Title page

Getting Out of Our Shells: Shellfish Cooking by an African-American Chef in 1901

Some recent research has led me to a little bit of the history of oyster availability in the early 20th century. I was fascinated to learn that landlocked (or at least landlocked from the eastern seaboard) locations like Kentucky and Tennessee would have train cars loaded with ice and oysters brought inland for purchase and consumption. In those, and other regions, it would be a bit of a status symbol to be able to afford and share this shellfish delicacy. And the cookbooks of the time reflected this: regional cookbooks from areas inland began to include recipes for clams, oysters, and other items that would continue to become easier to obtain. So, with shellfish in mind, and in honor on of Black History Month, I thought I would share a relatively recent publication by an African-American chef we were able to acquire last summer: 300 Ways to Cook and Serve Shellfish: Terrapin, Green Turtle, Snapper, Oysters, Oyster Crabs, Lobsters, Clams, Crabs and Shrimp. Written by H. (Harry) Franklyn Hall, it was published in Philadelphia in 1901.

Front cover
Front cover
Title page
Title page

Fair warning: Historically speaking, this cookbook has more turtle, terrapin, and snapper recipes than I’ve ever encountered in a single cookbook–37 of them. It is also filled to the gills (seafood pun intended, of course), with oyster recipes–a whopping 101 of them, to be exact!

Interestingly, this book has several introductions. There’s a true intro before the table of contents by Hall, pointing out the economy and purpose of the book (with recipes made “plain and simple, so that not only the lady of the house can understand them, but to save her annoyance, the butler, housekeeper or cook, not only the proprietor, steward or chef, but the side cook, all of whom hope to become chef some day as well”). In other words, Hall has multiple audiences in the home and professional sphere. The second “introduction” is about Hall himself, which we’ll come back to shortly. After the table of contents, though, I found the “Caution,” which includes some of Hall’s advice–follow directions and don’t cut corners!

 Most persons think that it is not necessary to follow instructions exactly as given in preparing, cooking or serving an article of food. The same is a common but serious mistake. For instance, if you think it does not matter whether you bleed a green turtle five minutes or an hour, you will simply make the mistake that will keep you from ever making the kind of clear green turtle soup containing clear bottle green meat with the soft, smooth, peculiar flavor, which is procured in houses whose cuisine department is under the management of Chefs, who take on chances on hit-or-miss cooking

Even scanning through this book was a huge education for me. I grew up eating seafood and I still adore it (though it took me a long time to come back around to raw oysters). I would rather cook and eat shrimp or fish before I would dig into a steak or a pork chop. Now, if you asked me to filet a fish, it wouldn’t be pretty–I’m no professional, but I could do it and make it tasty. Turtles and terrapins, on the other hand, are way out of my wheelhouse. Hall’s book, however, offers step-by-step, enlightening instructions:

Snapper [snapping turtle] recipes
Snapper [snapping turtle] recipes
Green turtle recipes
Green turtle recipes

While turtles, terrapins, and oysters do seem the larger focus, I decided to share a few pages from the more underrepresented shellfish: clams, lobster, and crab. Opposite the start of chapter on crab, there’s also an advertisement. Apparently Hall was in the self-promotion business, too, like any good chef, and at least some of his recipes could be acquired already prepared! There’s a fair bit of overlap with the lobster, crab, and shrimp. You often see a recipes that says something to the effect of “prepare as you would for lobster xx, but use crab instead.” Once you nailed the technique, the protein could be swapped.

The book tells us a bit about where Hall worked over his 29+ year career, in hotels and restaurants in Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania (with the 15 years leading up to the book at the Chef Boothby Hotel Company in Philadelphia, which “contain[s] the generally acknowledged largest and finest oyster and shell fish department in the world”). A little genealogical research turned up that he was born in Washington, DC, in 1853. Around 1874, he was married and his wife, Georgia, was also born in 1853 in DC. According to the 1900 census, where he is listed as “Harry F. Hall,” they never had any children. Unfortunately, I can’t find a record of either of them after 1900 (or rather, after 1901 when the book was published), so I’m not sure they died before the 1910 census, if somehow they were recorded under something that isn’t coming up in a search, or if they just slipped through the records somehow. But the 1900 census certainly gave me more than I had first thing this morning. 🙂

300 Ways to Cook and Serve Shellfish is available online in its entirety, for all your turtle, crab, shrimp, lobster, clams, and oyster needs, too! It was Harry Franklyn Hall’s only book, despite his obviously long career in the cooking world, but I think it says a great deal about work, his expertise, and his efforts to bring shellfish to home cook. In other words, it’s worth a look–you might just find something to make today!

