What Is Cottolene?

52 sunday dinners 20150323_095845After helping me clean out my parents’ house after my father died, my husband got the bug to clean out our house. He has never liked clutter. Although most of the clutter in our home is hidden in cupboards and drawers, it is there, and he hates it.

He started with the kitchen. I came home from a trip to Washington State earlier this month to find our dining room table covered with stuff I hadn’t seen in years—wedding presents never used, more coffee mugs than could fill a shelf, baby dishes I’m saving for grandchildren.

“I’m planning to give away everything on the table,” he told me. “But I’ll give you a week to pick out anything you want to keep.”

He was right. We need to get rid of most of the stuff. But I did salvage the baby dishes.

He had put a stack of cookbooks on the table. Most of them I had no interest in, including one called Fifty-Two Sunday Dinners. I don’t make old-fashioned heavy Sunday dinners for multitudes.

But the cookbook looked old. I wondered where it had come from. I opened it.

CRStrachan note 20150323_095901“This Cookbook belonged to Cecelia Ryan Strachan.” The note on the inside front cover was written in my grandmother’s handwriting. Cecelia was her mother, my great-grandmother. My mother must have given the book to me at some point, though I have no recollection of it.

That settled it—I was keeping this cookbook.

A day later over dinner I was thumbing through the cookbook, explaining to my husband why I had to keep it. Every recipe I saw had “Cottolene” as an ingredient. It was used in cakes and it was used to fry potatoes.

“What’s Cottolene?” I asked.

He had no idea.

We googled the word—a modern solution to a question about an old ingredient.

cottoleneTurns out, Cottolene was a brand of shortening, a competitor of Crisco, sold from 1868 until sometime in the mid-20th century. It was made from the waste products of two industries—beef tallow and cottonseed oil, and was the first commercially successful alternative to lard.

220px-Cottolene_adApparently, Cottolene had quite a marketing campaign. They advertised, created tins with their logo, and even commissioned cookbooks. Including the cookbook Fifty-Two Sunday Dinners, by Elizabeth O. Hiller, published in 1913, when my grandmother was five years old. I guess my great-grandmother fell prey to the marketing genius behind Cottolene.

For those of you who want to know some of the recipes in this cookbook, it has been reprinted in its entirety, including all the references to the now-defunct Cottolene.  It is also available on Google Books.

But you’ll have to find your own substitute for Cottolene. And your copy won’t have a note from my grandmother.

What old products do you wish were still on the market?

Posted in Family, History and tagged , , , , , , , , , .


  1. I’m happy you kept the cookbook, Theresa. I can’t think of any products that I wish were still on the market, but I probably wouldn’t purchase Cottolene, if it was still available. 🙂

  2. Wow! This is so cool. What a find. Yeah, it’s a keeper. I’m proud of you for releasing all the other stuff. I keep culling cups on the top shelf but some are his mother’s daily cup/my mother’s daily/ Christmas cups of each. Some from travels we’ve done. Mercy. And one from a college I taught at nearly 20 years ago. Maybe I could get rid of it……(but my two cookbook shelves are overflowing too…..). And to think I lived in a 600 sq. ft. adobe in Santa Fe before moving here. Life has expanded. I don’t keep “old products” however. Not even in the back of the fridge. Oh, there’s one. A box of shelf whipping cream from Trader Joes. Can you imagine how that might work? It’s old, but not ancient.

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