Sunday, September 23, 2012


We have victory! I successfully reproduced two historic recipes- baked apple pudding and cider cake. The food looked decent (it certainly looked historical) and received great acclaim from those who tried it.

Wearing a red-checked apron given to me for this project by a thoughtful professor, I felt ready for an episode of Mad Men. I headed to the Interfaith House kitchen with a measure of anxiety. The cause of my worry? The puff paste. I’d never made a modern puff pastry before, and the three page instructions in Seventy-Five Receipts (which I’ve posted below) were confusing at best. I ended up relying on a combination of these instructions and the modernized ones in The Old Sturbridge Village Cookbook, and achieved great results.

I began with the baked apple pudding, which meant preparing the puff paste first, then stewing the apples. I had gone grocery shopping and managed to find all ingredients except rose water. According to the Internet, I could have gotten rose water if I looked hard enough, but decided that the average family using the book may not have had all ingredients. It was all in the spirit of flexibility. I next moved on to the cider cake, which would have been a challenge without the kitchen scale. After measuring out .5 of the l.5 pounds of flour the recipe called for, I decided to halve the recipe. Though the unusually thick batter had me worried at first, it was otherwise an easy, straightforward process.

Among my taste-testers, the consensus was that the baked apple pudding was the more exciting dish. Essentially applesauce baked into a pie, the lemon peel provided an intriguing flavor combination. I can’t help but wonder what rose water would have done for taste; perhaps I’ll find out as I prepare a selection of recipes again for my end-of-year presentation. The cider cake batter had a great apple flavor to it, but it was more or less cooked off during baking. We determined that the cake would pair well with coffee. Both dishes were extremely hardy. After trying each, we felt full and ready for an afternoon of tilling fields or building stonewalls.

As expected, the process required a good amount of guesswork, flexibility, and trusting of instincts, but the session was not nearly as difficult as I thought it might be. Thanks to all who came to help me convert measurements, make subjective decisions, and provide moral support. All are welcome to come visit/taste, every other Friday (generally starting at one) at the Trinity Interfaith House. This project gets more exciting every day!

Puff Paste Instructions

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Apples and Early America

Today I took a trip into the Watkinson stacks to pick out the cookbooks I want to examine. Due to the sheer number of fascinating books, I have altered my project from using one cookbook per session to two. Every other week, I’ll pick two cookbooks and two recipes- one from each book- that fit a theme. 

This week’s theme is Early America. My books for this session are Seventy-Five Receipts by a Lady of Philadelphia and Lydia Maria Child’s The American Frugal Housewife. Both books were originally published in 1828, though the Watkinson owns the 20th edition of The American Frugal Housewife, which was released in 1836. I've worked with old books in the past, so the first thing I noticed about these was their comparatively poor condition. These books were stained, worn and falling apart, indicating they were actually used for their intended purpose. There were even handwritten recipes on the inside covers of each book.

As described in my most last post, I wanted to find some of the first American cookbooks. And indeed, these two books are American and proud. The author of Seventy-Five Receipts, Miss Leslie, explains in her introduction, “The receipts in this little book are, in every sense of the word, American.” She goes on to describe the need for such a cookbook, saying, “There is frequently much difficulty in following directions in English and French cooking books, not from their want of explicitness, but from the difference in the fuel, fireplaces, and cooking utensils generally used in Europe and America.” Whether the need for an American cookbook was actual or perceived, these women were among the first to identify and cater to this market.
Looking through the books, I’ve determined that, in the spirit of fall, this week will also be apple themed. I’m planning on making baked apple pudding (for which I’ll also need to make a puff paste) from Seventy-Five Receipts and cider cake from The American Frugal Housewife. The scans of these recipes are reproduced here. From looking at the recipes, which give bare bones instructions, I’ve determined I need to be flexible and inventive. I also need a kitchen scale.

This is not modern, scientific baking by a long shot. Ovens didn’t have exact temperature settings. Egg timers had not yet been invented. As Miss Leslie explains in her introduction, “There can be no positive rules as to the exact time of baking each article.” This is going to be an adventure.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Julie and Julia and Julia

I am about to embark on a culinary journey. In the midst of my busy senior year, I am going to attempt to cook and/or bake around ten recipes from historic cookbooks. Though ten may not sound particularly ambitious, the process requires finding the books; choosing the recipes; researching their historical and culinary contexts; and converting the measurements, ingredients, and cooking processes into practicable modern terms. With this blog, I will track my progress, my hardships and my triumphs.

People I’ve told about this project have asked if I’m a Julie and Julia fan. The movie based on a blog based on a cookbook seems to be the first thing people associate with ambitious cooking projects. My answer? Not particularly. I didn’t read the book. I saw the movie. I do like the idea. But I am not Lawrence Dei, who watched Julie and Julia every single day for a whole year and blogged about it ( I’m a student with a love of all things culinary, an interest in historic foodways, and a Watkinson Rare Books Library CreativeFellow (a student who proposed a unique project using books from the library).

Today I made a list of cookbooks I’d potentially like to use. I decided to limit my scope to cookbooks by American authors. I wanted to start with the Watkinson’s earliest cookbook written and published in America. The earliest American cookbook is not as old as one might think. Americans would have, for many years, relied on cookbooks written and published in England. Still more cookbooks, though published in the US, were written by English authors. Despite the fact that the earliest Watkinson cookbook made in America was published in Philadelphia in 1792 (Richard Brigg’s The New Art of Cookery), it was written by an Englishman and first published in London.

The first cookbook written by an American held by the Watkinson seems to be Eliza Leslie’s  1828 Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats. So, this is where my journey begins. Updates on my examination of this book and my attempts of recipes therein will be forthcoming.

And yes, you can now add another Julia to the Julie and Julia food blog trend.