Guys look what I bought the other day!
(Book 1) An Aztec Herbal. From the back cover:
Originally written in the Aztec language, Nahuatl, in 1552, this classic codex was the first herbal and medical text compiled in the New World. The author of this extraordinarily rare and valuable document was Martin de la Cruz, an Aztec physician, whose work was subsequently translated into Latin by an Aztec nobleman, Juan Badiano. The book was translated into English in 1939 by William Gates.
Contains recipes for medicines, along with pictures of the plants used to make them. For instance:
To heal a scabby face, take the juice of crushed tlal-quequetzal, a-quahuitl and eca-patli in water of an acid savor, adding pigeons’ excrement, as a wash.
(Book 2) How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine, and Crafts, by Frances Densmore. An unabridged copy of an anthropology paper originally published in 1928, as “Uses of Plants by the Chippewa Indians”. I haven’t really looked through this one yet, but from the back cover:
In separate sections describing the major areas of use, Miss Densmore, an ethnologist with the Smithsonian Institution, details the use of nearly 200 plants with emphasis on wild plants and lesser-known uses. For those interested in natural foods she gives extensive coverage to the gathering and preparation of maple sugar and wild rice, as well as preparations for beverages from leaves and twigs of common plants, seasonings including mint and bearberry, the methods of preparing wild rice and corn, cultivated and wild vegetables, and wild fruits and berries. On Indian medicines she tells the basic methods of gathering plants and the basic surgical and medical methods. Then she gives a complete list of the plants with their botanical names, uses, parts used, preparation and administration, and other notes and references. Also covered are plants used as charms, plants used in natural dyes, and plants in the useful and decorative arts including uses for household items, toys, mats, twine, baskets, bows, and tools with special emphasis on the uses of birth bark and cedar. This section will be especially useful for supplying new and unusual craft ideas. In addition thirty-six plates show the many stages of plant gathering and preparation and many of the artistic uses. While a number of the plants discussed are native only to the Great Lakes region, many are found throughout a wide range.
(Book 3) Chinese Medicinal Herbs: A modern Edition of a Classic Sixteenth-Century Manual by Li Shih-Chen. As far as I can tell, this is just a giant alphabetical list of plants and their uses. For instance:
Halianthus Annuus [Chinese characters]. Although the sunflower is extensively cultivated in gardens and fields throughout China, and the fruits are used as food, it is not clearly mentioned in the standard works on medicine or botany. On account of a reference in the classics, the meaning of which is anything but clear, this plant has been confounded with the malvaceae. The above names are the common designation by which the plant is known in Japan and China. The fruits are also fed to fowls, the leaves are made fodder for cattle, and the stalks and roots are used as fuel. The oil, [Chinese characters], is also known to the Chinese, but does not seem to be much used. Aside from the nutritive properties of the fruits, no medicinal qualities have been found ascribed to this plant.
(Book 4) Rufus Estes’ Good Things to Eat, the first cookbook by an African-American chef. “Born a slave in 1857, Rufus Estes worked his way up as a Pullman porter to a job preparing meals for the top brass at one of America’s largest steel corporations. This cookbook, the first by a black chef, includes a number of dishes from Estes’ vast culinary collection.” Originally published in 1911.
An example recipe:
MUFFINS – Sift a tablespoon of salt, two level tablespoons of baking powder, and two cups of flour together. Beat the yolks of two eggs, add one cup of milk, two tablespoons of slightly melted butter, and the dry ingredients. Beat, add lightly the stiffly beaten whites of two eggs, fill hot buttered gem bans two-thirds full, and bake in a hot oven.
This is way more specific than the earlier cookbooks – it actually tells you how much of each ingredient to use! But still… “bake in a hot oven”. What temperature? For what amount of time? I wonder what ovens were like back in 1900. It was probably not easy to measure the temperature.
(Book 5) The Virginia Housewife Or, Methodical Cook, a facsimile of an authentic early American cookbook by Mary Randolph. “Originally published in 1824, this influential, classic guide by a noted Virginia hostess is widely regarded as the first truly Southern cookbook.”
An example recipe:
SWEET POTATO BUNS – Boil and mash a potato, rub into it as much flour as will make it like bread – add spice and sugar to your taste, with a spoonful of yeast; when it has risen well, work in a piece of butter, bake it in small rolls, to be eaten hot with butter, either for breakfast or tea.
Do you see what I mean about nonspecific? “Add spice and sugar to your taste.” I wonder if “spice” refers to a particular spice, or if the recipe is really just leaving it up to the cook’s discretion.
Also noteworthy is the recipe for “Dough Nuts – a Yankee cake”.
(Book 6) The House Servant’s Directory, by Robert Roberts.
[F]irst published in 1827 and the standard for household management for decades afterwards. A classic survey of work, home life, and race relations in early America, the book was the result of many years of Roberts’ personal and professional experiences. One of the first books written by an African-American and published by a commercial press, this manual for butlers and waiters offers keen insight into the social milieu, hierarchy, and maintenance of the antebellum manor.
