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…

Advertisements

All about the Eggs

There are several simple ways of cooking eggs which are very commonly followed. Thus, the egg in the shell is cooked by immersion in hot or boiling water or is less commonly roasted. After removal from the shell, the egg is cooked in hot water or in hot fat. In the latter case it may or may not be beaten or stirred. Combined with other materials to form various made dishes, eggs are boiled, baked, steamed, or fried, as the case may be. The total number of methods of serving and preparing eggs is very large, but in nearly every case is will be found that the method of preparation is only a more or less elaborate modification of one of the simple methods of cooking.

From Langworthy, C. F. Eggs and Their Uses as Food. Farmer’s Bulletin No. 128. Washington, DC: U. S. Department of Agriculture, 1905.

Mrs. Scott’s Seasonal Summer Cooking

Since summer is in full swing, this week we’re again featuring, well, summer recipes. This time, from Mrs. Scott’s North American Seasonal Cook Book: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter Guide to Economy and Ease in Good Food, 1921. (Perhaps we’ll revisit other portions of the cookbook later in the year, too!)

Front cover
Front cover

From the introduction:

This is the first cook book ever planned to help the housewife take advantage of Nature’s changing supply of foodstuffs from season to season, tho such timeliness is the chief determining factor in the economy, palatability and healthfulness of many articles of diet…The average woman who never thought of the matter in this light will be astonished at the usefulness of this Seasonal Cook Book. It will enable her to make timely use of what is in market, and by so doing will help not only to reduce the cost of living, but at the same time increase the pleasure of the table.

The summer recipes include recipes for hot and cold soups; fish and clams; beef, lamb and combination dishes; egg dishes; cheese receipts; vegetables; salads and dressings; fruit desserts; puddings; frozen dishes; seasonable cakes; jams; home flavors; breads; beverages; jellies; canning; and sandwiches. Personally, I got stuck in the sandwich section at the end, surprised at how many different things one can combine with cream cheese to make a filling, especially when it comes to olives…

Mrs. Scott’s point, though, is that you can do a great deal with what is on hand during a given season. Good advice for any age where cooks may be seeking economy, simplicity, and efficiency. And there are at least some options for those hot days when turning on an oven might be the last thing on your mind!

On Catering, Quality, Chickens, Eggs, and More!

This week’s post may not answer the question of which came first, but it does have a great day to say about quality chickens, eggs, and other poultry–not to mention meats, salads, and pastries.

The title of this publication, in full, is John Hill’s Book: The Culinary Art as Applied to Catering, Including an Abridged List of Cooked Articles Available for Home Service (c.1929). If that isn’t quite clear, don’t worry. Even once you unravel it, the contents aren’t quite what you might think. The title suggests is might be a catering menu–which it is. But that’s not all it is. It’s also a short treatise on quality ingredients, an advertisement for catering services, and, one might argue, a collection of food management/storage hints.

Most of right hand pages include some examples of items the caterer can provide. We see a wide range of foods, from cakes and pastry to sandwiches and salads. However, we are informed that this is only a small fraction of what the company can provide, though listing the full range “would be burdensome for [the company] and confusing to you, were we to list them all.” One wonders how a catering menu might prove confusing for potential clients–perhaps it’s because, as the publication later states, they have no “‘regular’ or stereotyped menus.” At the very least, it’s clear John Hill prefers to meet in person. The photographs of the business certainly suggest a desire to show off the fine supplies and capabilities it can provide.

Another portion of the text is taken up by a series of mini-essays on quality ingredients. On the one hand, they are a chance to talk about the high quality of foods used by the company in their catering efforts: “We will not talk bout eggs in the abstract, but of John Hill eggs, about which there is nothing abstract” and “There is no chicken quite like ours.” The publication also touches in kitchen processes and technology, spending two pages on cold storage and the disservice it does.

But freezing does more than ruin the flavor of meat and poultry–it is conceivably responsible for the prevalence of dyspepsia and kindred ills among Americans–so, if you want to avoid dyspepsia, avoid frozen foods.

