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  • Holiday Family Recipes from NEHGS Manuscript Collections

  • Holidays are a time for family gatherings and traditions. These traditions often revolve around food when a treasured family recipe for pumpkin pie or gingerbread is made. Just as the family bible record or other valued items are preserved and past down so are family recipes and cooking traditions. They are part of a family’s heritage, and create memories which last forever. In our current online exhibit we are highlighting some holiday family favorites from the many recipes in our manuscript collection.

     To date, the manuscript collection has nearly 900 recipes from a dozen family collections. The majority of the recipes (receipts) are from the 19th century. Most recipes fall in the dessert category with cake, cookies, and pudding recipes being the most popular. Johnny cakes and pickling recipes are a close second. Many of the women wrote their recipes in small notebooks or in the back of a husband’s account book or diary. It’s not uncommon to find pasted newspaper clippings of household hints or published recipes alongside a handwritten one.

    These family cookbooks often contain homemade remedies for treating illnesses such as coughs or rheumatism and recipes for household cleaners. Some used the back of their cookbooks to keep track of household expenses. Instructions for baking are often missing as it was assumed the person knew the basics of cookery including how hot an oven should be.

    Holiday Family Recipes

    Soft gingerbread
    Arianna (Duroe) Yates (b.1845) receipt book. Arianna and her family lived in Morris, Otsego County, New York.
    William Yates and Hannah (Palmer) Yates Collection, Mss 1001

    6 cups of flour

    3 of molasses

    1 of butter

    3 eggs

    3 teaspoonfuls of ginger

    1 of soda
    Holiday Family Recipes 2

    For Asthma or Cough Syrup
    1 oz each of flaxseed, bone-set, -
    slippery-elm and liquorice
    1 lb. loaf-sugar
    Steep all together and strain
    Lastly 1 pt [pint] of molasses

    Holiday Family Recipes 3

    Christmas Plum Pudding
    Found in the Winifred Yates recipe book of 1889. Winifred (Yates) Harris (1873-1948) was the daughter of George and Arianna (Duroe) Yates. William and Hannah (Palmer) Yates Collection, Mss 1001

    1 cupful butter
    1 cup sugar
    1 quarter pound raisins
    1 half pound English currants
    3 & ½ cups flour, a little
    citron sliced
    4 eggs the whites and yolks beaten separately
    Put one teaspoon saleratus [baking powder] into
    ½ cup cream. Flour the raisins
    currants & citron before adding to
    the mixture which is stirred together
    same as for any pudding
    Boil 3 hours in a floured cloth
    or in a buttered form, pour some
    Brandy on top and set it on fire just
    Before taking to the dining room

    Serve with brandy sauce

    Holiday Family Recipes 4

    Fruit cake recipe from Winifred (Yates) Harris.
    Note the newspaper clipping on “Potted Chicken”.

    1 teacup butter
    4 eggs
    3 teacups sugar
    1 teacup sweet milk
    1 teaspoonful saleratus
    2 teaspoonfuls cream tartar
    5 cups flour
    All the fruit one can afford

      Holiday Family Recipes  5

    Elizabeth (Lancaster) Atkinson (1828-1914)recipes
    Elizabeth (Lancaster) Atkinson (1828-1914) recorded her recipes in the back of her husband, John Atkinson’s (1828-1888) diary. The Atkinsons, originally from Newburyport, MA, lived for many years in Calcutta, India where John Atkinson was an East Indian merchant from 1851-1871. Atkinson-Lancaster Collection, Mss 31

    Holiday Family Recipes 6

    Elizabeth (Lancaster) Atkinson’s Gingerbread recipe.

    Mix 1 ¾ teaspoon soda
    To 1 cup sour milk and add 1 cup molasses
    Sift 2 ¼ cups flour ¾ teaspoon salt 2 ½ tsp
    Combine the mixture & add 2 tablespoons of fat
    and beat well.

    Bake 35 min. in oven 325° F

      Holiday Family Recipes 7

    Account book of Ensign Eldredge Kelley, 1865 May 17-July 31, Mss A 1921
    Pages from the 1865 account book kept by Ensign Eldredge Kelley (1820-1897) of Attleboro, MA. Kelley was a courier for the U.S. Sanitary Commission who traveled between New York and Washington caring for sick and wounded soldiers. The records list name of soldier, company, regiment, state, and residence. According to the donor, his frugal wife used the blank pages to record her recipes.

    Holiday Family Recipes 8

    Aunt Carrie’s Ribbon cake recipe
    The Louise Bartlett (Carruth) Baxter Collection, not cataloged

    2 c. sugar
    2/3 c. butter
    3 eggs
    1 c. milk
    3 c. flour
    1 tsp. cr. Tartar
    ½ tsp. soda
    Bake ½ the mixture as light cake
    To the remainder add
      1 tsp molasses
      1 c. chopped raisins
      1 c. currants
      ¼ lb. citron
      ½ tsp. cassia, clove & nutmeg

    Put the sheets together and frost the top

    Holiday Family Recipes  9

    Snow Cake recipe

    An example of the many cake recipes used by the wife of Ensign Kelley in his Civil War Account Book


    Whites of 3 eggs
    1 cup of powdered sugar
    1 cup flour
    ¾ cup of cornstarch
    ½ cup of butter
    ½ cup of milk
    1 teaspoonful cream tartar
    ½ teaspoonful soda  Mix flour,
    cornstarch, cream tartar and soda together

    Holiday Family Recipes 10

    Dora’s Sugar Cookies
    From the recipe book of Louise (Knapp) Curtis (1851-1910)
    The Curtis Family Papers, not cataloged

     ½ cup butter
    1 ½ “ sugar
    ½ “   milk
    3 ½ “ flour
    2 eggs
    1 table spoon seed
    ½ tea spoon soda
    1 tea spoon cr. tartar

    Holiday Family Recipes 11

    Household accounts, December 1878

    Louise (Knapp) Curtis used the back of her recipe book to record household expenditures on food and other items. She spent a total of $21.88 from December 1st through the 16th, including $5.90 on coal on Dec. 6th and $1.25 for beating carpets on December 14th.


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