Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Curious Find ~ Virginia Housewife Cook Book

My vintage shop on Etsy has continued to grow and blossom. Each item I've added to my shop has given me opportunity to learn something new. I found this recent addition interesting in so many ways.

This book The Virginia Housewife or Methodical Cook was written by Mary Randolph. This addition is an undated copy published by Hurst & Co. I did quite a bit of research on this piece and would date it circa 1880.

Originally published in 1824, this cookbook has been called the "most influential American cookbook of the 19th century" and "the first truly American cookbook". It contains early evidence of the influence of African cuisine in Southern cooking, though most of the recipes are derived from European traditions.

The author Mary Randolph was the Godmother to Mrs. Robert. E. Lee. Born to an elite family and trained in "proper household management practices", she married David Randolph, an outspoken Federalist. When her husband was removed from his position as United States Marshall by his cousin, President Thomas Jefferson, Mary Randolph opened up a boarding house in order to retain her standard of living. Later in her life she decided to write a cookbook. She died in 1828 and was the first person to be buried in the Arlington National Cemetery.

This book contains cooking instructions for everything from hearty soups to lamb and pork dishes, along with fish, poultry, sauces, vegetables, puddings, cakes, preserves and more.

In addition to traditional Southern fare as okra soup, curry of catfish, barbecued shoat (a fat young hog), field peas, beaten biscuits and sweet potato buns, there are also recipes for dishes, condiments and beverages rarely seen on today's dinner table: sweetbread and oyster pie, grilled calf's head, shoulder of mutton with celery sauce, fried calf's feet, pheasant “a-la-daub,” tansy pudding, gooseberry fool (cold stewed gooseberries with custard and whipped cream), pickled nasturtiums, walnut catsup, vinegar of the four thieves, ginger wine and may others.

This comprehensive cook's reference also provides an introduction to the food and customs of the antebellum South, as well as instructions for making soap, starch and cologne water, cleaning silver, drying herbs and much other useful advice.

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