Spry coverAunt Jenny’s Favorite Recipes
Lever Brothers Co.

Submitter: This came from the Home Economics section of a local library and was then donated with other treasures to the local High School library. 49 pages…many with pictures and captions like the attached….. book is a blatant advertisement for Spry (Lever Brothers)…notice the Goodhousekeeping Seal on back cover…From 1937 to 1956 CBS Radio featured “Aunt Jenny’s Real Life Stories” serial segments every day during the week for 15 minutes. The show was sponsored all those years by Spry and Aunt Jenny plugged Spry throughout the episodes.  One of the first “product placements”?  I know they made Spry after 1956, but don’t know how long.  This book has to date late 1940’s early 1950’s because it’s cued to the radio show.

Holly: WorldCat puts this book at “193-?”  so it is unclear what its actual publication date is.  This is really interesting, and I’d love to leaf through it.  It still doesn’t belong in either a public or high school library, though.

Mary:  My mother remembers Spry as a the shorthand term for shortening into the 50’s.  This is one of the best examples to date that need preservation in an archive, not in a public or school library.


Aunt Jenny



  1. The sequel to this probably is dedicated to poor Uncle Calvin, who died of coronary artery disease a few years after this was published…

  2. Do covers get special editors? Seriously? Receipts? What Library would add a book with a spelling error on the cover in the first place?

    1. It’s not an error; receipt is an antiquated term for recipe. It fell out of use in the early to mid-twentieth century.

  3. “Receipt” is a alternate spelling for “recipe”, not an error. While it’s mostly obsolete now, older women in some regions still use it, and it was formerly much more common.

  4. I don’t think you can say it’s one of the first product placements–recipe collections/ads like this were very common in the early 1900’s, I’m not sure how far back, but I would bet Victorians invented them. I have a few I got from my great-grandmother, including a very cute Jello pamphlet from 1916 featuring stories about a new bride and her housekeeping successes, all because she uses Jello.

  5. I’ll have to ask mom if she remembers Spry. But man, that book is so cool I had to look up more about Aunt Jenny. She has a Wikipedia page if anyone cares to look her up. I also found a page of Spry recipes/reciepts.


    And some more Spry/Aunt Jenny pictures.


    Now adays you can’t get away with the “new bride” thing, sadly. Uptight people would be so up in arms.

  6. Love, love, LOVE this book’s retro vibe! Of course, it doesn’t belong on the library shelves … it belongs in my cookbook collection. lol

  7. I know some elderly women who still call them receipts. They also refer to ‘box cake’ which took me a long time to figure out they meant cake mixes you buy in a store instead of making a cake from scratch.

  8. I love that Lileks website too!

    Vegetable fat ‘triple creamed’ – it almost made me gag. I don’t think I’d have survived in those days…

  9. My day isn’t complete without at least one receipt. Sounds like a commercial within the pages although I have to admit I’d be curious to see the book. I might need a translator.

  10. I remember Spry Crisp ‘n’ Dry cooking oil; it’s still extant, though no longer under the Spry aegis. I’ve never felt tempted to use it. Similarly with my little book of wartime ‘austerity’ recipes…

  11. When we moved into our current house about ten years ago, the previous owner (a widower) left all of his late wife’s cookbooks behind. She came of age in the 1930s and was married in the 1940s. There are a lot of little pamphlets like this one promoting the use of one product or another. They’re a lot of fun to have, but, truly, we just don’t cook like that anymore. So an archive, not a circulating library, is the place for Aunt Jenny. (Time may have forgotten Aunt Jenny, but don’t forget–this is how Betty Crocker got her start!)

  12. Love the new bride storyline. I’d be totally flattered if a man told me I was a grand little cook!

    And you’re right – this definitely doesn’t belong in the public library, let alone a high school library, but it does need to be preserved.

  13. I actually have a few copies of Spry cookbooks in my collection at home. I found mine at thrift and antique stores, not the library. They are very fragile, can’t imagine how they held up for all these years on a library shelf.

  14. Before vegetable shortening people used lard. I’ll just bet they thought vegetable shortening was better, and it really was. What we know now compared to then about saturated fats makes us gag, but in 80 years people might feel a little sick when they think about things we eat with no thought now, It’s all in the perspective. As for the country speak, I know people who speak like that today besides Sarah Palin. It’s a regional accent (it sounds like North Dakota to me, but I could be wrong) and I think it’s great that we haven’t completely homogenized our language yet. It makes me a little sad when a news caster or public figure has their regional accent trained out of their speech.

  15. Thanks for including us in the list of archives! Julie beat me to the other link, but the Longone Culinary Archive has a great collection of promotional ephemera, like these cookbooks, that us volunteers have been cataloging at the item-level for several years. We’re almost through the entire donation though, alas, we do not have the funding to digitize them, unlike MSU. But anyone is welcome to visit and use the collection for research! And, yes, we have several on Spry.
    By the way, if you’re interested in early feminist organization (The Old Girls’ Club) or the history of wine in america (500 Years of American Grapes and Wines), I’d like to recommend the two exhibits on our website. I know we need to overhaul it a bit, but those two online exhibits are quite well done and worth checking out if you’re interested in the subject matter.

  16. my grandmother had stacks of old LIFE magazines from the ’30s on. in the ’70s, as kids, we’d pore over them for hours-never getting bored because they were full of stuff like this; LAVISH 4 color illustrations, jam packed w/text and stories; always some social disaster caused by b.o., halitosis, dingy whites, fallen cake or whatever, narrowly averted by use of some product…

  17. So I asked mom about Spry and she said that she used to use it all the time. She went on to say that in it’s time it was superior to Crisco because while Crisco is all vegetable shortening, Spry was part animal fats. So recipes that called for lard could have Spry used instead. It wouldn’t smoke and burn like lard or butter would.