Women’s History Month, Prequel #1: Just What Does Mrs. Fisher Know?

It’s hard to believe it, but March is almost here. As a transition post to move us from Black History Month to Women’s History Month, I thought this week, we might talk about Mrs. Fisher. In 1881, the Women’s Co-Operative Printing Office in San Francisco published What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking.

What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking, 1995 reprint title page
What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking, 1995 reprint title page
What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking, 1881 title page
What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking, 1881 title page

A couple of weeks ago, while talking about Rufus Estes, I rambled on a bit about the question of authority in cookbooks. Abby Fisher’s book also includes an introduction. It partially addresses her qualifications. And, like Malinda Russell’s A Domestic Cook Book Containing a Careful Selection of Useful Receipts for the Kitchen, also gives us some insight into Mrs. Fisher herself:

The publication of a book on my knowledge and experience of Southern Cooking, Pickle and Jelly Making, has been frequently asked of me by my lady friends and patrons in San Francisco and Oakland, and also by ladies of Sacramento during the State Fair in 1879. Not being able to read or write myself, and my husband also having been with the advantages of education–upon whom would devolve the writing of the book at my dictation–caused me to doubt whether I would be able to present a work that would give perfect satisfaction. But, after due consideration, I concluded to bring forward a book of my knowledge–based on an experience of upwards of thirty-five years–in the art of cooking Soups, Gumbos, Terrapin Stews, Meat Stews, Baked and Roast Meats, Pastries, Pies and Biscuits, making Jellies, Pickles, Sauces, Ice-Creams and Jams, preserving Fruits, etc. The book will be found a complete instructor, so that a child can understand it and learn the art of cooking.

Respectfully,

MRS. ABBY FISHER,

Late of Mobile, Ala.

While the publication location and the introduction itself suggest Mrs. Fisher has, for some time, been located in California, she is careful to continue to align herself with the American South, too, being “Late of Mobile, Ala.” and in which kinds of recipes she extols her expertise, including gumbo, terrapin, and biscuits. If you peruse the table of contents, you’ll see other familiar Southern dishes like fried chicken, Creole soup, corn fritters, and a sea of pickles and relishes. A few of the recipes include commentary (“I have given birth to eleven children and raised them all, and nursed them with this diet” or “This recipe is an old Southern plantation remedy among colored people”) which again remind us of her history and her culinary roots.

But, at the same time, she offers us some items and methods you might not expect, given that we’re talking about recipes that date back to the 1840s at least. Home ice cream makers were decades away in 1846 (though they were on the horizon in 1881), but Mrs. Fisher presents us with techniques for ice cream and sherbet. Her “Coccoanut Pie” requires actual coconut, an ingredient available to in the South as an import from the West Indies. While coconut was available in colonial America, it probably didn’t travel well and was likely more common in the South.  And her recipes tell us a lot about the mid-19th century food timeline. She incorporates Cox gelatin (Snow Pudding, 110), a commercial product from Scotland that the producers began exporting to America only in 1845. (Commercial, granulated gelatin wouldn’t be mass produced in America until the 1890s.) Nor does she shy away from alcohol, offering variations on brandy peaches and blackberry brandy.

Unfortunately for us, we don’t have an 1881 edition of What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking (though it IS on our wishlist), but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy looking at one! The digital collection at Michigan State University has a copy that includes page images, transcripts, and a PDF. Or, you can visit us and view our 1995 reprint, of course. It may not have that “old book” smell, but it most certainly serves as a reminder of Mrs. Fisher’s legacy.

Soul Food, Soul Food Cookbook Sampler

Continuing on some of our Black History Month theme, I thought this week I’d offer a “soul food sampler.” Our collection contains a variety of African-American contributions to food history, but not, perhaps as we might like. There are a number of particular items on our wish list for the History of Food & Drink Collection which would help to remedy that. Plus, we’re always on the look out for new known and unknown items that might help, too. One area in which we have at least several handfuls of books is on the topic of “soul food.” These are relatively recent publications–for a collection that dates back to the 1690s, anyway–from the 1960s and 1970s, but this was a time of renewed interest in African-American food culture.

