Cooking Techniques · The Vintage Kitchen

Sue’s Favorite Cocoa

This post continues a series of lessons from the 1924 book When Sue Began to Cook. The series began with the post When Sue Began to Cook. Now in Lesson 5, the date this Saturday is December 23. What a good time for Sue and her friend Ruth Ann to make a winter vacation treat like Sue’s Favorite Cocoa.

Hot cocoa is good almost any time of the year, especially with marshmallows. However, it becomes especially welcome during the colder months. This hot cocoa recipe from the Bettina’s Best Recipes cookbooks is a family favorite at our house, too. This is an updated recipe from the 1917 cookbook A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband with Bettina’s Best Recipes. It uses cocoa powder instead of a square of chocolate, which makes it much less expensive to make.

Sue’s notes from the cooking lesson

Here’s what Sue had to say in her cooking notebook:

At first Mother said we wouldn’t have a cooking lesson today because it was so close to Christmas, but Ruth Ann and I begged so hard that she finally relented, only she said we must make something easy.

“I know, Mother, let’s try cocoa. The kind with cinnamon in it!” I suggested. “Just think how much it will help if I really know how to make it!”

“Sue’s Favorite Cocoa?” Mother said, because that’s what she always calls it. “Perhaps if you know how to make it, you’ll make it so often that you’ll get tired of it.”

“Oh, I know I won’t!” I told her. “I think cocoa is delicious when it’s made right, but deliver me from a Mother who doesn’t cook it at all — just pours boiling water over it!” (That is the way Emma Jane’s mother makes it. I discovered that when our club met there.)

“If my mother would only come home, I wouldn’t care how she cooked!” cried Ruth Ann, bursting into tears.

Of course it is especially hard not to have your mother at home for Christmas, but I could tell from Mother’s face that she hadn’t realized how badly Ruth Ann was feeling. “Would it help any, Ruth Ann, if you stayed over here and hung up your stocking with Robin’s and Sue’s?” Mother asked.

“Oh, Aunt Bettina, of course it would! Won’t you ask Grandmother yourself? She’s sure to let me if you do the asking.”

“Goody! Goody!” I said. “Hurry, Mother. Telephone her first, and then come and teach us how to make the cocoa.”

Ruth Ann’s grandmother said she could stay, and perhaps that was the reason the cocoa turned out so well. It was seasoned with happiness as well as cinnamon, Mother said.

Sue’s Favorite Cocoa

Here’s the recipe for Sue’s Favorite Cocoa, just as it was written in When Sue Began to Cook.

Sue’s Favorite Cocoa

From 1924 When Sue Began to Cook.


  • 4 tbsp cocoa powdered, level measure
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • tsp salt
  • tsp powdered cinnamon
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 cups milk
  • ¼ tsp vanilla
  • 4 marshmallows


  • We mixed the cocoa, sugar, salt and cinnamon together very carefully with a teaspoon. (If they aren't mixed well, Mother says the cinnamon floats on the top and the cocoa isn't so good.)
  • Then we each put our mixture into a saucepan and added the water. We cooked it slowly, stirring it all the time, until it got to be like a nice thick chocolate syrup. Then Mother had us add the milk slowly. We turned the fire low, and heated the cocoa till it was steamy and hot. (Mother told us not to let it boil.) When it was steaming hot, we added the vamilla and then beat the coca for a minute or two with a Dover egg beater. (Mother said that would keep it from getting scummy on the top. Robin likes the scum, but once he burnt his tongue on it, so I think Mother's way is best.)
  • Note: A Dover egg beater is a hand-operated mixer with two mixing blades. It was generally used to mix eggs, whip cream, and combine liquids. Oxo Good Grips makes a modern version that works relatively well, or you can use a whisk.
  • Mother had me put the four marshmallows in four cups and when we were ready, we poured the cocoa in on top of them. Of course people can use whipped cream instead of marshmallows if they have it, but most families don't, I've noticed. Anyhow marshmallow cocoa is very good.

Cooking Techniques · The Vintage Kitchen

Sue cooks Wheat Cereal

Sue and Ruth Ann make wheat cereal in 1920s double boilers.

On her third cooking lesson, Sue cooks Wheat Cereal with Dates. This lesson took place on Saturday December 9 according to When Sue Began to Cook. This would be considered a warm winter breakfast, although some Twenties families served it throughout most of the year for its nutrition.

