On January 1st of this year, there was the first mass release of works into the public domain in twenty years. The list is massive and from 1923 and earlier, so to make your life easier I sifted through them all and compiled a list of the works containing important scenes and mentions of food and drink. If I missed anything please email it into us! Many of the works were hard to find much information about online. Also one note of fair warning, being from the 1920’s, many of these selections have some outdated and offensive ideas and terms. Expect a lot of imperialism, sexism and thinly veiled racism.
La Gastronomie Pratique, 3d edition, by Ali-Bab
First edition printed in 1907 and final (8th) in 1950, the third edition is now part of the public domain. A very technical cookbook (think footnotes) written in French, very large at 1107 pages.
A Handbook of Cookery for a Small House, by Jessie Conrad
An English cookbook with chapters on breakfast, vegetables, soup, multiple types of meats, and pastries. The writer (and her husband who wrote the forward) believed good cooking to be “a moral agent” and that making simple and nourishing foods was the only “conscientious” way to live. It’s a pretty funny preface and introduction chapter for a pretty straightforward cookbook.
The Boston Cooking School Cook Book, 4th edition, by Fannie Merritt Farmer
Coming in at 808 pages, this book is an excellent window into the history of American home cooking and has been considered throughout the ages to be a vital resource for any aspiring young cook; it is written in a helpful and succinct manner. Although it may seem the obvious choice now, Farmer made the radical decision to include measurements in her recipes as well as acknowledge the link between our health and what we consume. Although some of the health tips are not recommended today, many are still scientifically sound; the others make for a good chuckle.
Bettina's Best Desserts, by Louise Bennett Weaver and Helen Cowles LeCron, Illustrated by Elizabeth Colborne
A dessert cookbook with illustrations, comes in a little under 200 pages. Some of the ingredients are antiquated (few still cook with suet), but those can be easily substituted and tweaked to suit your palate. The book is very straightforward with chapters broken down by type of dessert.
Bettina's Best Salads, by Louise Bennett Weaver and Helen Cowles LeCron, Illustrated by Elizabeth Colborne
A cookbook with illustrations, with a little over 200 pages. The title is a bit misleading, covering more than just salads; the chapters are broken up into dressings, salads, sandwiches, sandwich breads, rolls and biscuits, cracker combinations, and relishes. Taste as you go, many of the recipes are quite sweet or salty and will probably need to be adjusted.
The Real Story of a Bootlegger, by Anonymous (i.e. George S. Kaufman/ Reginald Wright Kaufman)
Can’t find much about this one online. I’m assuming since it’s about bootlegging it will talk about liquor. Appears to be a novel.
Riceyman Steps, by Arnold Bennett
A novel set in five parts taking place in London after the first world war. The protagonist Henry is a miser who owns a secondhand bookshop and is in love with a widow who owns a confectionary shop nearby. His frugality becomes a frequent issue in the couple’s relationships that center around food, or lack thereof.
Miss Mapp, by E.F. Benson
One of a series of comedic novels about wealthy English ladies trying to control one another. Being English society types, many of the scenes play out during countless luncheons and teas and involve lengthy gossipy conversations about who is eating where with whom. There is a BBC adaptation from the 1980’s as well.
La Tierra de Todos (The Temptress), by Vincente Blasco Ibáñez
Written in Spanish with English translations. A dramatic novel about an unhappy wealthy woman who unintentionally destroys the lives of her lovers. Being super rich, many of the scenes are set at dinner parties, including multiple duels and a death. There is a film adaptation of this from 1926 starring Greta Garbo.
The Rover, by Joseph Conrad
A novel about a sailor and pirate during the French Revolution. The protagonist tries to escape his action filled life to one of isolation at a farmhouse on an island in the south of France.
Captures, by John Galsworthy
A novel about a farmer who drinks a lot of cider. His dog bites a neighbor and is therefore shot, causing the farmer to have complicated and slightly confused feelings.
The Taking of Helen, by John Masefield
Mostly a story about Helen of Troy, but the collection includes some passages from his letters and essay on fox hunting
Le Fleuve de Feu, by François Mauriac
A novel in French about a young man pursuing a lover. An important scene early in the book is set in a dining room during a meal.
Quentin Durward, by Walter Scott, Illustrated by Jean de Bosschère
A novel taking place in 1468 about a French soldier, an important scene early takes place over breakfast at an inn.
Mastro-Don Gesualdo, by Giovanni Verga, Translated by D.H. Lawrence
A novel divided into four parts about two lovers and their families, one a self-made man and the other a fallen member of a noble family. They discuss food and its importance frequently; as charity, at parties, as benevolent gifts, and as land owners. Big themes are social mobility, enterprise, and isolation.
Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse
A series of novels about a valet who tends to a wealthy young English gentleman. Being the valet, Jeeves is expected to help dress, serve and generally always be around if his employer needs him. One thing Jeeves is particularly good at is mixing a drink to cure hangovers.
Racundra's First Cruise, by Arthur Ransome
A book about sailing across the Baltic Sea on a journey from Latvia to Finland and back on a small sailing boat. One of the three characters is simply named “The Cook”.
Two Years in the French West Indies, by Lafcadio Hearn
A travel book about Martinique featuring beautifully written descriptions of flora, fauna, and food. Race/ class relations are, however, not beautifully written.
Our American Adventure, by Arthur Conan Doyle
A report on a trip to New England and some of Canada. Mostly about clairvoyants, a little about prohibition. The Case for Spirit Photography is also included in this release into the public domain, but doesn’t talk about food or drink at all so I didn’t discuss it in this list. If you’re into this report though, check out his other work on the subject of the supernatural.
Children’s and Young Adult
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; And Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll, Illustrated by Edwin John Prittie
This work is fairly well known, so I’ll spare you the summary. Featuring mad tea parties, magical food and drink and tart theft among other curious culinary scenes.
Six Little Bunkers at Farmer Joel's, by Laura Lee Hope
Number nine in a children’s book series about six siblings, this book takes place on a farm. The writers also wrote the Bobbsey Twins books, so if you like those you’ll probably like this. Also released by the same author are Bunny Brown and His Sister Sue and Their Trick Dog, The Bobbsey Twins Camping Out, The Outdoor Girls Around the Campfire; or, The Old Maid of the Mountains, and The Story of a Woolly Dog.
Pinocchio, the Story of a Marionette, by C. Collodi, Translated by Sidney G. Firman
A story we are all familiar with, this version includes quite a few chapters about Pinocchio trying to find something to eat or being fed.
Land and Sea Tales for Boys and Girls, by Rudyard Kipling
A collection of short stories and poems, Prologue to the Master-Cook’s Tale is a poem about the importance of cooks. It is written somewhat phonetically, so it can be difficult to understand at first and is easiest when spoken out loud.
Rootabaga Pigeons, by Carl Sandberg
A collection of children’s stories set in a fantastical land somewhere in America called Rootabaga Country. They frequently use made up language, and many of the characters and places are named after foods. Notable stories featuring foods include How the Three Wild Babylonian Baboons Went Away in the Rain Eating Bread and Butter, The Huckback Family and How They Raised Pop Corn in Nebraska and Quit and Came Back, and Many Many Weddings.
Heidi, by Johanna Spyri, illustrated by Gustaf Tanggren
A very religious book about a young Swiss orphan girl who goes to live in the mountains with her grumpy Grandfather. She temporarily moves to the city to be a “lady’s companion” to a wealthy, physically disabled girl, but has a hard time coping and is sent back to her Grandfather. Eventually they send her friend from the city to visit her, believing the mountain air and friendship will help her become healthy. She becomes stronger with the aid of goat’s milk and eventually learns to walk.
Jeremy and Hamlet, by Hugh Walpole
An adventure story about the childhood of a young, wealthy boy and his dog as they explore his home and boarding school. Much of it takes place in the kitchens and pantry. Part of a series of books about Jeremy.
Poetry and Short Stories
Love and Other Stories, by Anton Chekhov
A collection of short stories, one of which is Gooseberries. Gooseberries is a rumination on the ethics of happiness. It tells the story of a government official who believes the only way for him to be truly happy will be to return to his childhood home in the country. From his brother’s perspective his new life is depressing and shallow, but the government official is thrilled by the simple pleasure of a plate of gooseberries.
Fancies Versus Fads, by G.K. Chesterton
Cultural analysis comprised of 30 essays. The Meaning of Mock Turkey discusses nursery rhymes and vegetarian foods suitable to be served for Christmas. On Being an Old Bean talks about the phrase “old bean” to refer to one’s father, with an aside about types of peas.
The Riddle and Other Tales, by Walter de la Mare
A collection of 15 short stories. The Almond Tree deals with a man remembering his childhood home and father’s affairs with loving descriptions of the gardens and meals. Selina’s Parable is about a girl observing a farmer gather eggs by tricking the chickens, comparing the situation to religion. Seaton’s Aunt finds two young schoolboys on holiday to visit one’s (Seaton’s) elderly aunt, and then a return to the house later in life. A ghost story featuring strange and slightly grotesque meals. The Tree features a fruit merchant visiting his strange brother to learn about a mysterious tree. In The Riddle, seven children are not distracted by their grandmother’s sugar plums enough to escape the siren call of a magic oak chest.