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The books in the slideshow include:

  • Kaiser, Inez Yeargen. 1968. Soul Food Cookery. Rev. ed. New York: Pitmab. Corp.
  • Griffin, Hattie Rhinehart. 1969. Soul-Food Cookbook. A Hearthstone book. New York: Carltoess.
  • Jeffries, Bob. 1970. Soul Food Cookbook.Indialis: Bobbs-Merrill Co.
  • Waddles, Charleszetta. 1970. The Mother Waddles Soul Food Cookbook. 2d ed. Detroit: Perpetual Soul Saving Mission for All Nations.

If you’re curious about some other African-American culinary history books in our collection, you can see a list of some items online. This is a particular list based on a search I put together, and I heartily encourage you to explore the catalog and collection on your own, too!

On a final note this week, for those of you in Blacksburg, there’s an event this weekend that could of interest…if you can get a seat! The Blacksburg Museum and Cultural Foundation and the Odd Fellows Committee are hosting a “Soul Food Sampling.” I’d be surprised if there’s room left, but it certainly can’t hurt to ask.

Wondering What’s Good to Eat? Rufus Estes Has Some Answers!

February is Black History Month. If you’re in Blacksburg and have a chance to drop by the library, one my collegues has put together an amazing display of materials in our reading room. The exhibit highlights African-American contributions from many our main collecting areas, as well as to university history. Some of my favorite past posts I’ve written include ones on John B. Goins’ The American WaiterS. Thomas Bivens’ The Southern Cookbook: A Manual of Cooking and List of Menus including Recipes used by Noted Colored Cooks and Prominent Caterers, and the Women’s History Month profile last March on Malinda Russell and A Domestic Cook Book Containing a Careful Selection of Useful Receipts for the Kitchen. This week, I found something else I’ve never looked at before: Good Things to Eat, as Suggested by Rufus; A Collection of Practical Recipes for Preparing Meats, Game, Fowl, Fish, Puddings, Pastries, etc., written by Rufus Estes and published in 1911.

In a recent instruction session, I was talking with students about the idea of authority and food history materials. There are some really interesting question when it comes to cookbooks: What does “authority” mean? What makes (or doesn’t make) a writer an authority on the recipes they create and write? Does authority (or a lack thereof) affect how a cookbook might have been accepted in its own time? Does authority (or a lack thereof) affect how we look at a historic cookbook today and whether or not we accept is a good source of information? When we’re investigating cookbooks and food history primary sources, does authority even matter? Answering all of these would probably lead to an exceptionally long blog post–and, of course, as we say in the archival world, “it depends.” We might considered different cookbooks in different ways, depending on different factors. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t comment a bit on the concept of authority in conjunction with Good Things to Eat, as Suggested by Rufus. Especially since Rufus Estes very much invites us to do so, by beginning his book with a biographical sketch.

Good Things to Eat, 1911. Author's biography.
Good Things to Eat, 1911. Author’s biography.

Rufus Estes very carefully sets up his authority as a chef in the first few pages of his cookbook. He wants us to know where he comes from, what he has done, and, by default, what may have influenced him. Of course, in theory, this whole biography could be fake and Estes could have just been an identity. The idea of a constructed person to market or sell a book or products isn’t new. But, in this case, there are records and evidence to prove Estes was a real person and held the positions he tells us about (and those he doesn’t). He gives us his background to show his readers that he does, in fact, know a thing or two about being a chef. When we’re talking cookbooks, does one need to be a chef to be an authority? Certainly not. And my saying I accept Estes’ biography as giving him authority as an cookbook writer doesn’t mean we would all agree on that.  It’s just interesting to consider.

It’s also worth pointing out that having a biography is not unique to Estes. Malinda Russell included some information her life, as did Abby Fisher in What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking (a book we’ll talk about a little later this month). Mary Randolph talks about her expertise in The Virginia Housewife. Other authors rely on introductions written by seemingly well-known people in their own time to lend weight to a writer’s authority, reliability, and even like-ability. And we still see this as a common practice in books today, culinary-related or otherwise.

