Community Cooking in (and Beyond) the Bluegrass State

Housekeeping in the Blue Grass: A New and Practical Cook Book Containing Nearly a Thousand Recipes was originally published in 1875. The copy is one of the 10th “new and enlarged” edition, first issued in 1879, but our actual copy is from 1881. Compiled and edited by the Ladies of the Presbyterian Church in Paris, Kentucky, these 206 pages are packed with recipes from women (and a few men) from mostly Kentucky, but also Virginia, Arkansas, New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

Our edition includes the original 1875 preface, which we can’t NOT quote a bit of for you:

The “Blue Grass” region of Kentucky, as is well know, is considered the garden spot of the State. It is celebrated for the fertility of its soil, the beauty of its pastures, its flocks and blooded stock, and last, but not least, for the hospitality of its people and their table luxuries.

It is useless to enlarge upon the last feature, especially to those who have attended Bourbon Fairs [that’s the county, not the whiskey], and made visits in this and the adjoining counties. We only refer to it, by way of introducing our book to the appreciation of the public.

The 1879 also had a preface of its own, which states, in part:

…Nine thousand copies have been sold, and its praises have been sung by many of the best housekeepers of the land.

In sending forth this new edition, we have corrected some errors, supplied defects, and added many valuable recipes, which will be found at the close of each section and in the Miscellaneous department.

The entire profits of this work have been, and will continue to be, devoted to religious charity.

Housekeeping in the Blue Grass was, at its core, a community cookbook, designed to raise funds for a cause. But the fact that it went on into at least 10 editions and over 9,000 copies sold says a lot for this little volume. (There was at least one more edition in 1905 AND it has been reprinted  at least once in the last 10 years.) It clearly appealed to a wide audience (not just Kentuckians!) in its originality. (The preface also states that “Many of our recipes are entirely original with our own famed cooks; others have been gathered from the most reliable sources; not one, so far as we know, has been copied from books.”) So, what are these amazing recipes?

Housekeeping in the Blue Grass has elements we see in many other cookbooks of the time: sections for home remedies, home cleaning/upkeep, and cooking for invalids, in addition to all the other recipes. Of course, it also reflects a different era of cooking. The majority of the recipes have a list of ingredients in non-standard amounts (standardized measurements, courtesy of Fannie Farmer, were still several years in the future in 1881) and, in some cases, additional directions, but there was still an assumption that a reader would know what to do with those ingredients. Or, they would at least understand the basics of producing a pudding, a white sauce, or a pastry dough as a component. Compared to many modern cookbooks, there was a different set of expectations on home cooks in the late 19th century! Some of the basics may be covered in the book (Housekeeping in the Blue Grass has recipes for pie crust that you could use throughout, for example), but there’s no guarantee.

Community cookbooks were aptly named, especially in their early days–they weren’t just something produced by a community group (often of women). They were produced by a community of cooks, for a community of new and experienced cooks, and to help build community between those who had the knowledge and those who might have needed some culinary and domestic education. That’s a whole other topic we don’t have space for here today, but it is food for thought (at least it has been for me lately).

Housekeeping in the Blue Grass is available online, as it was scanned by Special Collections staff some years ago. So, if our amuse-bouche (I love that word!) of a blog post isn’t enough for you, you can delve further into the book and find recipes for deviled turkey, Sally Lunn, or fish pie…

A Quick Link (#1): Victorian Cookbooks Were Stuffed with Costumed Roosters and Sphinx Cakes

Just a quick link to share, in an effort to get back to sharing news, recipes, or fun food stories on Mondays. It’s a short article, but includes some amazing, elaborate illustrations of cakes from mid-19th century British cookbooks and cooking encyclopediae: http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/victorian-cookbooks-were-stuffed-with-costumed-roosters-and-sphinx-cakes. The images come from the New York Academy of Medicine collection and reveal just how decorative you can get with “tinted fat”…

Food in the News: More Election Cakes! (#5)

All that time I spent writing about “Election Cake” last week, then NPR went and did it for me over the weekend! You can check out their piece “A History Of Election Cake And Why Bakers Want To #MakeAmericaCakeAgain” online, complete with the audio. On the other hand, maybe this means “What’s Cookin'” is staying ahead in the food news game!

 

 

 

A Lesson in English (Receipts)

Exciting news! Thanks to the hard work (and on-going efforts) of our staff and students, a handful of the handwritten recipes books among our collections have gone online! As a group, you can find these items on our online platform, Special Collections Online. We will have more of them going up in the future, as we continue to scan and acquire new collections, but this feels like a great start! As with many of the Civil War diaries we have digitized, we are also working on transcripts of these manuscript receipt (and recipe!) books which we will add to the site as they are completed. This week, we’ll take a closer look at the Hertford Receipt Book (Ms2008-027). You can view the whole item online, but we haven’t transcribed it just yet. Here’s the front cover:

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There is a finding aid for this item, but it is, to use a recipe term, a bit scant. Many manuscript receipt books, when separated from original owners for whatever reason, lose context, and leave archivists and researchers with very little provenance (the archival field’s word for “[i’]nformation regarding the origins, custody, and ownership of an item or collection”). In this case, there are multiple handwritings and a variety of attributed recipes, but no clue as to who collected them or wrote them on the pages. That doesn’t mean, though, that we can’t learn from it.

