Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cookbook from Mary Randolph 1762-1828

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The Virginia Housewife: or, Methodical Cook
By Mary Randolph 1762-1828
Baltimore: Plaskitt, Fite, 1838 (1838)

Lilly Martin Spencer (American artist, 1822–1902) The Young Wife First Stew

This is considered by some to be the first truly American cookbook and by all to be the first regional American cookbook. This work is still in print and still forms the basis of traditional Virginia cooking. It has been praised by many culinary authorities both for its delineation of authentic Virginia foods and its careful attention to detail.

Upon its first appearance in 1824 it was an immediate success and it was republished at least nineteen times before the outbreak of the Civil War. In addition, copies appeared in the late nineteenth century and modern Southern authors aften reference it.

By the last publication dates of this book, methods of cooking were changing greatly. The invention of canning technology meant that all sorts of produce - such as carrots, soup, vegetable stew - could be preserved without being salted or pickled. Progress in glass technology led to the improvement of microscopes; this in turn brought about the discovery of bacteria, leading to advances in medicine and food preservation, and to a greater awareness of food hygiene.

The activities inside the Victorian kitchen were also transformed. Designers pateneted new state-of-the-art ovens that enabled cooks to control temperatures using a complex system of flues and metal plates. Now the middle class cook could prepare the complicated meals and delicate dishes that were previously reserved for the wealthy owners of grand kitchens. Cast iron and tin-plated equipment replaced brass and copper. Kitchens became cluttered with mass-produced implements such as pastry cutters, jelly moulds, pie moulds and biscuit tins. The Victorians also introduced a whole array of nifty gadgets: graters, potato peelers, mincers, and bean slicers.

Anyone who doubts that early Americans savored salads and vegetables need only look at what Mrs. Randolph offers. There are recipes for artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, eggplant, French beans, Jerusalem artichokes, lima beans, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, peas, peppers, potatoes, potato pumpkin, red beet roots, salsify, savoy cabbage, sea kale, sorrel, spinach, sprouts and young greens, squash, sweet potatoes, turnips, turnip tops, winter squash, onions, and tomatoes.

Indeed, Mrs. Randolph has seventeen recipes using tomatoes in the various editions of her cookbook. This provides further evidence to correct the misinformation that Americans did not use tomatoes prior to the mid-nineteenth century.

From the Historic American Cookbook Project: Feeding America
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