1920 Osborn Cake Making System Advertisement

Advertisement for Osborn Cake Making System
Source: Good Housekeeping (June, 1920)

It’s fun to read the small advertisements in the back of old magazines. They often are quirky – and sometimes I scratch my head when I read them. This 1920 advertisement by Mrs. Grace Osborn about the Osborn Cake Making System is one of those ads.

Does the square angel food cake in the picture look nice enough to make someone want to learn Mrs. Osborn’s cake making system? (Personally, round angel food cakes work just fine for me.)

And, exactly what is Mrs. Osborn selling? . . . a book for directions? . . . recipes? . . . cake pans and baking supplies? It apparently was a two-step process for her to sell anything. First, she would have to send people who responded to the ad free information about the particulars, and she would have to pay postage to send the materials (in addition to the cost of the ad ). Then some of them might actually buy the product she was selling. I’m no marketing expert, but somehow this doesn’t feel like a good model for financial success.

Old-fashioned Creole Eggs

Creole Eggs and Toast

I recently found a hundred-year-old recipe for Creole Eggs, which are shirred (baked) eggs topped with tomato, green pepper, and onion. Shirred eggs are surprisingly easy to make. And, when topped with the tomato mixture, they are absolutely delightful.

Here’s the original recipe:

Recipe for Creole Eggs
Source: Good Housekeeping’s Book of Recipes and Household Discoveries (1920)

I found this recipe confusing – though the eggs turned out well. It is an odd mixture of very specific directions – “2 tablespoonfuls green pepper”; “Garnish each dish with a tablespoonful of the tomato mixture.” And, very general directions – “one to two eggs per individual” with no clue how many individuals the recipe was supposed to serve. If only 1 tablespoon of the tomato mixture was put on top of the eggs in each ramekin, it seems like this recipe would make enough tomato mixture for a lot of eggs. In the end, I decided that another option would be to just make fewer servings and use more of the tomato mixture per serving (2+ tablespoons).

It also was not clear how big “two large tomatoes” were supposed to be – though the comment that 1/2 can of tomatoes (a 1 pound can?) could be substituted for the fresh tomatoes made me think that it was calling for about a cup of canned tomatoes. The statement that just the “solids” from a can of tomatoes were supposed to be used, also made me think that the recipe was calling for about 1/2 cup of canned tomatoes after they were strained. And, that if fresh tomatoes are used (which is what I used), that there should be about 1/2 cup of diced tomatoes.

I used clear glass ramekins, and didn’t grease them or “dust” with breadcrumbs, because I was concerned that the photo would not look very nice with the breadcrumbs around the edge of the ramekin. I didn’t have any problems with the egg sticking excessively to the edge of the ramekins, so don’t think that it is necessary to grease and dust them. I also reduced the salt from 1/2 teaspoon to 1/4 teaspoon, since the original amount called for seemed like a lot.

Bottom line – This recipe appears to be an attempt to provide exact measurements for a recipe that actually is very flexible. It’s not important to have exact amounts of onion, green, pepper, or tomatoes – just make an amount that seems appropriate for the desired number of servings.

Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Creole Eggs

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

4 – 8 eggs (1 – 2 eggs per serving)

1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons onion, chopped

2 tablespoons green pepper, chopped

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tomatoes, diced (about 1/2 cup) or 1 cup of canned tomatoes, strained (measure before straining) – I used fresh tomatoes.

Melt butter in a saucepan. Add onion and green pepper; cook until tender. Stir in the tomatoes and continue cooking until the tomatoes are thoroughly cooked; stir occasionally while cooking. Stir in salt.

In the meantime, preheat oven to 400° F. Break 1 – 2 eggs into each of four ramekins. Place in a shallow pan that contains about 1 inch of hot water. Put in oven and bake until the white is set, and yolk is the desired firmness. (About 10-15 minutes.) Remove from oven and remove the ramekins from the pan with water.

Spoon the tomato mixture on top of the cooked eggs (about 2 tablespoons per ramekin), and immediately serve the eggs.


Hundred-Year-Old Advice About the Use of Candy in the Diet

pieces of Mint Chocolate Fudge on plateCandy is tasty, though it probably isn’t the healthiest food. Here’s what a 1920 home economics textbook said about candy:

The Use of Candy in Diet

Candy, is an energy-giving food, but unfortunately perhaps, it is not (at all times) a most desirable energy-giving food. Sugar exists in candy in concentrated form. Such sugar is irritating to the organs of digestion.

Sugar is contained in large quantity in some fruits, especially in dried fruits: figs, dates, prunes, etc. These fruits are a much better source of sweets for children than is candy, because they do not contain as much sugar, and have, in addition, valuable food materials in the form of ash. Note the large quantity of carbohydrates and ash in raisins.

Candy should never be used to excess or at the wrong time. A little eaten at the end of a meal is not harmful to the normal person. At that time the sugar is diluted because it is mixed with other foods. When diluted it does not irritate the digestive tract to the extent that it would if eaten between meals with no other foods. It is well to drink a generous quantity of water when eating candy or other sweets. Since molasses, honey, and maple syrup are not so concentrated as is sugar, they are desirable sweets for children – provided they are used moderately at the right time, and are mixed with other foods.

