Hi everyone! Do you have a favorite recipe or “go-to” cookbook? I bet you do. Maybe it’s the latest put out by a famous Food Network chef, or perhaps it’s one handed down to you from your mother or grandmother. I can still remember the heavenly aroma of Milky Way cake filling our ranch-style house as a kid. I thought my sweet mother had special powers, that cake tasted so good.
I’ve baked it many times over the years, and each time it evokes special memories for me. [You can find the complete, printable recipe here.]
Food and relationship are closely intertwined, aren’t they? The family table is a special place, filled with “family” foods, where we break bread together and share the day’s events. We prepare some of those dishes using recipes hand-written by dear friends and family, others are typed up in special “cookbooks” published by groups we may have belonged to, and still others can be found in our private cookbook collection. Wherever the recipes come from, they are reminders of special times spent with special people.
Through the centuries, instructions for food preparation
would have typically been passed down by word of mouth,
within communities over shared hearths & from mother to daughter.
I’ve read that the oldest “recipe” can be found written on the tomb of Senet, an Egyptian woman, who apparently had a passion for flat bread. Through the centuries, however, the instructions for food preparation would have typically been passed down by word of mouth within communities over shared hearths and from mother to daughter. With the advent of paper and more leisure time, some cooks began to write down their instructions. Some medieval books, chronicles of home-keeping methods, also included information about food preparation, but merely as one aspect of managing one’s household. But the average person would not have had access to such a book.
Typically, a woman would have a manuscript cookbook, handed down to her by her mother, filled with written instructions for various meals, as well as many other aspects of housekeeping, like recipes for herbal remedies, cleaning methods, or sewing notations. Above is just such a manuscript that I discovered at an estate sale. Missing its cover, it was clearly well-loved by the women who used it. It journals the food, medical, and spiritual history of the family and, to a certain extent, gives us a glimpse into their way of life. We learn that back in 1889, someone had a concern about constipation. They lived in Newburgh (NY) and were open to the idea of home remedies.
The Receipt for Drunkeness appears as well, curiously, with the “long s” written like an “f” without the cross (in the word “Drunkeness”), as it would have been in the 1700’s. But apparently some old fashioned writers hung on to this style well into the 1800’s.
People began to use the term recipe and it’s cousin receipt (derived from the Latin recipere, which means to receive) with respect to food in the early 1700’s. Prior to that, both terms referred to written instructions for medicines. Until about the 1960’s, cooks continued to use both terms interchangeably, but receipt is now considered quite old fashioned, and most people would not even know what it means in relation to food. Did you?
Later in the journal, we see some prayers and also a signature, “Lottie,” (bottom right on first page) a staunch Christian believer and the author of this manuscript/journal.
Mixed in with the prayers and remedies, we at last find some recipes: Jenny Lind Cake, Plain Cake, Apple Omelet (hmm), and Chocolate Filling for Cake.
Also in the manuscript, the popular “Birth-days” poem that starts, “Monday’s child is fair of face…” The sepia-tone, old-fashioned handwriting is something, isn’t it?
I have in my possession another “receipt” book, although, you can see from the letters in the lower right, it was intended as an address book. In very rough condition, it contains only recipes for food, and, like the previous manuscript, it has been clearly well-loved over the years.
It’s browned with age and filled with grease and batter spots (just like some of my recipe cards, as you’ll see shortly). This recipe for Crullers is written in wonderful old-fashioned hand. Notice how “tea spoonful” is written and how the author adds changes in parenthesis. And, as was often the case, the measurement for the last ingredient, flour, is “enough to make dough to roll out.”
About the turn of the last century, ladies began to enjoy women’s magazines, which quite often contained recipes to be clipped and stored away for future use. When I buy cookbooks, I often find these magazine (and newspaper) clippings inserted in the pages as way of safeguarding them and making them easily accessible.
Eventually the 4″ x 6″ index card and box became the popular way to organize one’s recipes.
Though I get many of my recipes off the internet these days, I still have many favorites stored away, like these I’ve clipped from the Albany Times Union over the years.
I also have many handwritten cards in my stash, some almost illegible from frequent use (and messy habits).
But the recipe that’s closest to my heart, is the one written in my mother’s own hand.
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