One of the oldest cookbooks in our collections is from the First Presbyterian Church in Davenport. Titled Cook Book, its pages are brittle and smudged with use.
This item has no official copyright date, but there are a few clues to its age: the rare telephone numbers in the sponsor ads are only two to four digits long—the earliest telephone lines in Davenport were installed around 1878. Also, a former owner of this cookbook inserted a recipe written on a piece of stationery from the Northern Steamboat Company—the line for the date is pre-printed 1915.
Other hints that this book was compiled around the turn of the last century can be found in the recipes—or receipts, as the book calls them. The donors apparently assumed that everyone knows what a “moderate” or “fairly quick” oven might be, how one would steam or fry something—or even how to put together a list of ingredients without any instructions at all:
“Never Fail” Pie Crust:
Two tablespoons of lard, four tablespoons of water, eight tablespoons of flour and a pinch of salt. Quantities are easily remembered by “two times four equals eight.”
—Mrs. C. E. Adams
Or, for that whimsical touch:
“Stand on your legs
And beat four eggs,
One cupful of sugar
And beat like a “booger,”
One cupful of flour,
And bake half an hour.”*
—Mrs. Wm. Johnson
Apparently, an art of some kind has been lost, as well as the original meaning of a certain word. . .
The recipes in Cook Book range from simple, nourishing Oxtail Soup and Fried Corn Meal Porridge, to dishes meant for holiday dining:
One large, fresh tongue. Two heaping tablespoons of flour. Any kind of vegetables, like carrots, celery, peas, turnips, etc. Large bunch of parsley, one onion, one potato, sliced, one bay leaf, one tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper, two tablespoons of butter. Wash tongue thoroughly, put in two quarts of water and cook for two hours. Take out and skin the tongue, cut off rough piece at the roots. Put butter and flour in iron kettle, brown and thicken with the bullion from the tongue, put in all the vegetables, then put in the tongue, cover tight and back two hours more, basting every fifteen minutes. When done, slice tongue, put on plates, and pour sauce and vegetables over it.”
—Mrs. August Reimers
Get four veal shanks, boil, skim several times; then add salt and two onions, cut up. When the meat falls from the bones, remove from the fire and strain. When the meat is cool, cut into small pieces; add one can of mushrooms and sliced sweet red pepper. Salt and pepper to taste. Put in mold and pour over it the strained liquor until it shows at the sides. This is nice molded into individual molds.
—Mrs. J. L. Manker
And we mustn’t forget dessert!
Four tablespoons of corn starch dissolved in one-half cup of cold water; to this add one pint of boiling water, one and one-half cups of sugar, and the juice of two lemons. When cooked and cold, fold in the whites of three eggs beaten stiff.
Custard Sauce for Pudding:
Cook in double boiler the yolks of three eggs, three tablespoonfuls of sugar, one pint of milk, salt.
—Mrs. L. M. Coffman
Anyone who feels confident in puzzling out these recipes is welcome to visit us and take a look at First Presbyterian’s book—or any of the many locally-connected cookbooks in our collection. We can’t promise that they’ll help you with a holiday feast ala Alice French, but the results should be unique!
*An addendum to this poem suggests that one separates the eggs first before beating each part, and adds the stiff whites just before baking. For what it’s worth, the oven should be moderate.
(posted by Sarah)