Contains extremely detailed instructions on how to wait on people and take care of the household. For instance, instructions on serving dinner:
When the chairs are put round, and all things quite ready, proceed to the drawing room, or wherever the company is. If the drawing room is large, advance a little towards the lady or gentleman of the family, and with a graceful motion of your head, say, “Ma’am,” or “Sir, the dinner is served;” or “Ladies and Gentlemen, dinner is on the table.” When you see that they have noticed the announcement, then proceed to the dining room door, and hold it open until the company have all gone in, then shut it, and when the company have sat down, if there is a soup, take off the cover; if there should be only fish at the top, and a joint at the bottom, remove the cover from off the fish or soup, and from off the proper sauce for the fish; and if there is no one but yourself to wait, take your station at the bottom of the table, about a yard behind the person that sits at the foot of the table; stand rather a little to the left of his chair. By standing in this position, you will command a full view of the table; whereas if you stand behind the person that carves, at the bottom of the table, you cannot see when the plates want changing. [It goes on in this fashion for quite a while.]
The book also contains recipes (or “receipts”), though not for food but for things like:
ITALIAN VARNISH, MOST SUPERB FOR FURNITURE. Melt one part of virgin wax (white) in eight parts of oil petroleum, lay a light coat of this very even over your furniture while warm, you may put it on with a badger’s brush; let it stand for ten or fifteen minutes, then polish off with a piece of coarse soft cloth or flannel, and finish with an old silk handkerchief. Inexperienced servants should be very careful how they apply any receipt at first, they should always make the first experiment on some article of little value.
(Book 7) Civil War Recipes, receipts from the pages of Godey’s Lady’s Book.
Godey’s Lady’s Book, perhaps the most popular magazine for women in nineteenth-century America, had a national circulation of 150,000 during the 1860s. The recipes (receipts) it published were often submitted by women from both the North and the South, and they reveal the wide variety of regional cooking that characterized American culture.
An example recipe:
BAKED SALMON . A small salmon may be baked whole. Stuff it with forcemeat made of bread-crumbs, chopped oysters or minced lobster, butter, Cayenne, a little salt, and powdered mace; all mixed well, and moistened with beaten yolk of egg. Bend the salmon round, and put the tail into the mouth, fastening it with a skewer. Put it into a large deep dish; lay bits of butter on it at small intervals, and set it into the oven*. While baking, look at it occasionally, and baste it with the butter. When one side is well browned, turn it carefully in the dish, and add more butter. Bake it till the other side is well browned; then transfer it to another dish with the gravy that is about it, and send it to table.
If you bake salmon in slices, reserve the forcemeat for the outside. Dip each slice first in beaten yolk of egg, and then in forcemeat until it is well coated. If in one large piece, cover it in the same manner thickly with the seasoning.
The usual sauce for baked salmon is melted butter, flavored with the juice of a lemon and a glass of port wine, stirred in just before the butter is taken from the fire. Serve it up in a sauce-boat.
*Fish is usually baked in a 400° to 450° oven. Cook until it flakes easily. Do not overcook.
(Book 8) Native Harvests: American Indian Wild Foods and Recipes, by E. Barrie Kavasch. Originally written in 1979, expanded in 1998. Contains sections on traditional foods and medicines made from native plants.
An example recipe:
BATTER-FRIED DANDELION BLOSSOMS (serves 8)
1 tablespoon water
¼ cup nut oil (see page 7)
2 quarts freshly picked dandelion blossoms, washed and dried*
1 ½ cups fine cornmeal
Add the water to the eggs and beat well. Heat the nut oil to sizzling in a cast-iron skillet. Dip the dandelion blossoms, one at a time, into the egg, and then into the cornmeal. Sauté, turning often, until golden. Drain on brown paper. Serve either hot or cold, as snacks, a vegetable side dish, or a tasty garnish.
*For full, showy blossoms, pick just before using, as blossoms close shortly after picking. The dandelion blossom responds quickly to temperature changes; it opens only in clear weather and bolts as soon as temperatures approach 90°F. Notice the dandelion’s yellow-blossoming abundance in spring, its disappearance in summer, and the return of a few fall flowers as temperatures cool.
I wish I hadn’t missed the season for this, because a month ago, my yard was totally full of dandelions, and I’ve never eaten them before.
(Book 9) The First American Cookbook, a facsimile of American Cookery, 1976, by Amelia Simmons.
An example recipe:
MINCED PIE OF BEEF. Four pound boild beef, chopped fine, and falted ; fix pound of raw apple chopped alfo, one pound beef fuet, one quart of Wine or rich fweet cyder, one ounce mace, and cinnamon, a nutmeg, two pounds raifins, bake in pafte No. 3, three fourths of an hour.
It does that annoying thing with the s->f, but on the bright side, it actually says how long to cook things.
Also, from the end of the book:
The author of the American Cookery, not having an education fufficient to prepare the work for the prefs, the perfon that was employed by her, and entrufted with the receipts, to prepare them for publication, (with a defign to impofe on her, and injure the fale of the book) did omit feveral articles very effential in fome of the receipts, and placed others in their ftead, which were highly injurious to them, without her confent – which was unknown to her, till after publication ; but fhe has removed them as far as possible, by the following ERRATA. [list of errata]
In 1796, some people were assholes.
This completes the excessively long list of books I purchased the other day. I’m happy to provide more excerpts of recipes etc. on request.