A Baker Resurrects a Diabetic Cookbook From 1917 (Sort of…)


Diabetic Cookery - 1917 Diabetic CookbookWhat would you think if I presented you with one of my recipes but gave you very little instruction on how to actually make it?  Say I just gave you the ingredient list and told you to put it together and stick it in the oven?  Or if I wasn’t even particularly clear about the ingredients list, if I mentioned using separated eggs, but I really only meant that you should use just the egg whites?  What if I didn’t even tell you an oven temperature at which to bake the item?  I am going to take a wild stab here and say you wouldn’t think much of me as a recipe writer.  In fact, you’d probably never visit my food blog again.  I know that I sometimes make a typo or forget to list a step in the instructions.  But on the whole, I try to write my recipes the way I would want to read them:  clearly, concisely and carefully.

So imagine my confusion, not to mention my frustration, when trying to recreate recipes from a cookbook that made all of the aforementioned transgressions. Let me give you a little background here.  My friend, Jessica Apple, editor of A Sweet Life Diabetes Magazine, came across an old diabetic cookbook and thought it might make good story material.  And by old cookbook, I mean really old.  As in written almost 100 years ago.  Diabetic Cookery, by Rebecca W. Oppenheimer, was published in 1917, at a time when such cookbooks didn’t  really exist for diabetics in need of carbohydrate restriction.  In fact the preface begins like this, “The author would feel diffidence in publishing a cook book when so many other excellent ones already exist, if it were not that she is treating a special field.”

It is important to note that Oppenheimer’s book was published five years prior to the discovery of insulin in 1922, at a time when type 1 diabetics died quickly from the disease, and type 2 diabetics had little to rely on for treatment.   Focusing on food that diabetics could ingest without taxing their precious beta cells too much, made Oppenheimer’s diabetic cookbook somewhat revolutionary.

I was game for the challenge of trying out some of these old recipes, and Jess and I corresponded a bit about some of the funny ingredients listed.  It seems that even back in Oppenheimer’s day, almond flour was a standard low carb ingredient for many sweets and baked goods, so I was set there.  But I was fairly certain I wasn’t going to be able to get my hands on any Aleuronat Flour or Lyster’s Prepared Casein Diabetic Flour, whatever those might be.   And although saccharin is still fairly common as an artificial sweetener, I hadn’t a clue as to how much would be contained in a “saccharin tablet”.  Still, I thought it would be fun to recreate a few of these old recipes and see how they compared to some of diabetic cookery around today.

As it turns out, fun isn’t exactly what I would call the whole experience.  Amusing, maybe, but only in a slapstick, watch-me-make-a-huge-mess-and-have-nothing-to-show-for-it kind of way.  Oppenheimer’s recipes carefully list the amount of protein, fat and carbs in each serving, but they often don’t tell you how many servings each recipe is actually supposed to make.   Her instructions consist of a few short lines about mixing things together, and she refers to oven temperatures only in vague terms such as “moderate oven”.  She will mention separated eggs in the ingredients list, but only tell you what to do with one part of the egg in the actual instructions.  I am a pretty seasoned baker, but I was stumped.  I attempted her Cinnamon Bars and ended up with a clumpy, inedible mess that I tossed in the trash.  I wanted to try the Ginger Cookies, but couldn’t figure out if it used only egg yolks, or both the yolks and the whites, so I didn’t bother.

This may sound as if I think Oppenheimer’s recipes are no good, but this isn’t necessarily the case.  What I really think is that, back in Rebecca W. Oppenheimer’s day, women were such regular cooks and bakers, they didn’t need the sort of explicit instructions we need today.  They grew up around their mothers and aunts and sisters baking and cooking on a daily basis, without relying on recipes or cookbooks at all.  They would know that referring to separated eggs in the ingredients list didn’t necessarily mean you used both parts of the egg in the actual recipe.  They could gauge oven temperatures simply by sticking a hand inside, no need to rely on fancy thermostats with exact temperature readings.  In fact, it’s likely that their ovens didn’t even have temperature gauges at all.  It’s only in our modern day, where we tend to be more disassociated from our food preparation, where we rely on all sorts of fancy technology to help us cook and bake, that we need things spelled out for us so clearly.

In the end, I decided to do as any good baker should, and go with what I know.  I wanted to showcase a recipe to go with this story, but I was loath to try another of Oppenheimer’s recipes for fear of making a total hash of it again.  Low carb ingredients tend to be on the expensive side, and I hate food waste as it is.  So I decided to make my own kind of ginger cookie, a cookie I’d had in my mind for a while after seeing a regular flour and sugar version.  Ginger and chocolate are a lovely combination, and the idea of chocolate ganache sandwiched between two crisp ginger biscuits had captured my imagination.

Despite my difficulties, I really do admire what Oppenheimer was trying to do.  Her cookbook is exactly what a diabetic cookbook should be: low carb.

