Staple Stories for Staple Items

This week, we’re back to the children’s cookbook and nutrition literature collection, looking at Aunt Martha’s Corner Cupboard by Mary and Elizabeth Kirby. First published in 1875, our edition is from 1901. There was at least one edition between those, published in 1895.


Aunt Martha’s Corner Cupboard is a series of stories told by Aunt Martha to her two nephews, Charley and Richard. We learn that both boys are less-than-stellar students at their school. One Christmas, they are sent to spend the break with their Aunt Martha, who they adore for her company, her jolly nature, her locked cupboard full of goodies, and her stories. Aunt Martha comes up with a plan to encourage the boys to be more curious (and hopefully better students in the future). Instead of her usual fairy tales, which even the boys have grown weary of, she decides to tell them a bit of history about tea-cups, tea, sugar, coffee, salt, currants, rice, and honey.

The book includes a few color lithographs and 36 engravings, ranging from full pages to smaller illustrations. Aunt Martha’s Corner Cupboard is strictly a storybook, but as we have seen with many other culinary-related storybooks for children, it is full of lessons. In this case, Aunt Martha teaches the boys history of items in her cherished cupboard, inspiring them to think and explore. After she finishes her series of tales about tea-cups, Charley and Richard find some broken pottery and clay, and contrive to make their own. Her lesson about tea offers the moral that we don’t always get things right the first time, when she talks about the introduction of tea from China to England in the 17th century:

There is a funny story of two old people, who had an ounce of tea sent to them, and who were quite at a loss what to do with it. At last, the old lady proposed to her husband that they should sprinkle it on their bacon, and eat it; which they accordingly did–and very nasty it must have been.”

(There are similar stories of tea in early America, where people brewed tea in boiling water, then tossed out the water and ate the leaves.)

If you’d like to see the book in its entirety, you can see two different versions online. One is the first edition from 1875, held by the New York Public Library; the other is an edition from 1895, held by Harvard University. Or, you can always pay us a visit and learn a little more about honey and currants alongside Charley and Richard. Aunt Martha really does have some great stories. 🙂


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