This goal of this article is to summarize and contextualize the World’s Fair Souvenir Cook Book by Sarah Tyson Rorer, published in 1904 and offered for sale at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. This book is out of copyright and now in the public domain, which is why I can freely share it with you.
Selections from this book can be found at the end of this post, but I also encourage you to peruse the entire book, which is linked below. Also linked below is the homepage for my antique cookbook collection, containing details and scans of more books in my collection.
Sarah Tyson Rorer (1849-1937) is one of the most famous, and prolific, cookbook authors of the late 19th and early 20th century. Dubbed “The Most Famous Cook in America” by the Ladies Home Journal in 1897, Rorer was a household name.
In addition to teaching cooking classes and writing cookbooks, she also appeared in magazine columns, radio shows, and advertisements for household supplies. Rorer has also been called “America’s first dietitian”, and her scientific approach to cooking was likely heavily influenced by her father, who was a chemist. She was known for her quick wit and humor, especially in her classes and demonstrations, but some of this is evident in her writing as well. Rorer is my personal favorite cookbook author, and I’m currently striving to collect all of her published works.
About the Book
Given Rorer’s fame during the beginning of the 20th century, it’s no surprise that she was selected to lead the cooking demonstrations and a restaurant pavilion at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. The preface of the book states that it had two goals, to share some of the recipes used in the fair’s cooking demonstrations and restaurants, and to impress that “the object in teaching cookery is not to increase or complicate the work, not to make it ceremonial, but to point out the simple and easy way”. Unfortunately, it’s unclear which recipes were served or demonstrated at the fair, and which were added to round out the book. The book doesn’t contain “fair food” type recipes, or recipes for dishes popularized at the 1904 World’s Fair such as the ice cream cone.
Though the preface of the book directly mentions the eastern restaurant pavilion, I don’t believe that’s the building shown on the cover. I’ve looked through many photos of the fair and haven’t been able to match the cover drawing to any of the buildings I’ve seen.
This cookbook was only available for sale at the World’s Fair, so there are far fewer copies in circulation than many of Rorer’s other works. One source I’ve found states that the cookbook was sold at the fair for 50 cents, but I’ve been unable to confirm this with other sources. 50 cents (about $17 in inflation adjusted 2023 dollars) would have been pretty cheap for a cookbook of this quality in 1904. Given the prices of Rorer’s preceding works, I would have expected this book to sell for somewhere between $1-$1.50 (inflation adjusted, $34 -$51).
Being born and raised in St. Louis, I can tell you that the people of St. Louis still take great pride in the 1904 World’s Fair. The site of the fair, Forest Park, is still the crown jewel of St. Louis, home to the St. Louis Zoo, Art Museum, History Museum, and more – all of which offer free admission to the public. The aviary from the fair (at the time, the largest in the world) is still in active use at the St. Louis Zoo. My copy of the 1904 World’s Fair Souvenir Cook Book is by far the most prized piece in my cookbook collection.
The recipes in this book are written in the 19th century style, which are paragraph descriptions. There is no stand-alone ingredients list, the ingredients are listed in the body of the recipe. This format is very compact, and an average page of the book contains 2 to 4 recipes.
I have not counted the number of recipes in this book, but estimate that it’s between 400 and 500. I’ve read the book cover to cover and selected the recipes below that were of greatest interest to me. In general, these selections fall into one of a few categories:
1. The recipe sounds good, and it’s something I might like to make myself.
2. The recipe is an interesting sign of its time, typically in ingredients, method, or name.
3. The recipe contains an interesting or funny comment from the author.
These selections are by no means the only recipes of value in the book, it was very difficult to narrow it down from over 400 to the 33 recipes shown below. If you’re interested in reading further, I strongly suggest checking out the complete copy here.
Bills of Fare
“Bills of Fare” are essentially a meal plan for a whole day that is suggested by the author. The end of this book contains quite a few bills of fare, but I’ve selected just a few to share – two standard bills of fare, ideas for Christmas, and ideas for certain kinds of parties.
Bonus – Loose Recipe
My copy of this book contained a handwritten recipe from a previous owner, so I’ve included it here as well!
Thanks for reading! If you make any of the recipes from this book, please let me know in the comment section below!