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How to substitute items in your vintage recipes

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If you are cooking this holiday season, you may be working with vintage recipes that are hard to decipher. Recipes of yesteryear are cherished, but sometimes read as “gibberish”. The ingredients that are listed, or the measurements used in the recipe are outdated or unavailable. This is due to a few reasons.

The food ingredients listed in vintage recipes were usually products available in the area at the time it was created. They were also based on how the item was conserved. Cooks often used salted, dried, bottled, bagged or canned items because these were the common ways of preserving and storing food. In the event that an ingredient wasn't available, substitutions were made to compensate for them. In several cookbooks of yesteryear, crackers were often substituted for noodles, cranberries for cherries, and honey for sugar.

Standard measurements were also based on the items available in the common kitchen. There were no standardized measuring cups and spoons, so cooks used the common tools of the time. This included wine glasses, teacups, kitchen spoons, and bowls. Cast iron pots and pans were used as cooking containers, and wood stoves and ovens were commonplace. “Add one glass of wine” or “bake in a low oven” were common terms.

Today, many century old recipes are still around. With careful research, their goodness can still be enjoyed by converting lesser known measurements and ingredients to standard ones. To convert measurements, simply do an heirloom measurement search on the internet. Such a chart is listed on and lists heirloom measurement conversions.

In duplicating and substituting ingredients, many of the staples of older recipes are still common today. To substitute an unknown ingredient, it can be as simple as searching for the ingredient and its equal in a search engine. In many cases though, the result of the recipe will not taste exactly like the original. This is due to the commercial processing of sugar, flour, eggs, and virtually all food products of our time to ensure safety and to extend the shelf life of the product. However, one can still come close to experiencing the taste of the past. For a list of some ways to alter and remake recipes, visit this article on substitutions.



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