Recipes we could afford to lose

September 5, 2016

As a not-cook, I’m sometimes boggled by the number of cookbooks out there:  who uses that many?  As someone interested in American social history, I’m fascinated by what cookbooks tell us about what people ate in earlier time periods:  what was available?  How was it prepared?  It’s a given that cookbooks can tell us about the tastes and concerns of the time period.

More entertaining, though, are the recipes that drop out of the culture.  The fondues of my youth turned out not to be the wave of the future.  (I never knew anyone who fondued, anyway.)  And few turtle soups appear in 21st-century cookbooks.  Looking at earlier American cookbooks, I do wonder at some recipes:  did anybody make this?  Did anybody eat it?  Did they like it?

One of those recipes is for oyster ice cream, in Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife (1860). Simple recipe:  “Make a rich soup, (see directions for oyster soup,) strain it from the oysters, and freeze it.” *   Did anybody ever do this?  Why?

My favorite what-were-they-thinking? recipe, though, comes from A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband, a work by two home-economics teachers that usually is mocked for its title.  It’s a charming book following newlyweds through their first year and offering recipes and advice on frugality.  (It also features the early-20th-century version of the crockpot.)

I enjoy reading the book; it’s like watching someone play house.  But—ouch—the recipes!  “White sauce” on practically everything; vegetables cooked until they surrender.  And the strangest recipe for peanut butter sandwiches:

Peanut Butter Sandwiches
(Twelve sandwiches)

4 T-peanut butter
1/8 t-salt
1 t-butter
1 T-salad dressing
12 slices of bread
12 uniform pieces of lettuce

Cream the peanut butter, add the butter. Cream again, add the salt and salad dressing, mixing well. Cut the bread evenly. Butter one side of the bread very thinly with the peanut butter mixture. Place the lettuce leaf on one slice and place another slice upon it, buttered side down. Press firmly and neatly together. Cut in two crosswise. Arrange attractively in a wicker basket.

And, yes, that “salad dressing” is pretty much mayonnaise. Now, I wonder:  did anybody ever eat one of these things?  Did they enjoy it?  Do you tart up peanut butter with mayonnaise and lettuce to make it palatable for adults?  Was peanut butter a new food that people weren’t sure how to use?  I’d love to know.

And I’d also love to know what recipes we rely on that will drop out or will strike later generations with glee.  Cupcakes?  Something with kale (an extremely dull vegetable)?  Anybody got a time machine?


* Randolph’s oyster soup recipe is wonderfully profligate with the oysters; you need three quarts:  “Wash and drain two quarts of oysters, put them on with three quarts of water, three onions chopped up, two or three slices of lean ham, pepper and salt; boil it till reduced one-half, strain it through a sieve, return the liquid into the pot, put in one quart of fresh oysters, boil it till they are sufficiently done, and thicken the soup with four spoonsful of flour, two gills of rich cream, and the yolks of six new laid eggs beaten well; boil it a few minutes after the thickening is put in. Take care it does not curdle, and that the flour is not in lumps; serve it up with the last oysters that were put in. If the flavour of thyme be agreeable, you may put in a little, but take care that it does not boil in it long enough to discolour the soup.”

Still don’t want to come across it unexpectedly as ice cream.

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2 Responses to “Recipes we could afford to lose”

  1. Karen Martin Says:

    I just discovered your wonderful website.

    Regarding the oyster soup ice cream, my guess is that cold food would have been served in the summer, back when porches and awning would have been the only form of air conditioning.

    But I can’t imagine how an 1860 cook planned to freeze that oyster soup during the summer, unless she used an ice cream churn that froze by means of ice and salt. (The ice, of course would have been harvested from a lake during the winter, and stored in an ice house.)

    Did anyone ever eat oyster soup ice cream?

    I’m told if you eat at places that don’t specialize in healthy cuisine it’s now possible to purchase deep-fried Hostess Twinkies. If it’s offered, some folks will eat anything….

  2. merrycoz Says:

    Thanks for stopping by!

    >But I can’t imagine how an 1860 cook planned to freeze that oyster soup during the summer

    Years ago, I read in a cookbook a description of a woman using salt and ice to freeze ice cream in a hole in the yard, going out occasionally to stir the cream in the “freezer.” I suppose the earth did a pretty good job of insulating. (I hope someday to find that cookbook.)

    >deep-fried Hostess Twinkies

    And, I’ve seen these in the freezer section at the grocery store. In two flavors, neither of which I’ve been tempted to try.


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