School and Home Cooking (1920) by Carlotta C. Greer

The old book mentions the role of “ash” in the diet. Today ash would be called minerals.

Chocolate Animals (Chocolate Animal Crackers)

Chocolate-covered animal crackers on plateWhen were animal crackers invented? Until I saw a recipe for Chocolate Animals (Chocolate Animal Crackers) in a hundred-year-old cookbook, I’d never given it any thought.

I knew that animal crackers have been around for a long time (or in other words, since I was a child), but I would have guessed that they were invented mid-century. However, the recipe in the 1920 cookbook suggests that they have been around much longer.

This led me to check what it said in Wikipedia. I was surprised to discover that animal crackers have been around since the late 1800’s. It also said:

Animal biscuit crackers were made and distributed under the National Biscuit Company banner. In 1902, animal crackers officially became known as “Barnum’s Animals” and evoked the familiar circus theme of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. Later in 1902, the now-familiar box was designed for the Christmas season with the innovative idea of attaching a string to hang from the Christmas tree.

Here’s the original recipe:

Recipe for Chocolate Animals
Source: Good Housekeeping’s Book of Recipes and Household Discoveries (1920)

I used a small (2.125 ounce box) of animal crackers when I made this recipe, so I only needed a little chocolate. If I’d made more Chocolate Animal Crackers I would have need to use more. chocolate.

The old recipe describes a process for making tempered chocolate. This is necessary to get a smooth, glossy coating – or chocolate melting wafers or chocolate candy coating can be used. I generally try to be true to old recipes – but ended up deciding that making a small batch of a fun recipe was the time to make an exception – so I went with the melting chocolate waters.

Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Chocolate Animals (Chocolate Animal Crackers)

animal crackers

chocolate melting wafers / chocolate coating

Put a piece of waxed paper on a plate. Set aside.

Using the microwave or low heat on the stove, melt enough chocolate to coat the animal crackers. (If a small 2.125 ounce box of crackers is used, melt about 1/2 cup of chocolate.) Dip the animal crackers in the melted chocolate, and then place on the waxed paper-covered plate.

Let the chocolate thoroughly cool and harden before serving. (I put the plate of chocolate-covered crackers in the refrigerator for a few minutes to quickly harden the chocolate.)


Hundred-year-old Food-related Math Problems

Basket with apples

Word math problems are a great way to engage students in learning how to apply the skills they have learned. Interesting problems encourage students to think creatively about how to solve problems that have applications in the real world.

Both in 2020 and 1920, there were many word problems that are based on food-related topics. However, there are major differences in the problems. Based on a quick scan of food-related problems on Pinterest, restaurant menu, food truck, pizza fraction, and food cost problems are currently popular. Food-related math problems in a 1920 home economics textbook also addressed cost, but with a slight twist. The focus of these hundred-year-old problems was on how to get a given number of calories for the least cost.


  1. A quart of milk gives 675 calories; a pound of lamb chops, 1600; a pound of eggs (eight or nine), according to size, 670 calories. With milk at 17 cents a quart, lamb chops at 48 cents a pound, and eggs at 60 cents a dozen, which food is the cheapest per 100-calorie portion?
  2. Cream of wheat has a fuel value of about 1600 calories and costs 15 cents a pound. Compare the cost of a 100-calorie portion of cereal with that of chops, milk, or eggs.
  3. Large oranges cost 60 cents per dozen. What is the cost of a standard portion?
  4. A good juicy apple yields about 100 calories. Dried apples give about 1320 calories per pound Find the difference in cost of 100-calorie portions, if fresh apples sell at the rate of 3 for 10 cents and dried apples cost 15 cents a pound.

Household Arts for Home and School (Vol. II) (1920) by Anna M. Cooley and Wilhelmina H. Spohr


Old-fashioned Tomato Fritters

3 tomato fritters on plateThe tomatoes are rapidly ripening in the garden (and I’m getting close to having excess tomatoes, if such a thing is possible), so I looked for a hundred-year-old tomato recipe. And, I think that found a winner. Old-fashioned Tomato Fritters make a tasty appetizer or side dish.  The fritters are crispy and take only a few minutes to make.

Here’s the original recipe:

tomato fritter recipe
Source: American Cookery (March, 1920)

Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Tomato Fritters

  • Servings: 4 - 6
  • Difficulty: moderate
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2 cups flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 egg

1/2 cup water or meat/vegetable stock (I used water.)

1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped

2 – 3 medium tomatoes, finely chopped (or use 1 1/2 cups canned tomatoes)

1 tablespoons grated cheese (I used Parmesan cheese.)

Shortening or cooking oil

Put flour, baking powder, salt, pepper, egg, and water or stock in a mixing bowl; beat until thoroughly combined. Stir in parsley and tomatoes. Add grated cheese and continue stirring until combined.

Melt shortening or cooking oil in a skillet. Using a tablespoon, drop mixture by spoonfuls into the hot shortening or oil. Fry until lightly browned; flip and cook other side. Drain on paper towels.

If desired, serve with a tomato sauce dip.