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Meals through the Ages

Perusing old recipes and cookbooks can be a fun way to learn more about your ancestor's time.


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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Gena Philibert-Ortega
Word Count: 498 (approx.)
Labels: Social Aspect 
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I love food. I also love trying all kinds of food and looking through older cookbooks for clues about what my ancestors ate. Food, vintage recipes, and old cookbooks can really provide you with insight and social history into your ancestor's lives. Throughout time, unlike now, meals consisted of foods readily available. Spoilage was a major issue owing to the lack of refrigeration in earlier times. Foods came from what could grow locally. But cookbooks were creative in providing homemakers with ideas about making meals with what was on hand.

In one history I was recently reading on the pioneers, it talked of the food they brought with them on the trail. Largely, the pioneers relied on eating hard tack and bacon. They also brought five pounds of salt with them for a six-month journey. An outrageous amount if you think in terms of our day, but a necessity for drying meat that was killed and butchered on the trail.

A local museum near me, the San Bernardino County Museum is having an interesting exhibit revolving around meals through the ages at

Online, they provide a food timeline detailing food inventions from 1846 to 1958. Of course, one of my favorites is the invention of M & M's in 1954. The web site boasts a history of dining through the decades, a look at menus throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, banquet menus, and miscellaneous food facts.

Feeling like trying a menu from the past? What a great way to learn more about an ancestor by experiencing a little bit of their life. This would also be a great way to introduce children to genealogy. If you feel like purchasing an older cookbook, try the web site, Old at . Cookbooks are indexed according to categories such as American cooking, Canadian cooking, regional and wartime. Other retailers that specialize in older cookbooks are Vintage Cookbooks at Vintage Cookbook, and Heavens to Betsy at

Interested in some older menus and recipes? You can learn about the menus on the Titanic at The Seasonal Chef web site,, has various recipes posted from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The 1932 recipe for Avocado Ice Cream, shows just how different our food has been throughout time. Vintage recipes can also be found at

Plaid Pony Vintage has a hilarious take on food from the 1940s and 1950s

A book that may give you some perspective on cooking throughout the twentieth century is the work, Finding Betty Crocker: the Secret Life of America's First Lady of Food by Susan Marks (ISBN#9780816650187). Besides being a history of "Betty Crocker," it also is a history of American cooking. One of the things I found interesting was that women had difficulty using the gas ranges when they were first introduced because they were accustomed to using wood stoves. Women had to relearn cooking temperatures and times, and they really benefited from cookbooks and advice from cooking experts in newspapers and magazines.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2008.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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