The Vintage Kitchen

Take a Break from Coffee – Try Breakfast Cocoa!

Cup of hot cocoa and plate of toast on 1950s melamine dishes.
All dressed up in retro dishes, this Breakfast Cocoa is some of the best in vintage recipes.

On a crisp cool morning in autumn or winter, this breakfast cocoa recipe will fire your tastebuds and sweeten your day. It first appeared in print 100 years ago. Many hundred year old recipes deserve to be forgotten. This is not one of them. 

Frankly, I was surprised at how tasty this hot cocoa is. I expected it to be slightly bitter, and instead it has a nice smooth, slightly sweet taste. The entire recipe only uses 3 tablespoons of sugar for four servings, very much in line with a 1920s recipe. While it’s not bitter, this is not a cup of prepackaged Swiss Miss Cocoa with marshmallows. You can taste the chocolate in this great morning pick-me-up, and it contains less caffeine than a cup of coffee. 

Into the Vintage Time Machine

So how and why did this recipe come about in the first place? Let’s take a peek into the Vintage Time Machine…

The year is 1920. Adults usually drink only coffee or tea with breakfast. Milk is for children. Both coffee and tea are served with just a dash of milk or cream, enough to change the color of the hot liquid. Also, it ensures that the very hot beverage doesn’t break the china cups. 

Portions are small for everything. An eight-inch cake serves ten, a nine-inch cake serves twelve. Four cups of liquid serve four to six people, whether in soup or beverage form. 

A cursory look through any list of recipes will show that coffee is the accepted drink for both breakfast and dinner. Sometimes, that coffee is substituted with tea. Often, tea made its star appearance as part of a luncheon or afternoon tea party or front porch gathering with friends. 

Back to The Recipe

One household magazine suggested hot cocoa as a change of pace in the morning. For one thing, when mixed with milk it provided added nutrition. In addition, the denizens of the Twenties knew that cocoa itself contained nutrients. Potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and calcium are only a few of the useful minerals in a cup of hot cocoa. It also contains a little caffeine, that happy drug that lures most of us into the kitchen in the mornings. One cup of hot cocoa provides 9 mg of caffeine per 8 oz. of drink. Hardly the 95 mg of caffeine you get from one cup of black coffee, but better than none. 

One huge benefit of cooking with old recipes is that they teach you cooking methods long forgotten by the everyday cook. Have you ever tried to combine cocoa powder and water (or another liquid) and watched it clump maddeningly while you stir with ferocity? No? Just me? 

I found out by making this recipe that if you stir hot water into cocoa powder, it doesn’t clump. It doesn’t even think about clumping. It dissolves into the water smoothly. 

Another trick of this recipe is to boil the cocoa powder with water and sugar for five minutes before adding warmed milk to it. This thickens the mixture a bit and combines it so that you don’t experience as much grainy chocolate at the bottom of your cup. 

Now, if you make this on the stove and then walk away from it for an hour or more, it separates. It then needs to be stirred together again before pouring into cups. (It will also need to be reheated if forgotten for that long.)

You Will Need

To make this recipe you need:

  • cocoa powder
  • sugar
  • boiling water
  • milk (I used whole dairy milk, but you can use whatever milk or milk substitute you feel comfortable using.)
  • a whisk or old-fashioned egg beaters, or even an immersion (stick) blender
  • two saucepans – one to heat the milk and a larger one for the cocoa/water mixture.

And now, the recipe:

Breakfast Cocoa

Make this when you want a break from coffee or tea in the morning, but still want something warm to drink. This recipe from 1920 is easy to make and delicious!
Prep Time5 minutes
Cook Time10 minutes
Total Time15 minutes
Course: Breakfast, Drinks
Cuisine: American
Keyword: chocolate, cocoa, hot
Servings: 4
Author: VintageJenny


  • small saucepan to hold three cups
  • medium saucepan to hold four cups
  • wire whisk or egg beater (or immersion blender)
  • measuring spoons
  • heatproof measuring cup
  • kettle for heating water to boil


