Skip to main content

Promotional Cookbooks

One of the best ways to promote a new food product is by developing a recipe around it. This concept has been used to promote food goods since the mid-nineteenth century, helping launch and sell products such as Quaker Oats, Jell-O and Baker’s Chocolate. By the turn of the twentieth century, food ingredient companies had fully realized the power of mass media marketing and were promoting hundreds of products via recipes and cookbooks. For example, both Boston Cooking School instructor Maria Parloa and Boston Cooking School Magazine founder Janet McKenzie Hill helped expand the popularity of chocolate desserts by partnering with Baker’s Chocolate to publish several recipe pamphlets.

Cookbooks were also a good way to push canned goods. Introduced by Dole’s Hawaiian Pineapple Company in 1903, canned Hawaiian pineapple was an innovative convenience for cooks throughout the United States. As a result, new recipes that featured the luscious fruit abounded, such as those featured in How We Serve Hawaiian Canned Pineapple, a little cookbook produced by the Hawaiian Pineapple Packers’ Association. It is a treasure trove of pineapple dishes from the top cooks of the day, including Fannie Farmer, Philadelphia Cooking School instructor Sarah Tyson Rorer, and Maria Parloa.

But food manufacturers were not the only companies publishing recipe books – patent medicine makers also produced advertising cookbooklets. In addition to recipes and cooking tips, these pamphlets were peppered throughout with descriptions of their health remedies and testimonials from satisfied customers. The recipes had little to do with the products they were peddling. The companies simply realized that women were always looking for new recipes and what better way to advertise their products than in a cookbook?

One such company was Philadelphia patent medicine maker Dr. D. Jayne & Son. Jayne had experience with the use of promotional pamphlets as a marketing tool, as purveyors of a popular medical almanac. Produced from 1843 through 1940, Dr. D. Jayne’s Medical Almanac and Guide to Health contained medical advice interspersed with all kinds of promotional information about its medicinal products. Published monthly and available free of charge to the public; it was an extremely profitable advertising vehicle that translated to millions of sales.

Jayne’s recipe books arrived around the time of World War I and were themed to assist housewives with wartime food shortages, with titles such as A Hand Book for Canning, Preserving, and Pickling and War Breads, a direct correlation to the wheat shortage. Wheat was one of the most needed commodities in war-ravaged Europe, making conservation of wheat flour in the home a top priority and linked to military victory via literature published by the US Food Administration. Calumet baking powder also got into the act with a selection of wartime recipes.

​A variety of baked goods are represented in Jayne’s War Breads pamphlet, from hearty brown bread and oatmeal griddle cakes to “treats” such as war gingerbread and rice sponge cake, claimed to have been “carefully selected from those suggested by persons qualified to give expert and accurate advice.” The beginning includes general information on measurements and suitable substitutions for wheat flour, including flours made from corn, rye, potato, oatmeal, rice and buckwheat. Full-page descriptions of Jayne products are displayed every ten pages or so, promoting remedies such as Dr. D. Jayne’s Tonic Vermifuge (for intestinal and stomach worms), Dr. D. Jayne’s Expectorant Tablets (for coughs and colds) and Dr. D. Jayne’s Carminative (for upset stomach). Although the booklet does admit that its motive is “to bring again to your notice the merits of our preparations, Dr. D. Jayne’s Family Medicines,” it could be argued that the placement and style of the descriptions are a precursor to subliminal advertising. ​

In any case, the recipes were no doubt helpful to the scores of housewives who needed alternatives for their traditional favorite baked goods. I decided to see for myself, giving Corn Flour and Buckwheat Biscuits a try. I assumed that they would be much heavier than traditional light and fluffy buttermilk-type biscuits made with white flour, and this was indeed the case. However, they were really not bad, just different – drier and harder in texture, suitable for dunking into soup, stew or chili. And with buckwheat and corn flour as ingredients, they align with today’s healthier “whole grain” diets.

Here’s my adapted recipe:

Corn Flour and Buckwheat Biscuits

  • 1 1/3 cups corn flour*
  • 1 ¼ cups buckwheat flour
  • 6 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 tablespoons fat**
  • 1 cup milk
  1. Preheat oven to 375F.
  2. Sift flours, baking powder and salt together.
  3. Work in the fat well (if using butter, cut in with a pasty blender or two forks).
  4. Add milk and handle lightly.
  5. Roll or pat half an inch thick and cut with biscuit cutter.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes. Cool or a wire rack.

* If you can’t find corn flour in the store (Bob’s Red Mill brand is one to look for), then simply grind some cornmeal using a high-powered food processor or blender (I use the grind attachment that came with mine).

** I used butter although I realize during the war, cooks would have likely used lard or some other kind of animal fat.

Other examples of promotional cookbooks: