Cookerie From Days Past – Fun to Include in Your Stories

Do you ever think about what your female ancestor who maybe lived in Massachusetts or North Carolina or New York during the 18th, 19th or 20th century cooked for her family? Do you wonder if she had her own recipes, which was often the case, or if she had access to the two or three published cookbooks? Maybe you even have some of those old recipes. You might wonder what the cookbooks looked like from that time period. Well in 1615 in England Gervase Markham was the author of a publication entitled the English Huswive which included instruction in “Phisicke, Cookery, Banqueting-stuffe, Distillation, Perfumes, Wooll, Hemp, Flaxe, Dairies, Brewing, Baking, and all other things belonging to an Houshold.” This was the go to publication for the next one hundred years even in Colonial American.
It is amazing to me the variety of recipes from this publication. It is written in the old English so it is sometimes difficult to interpret especially the “s” character which looks frequently like an “f.”

A page from the Table of Contents of the English Huswive

The book contains more than recipes. It includes instruction regarding Phisickes which are medicinal remedies, gardening and herbs, wool and woolling cloth, dairy, butter and cheese and oates. I have kept the spelling used in the table of contents for context. Here is a summary of a woman’s “inward vertues.”

Inward Vertues

The recipes are fascinating. Sallats which I have deduced are salads cover several pages with simple and compound versions. Then there are frifcafes which I think is friscase, tansey, fritters, pancakes, quelquecholes, all manner of puddings, broth, how to roast meats and the best bastings, how to roast mutton and various types of fish. There are instructions for poultry and wild game, including partridge, pigeon and quale. Then there are the desserts; tarts, gingerbread, marmalades, cakes, special waters, and various other delicacies that I can’t identify.

Best Pancakes

It wasn’t until 1796 that a cookbook was actually published in America written by an American. It was entitled American Cookery by Amelia Simmons. This is the first publication which included recipes using ingredients common in America. Things like Johnny Cakes and Indian Slapjacks, or “pumpkin” pudding were included. Have you ever heard of Syllabubs? I never had so  of course I googled it. From Wikipedia, “an English sweet frothy drink which was popular from the 16th to 19th centuries, and a dessert based on it, which is still eaten.” Ms. Simmons included several versions of Syllabubs.

Johnny Cakes and Indian Slapjacks

The American Cookery also includes insight for the common housewife to determine if the meat, poultry, fish, wild game, eggs and vegetables found in the local markets are of good quality with an explanation of what to consider as far as freshness, coloring, etc.. Now, if you are recreating your ancestress’s story you know she spent a great deal of time shopping for and cooking meals for her family. Having this information, the names and preparation guidelines, will add so much to your story.  A simple sentence like “Mary perused the Salmon, looking for the largest one she could afford, as taste wise bigger is better in Salmon.” Mrs. Simmons stated “Salmon – the largest are the best.” Such a simple thing but it makes Mary’s life experience real and relevant. If you are interested in reading through this cookbook, here is the link.
Originally published in 1829 under the title THE FRUGAL HOUSEWIFE, it was reprinted in 1835 under a modified title since in 1803 Susanna Carter of England published a cookbook entitled The Frugal Housewife also.  Mrs. Child focused on economy within the household with suggestions and admonishments to accomplish such acts without meanness or discomfort.  Her book provides economic suggestions, medicinal remedies and recipes for just about anything you could think of. An interesting section deals with dyeing of various types of cloth; what plant provides what color and what type of pot to boil in. Again this knowledge would add so much to an ancestress’s story.  We have the vision in our heads of women stirring the huge vats to either make lye soap or do the laundry; now you can describe the coloring or recoloring of ribbons and other cloth as well.

Various dyeing techniques

I can’t begin to describe all of the other suggestions and recipes for meats, vegetables, cheese, breads and desserts. If you want to really add authenticity to your stories, spend some time reading this cookbook as well.  You can find the digitized copy here at HathiTrust.
This subject is so fascinating to me, I continued to have to pull myself out of the rabbit hole I wanted to go down. Of course there is so much information in these books it is not possible to remember it all but now or in the future as you prepare to write about your female ancestors, remember to refresh your memory about what they might have cooked, how it was to be prepared and what types of ingredients were needed.
I have just touched the surface here on what is available as a resource. Using specific search parameters such as geographic location and time period you will be able to find all sorts of additional cookbooks that will apply to your particular ancestress and your particular area of interest.
Did you find this information interesting or helpful? Do you think you will try to incorporate some of it in your next story? I would love to hear from you with your thoughts.

Click the Free Download button to receive a one page pdf file with links to many more online cookbook collections as well as cookbooks. Enjoy!

Bye for now.

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