The Color of a Great City, by Theodore Dreiser
Short stories and essays about New York City that had originally appeared in newspapers and magazines in the early 1900’s. Many of the writings include descriptions of food and drink, but some that stick out are Our Red Slayer, an essay about a butcher in a slaughterhouse, The Sandwich Man, and The Bread-Line.
New Hampshire, by Robert Frost
A collection of poems, Frost frequently writes about nature and has included some of these works in this collection, Wild Grapes and Maple being the two most directly about food. Another notable inclusion, for all you The Outsiders fans, is Nothing Gold Can Stay.
The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran
A book of poetry and fables written by a Lebanese-American poet. Split into 26 chapters discussing the human condition, one of which is “Eating and Drinking”.
Amants, Heureux Amants, by Valéry Larbaud
A collection of three longer stories about love, wealth, and happiness. A lot of champagne is consumed.
Birds, Beasts and Flowers, by D.H. Lawrence
A collection of poems, many of which are titled after fruits and animals.
Bliss and Other Stories, by Katherine Mansfield
A book of short stories, one of which is titled A Dill Pickle and about ex-lovers meeting at a tea house.
The Dove's Nest and Other Stories, by Katherine Mansfield
Another book of short stories. This one includes A Cup of Tea, a story about a wealthy woman inviting a poor woman to her home.
Selected Poems, by John Masefield
777 pages of poetry, lots of mentions of food and wine.
The Sisters Rondoli and Other Stories, by Guy de Maupassant
A collection of stories, The Sisters Rondoli includes many scenes involving eating.
The Harp-Weaver, and Other Poems, by Edna St. Vincent Millay
A collection of poems, The Harp-Weaver briefly discusses hunger, the book also includes Never May the Fruit Be Plucked, which is a metaphor for love.
Postscripts, by O. Henry
I can’t find much info on this collection of 132 poems, short stories, and essays. It includes The Apple and After Summer.
Harmonium, by Wallace Stevens
A collection of poetry, many of the poems discuss food; including The Emperor of Ice Cream, Frogs Eat Butterflies. Snakes Eat Frogs. Hogs Eat Snakes. Men Eat Hogs, and Tea, among others.
Cane, by Jean Toomer
A book of poetry, short essays, and vignettes about the African American experience in the United States. Reapers is a poem about workers in a field, Seventh Street is a vignette about the effects of war and prohibition, and Harvest Song is a poem about the harvest.
Over the Footlights, by Stephen Leacock
A collection of humorous takes on plays, it includes the play itself as well as observations of the audience. The Soul Call An Up-to-date Pif le Play. Period, 1923. (In Which a Man and Woman, Both Trying to Find Themselves, Find One Another) is about an attempted poisoning during afternoon tea. The Platter of Life reimagines the poem Jack Spratt as a dramatic silent film. People We Meet in the Movies The Vampire Woman; as Met in the Movies discussed the “Vamp” trope in old films and describes her as always eating “black oysters”, “drinking black sarsaparilla out of champagne glasses”, and having no regard for prohibition. The Raft: An Interlude is about the humour of being stuck on a raft drifting in open sea, but having the biggest concern be that they forgot to bring a can opener or bottle opener. First Call for Spring —or— Oh, Listen to the Birds begins the section breaking from the theater observations and is a short story taking place in a cafe at the beginning of spring. It notes the lowering prices and appearance of produce as one of the indicators that the seasons are changing. How I Succeeded in My Business Secrets of Success as Related in the Best Current Literature talks a lot about spinach. The Dry Banquet discusses just that, banquets without alcohol and the Temperance Movement. Roughing It in the Bush My Plans for Moose Hunting in the Canadian Wilderness is a monologue-esque essay about plans to go moose hunting. There are passages questioning if they should truly rough it and cook outside or just eat at the hotel since the food will be better, as well as pondering if they should bring cases of champagne and scotch. Personal Experiments with the Black Bass is a faux-scientific essay on bass fishing.
Crossings, A Fairy Play, by Walter de la Mare; music by C. Armstrong Gibbs, Illustrated by Dorothy P. Lathrop
A musical about Fairies, and all fairy stories involve food, tricks, and usually a big party. Acts III and IV are set in the Kitchen and Garden, respectively.