(On a side note, according to the 1915 Jell-O and the Kewpies, you may also want to avoid pie: “Twenty years ago everybody ate pie and nearly everybody had dyspepsia. Jell-O had not been heard of. Now there is scarcely a housewife in America who does not make and serve Jell-O desserts, and stomach-ache is not so common as it used to be.”)

Perhaps most striking about this publication, though, is the quality of the item itself. It may not be obvious from the scans above, but this is by no means ephemeral. It has a nice paper cover, with a paper dust jacket, and large photos. It appears to have been printed on handmade paper that was folded, and the edges were not cut smooth. Was it merely a way to attract a certain caliber of customer? Was it intended to be something more than just an advertisement? Were the tidbits on quality meant to be taken as hints for the everyday household? Unfortunately, we don’t have answers to those questions, but John Hill’s Book, with its mix of advertising, lecturing, and menus makes for a unique addition to the History of Food & Drink Collection.

Oh, and just remember, “Speed is as incongruous in good cooking as it in in a good golfer’s game of golf.” Or if you prefer fashion metaphors to sports, menus should be “just as special as the dresses of the most fashionable couturiere.” Whether you’re cooking, eating, or both, the point is, take a little time and enjoy something special this week.

Celebrating the Sandwich, International Style!

As you may recall from last week, it’s National Sandwich Month. To wrap-up (pun intended) August, we have a wonderful pamphlet with nearly 100 pages of international sandwich delights.  Well, nearly 100 pages of international sandwiches, at least. This week, we present Frederic Girnau’s Sandwich Book of All Nations: Over 300 Ways of Making Delicious Sandwiches, Appetizers, and Canapes by Ruth Elizabeth Mills, published c.1945.

Amazing what you can do with a couple pieces of bread and just about anything you have lying around…Even if you don’t have a traditional filling. Just make a sandwich of bread and tartar sauce or pieces of fruit! In addition to the ones above, there is a whole page on cherry fillings, as well as other citrus fruits, dates, and prunes. If you’re seeking the more unique, there’s homemade peanut mayonnaise, tomato jelly, cream cheese and beet, or nasturtium sandwiches.

Our copy of Frederic Girnau’s Sandwich Book of All Nations: Over 300 Ways of Making Delicious Sandwiches, Appetizers, and Canapes is one of about 5 in public and academic library hands and is well worth a glance or two. The Frederic Girnau referenced in the title was actually the publisher and Mills wrote several books the company during the 1940s. She authored two books on preparing seafood and fish and game and waterfowl the “sportman’s way,” as well as pamphlets on cookies and international foods.

On a side note, if you asked me (archivist/blogger/foodie Kira, as usual!) in 2009, before I started working at Virginia Tech, before I encounter the History of Food & Drink Collection here, and before I spent 40% of my time thinking about food (back then it was only about 20%), the idea of a simple lettuce sandwich never occurred to me. Oh, how ignorant I was in those days! As regular readers may know, the lettuce sandwich has become a frequent guest on our blog, with a startling number of variations. This publication is no exception, with two recipes of its own…one of which starts with dipping the leaves in mayonnaise! (The other involves chopping leaves into strips with scissors, THEN applying the mayo.)

Lastly, it’s difficult to ignore the blatant and repetitive advertising going on in this publication. The bottom of every page reminds you to serve BEER with your sandwiches. It’s only fair to explain why this is the case, since it also gives me the chance to share the somewhat dated advertisement printed on the back. Without further ado, the front and back covers of our feature item:

Because nothing says “let’s picnic” more than a swell mustard-and-bread sandwich and an icy cold beer!

Until next week, when we give up bread and meat for some children’s adventures in the kitchen, keep making those sandwiches.

So Many Sandwiches, So Few Days Left in National Sandwich Month…

August is National Sandwich Month! (It’s best not to ask how I know things like this…) My plan for this week was to feature several different items. I made it about 10 pages into Seven Hundred Sandwiches when I realized that wouldn’t work. This book needed its own space. Thankfully, there are two Wednesdays left this month. That should be just enough this book and a little something special next week, too.

