Scary Old Recipes from Your Family’s Past

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena searches old newspapers to find recipes that were common in our ancestors’ time – but seem a little “scary” to a modern audience.

Do you have any scary recipes in your family? No, I don’t mean that Halloween dessert decorated with ghosts and bats, but truly scary family recipes that you are afraid someone in the family will serve at Thanksgiving or your grandmother served 50 years ago. These old family recipes are scary because of their ingredients or method of preparation. I know there are a few from my childhood I hope to never be served again.

So what about your family and ancestors? What scary old recipes did they have in their recipe box? GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives are for more than just looking up biographical information about your ancestors – you can also find stories about their lives and the times they lived in, including popular and not-so-popular family recipes. Consider some of these old recipes that may have been too familiar in your family tree.

Old Jello Recipes

Ok, I come from a family that loved to make all kinds of Jello desserts. But there was a time that Jello was popular in savory dishes as well. You might be familiar with the more interesting gelatin luncheon dishes made popular in the 1950s, but those types of recipes also existed in previous decades.

This newspaper article, titled “All Members Diet Happily When Gourmets Plan Menu,” seems a bit misleading to me. While this Lime Tuna Mold is low calorie, I don’t know if I believe that the members of this group enjoyed eating this dish that is a combination of gelatin, tuna, green olives, celery, onions and a Hollandaise Sauce.

recipes, Richmond Times Dispatch newspaper article 27 February 1964

Richmond Times Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), 27 February 1964, page 34

A 1970s-era recipe for Coleslaw Souffle isn’t as scary as jellified tuna but I had to include it here because it provides the name of the submitter and her street address. What a great family history find!

recipe for coleslaw souffle, Greensboro Daily News newspaper article 24 October 1971

Greensboro Daily News (Greensboro, North Carolina), 24 October 1971, page 90

This 1923 recipe starts off like many familiar gelatin desserts – but its inclusion of Thousand Island dressing and whipped cream seems pretty scary to me.

jello and cottage cheese recipe, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 8 July 1923

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 8 July 1923, page 29

Regional American Delicacies

Today, most people are far removed from the source of their food. Meat production is something most of us would rather not think about. And it would seem that many in today’s world have strong opinions about what types of meat they will eat and what they won’t.


It wasn’t too long ago that recipes were very explicit about how to prepare certain meals. What makes some modern-day cooks squeamish was once everyday knowledge. Case in point: this 1908 recipe for Scrapple, a.k.a. Pon Haus. This dish may possibly be the first pork recipe invented in America – and today, November 9th, is National Scrapple Day. For those not familiar with this dish, it’s a combination of pork scraps, corn meal, flour and spices. It is a food that is more familiar to those in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States due to its Pennsylvania Dutch roots. (To learn more, including photos and modern-day recipes, Google the word “Scrapple.”)

Scrapple is one of those dishes that harkens to a time when meat/food was not wasted. Scrapple allows the maker to take advantage of all parts of the butchered hog, as this recipe from the column “Womanly Answers to Womanly Questions” explains.

scrapple recipe, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 8 October 1908

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 8 October 1908, page 13

Turtle Soup

While still consumed in certain parts of the country (especially in New Orleans), turtle soup was much more popular in the 19th century. Some recipes I’ve seen from the 1800s go into great length about how to dispatch the turtle prior to cooking. The following recipe from 1896 doesn’t go into great detail about killing the turtle – but is probably just enough to border on scary for modern audiences. Note the use of calves’ heads in the recipe. Calves’ heads are usually the main ingredient in mock turtle soup.

Tip: If you ever visit New Orleans, turtle soup is still served at a variety of fine restaurants including Commander’s Palace, Pascal’s and Upperline. It’s actually quite tasty.

turtle soup recipe, Irish American Weekly newspaper article 14 December 1896

Irish American Weekly (New York, New York), 14 December 1896, page 6

Squirrel Recipes

What constitutes a scary ingredient for some people is not that out of the ordinary for others. Some foods are strongly tied to a specific region. Probably the most argued about ingredient is meat. One example is squirrel. If I were to talk about eating squirrel in Southern California most people would think I was joking, but in some parts of the country and for our ancestors, it was just another protein source.

