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.