Chocolate-Filled Ginger Cookies

Chocolate Ginger Cookies - From 1917 Diabetic Cookbook


2 cups almond meal
¼ cup granulated erythritol

1 ½ tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tbsp butter, melted
2 tsp vanilla

Chocolate Filling:

5 tbsp butter
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 tbsp powdered erythritol or xylitol
¼ cup cocoa powder
¼  tsp vanilla extract
16 drops stevia extract

For the cookies, preheat oven to 300F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together almond flour, erythritol, ginger, cinnamon, baking powder and salt.  Stir in egg, melted butter, and vanilla and stir until dough comes together.

Roll out dough between two layers of parchment to ¼ inch thickness or so.  Cut into circles using a 2-inch diameter cookie cutter and lift gently off parchment (this is easiest if you have an offset spatula to get under them).  Place cookies on prepared baking sheet and gather up dough to reroll until there is too little left to roll out (you will get about 30 cookies).

Bake 15 minutes or until cookies are firm to the touch and just browning around the edges.  Let cool on pan.

For the ganache, melt butter, chocolate and powdered erythritol together in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir in cocoa powder, vanilla and stevia and whisk until smooth. Remove from heat and let sit 5 to 10 minutes to thicken.

Spread the underside of one cookie with chocolate ganache and top with another cookie.  Let set about 20 minutes.

Serves 15.  Each sandwich cookies has 6.5 g of carbs and 2.6 g of fiber.  Total NET CARBS = 3.9 g.

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3 years ago

These recipes make sense when you put them into context. At the time this cookbook was published, ovens were fueled by wood and the baker gaged the temperature by how much wood went into the stove. There were no knobs for setting temperature like modern ovens have. A moderate oven would be about 350 degrees. But a skilled baker determines what moderate is by trial and error. My aunt moved around often and when she settled into a new kitchen, her first task was to bake a recipe of biscuits. She gaged the accuracy of the oven by how well… Read more »

4 years ago

Seriously, those old cookbooks are easy to decipher. Slow oven = less than 300F, moderate is around 350F and fast/hot oven is over 400F. Once separated, and egg is the yolk and the white is called the white or whites with the preface egg optional. But I also have no idea what Aleuronat etc. might be. It seems in these modern times, few learn to cook, and that is a shame because you can have a lot of fun messing about in a kitchen.

5 years ago

The book referred to is
DIABETIC COOKERY: Recipes and Menus

It is available from Gutenberg.org for free.
The OCR version that has all the information but isn’t a good book is at

I’ve been turning it into a true ebook to be in .epub format.
It will be available soon.

7 years ago

From The Journal of the Indiana State Medical Association, Volume 9
“Lysters’ Prepared Casein Diabetic Flour – Milk casein to which has been added a leavening mixture, sodium chlorid [sic] and saccharine. Used in the form of muffins in diabetes, etc. Lyster Brothers, Andover, Mass. (Jour. A.M.A.,Feb 26, 1916, p. 653).

This is available to read for free from google ebooks free, as is the original source.

So now we know.

8 years ago

Here is he recipe as taken from the Starvatioin Treatment for diabetes book published in 1915. It’ll give you a better idea what they mean for you to do with the separated eggs. “BRAN AND LYSTER FLOUR MUFFINS.[3] 2 level tablespoons lard 2 eggs 4 tablespoons heavy cream, 40% fat 2 cups washed bran 1 package Lyster flour 1/2 cup water or less Tie dry bran in cheesecloth and soak 1 hour. Wash, by squeezing water through and through, change water several times. Wring dry. Separate eggs and beat thoroughly. Add to the egg yolks the melted lard, cream and… Read more »

8 years ago

Aleuronat flour refers to flour made from the aleurone layer of wheat berries. I found an explanatory article on aleurone in Wikipedia

8 years ago

The Victory cookbook from New Brunswick, Canada was like that. I grew up using it and of course had my mother to help me. When I saw the Diabetic cook book, I had no problem understanding it. Most of those old cookbooks were like that. They assumed you would know, which of course the women back then did.

8 years ago

It looks like Aleuro flour may be some sort of fiber–maybe psyllium or coconut flour.  Since the book says something about it coming form overseas, it may be coconut flour.

As for the saccharin tablets, I’d substitute stevia glyceride–same measurements as listed in the book (drops instead of tablets). 

Casoid flour may very well be psyllium, or some sort of resistant starch flour.  As for Lyster’s, and gum-gluten baking flour, I’d say these were brand names for some kind of high fiber, gluten-free baking mix. 

Proto puffs?  I’m still trying to figure THAT one out! 

8 years ago

Exact oven temps cannot be given from that era, because stoves were wood-fired, and had no thermostat.  Women “just knew” how many logs on the fire meant what rough temp:  X number of logs for a moderate oven, and XX number of logs for a quick or hot oven. I suggest you look further into historical cooking to see if you can find something that deciphers # of logs to thermostat temp. Home Ec taught us that a moderate oven is about 350, a quick or hot oven is about 375-400, and a slow oven is about 300 or less.… Read more »

8 years ago

<i>Lyster’s Prepared Casein Diabetic Flour</i>

We know it today as whey powder. Non-LCers probably know this as powdered milk but the drying process brings all the lactose to the forefront.

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