    I kind of don’t see why so many of you are freaking out. Yes, it’s fattening – but people also got more excercise then. Less machines to do work for us to start with. Not everyone could afford a car so they had to walk or bike to more places. No internet.

    Plus I bet Spry is healthier for you then some of the stuff we’ve got today. How many times have we heard that real butter is better for you then margarine now? How about how it’s a proven fact you actually gain more weight drinking diet sodas then regular? And then there’s the whole real sugar VS high fructose corn syrup debate. (Having drank sodas made with sugar cane, I do have to say they taste 20 times better then HFCS crud.)

    Considering we’re fatter now then we were in Aunt Jenny’s time, can we really say we’re healthier without Spry?

    I just wish that the gals here would consider putting up an Esty or eBay store for books like this. My mom collects old cookbooks. I gave her a bunch I bought from the FOTL for Christmas and she was more thrilled with them then the antique crystal bowl I bought her.

  18. I was the one who posted some pages and covers from the Spry Cook Book. There are more cookbook people who subscribe to Awful Library Books than I expected.
    If you are interested in seeing the entire book, I will make a PDF this week. Contact me on Facebook or through email and let me know where to email the PDF.

  19. That looks more like a parody of something out of the 30’s-50’s than something actually from that era… which is what makes it so delightful!

  20. I guess I am showing my age but I certainly remember Spry. My grandmother always used shortening instead of butter in her chocolate chip cookies. Spry was the shortening of choice in our house. I’ve tried for years to duplicate her cookies and never quite gotten it right. Maybe because she used Spry and I am using Crisco.

  21. Okay, somebody explain to me why they keep going on about how “digestible” things are. Did they have a problem with indigestion at the time? I get most of the other stuff, though I’m still laughing at the use of the word “jiffy.”

  22. Spry looks like 100% pure unadulterated trans fat. You can still buy similar stuff here in Australia, where it is used for making sweets like Coconut Ice and Chocolate Crackles. Yum.

  23. The only thing I can think of, is the line in the movie “Bad Santa”.

    “Is Granny spry?” LOL….okay, not funny unless you’ve seen the movie. Never heard of Spry vegetable shortening until today, guess it was before my time 🙂

  24. I own this one! It’s a relatively easy find in larger low-end antiques and collectibles stores. There are thousands of them, one for every product and condiment there ever was.

    I’m glad to see someone mention here that people actually ate much healthier back then than they do now. Whatever was in Spry portions were smaller, cakes were a once a week treat, people moved more in general. And no one spent any time worrying about it either.

  25. These book are actually collectible,for the old recipes. The only thing is,they used terms like moderate oven, which is hard to remember what temperature that was!

  26. Interesting. But definitely for an archives, and not a public library.

    As a side note:
    Crisco used to provide recipes, etc. as part of their advertising as well. New products were commonly marketed with instructions/directions for use.

    Look through any magazines from the 20’s and 30’s and you’ll see a plethora of text-based ads that will demonstrate how to-use the newest miracle product or explain how the thing can benefit you and save your valuable time (e.g. particularly the early electronic and electrical devices.)

    And we really do NEED animal fats to supplement the proteins we ingest from our super lean cuts of meat….unless you get your protein from elsewhere.

  27. I had a Spry cookbook from the 30s. Sadly I lost the actual book – it was falling apart, but I kept the front and back covers and framed them to hang in my kitchen. They pre-date Aunt Jenny, I think, since there is no mention of her.

  28. One of many odd things my dad would say seemingly at random: “You’re a Spry fellow, you’re fat in the can, but I’ll call you Crisco for shortening.”

    (unrelated but also fascinating/disturbing: “today is the day they give babies away with a half a pound of cheese”)

  29. This is so funny!! Over Christmas break, my husband and I were looking over an old recipe of Lepkuchen that we wanted to try. It called for Spry and we had no idea what it was. We had to Google it! I could have just looked here. LOL!

  30. Ray Goulding of Bob & Ray used to do a bit as “Aunt Penny” where he mocked “…it’s SO DIGESTIBLE” and it must have been based on this.

  31. There certainly was a Spry cookbook with Aunt Jenny featured. Lever Bros also advertised with “cooking shows” presented at a local cinema early afternoon. When I was 4 or 5 mother took me to a few of these shows, (Los Angeles suburbs, about 1939) and the house was packed.

    My grandma made a pie from this cookbook, called California Sunshine Pie. It was a regular lemon pie made with orange juice instead of water, and was a sensational success within my extended family.

    This week I was discussing this pie recipe with a new sister-in-law; she prepared an excellent lemon pie which didn’t come anywhere close to the original, despite using orange juice in lieu of water.

    Grandma’s copy of the cookbook ended up with my sister. After sis died we couldn’t find it in her house. Would surely appreciate a copy of that California Sunshine Pie recipe if someone has it in PDF or other common format. I am fairly certain it is in the 40+ page version.

  32. This is going to sound so geeky, but I love the Droste effect going on with the cover (the cover of the book is repeated on the cover of the book Calvin is holding, which presumably keeps repeating the cover ever smaller and smaller).

  33. Short follow up –

    A search on Amazon.com located several versions of this cookbook. I ordered one and got a brand new color copy which looked exactly like the original, although I don’t believe the original cover was color. The California Sunshine Pie recipe was on page 7 – where I remembered it, and S/L Margaret’s correct rendition of the pie was sensational.

    Original was a buck the retro version $10 + shipping and Margaret is thrilled with a 1930’s cookbook.