This is a soft, marbled cover notebook, and from what we know, it dates from about 1800 to 1833. If you’re expecting recipes for food, you won’t be disappointed, but hopefully you’re open to a bit more. You see, the Hertford Receipt Book is mostly home remedies. Many of them. Have a cough? Toothache? Boots need blackening? Need white paint? Have a rat problem? Worms (there are at least three cures for that one!)? This item can help!

That being said, in true English style, you’ll also find puddings, tarts, and cakes among the pages, along with wines, “devil’s pot” and other pickling options, jams, and the intriguing “to pot pigeons like lampreys.”

One of the things I really like about this receipt book is that it has an index. While not all the ones on our shelves do, I’m surprised at how often there’s a guide at the front or back to what’s in the pages. I shouldn’t be shocked by the organizational skills of these generations of savvy women, but they certainly should get extra credit for hand-indexing! If I had to guess, in this case, it was probably done by one owner (it’s all in the same hand) and probably at a point where new recipes weren’t being added. Still, a lovely, tasty, toxic, strange, and functional labor of love.

As football fever continues around Blacksburg (and elsewhere), keep an eye out for some posts to help with those tailgating days. (Though, as someone who enjoys a number of VT sports, I’m thinking we might need to start volleyball, soccer, or basketball tailgating trends, too.) And as fall has arrived, you can probably also expect some autumnal foods in the future, too!

Summer (Cooking) School, Part 6: British Baking at Home, Abroad, and in the Trade

This week, many of our staff are at the Society of American Archivists annual conference. This includes me, your usual archivist/blogger Kira who is, quite excitedly, presenting on a panel this year. “What panel?” you ask. Why, one about food collections and outreach! So, while I’m off definitely learning from others and hopefully inspiring a few colleagues, too, we’ve got another culinary lesson here on the blog. Despite the high temps in Blacksburg the last couple of weeks, I went a little crazy and was baking last week. For the library’s annual summer picnic, I whipped up a couple of cobblers (thanks to a very simple, 6 ingredient recipe!): blackberry peach and strawberry blueberry. While it may not have been the smartest move, turning on the oven and all, the summer smacks of cobbler to me and I hadn’t made one in a long time. Which also has me thinking about baking. I respect the fact that  baking is a precise and scientific art, but I’ve never been good at that in the kitchen. And, I’ve gone this long with any major baking disasters in my life (we’ll save tales of cooking and candy-making disasters for another day). Still, there’s plenty to learn from our historic resources, like The Pastrycook and Confectioner’s Guide for Hotels, Restaurants, and the Trade in General, Adapted Also for Family Use, Including a Large Variety of Modern Recipes. The title actually goes on, but we’ll take a break there. (You can see the rest of it on the title page below.)

Written by Robert Wells in 1889, this is a short, but detailed, British guide to baking, confectionery (including sugar-work), meat pies, ornamental butter, and more. Since this is a British book, you’ll notice a few differences, but nothing that can’t be overcome in the historic or modern American kitchen. Castor (aka caster) sugar, for example, isn’t that common in the U.S. These days, though, it can found in some stores, most definitely online, and, with modern kitchen technology (a coffee/spice grinder or a food processor), you can make it yourself!

While, at first glance, this book may seem like a strange conglomerate of recipes–I can see including meat pies in a book on pastry–there is a theme here. The sections on cooking meat and poultry may seem a bit out of place, but if you can’t cook them properly, they aren’t going to make for a good meat pie. The one thing that is really lacking, especially since this is designed to be a manual not only for other professionals, but for the home cook, was pictures. I, for one, would love to see #294: To Ornament a Tongue as a Dolphin. This seems like the kind of manual that would benefit from a bit more visual content, but perhaps the lack thereof gives the home and professional the freedom to be creative rather than match a certain image.

The entirety of The Pastrycook and Confectioner’s Guide can be found on Special Collections Online, our digital platform: http://digitalsc.lib.vt.edu/HFDBooks/TX773.W4457_1889. You can read it online or download the pdf for later if you’re interested. Take a moment to learn something new about culinary history this week, even it’s just a little fact. I know I’m looking forward to finding out what my colleagues are doing with food history collection and outreach. I might even have some tidbits to share when I get back! Until then, good eating (though if your summer is as hot as our in Blacksburg, you might want to take a word of advice from me and skip the baking for now)!

 

 

A Monday Morning Recipe (#3)

Happy Monday! For this Monday Morning Recipe post, I found something interesting (perhaps more so for what it is, rather than the contents itself, but still…). There are many ways to think of cookbooks: as a tool, as a family memoir, or as an artifact. Some books, like Aunt Caroline’s Dixieland Recipes by Emma and William McKinney (1922), can be all three. This cookbook included blank pages for people to add their own recipes, as this former owner did, recording a recipe for “Hot Milk Cake.” It’s a gray, bordering on rainy (or soon to be rainy) morning in Blacksburg and this actually doesn’t sound like a bad idea at all!

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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.