage cookbook: The Rector Cook BookThe Rector Cook Book (1928) by George Rector. Rector’s Restaurant was a ground breaking high-class dining experience in New York City around the turn of the century (1890’s to 1900’s). I refer to the recipes for “fancy” dining ideas of that period. (Personal collection.)


Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook New Cookbook (1953 Edition).  This was one of my mother’s mainstays. It has an advertising section in the back which leads me to believe it might have been distributed to home economics teachers during the period she was teaching.(Personal Collection)

cookbook, 1956Mary Margaret McBride’s Harvest of American Cooking (1956, Out of print but apparently available in replica edition through Amazon.) Mary Margaret McBride was Martha Stewart all rolled up with Oprah back in the 1930s through the 1950’s. She used her popularity on radio and later television, to sell books, including this survey of American cooking.  Each state gets a 3-4 page introduction explaining what foods are grown and eaten there and what ethnic groups are popular. The back of the book provides 1000 home cooking recipes, unfortunately with no explanation of their provenance. (Personal Collection)

The German Cookbook: A Complete Guide to Authentic German Cooking by Mimi Sheraton, 1965). Like The Swiss Cookbook below, this book informs you as to how people in different areas of Germany cook.  The cookbook is common sense and easy to follow. Frequently she talks about various versions of the same recipe as they are cooked in various regions of the country. A very valuable book for me as I try to recreate some of the foods of my many German ancestors. I bought the book for my Kindle, but you can also buy a hardback edition. (Personal collection).

The Swiss Cookbook by Nika Standen Hazelton (1967)  I have the 1981 paperback edition. A very well informed book about what the Swiss cook at home.  Hazelton avoids foods that are purely imports (everybody eats spaghetti–but it is not Swiss) and concentrates on the foods that particular regions grow and prepare. She also does not talk much about baked goods, as she says that Swiss families buy their baked goods at a bakery. Most recipes are clearly labeled as to what Canton they come from, which comes in handy if you are trying to cook the way your ancestors did. (Personal Collection)

 Joy of Cooking JOY OF COOKING(1975 edition by Rombauer and Becker; and 1997 edition by Irma Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker)  [The pink tape is my own addition to the 1997 copy]

This is my essential go-to book in the kitchen, not just for recipes, but also for information about ingredients, techniques, substitutions, measuring equivalents.  Irma Rombauer wrote the original Joy in 1931. My first copy was a 1964 edition, so I’m on my third.

While Ethan Becker’s 1997 version is for the most part true to the original, it  left out a few of my favorites, so I kept the almost worn out 1975 version as well as the newer one. Now both are hopelessly worn and falling apart. I really should consider acquiring the 2006 75th anniversary edition. Of course Joy now has a website, and you can follow the history of this family cookbook here. (Personal collection)

Sonnenberg Cook Book

150th Anniversary Sonnenberg Kidron (1819-1969) Cook Book. (1969) A spiral-bound, textured paperback collection of home-made recipes from the Sonnenberg Mennonite Church in Kidron, Ohio. This is the territory where my husband’s Mennonite ancestors emigrated from Switzerland. (Personal collection).

Joys of Jello cookbook

Joys of Jello cookbook, published by General Foods in 1963.

Joys of Jell-o (1963) Spiral bound, wipe-clean paper back recipe book published by General Foods. All the standby salad and dessert recipes we Jell-o lovers doted on. (Personal collection)

Billy Joe Tatum’s Wild Foods Cookbook & Field Guide edited by Helen Witty (1976) This is a comprehensive guide to cooking with “found” foods–plants that grow wild. How to forage for foods and how to cook what you find.  (Thanks to my brother, I have a signed copy in my personal collection, but the book is out of print.)

Pioneer Woman Cooks  (2009) by Ree Drummond . No, this is not about real pioneers, but it recreates traditional out-West cowboy plain ‘ol good grub. Reviewed by Brette Sember.

Book Cover: Handwritten Recipes Handwritten Recipes by Michael Popek (2012).  Popek is a book seller who rescued hand written recipes from the pages of old books.  His illustrations of those old books–many cookbooks–is almost as interesting as the recipes themselves. (Personal collection.)



Ás an Abhainn Mhóir: English-Gaelic Recipes from Pictou County (2011) assembled by Pictou County Cookbook Committee. This spiral bound book is available at the McCulloch Heritage Center, Pictou Nova Scotia. It presents recipes from the Scottish heritage of the area, legends and stories, with facing pages in Gaelic. (Reviewed and in Personal collection.)


More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen ( 1993) by Laurie Colwin, also the author of Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen (1998, new edition in 2010). Colwin was a novelist who wrote food-related memoir essays for Gourmet magazine. She gathered some together and added material for these two wonderful books. It was a great shock when she died at 48 in 1992. (Personal collection)

A Taco Testimony: Meditations on Family Food and Culture (2006) by Denise Chávez. Ah, yes, a book after my own heart–tying family and food and culture together. This is a wonderful look at a Mexican family in southern New Mexico and the associations with food. It includes some recipes. (Reviewed and kept in my personal collection).

Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love and War (2011) by Annia Ciezadlo. Another book that focuses strongly on family and the emotional meanings of food. And American writer married to a Lebanese man, learns to cook Lebanese in Beirut and Iranian in Baghdad. (Reviewed and kept in my personal collection.)

