Homesteading · Recipes · Reviews

Great Depression Era Recipes: My Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook

I know as a child I saw the original book of My Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook (and it was an antique by then):

My Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, an older version, but still great recipes.

My Mom had friends who were off-grid homesteaders who lived up in the foothills. Living their best early 80’s hippy lifestyle. She was also friends with elder ladies who had vast cookbook collections from their youth. These visits were boring for me, so I’d wander in and sit and read the books, that seemed to be so old and quaint to my young mind.

It was the first of its kind. A modern cookbook with actual full ingredient lists, cooking times and temperatures. That might seem odd, but if you try your hand at making vintage recipes you run up against this. The author assumes you know how long to bake a cake, or that you should sweeten berries for a pie, without listing it in the ingredients.

It was ring bound inside so you could add in new pages if needed. And more so, you could send away by mail for more pages to add in, should you have your own recipes to add in. And it had cut out tabs so you could easily wander to where you wanted. A little filing cabinet if you will.

Just like the later Red Plaid cookbooks that would follow, this was the Great Grandmother that set the path. It was modern, it was based in Home Ec Science. And it came out in the Great Depression, when the homemaker didn’t have the ability to waste money. She needed to be able to feed her family, and do it well. See here for a neat history on this cookbook.

In 2018 it was reproduced as a paperback with a new cover:

Republish in 2018 of "My Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook" with a new cover.

I picked up a like-new copy of it online. It is a mid-size trade style book. It’s got all the pages as the original, just not in the same format as the old version. Since it’s bound, you cannot add in pages and it doesn’t have the index tabs. That’s OK. It’s still usable.

Now then, these are not necessarily fancy recipes, but these came from an era when many ingredients were just not there for people to buy. And beyond that, the concept of the modern grocery store was 2 decades away. (It isn’t that grocery stores didn’t exist, they sure did but they were tiny compared to after World War II and the Baby Boom. Add in cars to haul food, a good economy, and things like grocery carts added to stores stocking more and more ingredients.)

Some of the spellings are also interesting to note. An example, while reading the cookbook, I kept seeing “sirup” called for. It was in relation to corn syrup and maple. I had no idea that in 2015 the USDA got involved in it and finally declared that syrup was to have a y, and not be spelled sirup anymore. Huh. No idea. It had taken 144 years to get there in fact, and even in 1959 it was changed in the Webster Dictionary, people kept using the old version. That was a rabbit hole I went down for an hour researching.

Another is “sweet milk” which means fresh milk, in the era before ultra pasteurized milk that can sit in stores for 3 months. It just meant it hadn’t soured yet (which happened quickly then).

There’s also far less processed food, and people were eating organ meats still. Waste not, want not.

So let’s get cooking.

I of course picked the one recipe that was missing the baking time. Hahahaha….but I figured it out. I was halfway through making the recipe when I realized that this one lone recipe had no pan size or time. Oops. I looked at the other cake recipes and figured I could match the time for it. I wrote the recipe up to reflect my changes.

The cake and frosting were paired together in the book in Chapter IV (four) on pages 6 to 7.

It’s an interesting match. The cake itself isn’t very “spiced”, the frosting is def very coffee flavored. If you didn’t like coffee, I would just leave it out and use more half-and-half instead of water.

I liked the cake, but as with many Great Depression-era recipes, it isn’t an amazing recipe. These were everyday recipes, simple to make. Nothing too scary flavor wise.

Spice Cake Recipe


  • 1/3 cup shortening
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 egg
  • 1/8 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 2/3 cups cake flour
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder


Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly oil an 8″x8″ glass baking pan.

Cream the shortening and sugar together. Add in the sour cream, mix in. Add the egg, salt and vanilla, beat in.

Add in the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and baking powder, beat in till smooth.

Spread evenly into the pan.

Bake for 30 minutes and check. I baked ours for about 35 minutes, till the top was golden and a toothpick came out clean from the center with crumbs. Check often and don’t over bake.

Let cool fully on a cooling rack.

Coffee Icing Recipe


  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp half and half or heavy cream
  • 2 Tbsp boiling water
  • 2 tsp instant espresso powder
  • 3 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp fine sea salt


Beat butter till smooth, add in cream and work in. Add the water and espresso powder, then the cocoa powder and salt. Add in powdered sugar, beat till smooth, then mix in the vanilla.

The icing should be smooth and spreadable. If too thick, add a tiny bit more half and half. I found the frosting to be very thick.

Frost cooled cake.