Skip to content

I wonder what it says about me that nearly half the cookbooks in my collection are older than I am. Of those, about a quarter were written before my elder grandmother was born, in 1919. The most venerable—a deluxe subscription edition of Hannah Glasse’s 1747 masterpiece The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, was the first thing I ever bought over the internet. The second thing I bought over the internet was Isabella Mary Beeton’s Mrs. Beeton’s Guide to Household Management—the first edition of 1861.

I love elderly cookbooks as sources of social history, of unintended levity, and—not least—of sound kitchen wisdom. My favorites offer all three. Consider, please, the 1917 classic A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband, written by Louise Bennett Weaver and Helen Cowles Lecron.

Meet Bettina

The title is enough to raise twenty-first-century eyebrows. Are they serious? They are. I mean, were. A Thousand Ways was part of a series called “The Romance of Cookery and Housekeeping” (how high are your eyebrows now?) and it’s a genuine hoot.

This is a cookbook in the form of a novel, a chronicle of the beginning of a marriage. Young bride Bettina strives in each chapter to dazzle everyone—but most of all, new husband Bob—with her thrifty, inventive cooking and entertaining. And she does. She always does. Every single time. So perfect is the winsome, clever Bettina that by comparison other famously good wives—Lucretia, June Cleaver, the Blessed Virgin Mary—are wannabes in dirty aprons.

Bettina’s aprons are never dirty. Bettina’s face is never sweaty. Bettina is never tired, cranky, angry, or in need of a day off. Bettina can spend all morning canning fruit and still serve you lunch with a kiss and a face as fresh as the newly picked rose tucked into her belt.

She brings to mind the priceless German expression backpfeifengesicht, a face in need of a punch. Her manner of speaking doesn’t help. Here she is talking to Bob about the second dinner of their married life:

“Steak is expensive, dear, and you’ll not get it often, but as this is our first real dinner in our own home, I had to celebrate. I bought enough for two meals, because buying steak for one meal for two people is beyond any modest purse! So you’ll meet that steak again tomorrow, but I don’t believe you’ll bow in recognition!”

She goes on like that for nearly 300 pages, an exclamation point in a breakfast cap and a lace collar. Bob, by the way, is no better:

“I caught a ride with Dixon in his new car. And I thought you might need me to help get dinner; it’s nice to be needed! But here I’ve been picturing you toiling over a hot stove, and, instead, I find you on the porch with a magazine, as cool as a cucumber!”

Even allowing for changes in colloquial English over the past century, I feel sure that no married couple anywhere, ever, has spoken like this to one another.

There are illustrations throughout by Elizabeth Colbourne, who communicated the “romance” theme by giving Bettina a sidekick in the form of a cherub wearing nothing but a chef hat and an apron.

Things to Do, Husbands to Please

There were several sequels to A Thousand Ways and Bob stuck around for them, so Bettina must have been doing something right.

I decided to put her to the test by preparing three recipes and serving them to a panel of authentic husbands. We gathered around a table set with china, silver, and glass appropriate to the period; and each man was given a score sheet to make his remarks.

The final question for each dish: “Are you, as a husband, pleased?”

The guests were as follows.

Jim S., aged 55, real estate/asset manager; married 7.5 years

Josh C., aged 31, finance manager; married 3 years

Kevin F., aged 35, creative director; married 5.5 years

Tom R., aged 53; funemployed; married 10 years

First, we tried . . .

Bettina’s Chicken Croquettes

This recipe comes from Chapter 31, in which Bettina’s friend and culinary protegée Ruth prepares a farewell luncheon for a young female cousin who is off to study at “a fashionable New York school.” With each course, a new motto of the “Don’ts for Girls” genre, writ large on a paper scroll, is brought out and hung from the chandelier. Hilarity ensues.

Caveat: For all recipes in this series, I’ll first give the original wording, or close to it; followed by my own notes and revisions.

To make the croquettes, first prepare Croquette Sauce.

3 tbsp butter

4 tbsp flour

1 cup milk

⅓ tsp salt

Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the flour and salt, stirring constantly. When well mixed add the liquid, a little at a time. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or spatula.

Now, make your croquettes.

1½ cups chicken, cooked and finely chopped

¼ tsp celery salt

1 tsp lemon juice

1 tsp parsley chopped fine

¼ cup croquette sauce

½ tsp salt

2 cups breadcrumbs

4 tbsp egg, well beaten

Mix the chicken, celery salt, lemon juice, parsley, salt, and sauce. Shape into croquettes. Roll in crumbs, beaten egg, and more crumbs. Deep fry. Serve hot.

Franklin’s Notes

Once the sauce is made, keep it handy but don’t worry about keeping it hot if you’re getting right down to the croquettes. It will be thick. Like glue. I kept it on the stove, but off the heat, for about 20 minutes while I prepared the rest of the ingredients. Worked fine.