In case you need some squirrel recipe ideas, here are three from a 1900 newspaper. It’s pointed out in this set of recipes, Squirrel Pot Pie, Squirrel Pie and Baked Squirrel, that rabbit could be substituted for squirrel.

squirrel recipes, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 31 July 1900

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 31 July 1900, page 7

The Scary Price of Beauty

Multiple articles could be written about some of the scary recipes and products sold to our families in the name of cures and beauty aids. Cookbooks from the early 19th century included sections on remedies because the housewife had to know not only how to nourish her family, but how to heal them in the event of sickness. Other types of recipes like those for household cleaners and personal care could also be found.

In this 1906 example, milk baths are touted for a fine complexion. To take advantage of this, the article gives instructions that women should first clean their face with wadding soaked with a mixture of olive oil, cognac oil and cologne. Then the milk bath should be applied and allowed to dry so that you can rub raw potato or cucumbers on your face. Now so far that’s not too out of the ordinary. Some people swear by using olive oil on their skin. But it’s the warning that I find a little scary: “Women sometimes find that the milk seems to burn the face at first, but they must persevere and the good effect will soon be perceived.” You should also drink a lot of milk during the day and continue these treatments for a “long time” in order for it to work. But because this idea is said to come from Paris, it must work.

How to Take Milk Baths, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 24 July 1906

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 24 July 1906, page 5

What Are the Scary Recipes in Your Family History?

Scary recipes are an important part of family history. What makes family history interesting to everyone, not just those genealogy-obsessed, are the stories. Knowing more about the times our ancestors lived in and the food they ate help make their lives more relevant to us; it places them in context. It also can drive home important aspects of their lives. Eating foods not familiar to us today, eating almost everything, and combining unique flavors speaks to what was available, not wasting resources, frugality, and trying to make food interesting with what was available. Social history, the study of the everyday lives of people, makes family history something that will interest even the non-genealogists in your family.

What scary recipes did your family eat? Start searching for them today in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives – and tell us about them in the comments section.

Share Your Recipes with Us!

GenealogyBank has a shared Pinterest board where you can share your old family recipes. If you have a family recipe you’d like to share, send us a Pinterest group board request and you can pin your recipe on our board to share with the community.

Related Recipe Articles and Resources:

Old Halloween Recipes from Our Ancestors’ Kitchens

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog post, Gena searches old newspapers to find recipes used by our ancestors to celebrate Halloween.

Getting ready to entertain some ghosts and goblins? How about trying an old Halloween recipe for your party? I know it can be difficult to come up with Halloween-themed foods (after all, you can only eat so much candy). In my many years of celebrating Halloween I can only think of two recipes that I’ve enjoyed that were specific to the occasion. One involves a punch that includes lemon-lime soda, sherbet, and dry ice (great for that spooky fog affect). The other is a brownie that is cooked in the shape of a pumpkin, with the aid of a pizza pan, and then decorated to look like a jack-o’-lantern with orange frosting and candies.

But what types of Halloween recipes did previous generations enjoy? Looking through old newspapers gives us a sense of what yesteryear’s Halloween hostess may have served at Halloween parties.

Witch Cake, Goblin Pie & Gnome Salad

For example, in 1912 Halloween meant Witch Cake, Goblin Pie and Gnome Salad all washed down with some Caldron Punch. If sugar truly makes children hyper than this punch with its one pound of sugar and ginger ale might just do the trick!

Halloween Recipes, Idaho Statesman newspaper article 20 October 1912

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 20 October 1912, section 2, page 11

Hot Drinks, Doughnuts & Pumpkin Pie

Helen Robertson’s 1930 article “Games to Play and Things to Eat on Eery Halloween” in the “Women’s Magazine and Amusements” section of the Plain Dealer asserts that for Halloween:

Not that we would ever want to serve real party dishes—they have no place in the Halloween’s feasting, for custom has long banished them in favor of pumpkin pie, cider, doughnuts and coffee.

Enter Last Name

In multiple Halloween food columns I read, there was confirmation that it’s a night for hot drinks, doughnuts and pumpkin pie. Surprisingly, while Robertson does suggest adding some decorations to pumpkin pie, there are no recipes for the traditional feast. Instead she has everything from Witch’s Salad to Halloween Sandwiches (made with gingerbread, butter, and American cheese and then decorated to look like faces) to Sardine Rarebit that is made from sardines on toast.