White Truffles in Winter (a Novel) (2011) by N. M. Kelby. This book does have a few recipes, but I recommend it mainly because it gives a great picture of the lush life and cooking style of the great French chef Escoffier and the eating habits of the privileged wealthy in France and England at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Food as sensual pleasure. (Reviewed and kept in personal collection.)

Communion  (2012), by Kim Fay, tells the story of the food of Vietnam. While this is of interest for people from Southeast Asia, it is also interesting to travelers to the area. And my brother, Paul William Kaser, a veteran of the war in Vietnam, said it triggered many food memories for him. (Reviewed.)

Mint Tea and Minarets (2012) by Kitty Morse.  Morse grew up in Morocco and her book tells the story of her personal history and rescuing the historic house her father restored and presents Moroccan recipes at the end of each chapter.( Reviewed and kept in personal collection.)

Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good (2014) by Kathleen Flinn.  Flinn’s memoir of food and family in Michigan (and a bit in California and in Florida) shows how surroundings influence the foods we eat. (Reviewed and personal collection.)


The Book of Household Management by Mrs. Beeton. 1858-1861.   A very early cookbook, you can buy a facsimile copy or perhaps even find an original, since it was an extremely popular book, but you can also follow the link here in the title and read it on line or print it out.  This is a wealth of information about women’s lives in the Civil War era. Besides household tips, there are many, many recipes, and even tips for caring for the ill. I get lost in its pages every time I start to look something up. (On Line)

Book Cover Buttry Shelf Cook Book The New England Butt’ry Shelf Cookbook: Receipts for Very Special Occasions (1968), by Mary Mason Campbell, illustrated by Tasha Tudor. This lovely little book of authentic vintage recipes is enlivened with Tasha Tudor illustrations. (Personal Collection) When I checked it was unavailable on Amazon, but some copies may be on E-Bay.

Book Cover: Civil War Recipes(Personal Collection.)


Civil War Recipes: Receipts from the Pages of Godey’s Lady’s Book (1999) Edited by Lily May Spaulding and John Spaulding. The link with the picture of the cover will lead you to a hard-copy version, however, I have downloaded this terrific book onto my Kindle Fire.  The introductory material gives a detailed and fascinating overview of food during the Civil War period and the recipes that follow have been organized so they are easy to find.  The editors provide hints for updating the recipes, or understanding sometimes arcane instructions. This is the perfect companion for anyone wanting to understand food and cooking during the Civil War–on the battlefield and at home, North and South. (On my Kindle)

Book Cover: A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove by Laura Schenone (2003)   I so relate to this book that traces American and personal history through food. Recipes are scattered throughout, but it is really the nitty gritty of why each decade ate what it ate and how technology changed what they did with their food that entrances me. A definite keeper. (Personal Collection)


(Thomas Jefferson’s Crème Brulée (2012) by Thomas J. Craughwell does not quite deliver on its promise to prove that Jefferson introduced French food to the U.S., but nevertheless will be interesting to those looking at food in the colonial period. (Reviewed by Brette Sember. Food book )

The Food of a Younger Land by Mark Kurlansky.  (2009) The author has rescued food commentary from unpublished WPA documents. What food was like in the 1920s-30s in America–stories arranged by region. Some dry stats and some lively and imaginative. (Read library copy)

Food history book Popes, Peasants and Shepherds: Recipes and Lore from Rome and Lazio (2013) by Oretta Zannini DeVita and translated by Maureen B. Font Although I do not have any Italian ancestors that I know of, this would be an invaluable reference for anyone who wanted to know how their Italian ancestors ate, and how Italian food evolved. (Reviewed and in Personal Collection.)

Food History book

A History of Food in 100 Recipes by William Sitwell (2013).  Witty and incredibly well researched, this is the complete history of food from the ancient Egyptians with a recipe carved in stone to a recipe app for our smart phone.  I borrowed this from the library, but have to add it to my personal library, it is worth savoring.

From the Hearth: Recipes from the World of 18th-Century Louisbourg, by Hope Dutton with A. J. B. Johnston (1986)  A spiral-bound cookbook of historically accurate recipes as they would have been cooked by the French colonial settlers in Fortress Louisbourg, Nova Scotia in the 18th century. (Reviewed and in personal collection.)

Ten Restaurants that Changed America, by Paul Freedman (2016) This fat hardback book reminds us that changes in the way we eat do not just happen by accident.  He delves into the history of ten famous restaurants and the restauranteurs who conceived them to shed light on how generations of Americans have related to food.


I have linked these food books to reviews at A Traveler’s Library when a review is available. Some are books from my personal collection that I have used or plan to use here on the web site. Others are linked to Amazon. (If you hover your mouse over those links, you’ll see an Amazon pop up.) I am an affiliate of Amazon, so if you buy something while you are there, it will help pay the rent on this site. Thanks!

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1 thought on “Food Books That Stir Family Memories

  1. Morel Hunter

    Re your reference to Proust’s inspired taste buds: a few years ago we stayed across the street from La Madeleine in Paris. Bakeries in the area offered the famous madeleines. Mine did not unlock any golden memories for me. Perhaps if it had been a Hostess Twinkie, but alas, the French bakers have yet to master the fine art of recreating “La Twinkie d’Ostess.” The neighborhood and Grand Boulevards house many shops and cafes of varying culinary decadence. A colorful “farmers’ market” blooms regularly in the shadow of the Madeleine church. It’s well worth a visit.


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