Manuscript Cookbook, Just Where Are You From?

It’s been a while since we’ve highlighted a manuscript cookbook, so this week, it’s time for a brand new acquisition…

Sometimes, when it comes to manuscripts, the origins of an item remain a mystery. There is a name on the inside cover in this case, but a little research with the local resources on hand still left us unable to connect that name to a place.  While your usual archivist/blogger Kira is all for a good Scooby-Doo mystery, being an archivist often means knowing where to draw the line when it comes to research. There are plenty more collections waiting to be processed. And not knowing who created and/or compiled something doesn’t mean it doesn’t have research value.

This new addition our collection includes a diverse range of recipes, from cordials and syrups to cakes and baked goods to oysters. And, as if my usual interest in various preserved things isn’t bad enough, this week, I’m bringing you pickled cucumbers, oysters, and plums (at least they aren’t in gelatin…). The point to all this pickling repetition, though, is to show the common practices. Regardless of where this cookbook was compiled, it has recipes and ideas in common with manuscript receipt books we do know about.

Like many 19th and early 20th century handwritten receipt books, it does not have a neat order. (We did, for the record, just acquire a recipe book that does have an index!). Recipes for tallow candles are mixed in with apple pudding and cough syrup; a fruit syrup is next to “egg pone;” and the newspapers clippings are a blend of recipes, household hints, and remedies. Several pages have pasted in recipes on other paper, too. Very likely, it was a case of fitting the next recipe into the next available space…though there is a tendency among cookbook compilers to paste newspaper clippings in the back  pages.

Answers to questions about the cookbook’s organization are as much a mystery as its kitchen of origin, but this item does tell us that these recipes were significant to someone. This manuscript contributes to the larger discussion of late 19th and early 20th century food  preparation and preservation, the culture of recipe sharing (all those newspaper clippings came from someone else’s kitchen), and the overall picture of food history we are striving to create here at Special Collections. A little aire of uncertainty just makes it a little more exciting to research and ponder.

Plus, it has a recipe for blackberry syrup made with spices and brandy that I’d be willing to try, whether it was an effective cholera treatment or not…

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One thought on “Manuscript Cookbook, Just Where Are You From?

  1. Pingback: Early American Oyster Recipe Part of Library Special Collection | The Roanoke Star

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