You can read a little more about this book and view the entire item online through the Michigan State University’s “Feeding America” project–which, if you haven’t looked at before, you should take a moment to peruse! And next time you start preparing a recipe from your favorite cookbook (or a new one), you might take a minute to think about who the author is, why they wrote the book, and why their recipes appeal to you. Even when we’re not aware of it, a writer’s “authority” may be at work!

Women’s History Month, Part 11: Malinda Russell (b. abt. 1822?)

This week, I want to talk a little bit about Malinda Russell. I say “a little bit” quite intentionally, as that’s about all anyone knows. In May of 1866, Malinda Russell self-published a cookbook in Paw Paw, Michigan, the first known cookbook by an African-American. In fact, most of what we know of her comes from the introduction to A Domestic Cook Book Containing a Careful Selection of Useful Receipts for the Kitchen, which includes “A Short History of the Author.” She was born free in Tennessee, possibly around 1820 or 1822. From her account, we can surmise that she lived a challenging life:

My mother being born after the emancipation of my grandmother, her children are by law free…At the age of nineteen, I set out for Liberia; but being robbed by some member of the party with whom I was traveling, I was obliged to stop at Lynchburg, Virginia…Anderson Vaughan, my husband, lived only four years…I am still a widow, with one child, a son, who is crippled…I kept a pastry shop for about six years, and, by hard labor and economy, saved a considerable sum of money for the support of myself and my son, which was taken from me on the 16th of January, 1864, by a guerilla party…Hearing that Michigan was the Garden of the West, I resolved to make that my home…This is one reason why I publish my Cook Book, hoping to receive enough from the sale of it to enable me to return home [Greenville, TN]…

From what else we do know, she worked as a cook, a nurse, and a wash-woman in Virginia and Tennessee. She owned a boarding-house, then a pastry shop before moving to Michigan, where she seems to have been a cook again at the time the book was published.

The original A Domestic Cook Book Containing a Careful Selection of Useful Receipts for the Kitchen was published in 1866. It was a 29 page pamphlet and very few copies still seem to exist. The one most well-known (if not the only one) is in the Janice Bluestein Longone Culinary Archive at the University of Michigan Special Collections. In 2007, they printed a small run of facsimiles, a copy of which we acquired not long after. Although the original item is out of copyright, the 2007 facsimile is not. As a result, I’m not posting images from the item itself, though I have included the front and back covers, and I’ll share some quotes below.

A Domestic Cook Book: containing a careful selection of receipts for the kitchen by Mrs. Malinda Russell, an experience cook published by the author, 1866
A Domestic Cook Book, 1866 (facsimile), front cover
A Domestic Cook Book by Malinda Russell a free woman of color, Paw Paw, Michgan 1866. A facsimile of the first known cook book by an african american with an introduction by Janice Bluestein Longone from the unique copy in the William L. Clements Library, 2007
A Domestic Cook Book, 1866 (facsimile), back cover

I first saw Malinda Russell’s name in 2013 while researching African-American culinary history for a talk I gave in our library. I was amazed at her story and excited to find our facsimile, which I quickly pulled from the shelf. After her brief autobiography is another introductory section, “Rules and Regulations of the Kitchen,” in which Russell provides an explanation of her culinary background. The last sentence of this page reads “I cook after the plan of the ‘Virginia Housewife.'” It seems, at times, we can’t escape Mary Randolph on the blog, can we? 🙂

Russell’s book doesn’t have a table of contents or index and, aside from loosely grouping like receipts, a structure, but for all its 30 pages, she shares plenty of receipts. You’ll find cakes, cordials, pies, cookies, gelatin desserts, pickled and preserved fruits and vegetables, breads/rolls, and custards/puddings. On the whole, there is an emphasis on sweet dishes and baked goods, but she finished with savory meat and poultry dishes, two fish recipes, and several handfuls of home remedies. Not one recipe has directions longer than about eight sentences (calf’s head soup and cream puffs are among the more complex, and all are written in paragraph form without a list of ingredients (characteristic of the era). Most are summed up in as little as 3-4 sentences (or less!), like Sally Lun:

Three tablespoons yeast, two do. butter, two do. sugar, two eggs, flour to make thick as cake. Let it rise six hours; bake quick.

