The Settlement Cookbook

My dear friend Lynn recently shared a photo of a family treasure—her mother’s copy of The Settlement Cookbook.

Settlement Cookbook

My mom was married in the 1920s, and I think in those days ladies didn’t have the wealth of cookbooks available that we have now. This was my mom’s “go to” for everything.  I remember her having the pages open and making the best meals for all of us.  She and my dad used everything from their huge garden, and she canned all summer long. This cookbook was her treasure.  I think she must have had it from the very beginning of her marriage, as it is so worn out. When she made a cake from the cookbook (cakes were for birthdays and special times—not an every day thing as now), we all waited with anticipation because we knew it was going to be fabulous.

Lynn’s husband notes that the best recipes can be found on the most stained and thumbed pages.

I love exploring food history because food is one of the most tangible connections we have with the past. Just a glimpse of Lynn’s cookbook suggests a wealth of stories.

Settlement Cookbook

There must be many treasured copies of The Settlement Cookbook still in kitchens. First published in 1901 as a fund-raiser, over two million copies have been printed.

The cookbook was compiled by Elizabeth “Lizzie” Black Kander of Milwaukee. Kander had long been involved in civic work, including helping newly arrived immigrants adjust to life in America. She served as president of the organization that founded a Settlement House, and taught cooking classes. But she thought the her students wasted too much time copying recipes from a chalkboard.

To solve that problem—and to help fund the Settlement House programs—Kander suggested publishing a cookbook. She requested $18 to fund the project.  When the Board of Directors refused to finance the project, she worked with a local printer and raised money by selling advertisements.

All the copies printed sold within a year. The cookbook was reprinted again and again, with Lizzie making updates and corrections as needed.

Settlement Cook Book

1924 edition.

In addition to helping immigrants learn how to prepare American dishes, the book contained recipes from some of the ethnic groups represented in Milwaukee.

Settlement Cook Book

Settlement Cook Book

A whole chapter on kuchen!

Settlement Cook Book

Lizzie and her colleagues were so successful in attracting immigrants to their programs that more than once, they had to move to a bigger space.

Abraham Lincoln House - exterior

The Abraham Lincoln Settlement House ( 601 Ninth Street in Milwaukee) opened in 1912.

I was not really aware of The Settlement House Cookbook until I moved to Wisconsin in 1982. To my surprise, however, I found a copy in my maternal grandmother’s small collection of cookbooks after she died. My grandmother was born and bred on New Jersey’s Atlantic shore—daughter of an oysterman—but this cookbook, compiled by a Milwaukee woman of German-Jewish descent, had a place on her shelf.

Settlement Cook Book

1965 edition, published by Simon and Schuster.

Partly in her honor (and in honor of women like Lynn’s mom), I couldn’t resist including a brief mention of the Settlement House and Lizzie Kander’s cookbook in Tradition of Deceit. It fit perfectly with the themes of urban immigration and food history.

Tradition Of Deceit Cover

Has The Settlement House Cook Book been part of your family’s food traditions? I’d love to hear about your favorite stories or recipes!

* * *

And if you’d like to learn more about Lizzie Kander, I recommend A Recipe For Success:  Lizzie Kander And Her Cookbook, by Bob Kann, part of the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Badger Biographies Series.

Lizzie Kander and her Cookbook

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8 Responses to “The Settlement Cookbook”

  1. Kathleen Says:

    Hi Kathleen, There are 4 Settlement cookbooks in our family, used my grandmother, mother, me, and my grown children. They are used often, pretty much as a reference book as well as a cookbook.
    We love them!

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Kathleen, how special that they have been shared through the generations! It’s a testament to how thorough Ms. Kander was, I think, that so many cooks have found it so helpful, for so long.

  2. Jen @ DollsBetweenUs Says:

    I had no idea this book had Milwaukee roots! Any cookbook with a chapter on kuchen is OK with me. What a wonderful and tangible way to change the world!

  3. QNPoohBear Says:

    I like this one. I’ve used the digitized copy from the University of Michigan’s Feeding America project.

  4. Julie Schroeder Says:

    Nice blog; nice post! I have inherited the well-used 1921 (11th) ed. of the Settlement Cook Book that my grandma had used in her high school “Domestic Science” class in Jefferson City, Missouri, a town that, at that time, had large numbers of German immigrants and their descendants. I’ll bet the teachers at the local high school were glad to have a cookbook that included a lot of recipes that local families would recognize. (Which is evidence that the recipes in that book suited not only Jewish but also German and no doubt many other Eastern European immigrants.)

    Alas, the 1921 ed. seems to have been produced with a very cheap binding, as copies of that edition are very hard to find today. My grandma’s copy is completely missing its hard cover, and the paper is thin and brittle. Hilariously enough, the pages that had her kuchen recipe are literally glued together with . . . probably meringue. She always put meringue on top of her fruit kuchens.

    It was a surprise to see what is basically my grandmother’s famous fruit kuchen recipe in this book, because we always assumed she learned to make it from her immigrant mother. Of course, by the time I entered the scene in the 1960s, Grandma certainly didn’t need to look at a recipe for it! . . . If you’re interested, the Hathi Trust has loads of old books scanned from library copies. That’s where I found a version of the 1921 ed. that I can peruse to my heart’s content: . . . If you’re interested, my grandma’s fruit kuchen (more or less) is on pp. 411-12, using “Cookie Dough for Pies” no. 2, p. 404, for the pastry component. Just add a meringue on top, and you’ve got one of my family’s most beloved recipes.

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Julie, thanks so much for sharing! How special that you inherited your grandma’s copy, even if it is in rough shape. (I love the image of pages cemented together with meringue!) Whenever I come across an old cookbook, I look for the stains that indicate beloved recipes. Thanks too for sharing the link, which is new to me. I’ve never had a kuchen with meringue, but now I will have to try it!

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