  • 3 cups milk Any milk or milk substitute (like soy or almond) should work.
  • 1 cup water, boiling
  • 3 tbsp powdered cocoa
  • 3 tbsp sugar


  • Place milk into small saucepan and bring to scalding. When scalding milk, it does not come to a boil. You will see a ring of little bubbles around the edge of the pan and some steam may rise from the heating milk. Once you scald it, turn it off.
  • Bring water to a boil, if you haven't already. Then carefully measure out 1 cup into a heat-proof container.
  • Place cocoa powder into larger saucepan.
  • Slowly add the water to the cocoa. Stir as you add, until it is very smooth. Then add the sugar.
  • Heat the cocoa mixture to the boiling point, and let boil for five minutes. Stir every now and then so that nothing sticks.
  • When the five minutes is up, remove the saucepan from the heat.
  • Add the scalded milk to the cocoa, water, and sugar. Beat the mixture with a whisk or with the egg beater for two minutes. This will make your hot cocoa frothy. A quick zap with an immersion or stick blender will do the same thing.
  • Pour your creation into four small mugs or teacups, and enjoy.

That’s all there is to it! Now that we tried it, this recipe definitely becomes part of our breakfast rotation — and it may become the starring drink at an afternoon tea.

The Creative Corner · Vintage Needlework

Brighten Your Kitchen with This Quick 1950s Knit Potholder

Green knit potholder and white baking dish. Link leads to potholder pattern.
Give your kitchen a Fifties flair with this easy to knit vintage potholder pattern.

Depending when and where you live, you may call this a pan holder like they did in the Fifties. You might call it a potholder, a trivet, a hot dish mat, or something else. No matter what you call it, it’s adorable and it’s pretty easy to make. 

Creating from old patterns is a lot of fun. With a little time and effort you can have something just like Grandma or Great-grandma had. However, it does take some tweaking. Sometimes needle sizes are different. Often fabrics are no longer made. And usually, yarns must be substituted because the yarns a particular pattern calls for is long out of production. 

Take rug yarn, for instance. Rug yarn used to be made from wool or cotton. No fillers, nothing but wool or cotton. Now the closest thing we can find to old fashioned rug yarn is chunky weight knitting yarn, and it doesn’t have the same texture, weight, or strength that rug yarn of the 1930s – 1950s had. Plus, it’s very rarely made from anything but acrylic.

WARNING: You CANNOT use acrylic, nylon, or any type of polyester yarn when making potholders. Acrylic yarn is plastic. Nylon yarn is plastic. When plastic melts, it can cause nasty burns. ONLY 100% cotton or 100% wool can be used for kitchen pads that need to protect from heat. 

You can make a table hot dish mat from acrylic yarn as long as you never, ever grab it when you need to pull a hot pan from the oven, or to tame a hot pot handle on the stove. I have ONE table pad that I made from acrylic yarn and a 1970s pattern. It’s dorky, in seafoam green and white, and I love it. But it’s never used as a potholder to hold anything hot. It goes on the table and then I reach for the potholders that I’ve knitted from 100% cotton. Someday, when I have the time, I’ll replace that dorky 1970s acrylic table mat with a nice set of 100% cotton table mats using a 1930s or 1940s pattern. Then I’ll tell you all about it so you can make them, too.

The Quick Knit 1950s Potholder

This potholder knits a little strangely because you are using one “strand” of yarn (I’ll get to that in a minute) to produce a thick, cushioned protector for your hand. 

Photo of half knitted potholder, a partial ball of yarn, and a cone of yarn, all bright green.
This is what the potholder looks like in process. I had a full pound of this bright green Sugar ‘n Cream cotton yarn available, so green potholder it is!

Note: You may want to make two of these. Often cooks reached for two pan holders at a time, and used them double to protect against one handle in the oven, especially if they were thin and made from fabric. I tested this finished potholder in a 420 degree oven and it protected my hand well. You may feel comfortable using one, or more at ease when using two together. 

The  pattern called for 1950s rug yarn, of course. Rug yarn like this is unfortunately no longer made. I substituted the yarn and increased the size of the knitting needles a bit, and it worked really well. 