If you missed the first two installments, you can start the series with When Sue Began to Cook. Lesson 2 is Sue Cooks Frizzled Beef.

Sue’s notes from the lesson explain why they are making cereal for their Saturday cooking lesson:

It all came about because Ruth Ann told us her Grandmother was always fussing at her because she wouldn’t eat any breakfast food. “But I just can’t, Aunt Bettina. Not even for Mother’s sake!” she said. “I’m never one bit hungry for breakfast.”

Eating breakfast

Ruth Ann is an emotional child, and when she told us about the great big dish of oatmeal her Grandmother set in front of her every morning, her eyes filled with tears, and she shivered almost as if she were cold. “In a thick old bowl, too!” she added. “No wonder I hate it!”

“What’s the bowl got to do with it?” jeered Robin, who always hangs around on our cooking days. “You don’t have to eat the bowl too, do you?”

We all laughed at that, although Mother shook her head at Robin and told him to run out and feed his rabbits. “I know just how you feel about the bowl, Ruth Ann.” she said. “Because I was your kind of a little girl myself once. Of course you must eat your breakfast food, but I’m going to show you just how you can do it and really enjoy it. First, you’ll have to make it yourself!”

Ruth Ann making her own

Ruth Ann looked doubtful. “Maybe Grandmother won’t let me,” she answered. “And besides I don’t know how.”

“You can soon learn,” said Mother. “In fact, you can learn today. And then I am going to give you a little blue bowl to eat it in, a bowl I had when I was a little girl.”

“Oh Mother, the one that used to be Aunt Mattie’s?” I cried, very much surprised. I knew that was one of Mother’s chiefest treasures.

“Yes, dear, Aunt Mattie’s,” Mother said. “Ruth Ann may have it for hers, and I know she’ll take good care of it. See, Ruth Ann!”

I was full of envy when Mother brought out the lovely little round porridge bowl, so thin and dainty. She would scarcely let Robin or me touch it, not to mention using it for our breakfast food!

“It seems to me even oatmeal would taste good in that,” said Ruth Ann with shining eyes. “That is, if I didn’t have to eat too much of it!”

“Wait till I show you how to make my kind of wheat cereal with dates,” said Mother. “It will give you as big a breakfast appetite as Robin’s! But in order to have the charm complete, you must do a third thing for me.”

“Oh, I will! I will! What is it?” cried Ruth Ann eagerly.

Nutrition and exercise go hand in hand

“While the cereal is cooking in the double boiler, you must put on your coat and hat and run around the house six times, no matter how cold and snowy it is.”

“Of course I will if you say so, Aunt Bettina!” (Mother isn’t truly her aunt, you know. She only calls her so because her Mother and mine were such good friends when they were little girls.)

“And then you must come in, finish cooking the breakfast food, and eat a good sized dish of it in the little blue bowl.”

“Oh, I will! I will! And I’ll write and tell Mother all about it!”

“Splendid! said Mother. “But now we must get to work on our third cooking lesson and learn exactly how to make Wheat Cereal with Dates.”

Make it yourself

Here’s the recipe for Wheat Cereal with Dates as it appeared in the book.

Wheat Cereal with Dates

from How Sue Began to Cook, 1924.
Course: Breakfast
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Bettina, When Sue Began to Cook


  • 3 cups boiling water
  • ¾ cup wheat cereal such as Cream of Wheat
  • 1 tsp salt Don't forget this if you want it to be good
  • ½ cup seeded dates, cut fine


  • First, we looked over the dates and washed them well. Then we took out the seeds with a sharp little knife. Then we cut them very fine. (The dates, not the seeds.)
  • We each put three cups of water in the top of our own double boiler and set it directly over the fire. We had the under part of the double boiler half full of hot water on another part of the stove. We let the three cups of water come to a slow boil and then we added the salt. We stirred the cereal in slowly, mixing it with a spoon all the time. (Mother told us not to let the water stop dancing while the cereal was being added.)
  • * Note: Today's double boilers are not usually designed to sit on a stove's heating element without the bottom portion. Only the bottom part fits on the stove. If you use a double boiler, it will take longer to bring the water to a boil with both sections together. Or you can use a heavy pot directly over the flame, but it must be stirred well or it will stick and scorch.
  • When all the cereal was in, we let it boil hard for about three minutes, stirring it all the time.
  • Then we each set the utensil (I mean the upper part of the double boilder holding the cereal) into the lower part that had water in it, and let it cook that way slowly for about forty five minutes.
  • After the cereal had cooked for thirty minutes we added the dates and let it cook fifteen minutes more. ("The kitchen clock is the cook's best friend," Mtoher says.)
  • If you'll just try it yourself and serve it warm with sugar and cream, you'll never say again that you don't like breakfast food! Mother says we can use raisins or seeded prunes cut fine the next time we make this cereal, but as for me, give me dates!