I used two chicken breast halves, fileted (sliced in half lengthwise to make two thin cutlets), baked with a bit of salt and pepper in a 350 degree oven until just barely done—about 20 minutes. Once they cooled, I chopped them very fine—something close to a mince, really. You could use any sort of cooked chicken, light or dark. Leftovers would be dandy.

When forming your croquettes, do what my late Sicilian grandmother did when forming meatballs—run your hands under cold water first, shake off just the excess, and go. Gently form little balls of the croquette mixture about the size of a large walnut, about 2 tablespoons, between the palms of your hands. Then roll in crumbs, egg, crumbs as directed.

No, foodies, I did not use Panko. Bettina did not use Panko. I used plain old breadcrumbs. Nobody died.

I tried to stick with ingredients as close to Bettina’s as possible. She doesn’t specify what sort of fat to use, and might well have used lard. I don’t have ready access to lard, so I used enough melted Crisco vegetable shortening to fill my 5.5 quart Dutch oven about halfway. The croquettes should float freely.

Crisco has a low smoking point, so for heaven’s sake keep an eye on the oil and don’t let it burn. Of course you can use other fats, but I’d go for something relatively tasteless (therefore, no olive oil).

You want to fry the croquettes to a nice golden brown all over. It won’t take long—watch them. You shouldn’t be leaving hot oil unattended anyhow.

Use a slotted spoon to lower them in, turn them once halfway through, and lift them out. If making multiple batches, let them drain in a warm oven (about 170 degrees) on a wire cooling rack on a rimmed baking sheet until they’re all ready.

Serve them hot and soon.

The Verdict

Universal acclaim. The husbands (and the cook/husband) went positively wild.

Kevin F.: “I could eat a dozen of these in a single sitting.”

Josh C.: “Simple but enjoyable flavor—really good!”

Jim S.: “Rib-sticking. I would think that an entrée like this would have been a special event.”

Tom R: “Yummy! Very savory and filling.”

Quite aside from the taste, what impressed the heck out of me (as the cook and fifth taster) is that I served these to the panel without anything other than a decorative bed of parsley—and three croquettes each was found to be a hearty portion. That’s five ample servings for five grown men made from less than two chicken breasts. (We had another three croquettes left over, but not for long. Cook’s privilege.)

Five out of five husbands, all pleased.

Way to go, Bettina. Maybe you earned those exclamation points. We’ll see if you can keep it up with the next recipe.

About The Author

Franklin Habit has been sharing his brainy and hilarious writing and illustrations with the knitting world since 2005.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  • Putting together a panel of husbands to test Bettina’s recipe? That is devotion to the cause. I applaud you, sir.

    • It was terribly difficult to spend an evening surrounded by handsome men, but one must make sacrifices.

  • I can’t wait for the next installment of this series!

    • I want to binge-read all installments!!!!

    • Thank you both so much!

    • Me, too!

  • I have a recipe from my grandmother for a simple warm sauce (water, cornstarch, sugar, butter and vanilla) that calls for a “piece of butter the size of a small egg.” It nicely complements pound cake or a cake too warm to frost. Bettina might approve.

    • I use my grandmother’s recipe for homemade egg noodles. The recipe calls for “two half egg shells of milk”.

      She was born in 1907. Her father fought in the Spanish American War and her mother was a Gibson Girl.

    • Oh, I think she would. If she approved enough, she would likely tell everyone it was her recipe.

  • So fun to read. And I want to make these, they sound yummy. Is the sauce necessary? Is it used as a dip, or drizzled on top?

    • Thank you! The sauce is a binder for the croquettes – it holds them together, and then when you cut into them it oozes out in the most alluring fashion and you have to fight the urge to lick it right off the plate.

  • I have a copy of this cookbook! I’ve never read anything about it anywhere. I believe my grandmother gave it to my mother.

    I will share this post with my Mom, she is almost 90 and would have been given it around 1950, she’ll get a kick out of it!


    • Please do – and thank you for reading!

  • How about testing the recipe on well-seasoned husbands: those of 20, 30, 40 years of matrimony? Those of whom the rosy glow of marriage merges with practicality. They are truly the experienced taste-testers.

    • For this, I had to make do with the readily husbands available, and they happened to be fairly newly-minted. Perhaps my urban neighborhood is too rife with perdition and one thousand ways to please somebody else’s husband.

      • Hiding my giggles and blushing cheeks behind an upheld hand! I would lend you my vintage 35 yr edition spouse!

      • As someone dealing with cracked ribs, this comment just made me hurt myself.

  • What a fun article! Thank you so much. I never thought about reading cookbooks for entertainment as well as recipes before. That being said, I also never think of turning to them for recipes either (being the somewhat lazy cook that I am)

  • Love that you actually cooked Bettina’s chicken, but I’ll have to re-read the story for details. i just keep thinking: Holy cow, Franklin has a first edition Mrs. Beeton’s!!!

    • PS: The vintage china is beautiful.

  • Bravo. Et encore! May well have to make these. With Panko, obviously… Bettina is very special.

  • Read this first thing this morning. The day is off to a great start. I’m looking around my kitchen for that cherub, hoping he or she knows how to make coffee.