Instead of rug yarn I used two strands of Lily Sugar ‘n Cream cotton worsted yarn, held together as if they were one strand. This is a bit stiffer than rug yarn. It is less pliable. But it does construct a nice thick hotpad. 

You will Need

One skein Sugar ‘n Cream 100% cotton worsted weight yarn.

One pair size 7 (4.5 mm) knitting needles, preferably aluminum or steel. Plastic or wood needles can break when you knit with two strands of cotton worsted weight yarn, but you’re welcome to try if that’s what you have and what you enjoy using.

One size G (4 – 4.25 mm) crochet hook for the loop (optional). 

Making the Item 

In order to use today’s worsted cotton yarn instead of rug yarn, you need to knit with two strands. The easiest way to do this is to 1) either buy two balls of yarn if you plan to make several small things, or 2) find the center of the ball of yarn and pull from both the center and the outside of the ball at the same time, using two strands. One strand comes from the center of the ball, and the other strand comes from the end wrapped around the outside of the ball. 

This pattern uses a familiar stitch in an unfamiliar way. You will be working yarn-overs, but instead of passing the yarn over the needle as you usually do, this pattern requires you to bring the yarn all the way around the needle: between the stitches, up, and over. If you knit Continental style (also called picking the yarn), it looks like this: 

Hands holding knitting, showing how to do a modified yarn over stitch.
How to do a special yarn over for this pattern if you knit Continental style. The yarn goes to the back and around the needle toward the front.
Hands holding knitting, showing how to knit two stitches together.
This is what a knit 2 together looks like after the modified yarn over stitch, if you knit Continental style.

And if you knit English style (also known as throwing the yarn) it looks like this: 

Two hands showing how to make a long yarn over stitch in knitting.
How to do the special yarn over for this pattern, if you knit English style.
Hands holding knitting and showing how to knit two together, English style.
And this is what a knit two together looks like after that modified yarn over, if you knit English style.

The Pattern

The completed potholder measures about six inches (15 mm) square. The knitting is pretty tight with doubled yarn and the small knitting needle size. If you knit more loosely, your potholder will be larger – and it may not offer as much protection as a tightly knitted one.

K: Knit
P: Purl
sl: Slip 1 stitch while holding the yarn in the front as if you are going to purl. 
YO: Yarn over. In this pattern only, the yarn will be in front of the needles since your last stitch was either a purl stitch or a slipped stitch with the yarn in front of your work. You pass the yarn from the front to the back and then up and around, as you see in the photos above. This makes the potholder extra thick. If you don’t wrap the yarn this way, the potholder will NOT be thick enough to protect your hand. The thickest part of this piece should be nearly 3/8-inch, or 1 centimeter. 
(  ): When you see something in parentheses, you do that thing over and over as many times as the instructions say. It may say twice, or three times, or 6 times. 
[  ]: Extra instructions or reminders you might find helpful.

Cast on 26 stitches. (change to 26 sts)
Row 1: P 1, sl 1, and repeat across the row. [Remember to slip the stitches with the yarn in front, as if you are purling.]
Row 2: P each stitch across.
Row 3: Sl 1, P 1, and repeat across the row.
Row 4: P each stitch across.
Row 5: (P 1, sl 1) twice, K 18, (P 1, sl 1) twice.
Row 6: P 4, (YO, sl 1, P 1) 9 times, then P 4. [Remember to make the YO as the instructions and photos above.]
Row 7: (Sl 1, P1) twice, (sl 1, YO, P2 together) 9 times, (sl 1, P 1) twice. [The two stitches that you purl together will be a normal stitch and one of the yarn overs.]
Row 8: P 5, (sl the YO, P 2) 8 times, sl 1, P 5.
Row 9: (P1, sl 1) twice, (P2 together, sl 1, YO) 9 times, (P1, sl 1) twice.
Row 10: P4, (sl the YO, P2) 8 times, sl 1, P 6.

Repeat rows 7 through 10 seven times.

