This week, we’re looking at another instruction manual for cooks. This one, though, isn’t for adults–it’s for children. And while we have shelves of children’s cookbooks, each filled with recipes and directions, this one is a little different. It has elements of storytelling, a frame narrative that runs through each of the 14 chapters. Our edition of Six Little Cooks comes from 1891, but it was first published in 1887. Elizabeth Kirkland’s book tells the story of Grace, whose aunt and cousin come to visit. Grace, inspired by a story book, asks her aunt to teach her, her sister, her cousins, and her friends to cook. The 14 chapters cover the 14 days Aunt Jane spends teaching the girls recipes and etiquette for different meals, occasions, and events.
The recipes are usually grouped in the middle of each chapter, numbered and labeled, surrounded by the plot and often information about how to properly prepare, serve, or clean up from the particular focus of the lesson. Unlike many children’s cookbooks and like many manuals for housewives of the period, there are no illustrations. The book is written in simple language that the intended audience of young girls would understand, and it seems clear they are meant to learn by reading and practicing, rather than being provided pictures or images of “how to” (though the story IS entertaining). That being said, it does seem like a more effective way to spread the message of culinary instruction. It gives young readers something they can relate to, while hopefully making it fun to learn–which is a lesson we can still use today!
If you’d like to read more, you can always visit us. Or, you can check out a digital copy of the 1891 edition on the Internet Archive’s website.