Halloween recipes, Plain Dealer newspaper article 26 October 1930

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 26 October 1930, page 52

But in case you would like some pumpkin pie and doughnuts (and quite frankly I don’t know why you wouldn’t), the following recipes from 1919 include a pumpkin pie without eggs. I was surprised that this recipe called for canned pumpkin. I had assumed that that was a more modern shortcut used by today’s busy pie makers.

Halloween recipes, Patriot newspaper article 17 October 1919

Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 17 October 1919, page 17

Pimento Cheese Halloween Sandwiches

I love how newspaper recipes give us a glimpse of how life has changed. In this food column from 1931, Halloween sandwich recipes include one for Harlequin Sandwiches—which is basically buttered bread using alternating white and wheat slices—and a Pumpkin Salad which isn’t really made from pumpkin but instead is largely made out of pimento cheese shaped and decorated like a pumpkin.

Halloween recipes, Boston Herald newspaper article 28 October 1931

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 28 October 1931, page 13

Sliced Bread!

Interestingly enough, the Harlequin Sandwiches call for slicing the bread in ½-inch slices. But at the bottom of the page a large advertisement for bread announces “Good News for the Bread Lovers of New England. SLICED!” Considering the time it would take to slice an entire loaf of bread to the correct thickness, sliced bread seems like the way to go. The old news advertisement also announces that you can still purchase unsliced bread if you prefer.

ad for sliced bread, Boston Herald newspaper advertisement 28 October 1931

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 28 October 1931, page 13

Must-Haves for Halloween Parties

It would appear that two things the newspaper Halloween recipe articles agreed on was that the color scheme should be orange and black, and that super sugary sweets to drink and eat are the rule of the day. But when they start suggesting other foods for the party, it becomes more interesting. Adding a Halloween word to a recipe like “pumpkin” “ghost” or “deviled,” as in the case of this Deviled Tuna Salad, is all one needs to transform humdrum into a Halloween feast.

Halloween Recipes May Be Helpful, Oregonian newspaper article 26 October 1935

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 26 October 1935, page 4

On the same page as the Deviled Tuna Salad recipe is a photograph of a child and a cake with a caption that reads:

Halloween is a children’s holiday and the refreshments served should not only be appropriate color but they should be flavors and foods which the young people will like.

I couldn’t agree more.

photo of a girl and a Halloween cake, Oregonian newspaper article 26 October 1935

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 26 October 1935, page 4

What’s on your table this Halloween? Is it all treats or are there some types of healthful foods as well?

Related Halloween Articles:

Holiday Recipe Ideas for Good Old-Fashioned Home Cooking

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena shows how GenealogyBank can help you find holiday recipe ideas in two helpful ways: on our “Old Fashioned Family Recipes” Pinterest board, and in our Historical Newspaper Archives.

What are you cooking up for your family and friends this holiday season? A big traditional family dinner? A casual get-together with friends featuring lots of appetizers? Maybe you love to bake and the holiday season gives you an excuse to make all kinds of festive tasty treats.

Looking for new recipe ideas for the holidays? What about using GenealogyBank to help you find new-to-you holiday recipes? Just as the women in our families once relied on newspaper recipe pages for new ideas for dinner and special occasions, GenealogyBank can help you find holiday recipe ideas in two helpful ways: on its “Old Fashioned Family Recipes” Pinterest board, and in its Historical Newspaper Archives.

GenealogyBank + Pinterest = Tried & Tasty Old Family Recipes

I love Pinterest and I think once you start using this website, you will too. Haven’t heard of Pinterest? Pinterest is a social media website that allows you to “pin” images from your computer or the Internet onto virtual “boards.” Think of it as a virtual bulletin board where you can share images representing various topics. I have become a great fan of Pinterest and use it to organize recipes and images of old cookbooks, quilts and genealogy resources.

