Cooking in Tidewater (It’s not like it sounds!)

Part of our goal with the History of Food & Drink Collection/Culinary History Collection is to document food history in Virginia. Among our nearly 3,500 publications are more than a few community, local, regional, and state cookbooks. Tidewater Virginia Cook Book: A Collection of Good, Reliable Recipes is an item we purchased for the collection in 2011. Published in 1891, it includes recipes contributed by women from all over the state for all kinds of foods, though the emphasis is on the Tidewater region of Virginia.

Although there is not necessarily a lot of visual appeal, at least not the recipe content, the book is certainly worth a glance or two! It pays special attention to fresh seafood, much more readily available than here in some other parts of the state (Blacksburg, I’m talking about you!): Pickled oysters, lobster, crabs, prawns, and fish.

One of the standouts here is definitely the abundance of terrapin and turtle recipes. On page 8, it’s “turtle soup;” on page 14, it’s two recipes for terrapin and one for “mock terrapin;” on page 7, it’s “mock-turtle soup;” and then, the topper, “Imitation mock turtle soup.” For those times when simply imitating a recipe isn’t enough, you can imitation the imitation! Mock turtle soup, by the way, comes from a calf’s head and ham base. Imitation mock turtle comes from black beans cooked with a meat joint, then mashed.

Not surprisingly, many of the included recipes are desserts: puddings, cakes (“pork cake,” anyone?), creams and custards, pies, and tarts. But there are also ices and ice creams, often a challenge with late 19th century technologies, and a “pepper candy” made with cayenne pepper. Pickles, preserves, jellies, and brandied fruits abound, and in a throw-back to our feature from two weeks ago, this recipe book includes “grape catsup.”

Whereas handwritten receipt books often shared cherished recipes within a family, the growing genre of community or other group cookbooks introduced these to a whole new audience. This particular volume came from the Reid Memorial Association of Norfolk, Virginia, though it contained recipes from ladies around the state. The idea of fundraising through cookbooks, especially by women, took off and our collection is full of similar publications dating from the late 19th century to the modern day. And, in addition to recipes, almost all of them have something else in common: advertising!

Questionable mock turtle/terrapin recipes aside, one of the other unique features of this volume is the ads in the back, several of which appear in the gallery above. General stores, food stores, florists, animal (sheep, beef, horses, mules–take your pick!) suppliers, insurance and real estate agents, appliance dealers (touting relatively new home technologies)…everyone got in on the action, even companies as far away as Oswego, NY! Although the baking powder wars had yet to start, we are greeted with “Government Tests” and “Royal Baking Powder” in large letters, suggesting a more reliable product than other companies. And, of course, targeting the women who could by buying there product over others.

See, as promised, nothing about cooking with laundry detergent (someone out there must have jumped to that conclusion first!), just some good old Virginia food history. We have a lot more to share with you, too. Be sure to keep following. Meanwhile, this archivist has weekend company coming and Mrs. Roper’s “Mock Terrapin” (made from calf’s liver and hard boiled eggs) might just be on the menu…