Cheap Eating circa 1878

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I found these books available online recently. They were all written in the late 1870’s by Juliet Corson. I’ve enjoyed them. Many of the food suggestions and ideas are still appropriate.

The first book is Practical American Cookery and Household Management. It is available in a PDF version also but I could not get it to download for me. The household management sections are very different from the way I live. There is talk of household servants and how to have a proper dinner party. There are many recipes. Some seemed quite ‘normal’ by today’s standards. Some had ingredients that I am not familiar with. And some we would not eat for one reason or another. I really like that there are some very good suggestions on preserving foods in manners that would have been used during that time.

The second book is Fifteen Cent Dinners for a Family of Six. From the Preface:

“To The Wives of Workingmen:

In planning how to make the wages of the working man provide his family with the necessities of life, the first point to be considered is the daily supply of food.”

This is a very short book that I very much enjoyed. The idea of being thrifty with food reaches a new meaning in this book. The author provides suggestions on how to pick out meat (be warned, the instructions are rather graphic) and how best to use each item purchased. She provides a menu for the week, referred to as the ‘Daily Bills of Fare’. I found a currency converter on line and the total cost for the menu for the week would be about $63 today. That is pretty thrifty! Miss Corson makes a point of stressing that a varied diet is helpful (even necessary) in order for people to ‘be strong enough for any kind of work’. She also mentions that she allows a meat dinner every day. But I found it interesting that sometimes this ‘meat dinner’ is in the form of broth leftover from the previous days meat cooking. Very smart in my opinion.

The third book was a spin off of the Fifteen Cent Dinners book. Twenty-Five Cent Dinners for Families of Six. I read that this book was requested by people who enjoyed the Fifteen Cent book but had a little more money to spend. It is very similar to the Fifteen Cent book but does provide more food. One line I found amusing in this book (okay, I found quite a bit of it amusing) was when she mentions that a man should eat 2 pounds of bread each day, a boy or woman 1 and 1/2 pounds and a child a pound. That is alot of bread!

I hope you enjoy these books.


Millie Copper
Millie Copper is a Wyoming wife and mama. After reading Nourishing Traditions in early 2009, her family began transforming their diet to whole, unprocessed, nutrient dense foods—a little at a time while stretching their food dollars. Millie is passionate to share how, with a little creativity, anyone can transition to a real foods diet without overwhelming their food budget. Millie began blogging in late 2009 and has amassed a collection of frugal recipes and methods. Her specialties include cooking with wild game and creating “Stretchy Beans”. Discovering a love of writing, she has penned four books focusing on healthy eating on a budget and is trying her hand at fiction writing. Learn more at


  1. Diana

    >Thanks for sharing! I always find it interesting to see what they ate before the advent of all the processed foods!

    They did eat a lot of bread, and meat. But they also worked a lot harder then most of us work. I would expect someone doing manual labor for 8-10 hours (or more) a day to eat 2 lbs of bread / bread products!

  2. Anonymous

    >I downloaded 'Practical American Cookery and Household Management.' a while back and haven't read it yet. I'll be sure to start it soon, thanks for the review.

    I loved the book, 'The American Frugal Housewife' by Lydia Maria Child.
    Her techniques may seem out of date, but if you store food or like to do things the old fashioned way, there are some forgotten jewels of information in this book.

    That site you linked to looks interesting. I'm going to poke around a bit. 🙂


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