The Creative Corner · Vintage Sewing

A Twenties Kimono Robe

A sketch of a 1920s woman admiring her reflection in a hand mirror. She wears a long patterned kimono robe. A large mirror is placed on the wall behind her, along with a table and a bonsai tree in a bowl.
Make this Twenties robe without a pattern.

This week I finally finished a long-awaited project. For many years I wanted a Twenties kimono robe for summer wear. It’s called a kimono robe because it uses kimono sleeves, which means the sleeves are cut as part of the garment’s front and back. This robe is in no way an actual Japanese kimono. It is a Twenties kimono robe creation through and through.

As I paged through a 1924 magazine the other day, I saw an article I’d seen many times before. Every time, I admit, I longed to make one of these for myself. The article itself said “The instructions require no pattern, and the time for making is of no consequence, two hours proving ample.”

“The instructions require no pattern, and the time for making is of no consequence, two hours proving ample.”

Inspiration, 1924

Whether you call it a negligee, a peignoir, a kimono, or a robe, this creation ended up quite satisfactory. It definitely took more than two hours to put together, so set aside at least four hours if you want to wear it tonight. 

One of the nicest additions to this simple piece of clothing is the deep tuck that goes over the shoulders and down to the hip in back. It helps to shape the negligee a bit. Darts over the front hips help with that as well. 

This is how the finished Twenties kimono robe looks in my size.

Completed robe in a light, gauzy fabric.

What you will need

To make your own, you will need:

  • Two lengths of 45″ or 60″ fabric. A length here equals the distance from the base of your neck to your ankles or the base of your neck to the floor. Three yards total should be about right.
  • 4-5 yards of 1 – 1.5 inch satin ribbon for belt tie
  • Thread
  • Sewing machine or needle
  • Scissors
  • Pencil or chalk to mark your fabric (without a pattern, you need a way to mark cutting lines)
  • Ruler/ dressmaking ruler/ tape measure and straight edge — something to measure with. I use my trusty Picken Square for pattern drafting. (Link goes to Lacis, who reproduced the Picken Square in the late 1990s and still has some.) Anything that will help you draw straight lines will work.

If you wear a size small, medium, or large, 45 inch fabric should work fine. If you wear an XL, XXL or larger size, you will probably need 60-inch fabric. Basically, whatever your hip measure is (36”, 56”, etc.), that measure needs to be about 4-7 inches less than the width of your fabric in order to get a nice loose fitting robe. So if your hip measures 36 inches, 45 – 36 = 9 inches. 45 inches is plenty in width. If your hip measures 56 inches, 60 – 56 = 4. That will work too.

Fabric type: You want a cotton or rayon or polyester that drapes nicely. Too stiff and it won’t hang like a kimono. Prewash your fabric to see how it will actually hang. I made mine from 60-inch wide mystery fabric. When I began I thought it was a cotton, but by the time the project was complete I am pretty sure it is a polyester. And I love it. It’s loose, comfortable, and was completely made from my stash. 

Creating your kimono

Even though this robe uses no pattern, that doesn’t mean it uses no measurements. You will mark your lines right onto the fabric with your pencil or chalk (dressmaker’s chalk works great) and then cut along those lines. 

First, fold your material lengthwise so you have the long selvedges together. It should be half the width of your fabric and the full three yards long.

Then fold that piece in half crosswise so that all the selvedges are together and it is half the length it was. Your fabric should now measure 1.5 yards in length on the table, and half the fabric width. It should look like this:

This is how your fabric looks folded on the table.

Place the fabric on the table with the long folds away from you, the selvedges closest to you, and the crosswise fold to your left. Now you are ready to measure and cut.