Looking for a new holiday recipe to try? Did you know that GenealogyBank has a group board on Pinterest titled Old Fashioned Family Recipes? Peruse these family recipe pins for new ideas or to locate old-fashioned favorites.

photo of GenealogyBank's Pinterest board “Old Fashioned Family Recipes”

GenealogyBank’s Pinterest board “Old Fashioned Family Recipes.” Credit: Pinterest.

One of my favorite desserts, carrot cake, can be found here. I will admit this pin for Zesty Orange French Toast is also calling my name.

photo of the Pinterest pin for “Zesty Orange French Toast”

Pinterest pin for “Zesty Orange French Toast.” Credit: Pinterest.

Want to share your old family holiday recipes? You’re invited to add to the GenealogyBank Pinterest board. (Please note that you must be a member of Pinterest to pin images, but joining just takes a moment.) Help us curate a collection of the best family recipes to share with other researchers.

It’s easy to do:

  1. Go to our Old Fashioned Family Recipes board
  2. Click on the “Follow” button (located toward the top center of the page)
  3. We’ll invite you to join as a contributor to our Old Fashioned Family Recipes board
  4. Pinterest will send you a group board invitation to join our Pinterest board group
  5. Click the red “Accept” button to accept our invite
  6. Start pinning images of your family recipe cards or photos of the food itself to our board
screenshot of Pinterest sign-up message

Credit: Pinterest

In addition, after you share the recipe on our board, start your own Pinterest recipe board for your family food history that can be shared with your extended family this holiday season.

How to Find Holiday Recipes in Newspapers

Have you searched newspapers for holiday recipe ideas? Do you have a favorite family dish but you’re not sure how it’s made? A tradition in my Sister-in-Law’s family is to make various kinds of cookies to give away during the holidays. Each Christmas cookie platter has six or more types of cookies. How do you find various recipes to add to your Christmas cookie repertoire? I found lots of cookie recipes when I searched GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, including this one for Mexican Christmas Cookies which are my favorite.

Holiday [Recipe] Traditions, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 8 December 1983

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 8 December 1983, page 1E

Want more Christmas cookie recipe ideas? Here are some Christmas cookie recipes from California that may help you out in your holiday culinary pursuits. These two Christmas cookie recipes are said to be the favorites of the members of the San Diego Las Amiguitas Auxiliary to the Children’s Home Society.

Cookies a Christmas Tradition, San Diego Union newspaper article 11 December 1980

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 11 December 1980, page 66

Maybe you’re not into Christmas cookies. Perhaps some other holiday dessert is what your sweet tooth craves. Now I know it may seem old fashioned, but I really do like holiday fruit cake. Maybe it’s because we never ate it when I was growing up. As an adult living in my first home, one of my neighbors invited me over and served me tea and fruit cake. From the first bite of a dessert that some people dread, I was hooked. Whether you enjoy fruit cake as well—or you want to give it as a joke gift for the holiday office party—you can find a recipe for it in the newspaper.

This “Southern style” fruit cake recipe offers a different take on this traditional holiday dessert. After eating a slice or two, you may realize you really do like fruit cake after all.

Try Fruit Cake Southern Style, Boston Herald newspaper article 7 December 1971

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 7 December 1971, page 27

The holidays are a great time to record your family’s food history and to find old recipes that have long since disappeared from your own family’s holiday traditions. Search newspapers to find holiday recipes, and create food memories for the future.

Do you have a favorite family holiday recipe? We would love for you to share it with us so that we can give it a try sometime. Please share your family favorite in the comments section below, and add the recipe to our Old Fashioned Family Recipes  board on Pinterest.

Happy Holidays!

Newspapers, Food & Family: Just like Nonna, Nana & Grandma Used to Make!

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott writes about how old newspapers helped to connect two of his favorite passions: food and family.

As a genealogical historian, I have always enjoyed the intersections of food and family! To begin with, meals frequently offer wonderful opportunities for sharing time together. It makes little difference if it is Thanksgiving (my personal favorite), Shabbot, Christmas, Rosh Hashanah, or simply Tuesday night. This is one of the main reasons I added a set of pages for food and recipes on my website at Onward To Our Past® and why my bookshelf (which you can see at contains such titles as The Food of A Younger Land by Mark Kurlansky, The Best of Czech Cooking by Peter Trnka, and A Taste of Croatia by Karen Evenden.

