An Orphaned Cookbook

The Daughter Unit is, as I have mentioned before, the absolute queen of yard sales, thrift stores and estate sales. She views each possible venue as a rich hunting ground – and regularly emerges triumphantly flaunting a high-quality and originally expensive item bought for a relative pittance.  She also has a soft spot for old books, especially the ones which look as if they have had better days. She says they appeal to her rather like a kind of abandoned pet, the elderly animal left behind when the owner dies.

At the last estate sale, she glommed onto a tattered cookbook – so well used that the back cover boards and the spine were missing entirely, as well has about half the page signatures had come unstitched: A copy of Lowney’s Cook Book Illustrated – Revised Edition. Which poor appearance owes something to age – the revised edition came out in 1912, and hard use – since it seems to have been very much referred to by the original and subsequent owners. The last few blank pages of this orphaned cookbook that my daughter bought – and the reason she felt moved to buy it – are filled with hand-written recipes in faded ink.

Just leafing carefully through – because the corners of some of the pages shred easily – Lowney’s appears as a kind of cook book bridge between Mrs. Beeton’s encyclopedic tome on household management with recipes, and  Irma Rombauer’s  1970’s edition of  the Joy of Cooking which was my mother’s general-purpose cooking reference. Like Mrs. Beeton’s – there is some general guidance on setting up formal dinners, and instructions to guide a butler in the performance of his duties. Unlike Mrs. Beeton’s – Lowney’s has nothing much more to say about the duties of household staff. This might be as much of a difference between Britain and America as much as it might be the difference that sixty years of progress had made. In a middle-class urban American household in 1912, one might very well have been able to count on electricity, gas stoves, and reliable refrigeration, and maybe the help of an occasional cleaning woman or laundress.

By this time, cooking might even have been a bit more fun for the housewife. In any case, by the time of Joy – a housewife was definitely expected to be the cook herself. Lowney’s does have extensive instructions – and color illustrations yet – on the various cuts of meat extrapolated from a whole side of beef, which is very much in line with Joy of Cooking, which had pages of diagrams on this kind of thing. (Seriously, if I ever have to clean a whole game bird, I will refer to my own copy of Joy for step by step instructions.) Like Mrs. Beeton, Lowney has a whole chapter devoted to invalid cookery, reminding us that in the early 20th century, as well as in the 19th, a substantial portion of a housewife’s energies might well be taken up with nursing the sick. And finally, in one particular – the recipes within it look much more  . . .  edible and appealing than Mrs. Beeton’s, much more like something that could be fixed without a lot of fuss, and with ingredients still widely available. The measurements are standardized also – none of this “a piece of butter about the size of a walnut” and a “dessert spoonful” of this or that. This standardization of measurements was the gift of Fannie Farmer, I am given to understand. The original Lowney was a manufacturer of chocolate – but the cookbook editor, Maria Howard, was associated with the Fannie Farmer School of cooking.

Just for fun, though – here is a recipe for homemade tomato catsup, for anyone who happens to have half a bushel of tomatoes lying around.

 Directions for Tomato Ketchup #2

½ bushel tomatoes, 2 Tbsp mustard, 2 Tbsp ginger, 1 Tbsp cloves, 1 Tbsp allspice, 2 Tbsp pepper, 3 quarts vinegar, 2 cups alcohol, 3 cups brown sugar, 1 cup salt, 2 lemons finely chopped, cayenne pepper

Cook tomatoes one hour; press through a sieve; add all ingredients except alcohol and cook until thick; boil one minute, add alcohol and bottle. The cooking will take six or eight hours; stir occasionally to keep from burning.

(The above is an archive post,  originally posted at my OS blog, and maybe at the Daily Brief. I’ve been tied up all this week … I have a table for my books at a Christmas market tomorrow – so all kinds of support material to print up for that – and two of my books have just now this very day gone live on Amazon: the second edition of To Truckee’s Trail, which one fan described as ‘Wagon Trains for Dummies’ – and ‘Deep in the Heart – the latest and the sequel to Daughter of Texas. The Kindle edition will show up any minute now. Oh, and a big hug and a kiss for the UPS delivery guy in my neighborhood, who was in so much of a hurry to finish for the day that he left the two boxes of books that I needed for stock at the Christmas Market tomorrow and ran away before I even opened the door… No, I really don’t look all that terrifying without makeup, but it’s a Friday afternoon and just before 6 PM.)