(If your fabric is slippery, pin the layers together here and there so that the fabric doesn’t move while you cut it.)

Ready to cut

Refer to the illustration above as you make the marks and cuts on your own fabric. The layout illustration shows all the letters for marking placement.

First read through all the instructions so you know what you are about to do, and then take it one step at a time.

  • Slash the upper one of the two lengthwise folds from a to b for the full length front opening.
  • Measure and cut down the crosswise fold at the left 2.5 inches from b to c.
  • From your own shoulder, measure down the front to the low waist you want to emphasize. Starting at b, measure that same distance to the right along the fold, and mark d.
  • Cut a straight line diagonally from d to c, cutting only the top two layers of fabric that were slashed down the fold. Leave the bottom fold as it is.
  • After you remove the triangles cut from the top two layers of fabric, then cut a curve in the lower two layers from c to b. This forms the back neckline.

This competes the front/back centers of your robe.

Cutting the shoulders and sleeves

Now we move around to the left of the diagram, and down the side closest to you to finish the cutting instructions.

  • To shape the shoulder, measure 3.5 inches from e at the fold and place a mark for f. Draw a straight line from f to c.
  • Cut through all four layers of fabric from f to c to form the shoulder.
  • To the right of f, measure 10 inches and place mark g. Note: This is the sleeve width. If your upper arms measure more than 16 inches in diameter, this will not fit. To determine my sleeve width, I took a measuring tape and looped it very loosely around my arm how I wanted the sleeve to hang. If I made a loop of 24 inches around my arm, then I measured down half that, or 12 inches, instead of 10.
  • Once you determine where to place g, measure up 4.5 inches or more and place h. This is the length of your sleeve. If you are slender compared to your fabric width, you can make this measurement larger. Make sure you have enough fabric left after you cut away the sleeves that the robe body measures 1.5 to 2 times your hip measure.
  • Measure up from the corner i the same length from g to h, so 4.5 inches or more, and place j. Draw a straight line from j to h.
  • Cutting through all four layers, start at j and cut toward h. When you reach 3 inches from h, begin to curve and cut to g.

Congratulations! You just drafted and cut out a pattern of your own making. If this is the first time you’ve done anything like this, you deserve a hearty Well Done. This is how patterns are drafted. If you can do this, you can learn to draft your own patterns from your measurements.

Putting it all together

Don’t throw away any of the fabric you cut away. You’ll use most of it, if not all of it, later.

Here’s how to assemble the robe:

  1. Join the shoulders with a 1/2 inch seam.
  2. Make a 1 inch dart over each hip on the front layers only. This is an optional step; it makes the robe just a little more full in the front if you do. 
  3. Take three of the four pieces that you cut from under the arms and join them to form a long strip. You may need all four of them if you increased the depth of the sleeve at all.
  4. Use a 1/4 inch seam to join them together. You will use the entire 4.5 inch width of the fabric to create the wide band that edges the front of the robe. Trim as little of the curved portion from the strips as you can; you will need all the fabric. 
  5. To attach the binding, lay it on the front of the robe, right sides of the fabric together and long edges even. Using a 1/4 inch seam, sew up the front, around the neckline, and back down the other side of the front.
  6. Press the seam, and turn under 1/4 inch on the long free edge of the band and press it as well. 
  7. Fold the band to the inside of the robe so that the turned edge just covers the stitching.
  8. Sew in place by hand, or sew with a machine stitch close to the folded edge. 

Take a designer shoulder tuck

About halfway between your neck and shoulder, like at k, fold a tuck one inch deep, letting it extend to the bust line in front and to the low waistline point in back.

Cut your length of satin ribbon in half, and slip one end of each ribbon into the tuck on the back, near the low waist point.

Then stitch the tuck down along the outside folded edge, from the front bust point to the back hip/low waist point. Catch the end of the ribbon in the stitching to hold it in place like the top illustration. Make sure to finish off the threads securely so the belt doesn’t pull out.

The last thing to do is turn up an even hem all the way around, wherever you want it. Turn 1/4 inch down on the top of the hem and sew it into place. Then slip into your new negligee and admire your afternoon’s work. 

If you want inspiration on building the rest of a Twenties wardrobe, check out the post I wrote on Creating a 1920s Capsule Wardrobe.