Row 39: (Sl 1, P 1) twice, (K 1, K 2 together) 6 times, (sl 1, P 1) twice.
Row 40: P each stitch.
Row 41: P 1, sl 1, repeat across row.
Row 42: P each stitch.
Row 43: Sl 1, P 1, repeat across row.
Bind off in purl stitch.

If you want a ring to hang it from:
After binding off the final stitch, using the crochet hook, chain 10 stitches.
Join the stitches together to form a ring at the corner of the potholder.
Finish off and hide the ends. 

Now you have your very own 1950s potholder! Use it to decorate your kitchen or to protect your hands from hot pans. 


Domestic Diva or Retail Rebel?

Choking back the tears, she thanked everyone for coming. The funeral was over. Four years. They’d been married only four years, and now her Harry was gone. 

He was just 26 years old. And two days ago, he was alive. But things move fast these days, and Harry who died on June 20 was buried on June 21 after a home funeral. A funeral service held in their own home. 

Picture of woman in 1918 in flowing dress.
Is she a Domestic Diva or a Retail Rebel? She doesn’t look very rebel-like here, does she? But she had a goal, and she used domestic tradition to reach it. Photo dates from 1917 or 1918.

Twenty-four years old, and a widow. Not that it was unheard of, in 1911. No, unfortunately, such things were too common. But to think… to think… what was she going to do? Going back to her parents’ home was simply not an option. She had eight siblings, and most of them still lived at home. 

Since her marriage to Harry she’d taught classes at the local YWCA. Her passion was sewing, and she shared her knowledge in her classes. She loved to sew! There was nothing quite like putting the small house to rights, and then sitting down for an afternoon of creating at the sewing machine. Finishing a new dress or coat gave the maker such a feeling of accomplishment. Passing that ability along was one of the best things she could do. 

Changes Ahead

Teaching at the YWCA, however, wasn’t going to support her. As soon as time allowed following the funeral, she found a position as instructor at the American College of Dressmaking in Kansas City, Missouri. This promising and popular correspondence school taught sewing lessons by mail to women all over the country. 

These were full days, days she spent long hours at her sewing machine. Later, she remembered with great fondness the kindness she received from neighbors. When she was so busy, scarcely thinking of food, they never forgot to send her a bowl of stew or a meal from their own tables. They always kept the young widow in mind, and she remained thankful for them, long after she moved away from the little house she and Harry had shared.

Well trained and passionate at her craft, by 1915 Mary was the head of instruction at the dressmaking school. However, at about this time she heard a siren’s call. A larger correspondence school had heard about her skill and lured her away from the American College of Dressmaking. This school specialized in men’s career training. They taught courses in art and advertising, mechanics and masonry. And now they wanted to open a women’s division, but they needed someone capable to run it.

Here was a place that Mary could make the difference she longed to make. Drawing upon her years of training in dressmaking and tailoring, plus her experience with teaching, she wrote many lesson manuals on various dressmaking and design topics. She also oversaw the writing of two sets of lesson books covering millinery (hat-making) and cooking. With three subjects, the women’s division was ready to begin in early 1916. By the end of 1916, the school had its first female graduate. Mary was beginning to be known as a Domestic Diva.

Freedom with a Needle

Over the course of the next twenty years, over 100,000 women took these courses. And they learned to sew. But Mary’s goal was to teach the women more than how to sew a straight seam. Mary, you see, was a quiet subversive. She believed that teaching women how to sew their own clothing could lead them to financial freedom. She was, in her own way, a rebel.

How frightening it was to find herself a 24 year old widow! If she could help women make it through a situation like that, her life’s work would be worthwhile. Between 1916 and 1925 Mary encouraged women to take the courses, using advertising and the occasional gimmick if necessary. She explained that through the coursework she designed, any woman could learn to sew. But more than that, she could learn to copy the clothes she saw in a shop window, or on the street. And she could make extra money sewing for others who did not know how to sew. 

And for those brave enough, or those who needed it, she included information on how to open and run a dressmaking shop. Her advice was that a good dressmaker would always find work. Many women started home businesses or opened small storefronts and found the financial burden less heavy. Some excelled and thrived. Letters poured into the office extolling Mary and her methods. 