10 thoughts on “An Orphaned Cookbook”

  1. Sgt – there is an innate talent some people have for finding the “good” yard sales. A neighbor of mine has a niece making a good living on ebay selling estate jewelry.

    For awhile I cruised these estate sales and found nothing but junk.

    I remember going to one advertising “objects d’ art” and finding….velvet Elvis pictures.

    But your daughter has “the touch”. In reading your post just think what that book would say…if it could talk.

    The recipe for ketchup was deemed important because at the time before mass production, transportation hubs – buying an inexpensive bottle at the market wasn’t an option.

    Indeed i would think one would get an idea of the society by reading the cookbook – things the author deemed important enough that the readers would want to know.

  2. My favorite author, Neville Shute Norway, has a sequence in one of his best novels, “The Far Country,” of a character reading an old cookbook that had belonged to his wife’s mother, who had just died of starvation in 1950 England. He marvels at the recipes calling for butter and sugar that are now rationed. This was the period when Shute was getting ready to move to Australia and his reasoning is clear. He hated Socialism and believed it was responsible for England’s woes at the time.

  3. Alchohol? Ethanol, I presume. I suppose these days one would have to substitute vodka or some such, but that would be unduly expensive.

  4. Sgt. Mom: Your Daughter’s find is not in this archive, but if she ps interested in such things, she might enjoy browsing:

    Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project

    * * *

    The Michigan State University Library and the MSU Museum have partnered to create an online collection of some of the most influential and important American cookbooks from the late 18th to early 20th century. The goal of this project is to make these materials available to a wider audience.

    Digital images of the pages of each cookbook are available as well as full-text transcriptions and the ability to search within the books, across the collection, in order to find specific information.

  5. Sweet post, Sgt. Mom :)

    What is so fascinating about old diaries and cookbooks? I am not one for cookbooks but some time ago I flipped through Julia Child’s famous cookbook and was charmed at her writing style. Does anyone write like that anymore? No wonder it sold so well, not only for the recipes but the general style and wisdom demonstrated.

    And what an interesting life!

    – Madhu

  6. Some people collect discarded old photos, either family photos found at yard sales and antique shops or the archives of defunct photo studios. It is an interesting form of recycling.

    When you think about it, despite people’s best efforts to preserve memories, most people’s knowledge of their family history extends back only about three generations at best.

  7. Celia, the best of sales at the Christmas Market!
    UPS-man didn’t wait with his board? they usually don’t leave till one signs.

    Some cookbooks appear older, as in “disconnected from our reality, scientific foundations behind cooking and contemporary fashions”, than others – and that is not necessarily correspond to their actual age.
    For instance, my copy of Advice to a young homemaker, Kazan, 1984 lost about 60% of its practical value while gained 200% in entertainment/comical effect. [To me. I suspect the local population will still find it up to date]. F.e., I can just see a reader’s eyebrow raising at lines like these:
    – [in chapter on cheese]: if you don’t have a refrigerator, wrap the chunk of cheese into a cloth pre-soaked in salted water
    – [chapter on soups] to make a meat stock lighter and give it a golden color, at the end of cooking add few washed egg- and onion- shells, then remove after bringing to a boil
    Etc. It’s a whole tome of treasures.

    At the same time, a book by Ida Savi Rolls. Pies. Pastry, published in Tallinn, “Valgus”, 1980 reads as if written a year ago.

  8. When you think about it, despite people’s best efforts to preserve memories, most people’s knowledge of their family history extends back only about three generations at best.

    One problem is the way the US census data was collected. Before 1870, only the surname and number and ages of residents was recorded. The Canadian census was far more complete.

  9. James Beard’s American Cookery is a short history of American cooking and eating woven into a cookbook. Both aspects of the book are good.

  10. Thanks, all – my daughter does have the eye, and a fair amount of luck. Her personal best was a Doney & Burke shoulder bag (original retail $250ish) at a yard sale for $5. Mine was a barely used Zojirushi bread machine, which when new was very high end … also for $5. I swear, bread machines were the useless wedding gift of choice for about a decade or so. You can find them, almost brand new, everywhere.

    The Christmas Market went like a dream, Tatyana – more than $400 in sales, and met up with a lot of fans, who had read the books and were thrilled to bits to buy them autographed. I’ll be at another Christmas fair/community event in two weeks, at Goliad, where Santa arrives riding on a longhorn steer.

    Actually, the Kazan homemaking book sounds as if it would be very useful to me…

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