What Is Spry Shortening?

Many vintage recipes specify once-popular Spry shortening.
Many vintage recipes specify once-popular Spry shortening. (Image: Olha_Afanasieva/iStock/Getty Images)

Vintage cookbooks provide a fun read for modern cooks, and are occasionally valuable collectibles or family heirlooms in their own right. Cooking from them can pose an exercise in frustration, though, because ingredients that were common and well known when the recipe was written are sometimes now unavailable. For example, you'll encounter "Spry" shortening in many a commercial or handwritten recipe. That's not an adjective or a special type of shortening, but a commercial brand that enjoyed success for several decades.

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Crisco's Rival

Soap company Procter & Gamble derived much of its profit in the 1920s and 1930s from sales of its vegetable-oil shortening, Crisco. Rival firm Lever Brothers launched Spry shortening in 1936 as a rival to Crisco, positioning it as an easier-to-use and -- in those frugal days -- longer lasting alternative. The product's deliberately folksy sales message was typified by the fictional "Aunt Jenny," given a face and a radio voice by actress Edith Spencer. Eventually Procter & Gamble's deeper pockets prevailed, and Lever dropped Spry along with other underperforming products in the 1970s. The company's recipes still turn up frequently in modern newspapers, as readers attempt to re-create lost family favorites.

Substituting for Spry

At the time of its mid-’30s launch, Spry boasted of being whiter, softer and longer lasting than its better known rival. With the passage of time, those differences eroded, and modern shortenings are comparable in most respects. Feel free to use your regular brand of shortening in any vintage Spry recipe. The end result should be essentially the same with any brand.

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