The woman’s name was Mary Brooks Picken. She wrote close to 100 books on dressmaking and sewing in her lifetime, and her books are still in demand. And that school? They called it the Woman’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences. Most of her books are long out of print. After collecting them for years, I am working to make them available in their correct order. 

So which is it, Domestic Diva or Retail Rebel? Was Mary a Domestic Diva who was in charge of teaching the best available information in cooking, sewing, and millinery? Or was she a Retail Rebel, someone who upset the status quo by encouraging women that they could make their own way, and they could be financially independent? Really, it depends. It depends who you ask.

Keeping in Touch · Vintage Ways

Why You Need Monogrammed Stationery

Not so long ago, when someone wanted to send a note, they reached into their desk drawer, pulled out the pen and ink, and then selected a sheet of printed stationery. It might be decorated with the sender’s full name and address. Or perhaps a three letter monogram sets the page apart as unique.

For friends who corresponded often, the monogrammed page was a very simple way to communicate who sent the letter. A business letter looks sharp on stationery that features the sender’s name and address. Nothing says sophistication like monogrammed or printed stationery.

Photo of dip pen and ink set on several monogrammed sheets of stationery. Caption reads: declare your style.
Show your style with monogramed or printed stationery.

If you lament loss in communication, or you want to send and receive pages that you can keep to read over again later, monogrammed stationery may be for you. It’s definitely more classy than a printed email message. And even before you put pen to paper, your printed stationery reveals your style to the receiver. Does your monogram have a Victorian-esque flourish? Does it sport more of a retro vibe? Is it printed in classic black, or did you choose green or dark red for your monogram and return address?

Printed stationery is a joy to use. It’s fun to order. In the past I’ve used stationery with my full name and address at the top. When I was very young that worked well. Everyone not only knew who was writing, but they had my return address at the top of the page, ready to go.

Now that I’m a bit older, the next time I order a set (which will be soon), I’ll order pages that feature my monogram. The envelope carries the return address, so there’s no reason for me to repeat it on the writing pages. So how do you order printed stationery? And where do you get it? And most important, what kind do you need?

Adding that Monogrammed Touch

You can get printed stationery in business size, which is a normal 8.5 x 11-inch page. But frankly, that’s a little large for a personal letter. Most letter stationery is 6 to 7 1/2 inches wide and 7 to almost 11 inches long. A smaller size, sometimes known as Social size, is closer to 5 3/4 by 7 3/4 inches. This size is perfect for an invitation to dinner or afternoon tea, or a nice letter-esque thank you note. If you prefer, you can also find preprinted correspondance cards, often called note cards. All stationery types come with preprinted envelope flaps announcing your name and address.

Which size do you choose? Well, what do you want to do with it? These are questions you must answer when selecting a style and size. Often browsing through the options will give you the information you need. One style, or one size, will speak to you, and then you know which one to order.

What kind of writer are you? Do you

  • Prefer very short, one-to-three sentences with sentiments like “I’m thinking of you” or “You’ve got this!” If so, you might really enjoy a box of monogrammed correspondance cards. Reach for them when you want to send a special quick note telling someone you care, or you’re grateful.
  • Long for an opportunity to turn off the computer or put down the texting device and send a chatty letter to old friends, like people used to do? Then look for a nice medium-size letter page that gives you enough space to set your thoughts down.
  • Fall somewhere in between, or find yourself wanting to throw a vintage party once in a while and send out authentic invitations? Maybe you need a solution for how to say thanks but don’t want to use notes? Look for the smaller social size sheets.

In the past I’ve ordered my printed stationery from American Stationery. They’ve been around since 1919, and I’ve never received an order I didn’t love. Even in the past 20 years or so they’ve expanded their offerings. I remember that while placing one order, I had a choice of four type styles for my name and address. Four. Today I can choose between 27 styles. They offer six different monogram styles, and many different styles of paper/envelope combinations.

How do you organize your initials when you order stationery or use a monogram in another way? Find out how everything goes together in How to Style a Monogram.

