Blog , Health and Wellness

Celebrating Heirloom Recipes

Posted on Wednesday, September 20, 2023
by AMAC, D.J. Wilson
handwritten cook book with wooden spoon on it surrounded by an egg yolk in flower and nuts on the table

A lazy weekend…

Over a lazy weekend, my husband and I took a drive and happened upon an antique store. The brick gem-filled building was tucked into Pennsylvania’s rolling countryside. I tempted my husband who was driving to stop. Inside, we delightfully found booths filled with glorious old paintings, assorted and somewhat delicate teacups and platters, brass bookends, dusty antique furniture, beloved jewelry, well-worn vintage clothes, war memorabilia, and more. As I browsed from booth to booth, a black leather-bound spiral notebook caught my eye. With its soft yellow pages, it screamed with age, albeit not truly “old,” as in from the Baroque era, but perhaps “old” from the 1950’s, I guessed. It was filled with interesting recipes, and it made me think, let’s enjoy celebrating recipes of the past.

The tattered binder

Upon opening the slightly fragile binder, I discovered a set of neatly handwritten cooking notes by Emma T. Her name was beautifully scripted in the book’s introduction, and her teacher’s name also appears. Miss Scheidl, as it read. Miss: likely indicating that the teacher was either young, middle-age and unmarried, or perhaps a spinster. But, from Emma’s notes, it’s clear her teacher enjoyed food, etiquette, and knew her way around the kitchen. The neat notetaker was likely a student in a basic home economics class. These classes set students on cooking and baking journeys and provided them with education in the kitchen and beyond.  

Rewarding education   

No one should underestimate the importance of a home economics education, likely inspiration for the notebook. In my own lifetime, I enjoyed such a class, learning cooking basics, sewing, home design, organization, home finances, and more. To this day, the desire to manage and run a home well runs deep for many.  Note that these classes move beyond daily cooking and cleaning tasks and encompass all aspects of home management beyond scrambling eggs – to include food science and cooking, nutrition and wellness, home management and maintenance, handyman topics, personal and family finances and more! Wow, a shame that this useful and practical hands-on learning class has been phased out of many modern-day schools.

Expanding minds

For many, like me, home ec (as we called it) played a great part in the exploration, promotion of, and expansion of foods. During my youth, entertainment, the simple enjoyment of food, and clean up was mainly the responsibility of the senior female member of the household, i.e., most likely
“the mom.” And food varieties lacked. For example, when I was a kid, iceberg lettuce was widely available. Other fresh lettuces were rarer. Home cooks did not necessarily enjoy serving the same foods repeatedly. Thus, challenges for creating original recipes featuring old staples caused most home cooks to wish to expand their horizons. It encouraged them to try cooking new foods when available. Sometimes changes to the menu were met by resistance of family members.

A look back…

Looking back: In the 50’s, inviting one’s husband’s boss and his wife for dinner, or entertaining couple friends at home, was more commonplace than “going out” to a restaurant. So, many women, even those who felt insecure or disillusioned in the kitchen, felt the desire, and/or the need, to acquire cooking skills and comply with expectations of the day. Sometimes cooking skills were learned at home and passed down by generations. However, sadly, intergenerational transmission of family meal practice (today’s label) declined over time. Many “spoken recipes” went unwritten and faded as sure as days passed by. But in its heyday, home economics made it increasingly “groovy” to learn recipes old and new – and to learn one’s way around the kitchen!

The binder

Like the introduction, the lessons and recipes are also beautifully scripted. It  begins, “Menus that please and why.” It continues with numbered bullet points of information useful for home cooks. The recipes are mostly desserts with varying degrees of shortening or fat called for in each one. (Another sign that the recipes are not brand new.)  Note that in the 1950s, scientists began increasing awareness of the dangers of saturated fats and links to heart disease. This led to a shunning of lard over time and substitutions in modern day recipes.

Emma’s Notes:

Let’s read Emma’s class notes on food:

  1. Foods should be well cooked. Poorly cooked foods are universally disliked.
  2. We appreciate foods largely for their flavor. Each food should be prepared in such a way as to capitalize its flavor, if that flavor’s well liked, or to modify it if it is objectionable
  3. Serve a few foods at a time.
  4. Suprises are enjoyed.
  5. In introducing a new food, prepare it in a familiar and well-liked way. Introduce only one strange food or one new dish at a time.
  6. Do not have two foods prepared the same way at the same meal.
  7. Contrast is one of the useful devices for producing menus that please. Many contrasting combinations of food are so well liked that they are acceptable universally.
  8. Do not serve the same food except such staples as bread or milk twice in the same day.
  9. Do not plan too many courses for a family dinner. The same courses for successive days become monotonous. Soup served every day even with daily variations grow tiresome.

Heirloom recipes

Recipes that are passed down from generation to generation are truly amazing! Not only are they nostalgic, but many are tasty. Here is Emma’s Sour milk chocolate cake recipe (yes, we’ve named the recipe after her!) We haven’t made it but if you do, or have a similar version that’s been handed down, let us know what you think.

Emma’s sour milk chocolate cake: *Minus some baking instructions


  • 1 oz. chocolate (premium)
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 Tbsp. shortening
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt +
  • ½ cup flour
  • 3/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 Tbsp. sour milk (see recipe below)
  • ½ egg
  • ¼ tsp. vanilla


Cut chocolate into small pieces. Put choc., water, and shortening in a boiler. Cook over fire until glossy. Add sugar, then add flour, salt, and soda which have been mixed. Add sour milk (recipe below), beaten egg, and flavoring. Pour into well-greased and floured tins. Bake in moderate oven 375F. until baked through. (Like many old recipes, no length of cooking time is provided.)

If you have similar “older” cake recipes, please do share your ideal baking time with us.

Sour Milk ingredients:


  • 1 cup milk
  • ¼ cup lemon juice

Celebrating recipes of the past is fun! We’d love for you to share your old-fashioned recipes celebrating appetizers, main meals, desserts and more!

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Roger Wiley
Roger Wiley
8 months ago

When I was in 7th grade our “shop project” was a kitchen bookshelf. My mother loved it! Of course, the “industrial arts” instructor had all of the lumber (mahogany),ready to use planed to proper thickness, the minimal hardware ready to go, and templates to cut the pieces for proper assembly. Beneath that “bookrack” were 2 drawers, sized for recipe cards. Both of those drawers are still full. My Mother passed in 2008. By unanimous family consensus, I took that article home with me. My wife has augmented what Mother had in there. I will be happy to share with any who ask, pics, measurements, etc. By email. Please don’t try to get this one. I think my wife is as attached to it, as my Mother was. One of Mom’s cookbooks is titled “The New American Cookbook”.© 1941.

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