Recipes for Cooking by Electricity (Item of the Month)

By Johanna Goldberg, Information Services Librarian

In 2015, our programming will focus on food, including a day-long festival on October 17. This is part of a series of blogs featuring the theme.

It’s difficult to imagine a modern kitchen without electric appliances. But in the early 1900s, most people had to be persuaded to use them—often unsuccessfully.

As Doreen Yarwood explains in An Encyclopaedia of the History of Technology, electric cookers made their debuts in the 1890s and catalogs started selling them by 1900. Still, people found them difficult to use. They were unreliable and often burnt out, they weren’t aesthetically pleasing, they were difficult to clean, and it was easy to burn yourself while using them. As so few people had electric current in their homes at the turn of the century, it’s not surprising that it took three more decades for electric cooking to become commonplace.1

But the New York Edison Company saw an opportunity. In 1911, it published Recipes for Cooking by Electricity, a slim cookbook that not only gave recipes (ranging in cost and complexity from toast to lobster a la Newburg), but also specified the cost of the electric current used. The cookbook also included a page with tips for the care of the electric appliances, such as not immersing the heating elements in water, cleaning a warm stove top with Vaseline, and keeping a coffee percolator “sweet and clean” by rinsing it with cold water after each use and boiling water with a tablespoon of baking soda in it each week. The cookbook concludes, “It is a simple thing to cook with electricity and the cost is surprisingly small.”2

Here are some sample recipes:

Toaster_watermarkLobster_watermarkBoiledEggs_watermarkCrullers_watermarkReferences

1. Yarwood, D. (2002). The Domestic Interior: Technology and the Home. In I. McNeil (Ed.), An Encyclopaedia of the History of Technology. London: Routledge.

2. New York Edison Company. (1911). Recipes for cooking by electricity. New York: Edison Company.