Or “Baked Peach Cobbler”:

Scald and rub the peaches; stew until done; season with sugar to your taste. Paste your pans, put in the fruit, dropping small pieces of butter over it; cover with paste and bake. When done, float the pie with the syrup from the fruit.

Or “Fricaseed Catfish”:

Boil in water with a little salt until done, then drain off the water, and turn over the fish rich cream, butter, pepper, and a little flour, and simmer slowly.

I’m trying to keep my post from being too lengthy (too late, I know!), but for a women with only one publication there was a LOT to say for this week’s profile. Still, I do want to add a final side note or two. First, despite the dearth of information about Malinda Russell, she is no secret in the culinary world. You’ll find her and her book as the subject of news articles, blog posts, and culinary research, if you take a moment to search for her. Second, to date, A Domestic Cook Book Containing a Careful Selection of Useful Receipts for the Kitchen, is the first known cookbook by an African-American, woman or man, in the United States. Robert Roberts’ The House Servant’s Directory is the first book published by an African-American in 1827 and in 1848, Tunis Campbell published Hotel Keepers, Head Waiters and Housekeepers’ Guide. Malinda Russell’s book remains in good company, when it comes to African-American publishing history. And, perhaps more importantly,  she helped paved the way for the the next 149 years of African-American cookbook authors.

Join us again next week for our final Women’s History Month profile of 2015. We’ll look at some of the works of food author M. F. K. Fisher.

S. Thomas Bivens and the Business of Food

February is Black History Month. Around this time last year, I was asked if I might be interested in giving a talk about African-American contributions to culinary history. Since my culinary history is learned on the job, I thought it might give me a great opportunity to explore a subject I didn’t know much about, and I agreed. With a time limit, there was only so much I could talk about, so I devoted my 20 minutes to a hundred year period, from about 1820-1920 (and even that BARELY scratched the surface). I talked about a number of significant and influential publications in our collection, including John B. Goins’ The American Waiter, which I’ve blogged about previously.

Today, I thought I’d share another important early 20th century African-American manual: S. Thomas Bivens’ The Southern Cookbook: A Manual of Cooking and List of Menus including Recipes used by Noted Colored Cooks and Prominent Caterers. In 1912, S. Thomas Bivens wrote The Southern Cookbook: A Manual of Cooking and List of Menus including Recipes used by Noted Colored Cooks and Prominent Caterers. As we can infer from the activities and successes of previous  African-American authors like Abby Fisher (What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking, 1881) , John B. Goins, Tunis Campbell (Hotel Keepers, Head Waiters, and Housekeepers’ Guide, 1848), and Robert Roberts (The House Servant’s Directory, or A Monitor for Private Families: Comprising Hints on the Arrangement and Performance of Servants’ Work, 1827), food had become a business, and an important one for African-Americans. Bivens was a teacher at the Chester Domestic Training Institute in Pennsylvania. In his introduction, he writes:

“Domestic service consists not simply in going the rounds and doing the humdrum duties of the house, but in scientifically cooking the food: in creating new dishes and in having a thorough knowledge of the family…Such service would be indispensable to any family.”

The recipes in Bivens’ book run across every meal and even include things like making cheese and a whole section on home brewing (beer, wine, cordials, vinegars and shrubs). There’s a wide variety of recipes in the book and, returning to southern roots, many foods made from brains, feet, and offal.  Much like the household manuals of a slightly earlier era, there are directions for cooking for invalids, but also three pages on easy dishes to make for poor or needy families. Charity is part of the experience of serving oneself and one’s boss. Bivens closes his volume with directions for table settings, etiquette, and suggested menus for the home. Equally important, when considering the work of Bivens and Goins, is that, by the early part of the 20th century (and perhaps as early as  Abby Fisher in 1881), voices, ideas, recipes and even foods that had been co-opted during the previous century were becoming more authoritative and instructional. And these authors began to pave the way for the next 100 years.

You can view the entire book online, via the Hathi Trust, here, if you can’t visit us. We do have a reprint of Abby Fisher’s book in our collection, so I won’t spoil that one today–it’s a post for another day. Currently, however, we don’t have a copy of either Tunis Campbell or Robert Roberts’ publications…yet. Thanks to MSU’s “Feeding America” project, you can see both online here and here.