In my own family tree I happen to have three very long, strong, and prominent branches. One is from Cornwall in the United Kingdom, one is from Bohemia (now Czech Republic), and my wife’s family branch which is from the Molise district of Italy. I love foods from all three family lines, but I am particularly partial to Cornish pasty, Bohemian kolache and Italian gnocchi.

photo of Scott Phillips and family members enjoying a “pasty party” over the holidays

Scott Phillips and family members enjoy a “pasty party” over the holidays. Photo from the author’s collection.

During the recent holidays my daughter, who has become quite a chef, asked me about my family food favorites. Just for fun, she and I grabbed the iPad and dug into to have a look at what we might find in the way of interesting additions to these food favorites of mine. We were pleasantly surprised!

We started, since she tends to bend towards the Italian family branch, with gnocchi, a marvelous Italian potato dumpling. We put the term in the search box and in an instant we were reading hundreds of articles and recipes for this unique food.

One of the stories we liked best came from the Idaho Statesman.

How to Cut Down Your Food Bill and Still Live Well, Idaho Statesman newspaper article 22 September 1918

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 22 September 1918, second section, page 9

We both enjoyed this story as it gave a very nice gnocchi recipe with the bonus of a delicious, easy accompanying sauce. However, we got a good chuckle out of the estimate that the meal described would only cost us “fifty cents.” Oh, and we decided to skip the step later in the article advising us to place some of our food on an “asbestos pad.”

My grandson must have heard us laughing and joined us. When we explained what we were doing, coupled with the fact that he is a bit of a dessert-hound, he immediately said “let’s look for kolache, Grandpa.” So we were off again. This time we were in search of kolache, a simple but delicious Bohemian dessert pastry. We began to scroll through some of the almost 2,000 articles that search term returned while I regaled my grandson and daughter with stories of my Czech Nana’s kolache.

The very first article we found was from my hometown newspaper, the Plain Dealer.

kolache recipe, Plain Dealer newspaper article 15 March 1951

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 16 March 1951, page 16

This article was titled “Fancy Breads and Rolls Are Enjoyed by Family at Easter.” That sounded right to me as my Nana Vicha only made kolache for special events. Then something really caught my eye. Two of the fillings that were suggested were apricot and prune. These were the only two fillings my grandmother ever made. No one could quite understand how excited I was, but I was madly writing down every step of these recipes and calculating when I could get enough kitchen time to try them out!

By this time our group had grown to a family crowd of nine. Multiple ideas and suggestions were offered and requested. My son’s plea caught my ear when I heard him say “how about pasty, Dad?” Now we were off to see what we could find about this fine Cornish meal-in-a-crust!

My grandson was duly impressed when I came across, and read, an account found in the Stoughton Sentinel all the way back in 1876.

The Cornish Pasty, Stoughton Sentinel newspaper article 22 April 1876

Stoughton Sentinel (Stoughton, Massachusetts), 22 April 1876, page 1

This article is a fine backgrounder on the Cornish pasty—or, as it informed us, the “Cornish fiddle”—plus it offered such varieties as mackerel pasty and squab pasty. While it provided a general recipe, we needed something a bit more detailed for our use so we continued to look—since we all agreed we’d skip the squab.

It wasn’t long before I found this article from the Oregonian.

100-Year-Old Cornish Pasty, Oregonian newspaper article 2 April 1939

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 2 April 1939, page 74

This article, “100-Year-Old Cornish Pasty,” offered a recipe handed down for over 100 years (not actually about a pasty that was 100 years old—much to the dismay of my grandson!) This was great, but I soon realized that unless I had time for an extra run to the grocery store and a day in the kitchen, we would be pasty-less. Or would we?

I led my “gang” into the kitchen, pulled open the freezer drawer and showed everyone eight beautiful pasties ready for the oven (courtesy of the really awesome Lawry’s Pasty Shop in Marquette, Michigan). Although this bakery is all the way in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the good news is that they are willing to ship nationwide. I heated up the oven, and in a wee bit over an hour there we all were, having a “right proper” pasty party!

As I was putting my grandson to bed that night he drowsily said to me “Gee, Grandpa, who would have thought old newspapers could taste so good?”

I just smiled and agreed!