Fond as I am of a good peanut butter sandwich or tuna melt, Florence Cowles’ 1932 Seven Hundred Sandwiches is an eye-opener. There are recipes for standards, the tame, and the everyday. But then there’s the “let’s-make-whatever-is-in-the-fridge-into-a-spread,” the “well-I’ve-never-thought-to-put-that-together-before,” and what I will affectionately label the “huh? wha–?”

No matter what kind of sandwich you already like, you should be able to find something in this book…though you may not recognize it at first. Throughout her volume, Cowles makes up names for combinations of fillings. And it’s definitely creative.

But first, the book opens with a set of general directions, in the event you’re new to this sandwich game: hints about which breads to use and how to cut; how to cream butter for spreading (it should ALWAYS be creamed before adding to bread); mayonnaise v. salad dressing; preparing a work space; preparing fillings; and storage.

Like fish? How about a “sardinoil,” a “pimentuna,” or a “shrimpegg*?” If you prefer  dairy, there’s the “creamango*”, the “tochebee,” or the “chilicot.” For nut lovers, there’s the “peanutpine,” the “gindanutra,” and the “prunuchee.” (I promise, I’m not making these up!) In most cases, the name is clue to the ingredients, as is their placement in a certain category. But a few just leave you puzzled without the recipe. Take a little time to ponder. There are a few sneak peeks at the bottom of the post, but if you have questions, just ask in the comments!

As an aside, the fact that this book contains TWO lettuce sandwich recipes did not escape my notice. Two that are actually different from the three in Mary Frazer’s 1903 Kentucky Receipt Book that continue to resurface! (You can see the original post here.) Lettuce sandwiches are nearly as common as frosted ones in our blog!

Florence Cowles spares us the frosted sandwich in her book, though she gives us a short list of “cake sandwiches.” You could create a four (or more!) course meal of sandwiches with a little innovation: Russian sandwich canapes, Tomato soup sandwich soup course*, Lamb and Mint on wheat for dinner, and cake with watermelon and ice cream filling for dessert. And if you don’t like lamb, there are plenty of hearty beef, mutton, bacon, sausage, seafood, egg, cheese, nut, and especially ham, fillings instead.

On a closing note, here’s a piece of advice from Florence Cowles: “While the breads and fillings are varied, there is only one kind of knife suited to sandwich making–a sharp one.”

————————————————————————————-

*A few recipes that need an explanation:

Shrimpegg  Sandwich: A mix of cooked, canned shrimp, chopped walnuts, chopped hard-boiled eggs, and mayonnaise.

Creamango Sandwich: A mix of cream cheese, chopped mango (peppers, not the fruit), onion juice, salt and pepper, spread on thin, butter-spread slices.

Tomato Soup Sandwich: Rye spread with butter and undiluted tomato soup between lettuce leaves.

How do YOU Scramble?

This week’s posting features a kitchen standard: the EGG. They’ve been a staple in every kitchen since the domestication of birds. Eggs form the basis for the sweet and savory, for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert, and even manage to hold their own as a main dish. From the basic “fried” to the more complex poached “Eggs Benedict”, we can’t seem to go without them. (No gelatin recipes with eggs have emerged here at Special Collections just yet, but there’s time and undiscovered collections yet to search!)

As this page from Woman’s Day (c.1960s?) proves, there is more than one way to complete even the simplest of egg recipes. Depending on your tastes, you can cater to your heart’s scrambled egg desires: custard, creamy, or speckled. Surrounded in bacon, dotted with parsley, or ringed with toast triangles, just be sure you serve them on a HEATED plate (note the repeated direction). No cold scrambled eggs for you, your family, or your guests!

Found among a recently acquired group of collected and compiled recipes, the only thing lacking from this magazine page is color. There’s something delightfully cheerful about the sunny shade of yellow in a scrambled egg that those yellow divider lines just don’t quite convey. Rather, you have to imagine it for yourself. Or, better yet, whip up a batch today, and try a different method. It could be surprisingly eggs-cellent. (Did you really think anyone could manage an whole post on eggs without a single pun?)

As for me (your usual blogger/archivist Kira, that is), I like mine with a more-than-subtle splash of hot sauce or pink peppercorns and parlsey, if I’m feeling alliterative and fancy. How do you eat your scrambled eggs?