An Old-Fashioned Recipe

My mother gave me a copy of my Great Grandmother Vita’s Presbyterian Cook Book (1923). One of my favorite parts about the cookbook is the many notes scattered throughout its pages. I’m unsure who owned this particular copy, but on the last page of the cookbook is a note that says, “Mrs. Owen’s Icing.” Mrs. Owen refers to my Great Grandmother Vita and this recipe is the closest I’ll ever come to knowing anything that personal about her. The simple recipe calls for brown sugar, white sugar and a can of milk.

The person who wrote the instructions for the recipe did so in her own words.

“Cook until rather mushy looking, add vanilla and beat. Stir all you want to.”

I cannot recall the last time I read a recipe that was written in such an approachable manner. When will I find a recipe on the Internet that tells me to stir all I want to? What freedom! But I digress.


In the opening pages of the cookbook, I found a poem called, “An Old-Fashioned Recipe” by E.A. Matthews. The poem appeared in The Churchman, a weekly illustrated magazine in 1920. Here’s a copy of the poem as it appears in my copy of the cookbook.


Think what you will about the poem’s quality. I personally enjoyed finding poetry in a cookbook. It’s not something one comes across that often (if at all).



Just one part of thought for self,

  • Two parts of thought for friend;

An equal part of common sense

  • With broadest culture blend.

One part of rare propriety,

  • Mix with gracious share

Of living above gossip’s tongue,

  • And free from sordid care.

Next, with a share of piety,

  • Mix well a cheerful heart,

Of love and beauty and good taste,

  • And labor–each a part.

With a pure conscience stir these things,

  • Blending them well together;

Warm them with love and they will rise,

  • In any kind of weather.

If you but try it fairly, now,

  • You’ll find this ancient plan

Will make a free and happy soul–

  • A perfect, all-round man!

— E. A. Matthews, in The Churchman


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