The Creative Corner

How to Style a Monogram

Monograms. They’ve been around for well over 150 years in popular use and culture. Women’s magazines from 1865 and before show monogram styles that could be used to decorate linens, clothing, and more. The letter writer often used initials to seal an envelope in wax.

How do you put a monogram together, and where can you use it? From the 1910s to the 1950s, a monogrammed handkerchief made a nice, thoughtful gift for a friend. In the 1930s to 1960s, shirts and blouses with a monogram looked sharp and trendy. The 1980s saw a resurgence in monograms on sweaters and purses, among other things.

1920s-30s monogram alphabet illustration in blue, orange, green, and purple.
Monograms were huge for those who wanted to mark their stuff in a stylish way. This pattern advertisement shows available single monograms that purchasers could apply to all kinds of things.

No matter what decade of vintage you love, you can find a way to work your monogram into it. Or the monogram of someone you love. However, just how do you do that? Believe it or not, even something as simple as monogramming has rules.

The Rules of Monograms

There are certain ways to put a monogram together, whether you plan to decorate your bedsheets or your writing stationery.

  • If you want to use one letter only, it’s called a single monogram. You can use either the first initial of the first name, or the first initial of the last name. In a single monogram it doesn’t matter. Mostly, it depends what you want to project. Do you want S for Smythe, a last name, or A for Annabelle or Adonis, a first name?
  • When you use two initials, you use the first initials of both first and last name. Each initial is the same script style, and they are the same size. One letter is not larger or smaller than the other one.
  • If you plan to use three initials, it’s called a triple letter monogram. And there are two ways to do it. If the name is Adonis Stanley Laurel, and all the letters are the same size, they read left to right: ASL. If one initial is larger than the other two letters, which you often see in stylized or stylish monograms, that large letter in the middle stands for the last name. So the monogram looks like this: ALS.
  • If you want a monogram for two married people, the usual way to do it is Spouse-Last-Spouse. So if Adonis marries Dana, their combined monogram is ALD, with a larger L in the middle.

What You Can Do with a Monogram

Monograms are versatile. They mark your stuff. But more importantly, they mark your style. Are you an Old-English-Gothic kind of person? A monogram will reveal that. Do you tend toward Art Deco? Monogram everything in sight, and everyone will know.

Monograms are the personalized automobile license plate of the past. A nicely done monogram on a party invitation indicated that you had good taste. Nicely monogrammed hand towels transmitted not only that you knew who you were in the world, but it also showed off your skill with a needle. A blouse with a monogrammed first letter broadcast whether you were playful – or not, depending on the lettering style.

In a world where much of the fabric was white, monograms came in very useful. Everyone carried a handkerchief. While that little square could be made of silk, linen, rayon, or cotton, it was almost always white. Two people dropping handkerchiefs at the same time could end in chaos! Not really, but having a monogrammed handkerchief did help if there was any confusion or if an article got left behind.

Monogrammed sheets and towels were the sign of a well-appointed linen closet. Putting an initial or two onto the top bedsheet and pillow cases not only gave these white linens a bit of decoration, but the effort also acted as a This Is My House label. It signified to friends and family that this was a house that took order and ownership seriously. Or not too seriously, depending on the initials’ style.

Paint your monogram onto a Welcome sign for your front entry. Or put your initial onto clothing or luggage. Make an initial into a pin that can move from item to item. Cover a favorite book, and decorate the cover with your monogram. Make table napkins or placemats and decorate with your monogram. Take a boring stretch of wall space and spice it up with your monogram. Bring this time-honored tradition back to life, and celebrate the initials that signify you.

Cooking Techniques · Recipe Collections · The Vintage Kitchen

Iced Coffee – The Hot New Trend. Or Not.

When the days get warm, I start to long for a nice iced coffee. Sometimes I swing into my favorite coffee shop as I’m out running errands or shuttling offspring from one meeting to the next. More often, though, I set up the percolator on the stove and brew a nice big pot. Since I’m one of two coffee drinkers in the house, that big pot doesn’t have to be tremendously huge. Eight cups of brewed coffee produces many delicious glasses of iced java in my kitchen.

