There is something intriguing (for me at least) about reading through recipe books of the past. I find the ones that included household advice to be especially interesting because the now irrelevant and often forgotten advice that was once so vital to the reader really gives me a picture into her daily life. Most people today don’t need to know how to stoke the fire in their kitchen stove. We don’t apply oil cloth to our floors, use lye around the house (except soap makers) or need to worry if our water pails are painted on the inside (they shouldn’t be, by the way). It might be easy to view these earlier works as trivial but in their time, they provided invaluable information to the young women often ill equipped for managing their own households. Authors like Jane Cunningham Croly not only gave relevant information but they preserved recipes and traditions that would otherwise be lost to later generations.
Now granted, the vast majority of the recipes in these books are things I wouldn’t want to eat (calf’s head cake, anyone? I thought not) but sometimes you can find things worth a try (Susan B. Anthony’s apple tapioca pudding, for example). More importantly, you can get a window into the kitchens of women with amazing histories – former slaves, suffragettes, pioneers, sophisticates and farmers. In the case of the Jennie June book, Ms Croly’s work was popular enough in the 1870s for six printings. She covered such varied topics as Jewish recipes, the feeding of children, the care of home furnishings, and a thousand or so recipes. Over a hundred and thirty eight years later, I found her Rules for Eating to be as applicable today as they were then:
RULES FOR EATING.
1. Eat slowly as if it was a pleasure you desired to prolong, rather than a duty to be got rid of as quickly as possible.
2. Don’t bring your prejudices, your dislikes, your annoyances, your past misfortunes, or future forebodings, to the table–they would spoil the best dinner.
3. Respect the hours of meals, you have no right to injure the temper of the cook, destroy the flavor of the viands, and the comfort of the family, by your want of punctuality.
4. Have as much variety in your food as possible, but not many dishes served at one time.
5. Find as little fault with the food prepared as possible, and praise whenever you can.
6. Finally, be thankful, if you have not meat, that you have at least an appetite, and hope for something more and better in the future.
I’m spending some time reviewing these books from the past and hope to share some tidbits along the way. If anyone knows of a good one, please let me know so I can add it to my list.