    Please have Franklin back as often as possible. His witty writing, about any topic, is always a treat.

  • Please DO continue these articles. I enjoyed it immensely and wait with bated breath for the next.

  • I love reading cookbooks! This recipe looks like something my grandmother would have made. And she may have.

  • What a wonderful story, and the croquettes sound divine! I have had ham croquettes, but never chicken. Please continue this series. I can see chicken croquettes on our menu in the near future!

  • Thanks Bettina. I Have enough pressure trying to take care of my poor husband. I can’t compete with her standards.

  • Wonderfully entertaining as always! I have a large collection of old cookbooks myself, but I think the earliest is from around 1900. “Chicken soup: first catch your chicken…” O.O

  • I’m dying! What’s on the list of “Don’ts for Girls”??

    • Ditto! Can’t wait for Part II.

    • Yep, I’m waiting to hear that too!

  • Oh, noooo! I excitedly read “next recipe” and scrolled to discover that was the end! I want more! 🙂 Seriously, what a fun article. I collect old sewing books and love learning handwork techniques that are rarely used today. They also often include charming housewife-y tips that are just a hoot.

  • This is absolutely delightful. I love vintage recipes and finding the husbands to test is very nice. Although I don’t think Bettina anticipated needing to please 4 husbands at once!

  • Franklin, you’re the Best!

  • Great article! And brings back memories of my childhood looking through old cookbooks!

  • So so fun……cannot wait for the next installment. On a separate note I have the covered vegetable dish from that china pattern….received it as a wedding present from a dear friend. Would be an awesome holder for the croquettes….

  • Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin. I wouldn’t give that book up for the world. It’s a story that has recipies. Or a cookbook that has stories. Either way it ‘s a winner.

    • I, too, love Laurie Colwin. I’ve read her books of cooking essays and recipes and her fiction. My favorite of all is “Home Cooking!” It’s very sad that she died so young.

  • “Please, Sir, I want some more.”

  • Oh Franklin, everything you write is wonderful. Thanks for sharing this and I look forward to the next part of the series!

  • I love Bettina. I got her cakes and cookies cookbook when I was 17 and I love the little stories in there!

  • Hmm…I just bought an air fryer on the recommendation of a friend…I think I’m going to try this…thanks Franklin. Again.

  • I loved reading this. Thank you! In my head, I heard the whole thing in your voice, which made it even better. Now, may we please have a picture of the crocheted yellow cloth?

  • So what about the clean up of the dutch oven full of Crisco? I bet Bettina had someone else to deal with that. Or maybe Bob pitched in.

    • Bob mentions helping with the dishes but never quite seems to get around to it.

  • I’m delighted to see you taking this for a spin, and love the idea of a panel!

  • I bought a well worn copy of this cookbook at a thrift store. I don’t actually use it. It’s inscribed, “To my valentine, Feb. 14, 1921, Mother”. I should store it with my copy of Peg Bracken’s I Hate to Cook Cookbook!

    • Peg Bracken’s book was a favorite read of mine when I was a kid! I was charmed by her comments on doctoring up tomato soup: in essence, don’t. The manufacturer worked hard to make it taste appealing, so don’t mess with success. 🙂

  • My husband has learned the age old wisdom that goes like this. If you want your spouse to cook, do not critique. Or something along those lines. I look forward to the next recipe.

  • Love your writing Franklin, looking forward to the next instalment! I have my grandmas cookbook (circa 1940s onwards) which has made for entertainment aplenty, but I do want to try her baking recipes though as I remember her home baking was always amazing.

  • Franklin, I love you. And I love reading whatever you write

  • Oh Franklin I thought I was the only one who got kicks and giggles from old cookbooks. And now I will have to add the German phrase for “punch in the face” to my vocabulary. Thanks, and please add more horror stories from the past .

  • Superb! Looking forward to the next installment!

  • FWIW The book is available for free download from I’m having a blast reading it! Thanks. By the way, is “C” sugar light brown sugar?

  • I am also a vintage cookbook fan and have some doozies at home!

    I made the croquettes last night and as Bettina would say if she were living in Yonkers in 2017, “Damn, Franklin! Those were some good eatin’!” We actually made two batches so we could play with the seasonings. For the second one, instead of the recipe spices I added some Chinese Five Spice Powder.

    Just got off the phone with my boyfriend. Guess what we’re having tonight?

    • Oooh. I love the idea of messing around with alternate seasonings. Thank you for giving these a whirl!

  • Love it. My fondness of vintage cookbooks is well satisfied. Thank you for your wit and charm. Well appreciated. Genevieve

  • Oh my goodness! How did I just find this series?! Love it! Thanks for the great entertainment! You should have on your panel, however, a husband such as mine … 48 years old and married 20 … in it for the LONG haul like Bob!

  • make her lemon pie, Franklin!

  • I located “A Thousand Ways…” on the Gutenburg Project website.

Come Shop With Us

My Cart0
There are no products in the cart!
Continue shopping