Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Aunt Sammy's Radio Recipes

I like writing about radio cooking shows. There have been many, but they're almost all forgotten. There are no tapes, no books, no collectors, and no golden era. As soon as TV came along cooking shows moved right over because a cooking lesson made so much more sense in the visual format. They vanished. that makes it interesting.

There are a few radio cooking shows today, but I discover them most often by accident. This one is 80 years old. In 1931 the USDA and Aunt Sammy put together a recipe book to be sold through the U.S. Government printing office. Click the here and magically be taken to a .pdf on that AgNIC server at the Michigan State University library .

Aunt Sammy herself was a character created by the U. S. Department of Agriculture Bureau of Home Economics and the Radio Service to be the 'wife' of Uncle Sam. Many women across the country 'played' Aunt Sammy at local radio stations when the show aired. The first Aunt Sammy came to life with the first NBC radio broadcast of "Housekeeper's Chat" on October 4, 1926.

The focus of the program was the menus and recipes, but Aunt Sammy also talked about clothing, furniture, appliances, and household matters. She also commented on world affairs, reported the latest fads, and told jokes. Sammy became very popular in rural markets. By the end of the first year the program was carried by 43 radio stations. By 1932, 194 stations were broadcasting Aunt Sammy's show. Listeners frequently wrote their stations for copies of the recipes. The Bureau of Home Economics answered these requests with mimeographed copies. (This was pre-Xerox.)

In a report from W. M. Jardine, Secretary of Agriculture,on November 1, 1926 spoke proudly of their progress with Aunt Sammy. "Aunt Sammy," a new radio friend and neighbor for the 5,000,000 farm women of the Nation who have an opportunity to tune in, is heard from 40 stations. The service known as the "Housekeepers' Chat" is a 15-minute period devoted five days a week exclusively to up-to-date information on subjects of interest to women.

In 1927 the most popular recipes were assembled into a pamphlet. That's the pdf in the link by the way. What began as a pamphlet was revised three times before 1931. In 1932 it became the first cookbook published in braille. For a time it was as popular as the Joy of cooking.

During the Great Depression Aunt Sammy was phased out. The radio show became drier and more factual and was renamed "Homemaker Chats." The show was yanked in 1946. The USDA was still publishing the popular revised pamphlet in 1978.


  1. Anonymous1:30 PM

    Hello, I just ran across your site looking for audio of "Aunt Sammy" on line. I haven't found any but I did find a photo of one of the Aunt Sammies at work in Oregon.


    If you ever run across her online please let us know.


  2. Anonymous1:02 PM

    I write a home economics blog through the character of "Neighbor Nancy." A friend commented that the style was reminiscent of "the old radio housekeeper show (her) mother listened to"
    Feel free to check it out.

  3. Jose endorses shameless self-promotion.

  4. I have my great grandmothers copy from May 1931. The cover is stamped with from "Clarence E Kilburn member of congress 34th Dist. New York"
    She wrote "Dumplins" across the top and then "this one next to corresponding recipe..

  5. Paul Freirich9:42 PM

    My mother, Celia Mayer, was "Aunt Sammy" on station WBZA in Boston circa 1930. She was a secretary at the station and was thrust on the air when an organ at the Statler hotel which was noon programming at WBZA broke down. She remained on the air as Aunt Sammy for some six months.
    Paul Freirich

  6. There are multiple copies of Aunt Sammy on Ebay for as little oas four dollars

  7. Or you can download the pdf I linked to for free.