Moscow Art Theatre Series of Russian Plays, by various playwrights
A book of five plays by Russian authors. One of the plays featured is The Cherry Orchard by Anton Checkov. Written in 1903 and first performed in 1904; The Cherry Orchard is a dark, dramatic comedy concerning an aristocratic landowner who has come home to auction off her estate, which includes a large and beloved cherry orchard. Despite misgivings, the land is sold to the son of one of their serf’s, who promptly cuts it down. Also included is The Lower Depths by Maxim Gorky, a drama written and performed for the first time in 1901. Dealing with the lives of lodgers in a homeless shelter, one of the characters being a meat pie vendor. Much of the play talks about food and drinks, where to get them, how to afford them, and how hungry they are.
Woyzeck, by Georg Büchner
A play about about a German soldier who does odd jobs for extra money to support his girlfriend and their baby. One of the jobs he performs is taking part in medical experiments, and one of these experiments is to eat nothing but peas, which slowly drives him insane.
Broadway Jones, by George M. Cohan
A comedic play about a young “city boy” who inherits a chewing gum factory in a small town.
Peer Gynt, by Henrik Ibsen, translated by William and Charles Archer
A fair story about the life of a man from young adulthood on that has quite a lot of drinking.
The Old Soak, by Don Marquis
A comedy about an alcoholic during prohibition
The Dover Road, by A.A. Milne
Of Winnie the Pooh fame, The Dover Road is a coy comedy about a man who runs a house off a main road that runs through Southern England. He tries to delay eloping couples so they have a chance to change their minds about the marriage. Instead of showing sex scenes, we are given glimpses into uncomfortable breakfasts and other equally awkward scenarios.
The Melon Thief, by Shigeyoshi Obata
A Japanese farce that takes place in a melon patch, spoken in verse.
Cyrano de Bergerac, by Edmond Rostand, Translated by Brian Hooker
A play about a nobleman in the French army who is exceedingly talented, but doubts himself because of his large nose. He convinces a man he believes is handsomer than he to take the love letters he’s written to his distant cousin and pass them off as his own. The second act takes place in a bakery.
Anthropology, by Alfred Louis Kroeber
An Anthropology textbook, it includes chapters discussing diet, agriculture, the cultural importance of certain foods to various groups, and the domestication of plants and animals.
The Fun Book: Stunts for Every Month, by Edna Geister
A book of party games, there is a whole section devoted to picnics.
Say It With Oil, A Few Remarks About Wives, by Ring Lardner
A humorous article about married couples relationships, when published it usually accompanies Say It With Bricks, A Few Remarks about Husbands by Nina Wilcox Putnam. Discusses, among other things, meals and dinner parties.
Absentee Ownership and Business Enterprise in Recent Times; The Case of America, by Thorstein Veblen
An examination on corporate finance, specifically in America, and how businesses are now faceless corporations and were better off when we had robber barons and tycoons. He believed human nature is at odds with business enterprise, which should be managed for efficiency instead of profit. He talks quite a bit about how farmers are independent and self-made men, and people crave that self-sufficiency.
Ellen's Luncheon, by Kathleen Norris
An article published in Cosmopolitan in June of 1923, but given the title I think it’s safe to assume it will cover a luncheon.
Films (all are silent and in black and white)
A Woman of Paris, directed by Charlie Chaplin
A drama about a pair of lovers planning to elope to Paris. Their parents oppose the marriage and there is an important scene that takes place in a restaurant.
Her Accidental Husband, directed by Dallas M. Fitzgerald
A woman and her father save a man out at sea during a storm, and her father dies in the process. Blaming the man for his death, the woman insists he takes over her father’s fishing business.
Our Hospitality, directed by John G. Blystone and Buster Keaton
A Buster Keaton comedy about two feuding families, the Cainfields and the McKays (a play on the Hatfields and the McCoys). Buster is taken to New York as a child to be spared the violence, but returns to his southern home to claim his inheritance and “estate”. On the train he befriends a young woman who turns out to be a McKay, mishaps and misunderstandings ensue. A big scene takes place over a dinner, where the films title is taken from.
Ruggles of Red Gap, directed by James Cruze
Hard to find the plot of this film, but there was a 1935 reproduction I am going to assume was the same. About an English valet who has to make his way in the American west. A pivotal scene sees Ruggles reciting the Emancipation Proclamation in a saloon.
The Barnyard, directed by Larry Semon
A comedy about a farm with oil underneath it. Swindlers come and try to cheat the farmers out of the land.
The Eternal Struggle, directed by Reginald Barker
A drama about the romantic life of young woman whose father owns a cafe.