Coffee percolator and glass of iced coffee. An open book sits in front of the coffee maker and glass. Text on image reads Make Yourself a 1920s Iced Coffee.
Enjoy a refreshing vintage cold cuppa while perusing the pages of a 1920s book.

Once the percolator does its thing and the coffee is nice, hot, and fresh, I let it sit for a bit. If you use a percolator at home, you know that fresh brewed coffee is hot. Really hot. It’s a lot hotter than any coffee that comes from a drip machine. So I let the percolator sit for a bit if I only brewed the coffee to ice it.

After the coffee is reasonably cool, I fix myself a beautiful glass of iced goodness. If I’m feeling especially decadent I add some chocolate syrup so I have iced chocolately java goodness. How thankful we are that the coffee shops of the 1990s introduced us to the wonderful reality of iced coffee in the summer!

Hold on a minute. The all-knowing Internet says that iced coffee (the frappé version) was invented in 1957. In Greece. By a Nescafe salesman who couldn’t find hot water when he needed it.

If you read the article at the link, and then look at the recipe below, what the sales rep was attempting to do was create an established drink, the frappé, without ice or ice cream to chill and thicken it. And using instant Nescafe coffee instead of brewed coffee. He did come up with a new taste and texture for a frappé, but the drink itself was well known.

Photo of iced coffee from 1920. Glass topped with whipped cream, with two straws for drinking.
This is iced coffe in 1920. Refreshing, cool, and topped with sweet whipped cream.

Let’s turn the clock back a little. While paging through a magazine that arrived in U. S. mailboxes during the summer of 1920, I found a photo and caption extolling the deliciousness of iced coffee. The food editor suggested topping it with sweet whipped cream and serving with a straw. Sound a bit familiar? The process was so simple that no detailed recipe appears with the photo. Pour chilled coffee over ice into a glass. Add a nice inch-high dollop of whipped cream to the top and stick a straw into the glass. Serve.

And then, only a few years later, a cookbook featured a selection of iced coffee recipes. Instead of one “pour fresh coffee over ice and drink” suggestion, readers received almost an entire page of tantalizing coffee recipes. The iced coffee revolution had arrived. The year: 1924.

Here are four of those iced coffee recipes, written in current language. I include the original base recipe plus three variations. If you don’t have a cocktail shaker, an electric blender or smoothie maker will work. Blend just until mixed. You don’t want to heat up the coffee after chilling it and mixing it with ice or ice cream.

So the next time you take a refreshing drink of ice-cold coffee, you can thank vintage cooks going back to 1920 and maybe even as far back as 1840s Algeria. But that’s another story.

Iced Coffee for a Warm Day

This 1920s iced coffee recipe and its variations will keep you historically cool on hot days.
Prep Time5 minutes
Cook Time20 minutes
Cooling Time2 hours
Course: Drinks
Cuisine: American
Keyword: coffee, cold, Frappe, iced


  • Coffee maker
  • Cocktail shaker (for frappé or frosted variation)


  • 4 tbsp coffee ground for your coffee maker
  • water to fill the coffee maker to the 4-serving line
  • 4 tbsp sugar optional; may use less (or more) to taste
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream (double cream) optional; may use less (or more) to taste
  • 1/2 cup vanilla ice cream For Frosted Coffee variation
  • 3 cups ginger ale OR apple cider For Cider or Ginger Ale variation
  • ice to fill 4 glasses 1/3 – 1/2 full preferably crushed


  • Brew 4 cups of coffee.
  • Let cool for at least 2 hours, especially if you use a percolator or another method that produces very hot coffee. If making this in advance, chill in the refrigerator for several hours.
  • Fill each glass halfway with ice, and then pour the cooled coffee over.
  • Add sugar and cream to taste.

Frappé Coffee Variation

  • Fill a cocktail shaker 1/3 with ice, heavy cream, and sugar. Add freshly-made chilled or cooled coffee and shake. Serve. Repeat for the other three servings.

