The Recipe Files

A team of MPL librarians has the delectable task of digitizing recipe history.

Back in ancient, pre-Internet times, the Ready Reference desk librarians at Milwaukee Public Library fielded calls from all comers, including housewives jonesing for recipes that were published in local newspapers.

Librarians would dictate the makings for beauties like “You Ain’t Gonna Believe It” cake (with the astonishing inclusion of pork sausage). It ran in the Milwaukee Journal on Sept. 11, 1968.

Although the handy service still supplies old recipes over the phone, it no longer needs to. In 2011, MPL made available the digitized collection of recipes its librarians clipped from the 1960s to the 1980s. Recipes that appeared in 1990 and later are reachable via the library website’s NewsBank database, but you need your library account login. Access to the Historic Recipe File (at doesn’t require any account info.

The collection of (at last count) 4,446 recipes was created to “preserve history,” says arts & media librarian Tim Rush. It’s therefore rich with old restaurant culinary records (John Byron’s petit gateau au chocolat), ethnic specialties (Polish hunter’s stew) and holiday bits (rich sherry eggnog). Rush estimates the archive is just a few hundred recipes shy of complete: “We’re filling in the gaps.”

Looking to bump up your game with a fairest-of-the-fair recipe? You’ve come to the right place. Searching with key words “state fair” yields the indomitable cream puff. This is (food) gods’ work.

‘The Recipe Files’ appears in the August 2015 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.
The August 2015 issue is on newsstands August 3.
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Ann Christenson has covered dining for Milwaukee Magazine since 1997. She was raised on a diet of casseroles that started with a pound of ground beef and a can of Campbell's soup. Feel free to share any casserole recipes with her.