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.

Women’s History Month, Part 19: M. L. Tyson

This week’s Women’s History Month profile is going to a little different. Anyone who has followed this blog (or our general Special Collections blog) for a while knows that we deal with mysteries a lot. Sometimes, despite all the digging, people, places, events, and even ingredients can remain shrouded in secrets. And that’s okay. Frustrating (believe me, I know!), but okay. It doesn’t mean they can’t leave a legacy. Which is how we get to Miss M. L. Tyson, the “Queen of the Kitchen,” and her 1,007 recipes.

Published in 1886, The Queen of the Kitchen: A Collection of Southern Cooking Receipts Containing over One Thousand Southern Receipts in Practical Cookery is an anthology of recipes, recipes, and more recipes, along with a few sets of household management instructions thrown in for good measure (because how else will you get rid of that vermin problem?). Our mysterious Miss Tyson doesn’t take credit for writing everything, but she does claim compilation of generations of family receipt books and, as we’ll see from a Marylander, plenty of seafood. (I am deliberately not getting into geographical disputes about whether Maryland is southern enough, especially since we’ll see plenty of southern influence.)

On the “table of contents” surface, The Queen of the Kitchen has the same categories and general topics/subjects we expect in a work of this sort from this time. So, in that sense, it’s not entirely unique. At the same time, it brings together traditionally southern cooking and techniques with a strong Mid-Atlantic coastal influence. First, some recipes:

I started out with breakfast, since I had pancakes on the brain when I launched into this blog post. Whatever you to want to call them–pancakes, cakes, johnny cakes, cream cakes, saleratus cakes, clabber cakes, mush cakes, Washington breakfast cakes, etc.–Miss Tyson has a LOT of them. There’s plenty of seafood in this book, and in my typical style, I found a page with some more…interesting recipes, but for good reason! When we’ve looked at some early American cookery on the blog in the past, we’ve talked a fair bit about the British influence. Eventually, much that started to go away (though not all of it) as America found it’s vast and varied culinary culture. Miss Tyson’s ancestors, it seems, didn’t lose as much of that–suggested by the eel and cod. Cod tongues on its own is a striking recipe. Cod sounds, for those of you not up on your fish biology, are swim bladders. The recipe is a bit more common in British cooking, as is eel, but it also points to an important trend in 19th century American cookery–economy!

I skipped ahead to dessert after that, where we once again see the British influence in the section on custards and jellies. Blanc mange itself was common in the 19th century, but the idea of a “Yellow” one, which seems to be based on the resulting colo(u?)r, rather than the contents, was rather intriguing. I also like the idea of arrow root as a thickener, which has a long history as such. Since we can never escape food preservation technologies in the American culinary history, neither could Miss Tyson. Among her many recipes are TWO for cucumber catsup. We’ve certainly looked a catsup before on the blog, and the fact that it took a long time to get to the tomato kind we know today. I sort of expected cucumber catsup to more like a chow-chow or relish of some sort. In this case, it is kind of a cross between a relish and a pickle and was probably a condiment/accompaniment of some sort.

And lastly, because we’re in Virginia, it only seemed right to end a recipe that would have some weight here: ham! The recipes above are immediately preceded by “To Cure 1000 Pounds of Pork” and succeeded by “Westphalia Mode of Curing Hams,” after the book goes on to the topic of meat. The Westphalia recipe, while referring to a region of Germany, explicitly states that “[t]his receipt was brought from England by a gentleman who used it with great success.” So while Miss Tyson herself seems to be a self-proclaimed American “Queen of the Kitchen,” it’s important to note her somewhat world-wide and nation-wide influences.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to go on in terms of identifying our Miss Tyson. “Queen of the Kitchen,” sadly, does not appear on any census records. I wasn’t able to come up with a first name and the initials alone aren’t really enough to narrow down a search. This is also, it appears, Miss Tyson’s only work–a sort of opus, it seems. The Queen of the Kitchen is available online from Virginia Tech, if you’d like to delve further into its 428 pages and 1,007 recipes. There’s plenty of learn about jellies, ice creams, seafood, meet, and more! There was a previous edition in 1882, but, as far as WorldCat indicates, nothing before that.

On a related note, there’s a fun new hashtag out there on Twitter and other forms of social media: #FoodFriday. If you’re a social media user, especially on Twitter, you should keep an eye on it. Since I’ve been posting on Fridays a lot lately and because of this trend, I am tentatively looking at moving my posting schedule toward Fridays. Or at the very least, tweeting about blog posts on Fridays–and maybe some other things! If you are on Twitter and aren’t following us yet, you can find us @VT_SCUA, where we talk about Special Collections generally, as well as our many collecting areas, including culinary history.

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!

Digitized Cookbooks at the Folger

As you know, Special Collections at Virginia Tech isn’t the only special collections and archives to be digitizing its rare and unique content to share on the web! Over the weekend, the Folger Shakespeare Library some new material to its online platform. The best part? It’s almost all historic receipt books and cookbooks! You can see the list of recent additions online, complete with links to the items themselves. I also recommend you browse by category and check out “Cookbooks” and “Recipes” for other items.