Serial Domestication: Mrs. Winslow’s Domestic Receipt Book

Note: I scheduled this post to go out on September 1, but discovered this morning that never happened! So, here is it is (and apologies for the gap in posts)!


Among the history of food and drink materials, you’ll find quite a bit to say on the intertwined topics of cookery, household management, and domestic economy (later what we would call “home economics”). On the surface, that’s what Mrs. Winslow’s Domestic Receipt Book sounds like. It was a small serial publication that began in 1860 and ran until at least 1878 or so. Here in Special Collections, we have three different years: 1868, 1875, and 1877. This week, we’re looking at the volume from 1868.

It does, in fact, contain a lot of recipes for food and a short miscellany of household recipes and cleaners. And I love that the cover also states, “This book will be issued annually, with entirely new Receipts. By preserving them, and sewing them together, you will have in a few years the best collection of Receipts in the country.” It’s like an art project to build your own cookbook. It’s true if you compare editions, there are different receipts in them. But there’s something else going on in Mrs. Winslow’s Domestic Receipt Book, too.

ADVERTISING! It shouldn’t be surprising–we’ve seen that again and again in the collection–but it did sneak up on me in this case. As it turns out, Mrs. Winslow was a name used to sell a patent medicine (“Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup”), and was tangentially attached to two other products, produced by the same companies. There are small testimonials tucked in between recipes, as well as some full page ads for the three featured products.

It’s worth noting that Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup was available starting in 1845, some 15 years before the receipt book first appeared in publication, and it was sold well into the 20th century. There’s a short history of it online (and yes, there was an actual Mrs. Winslow!). 1868 was still decades from the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906 that would require labeling on medicines, so consumers weren’t likely to know that the main ingredients in the bottle were alcohol and some form of opioid (usually morphine). It certainly would help calm a child’s teething–and knock them out in the process.

The serial comes out of Boston, but the recipes included are fairly generic. They feature ingredients that would have been available east of the Mississippi, at least, and you’ll find corn breads, pies, pickled items galore, “a Ham better than a Westphalia,” and some uses for some less attractive cuts of meat. The recipe for “Pine-Apple Marmalade” stuck out, since pineapples weren’t really common yet and pineapple recipes in cookbooks remained a rarity through the end of the 19th century. They were hard to acquire and therefore, expensive. (And yes, I’ve stumbled down a rabbit hole of pineapple history I need to explore further!) Pineapples aside, it’s a collection of approachable and fairly basic recipes, which is good, since, like most cookbooks of the the time, they don’t include much in the way of directions.

It may seem we’ve gone a bit far a-field in this post (from patent medicines to pineapples), but it serves as a good reminder that cookery-related resources are rarely as straight-forward as we may expect or want them to be. Rather, they have a great deal to tell us about ingredients, techniques, and times–and they are well-worth a look.

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