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A lemonade stand shaped like a lemon.
Lemonade stand at the Zapata County Fair in Zapata, Texas. Prints and Photographs Division.

When Life Gives You Lemons: Summer Recipes from Historic Newspapers

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As we wade through the heat of summer, nothing is quite as refreshing as a nice lemony drink or dessert. Although I’m a true chocoholic, I can be tempted away by a nice tangy or sour lemon treat. Luckily, our Chronicling America* collection of historic American newspapers provides plenty of recipes from drinks to main courses to desserts. Take a look at some these delicious delights and let us know in the comments if you end up making any of them!


Lemonade is a staple of summer, but it can be a challenge to make the perfect drink so that it’s not too sweet or too sour. It’s all about the ratio of lemon to sugar to water. The Day Book (Chicago, IL) provides instructions along with this recipe: “Allow ½ lemon and 2 teaspoons of sugar to each glass of lemonade.”

Newspaper text appears alongside a picture of a woman sipping a drink through a straw.
“Lemon is Family’s Best Friend When Sun is Sizzling Hot!” The Day Book (Chicago, IL), July 20, 1915.
Lemon Milk Sherbet

This recipe from The Kennewick Courier-Reporter (Kennewick, WA) was one I hadn’t heard of before. I assume the salt and sugar keep the milk from curdling?

“Blend ¾ cup sugar, few grains salt, 2 cups milk. Add ½ cup lemon juice. Freeze in tray of automatic refrigerator, with control set at point recommended by manufacturer for freezing ice cream. Stir well every half hour. Serves 4.”

A hand with a spoon is scooping sherbet into a bowl.
“Is There a Party Coming?” The Kennewick Courier-Reporter (Kennewick, WA), July 17, 1941.
Lemon Chantilly Cake

This recipe from the Evening Star (Washington, DC) is more my speed, using a pre-made lemon velvet cake mix and pre-made frosting mix.

A recipe and directions for Lemon Chantilly Cake.
“Lemon Chantilly Cake” Evening Star (Washington, DC), March 25, 1962.
Lemon Pie

The Laramie Republican (Laramie, WY) provides us with a recipe for an old-fashioned lemon meringue pie, although you’ll need your own recipe for the “flaky pastry” crust. For a real deep dive into lemon pies though, you won’t want to miss this blog post from our colleagues over at Inside Adams: “When Life Gives You Lemon Pies: Consuming History Through a Community Cookbook.”

Lemon Pudding

If you love the filling to a lemon pie, but don’t want the crust, this recipe from Evening Star for Lemon Pudding is perfect. Don’t miss the other recipes on the page for other lemony delights such as Lemon Mist Pie, Lemon Sours, and fish salad!

Newspaper text in three columns.
“A New Line on Lemons,” Evening Star (Washington, DC), September 9, 1951.

Although it might not have the most appetizing name, this recipe from the Richmond Planet (Richmond, VA) for “Lemon-naise” is for a refreshing, lemony salad dressing. Just note that modern food safety warns against using raw eggs, so look for ways to cook the egg or find a replacement such as store-bought mayonnaise.

Lemon Barbequed Chicken

If you’re looking for a main dish, this Lemon Barbequed Chicken from Diario las Américas (Miami, FL) is sure to please. It can even be made ahead of time. The sauce, in fact, is best made a day or two in advance: “For 2 chickens, combine ½ cup salad oil, 1 cup lemon juice, 4 tablespoons chopped onion, 1 teaspoon black pepper, 1 teaspoon dried thyme, 1 teasoon [sic] salt, and 1 clove garlic, mashed.”

Lemon Fish
Text of a newspaper article.
“Lemon Helps Fish Flavoring,” Glacier County Chief (Browning, MT), June 28, 1940.

The Glacier County Chief (Browning, MT) provides us with some excellent tips on how to cook fish with lemons. They also provide a recipe for a “Lemon Tartare Sauce” to be served with fish. For those of you who might be feeling especially adventurous, you can also see a recipe for “Fish in Lemon Aspic.”

Lemon Prune Whip

And because you can’t search old newspapers without finding a few bizarre recipes, you can find the recipe for Lemon Prune Whip and other prune themed recipes here from the Evening Star.

A hand is reaching out with a knife, cutting a pie into pieces.
“New Tricks with Prunes,” Evening Star (Washington, DC), June 29, 1941.

* The Chronicling America historic newspapers online collection is a product of the National Digital Newspaper Program and jointly sponsored by the Library and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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