Frosted Coffee Variation

  • Combine 1 cup strong, chilled coffee with 2 tablespoons of vanilla ice cream in a cocktail shaker. Shake until the ice cream dissolves, and serve. Repeat for other three servings.

Iced Coffee with Apple Cider or Ginger Ale

  • Fill each glass 1/4 full with ice. Add 1/2 cup chilled or cooled coffee, and then top with cider or ginger ale — one or the other, not both.
The Vintage Bookshelf

Fred Astaire on Himself

My bookshelves are filled with vintage books. Cookbooks, novels, histories, even science. Yes, I know much of the science material is outdated. Looking up current progress is half the fun. Reading these older books gives me a unique perspective on yesteryear. 

I want to introduce the books that sit on The Vintage Bookshelf, but I want to make sure they are available to you. It’s no fun reading about a book you can’t get your hands on to enjoy yourself. Some of the books in this series will be available in hard copy, through a retailer like Amazon. Others might be available in digital format through an online library like The Internet Archive. 

Steps in Time

Photo of book Steps in Time by Fred Astaire, sitting on cutwork embroidered linen. Steps in Time is Astaire's autobiography.
Fred Astaire’s autobiography, Steps in Time, from 1959.

This month I’ve been reading Steps in Time, an autobiography by Fred Astaire. And it is an autobiography – it details Astaire’s opinions on everything! Through it, though, you glean a great understanding of vaudeville. And what those years were like from someone who grew up on the stage. Later, when live theatre blossomed and vaudeville waned, Astaire details that transition as well. You read about the ups and downs of performing live in the early to mid 1900s. 

The story goes that one time when I had gone with my mother to fetch [my sister] Adele, I put on a pair of ballet slippers. I found them in a corner while I was dawdling around the place, killing time, waiting for Adele to finish her lesson. I had seen other children walk on their toes, so I put on the slippers and walked on my toes. It was as simple as that.

Steps in Time, p. 11.

To be fully honest, I’m re-reading the book. I first read it as a young teen, and I was entranced. The only quote I remembered from it, though was Astaire’s daughter Ava’s comment about titling the book itself. She said, “I know! Call it With No Hair on My Head!” How to find a book that I only know the author and one quote? Internet to the rescue! And the book was just as delightful a read this time. 

Steps in Time details Astaire’s time working with George Gershwin… and Ginger Rogers. His time with Bing Crosby… and Noel Coward. He talks about the actors, dancers, and comedians he met in vaudeville… and then expresses his delight at working with their children on the movie set years later. He describes his experiences with golf courses, racehorses, and family — the three loves of his life apart from acting and dancing. 

In a way, this book too is a performance. Astaire glosses over the stock market crash of ’29, which actually affected him substantially (to the tune of losing about $75,000, equivalent to over a 1 million dollar loss today). He doesn’t mention any troubles with payments or much else that would mar the flow of a good showbiz story.

Taking it Further

Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, you can see and hear material from some of Fred and Adele’s earliest shows.

  • Apple Blossoms, their 1919 vaudeville operetta, is the most available. You can read both the book (the story/spoken parts of the play) and see the songs and lyrics in sheet music form.
  • Listen to Fred and his sister Adele sing “Oh Gee Oh Gosh Oh Golly“, from For Goodness Sake/Stop Flirting in 1922/23.
  • Fred and Adele Astaire singing “The Babbit and The Bromide” from Funny Face in 1927. 
  • And although neither Astaire is on this recording, 1931’s The Band Wagon was Adele’s last show. This recording is called Gems from The Band Wagon.

Signs of the Times

The book dates from 1959. Before the civil rights movement of the 60s. Keep that in mind as you read, because once in a while a word or term turns up that today we would find offensive. 

Because it was published nearly 30 years before Astaire died, the book does not cover any details from his later life. Even so, he found enough to fill 338 pages with events from 1904-1958, which is no small feat in itself. His life was very busy, and it was quite full. 

If you read an updated edition, you’ll find a forward by Ginger Rogers that refutes one or two of Fred Astaire’s comments about her. The book should be easy to locate at a local library or on Amazon, in both the 1959 and later editions.