Old cookbooks serve heaping dollop of insights into early kitchens

A few pages from the 1926 “The Golden North Cookbook” produced to assist with fundraising for St. Paul’s Church in South Porcupine – and yes, that is the recipe for “Pie of Honeycomb Tripe”.

Supplied/Timmins Museum

jpg, TD

Like all things in print these days, there is much debate around the inevitable extinction of cookbooks in favour of apps, e-books and websites.

I like to think that there is room for both. A cookbook passed on to others with hand-written notes and newspaper clippings stuffed between the pages is a coming-of-age moment for new cooks. It is passing along knowledge in a physical format that is personal. It is also an important family heirloom. Web pages and apps are great too because they can help keep things focused and organized (I fear that one day someone will find me buried under my books – and that is not as far-fetched a scenario as it sounds).

Both formats are valid – “paper” cookbooks and the electronic type have their place. I don’t see why we have to choose between them – there really is room in this world for more than one way of doing things – something to keep in mind as we move through this COVID/On-line migration thing.

The Timmins Museum collection includes a good number of community cookbooks. These volumes are really much more than just recipe collections. They were usually put together to raise funds for a cause or a group.

One of my favourites is “The Golden North Cookbook,” compiled by Mrs. C.W. Dowsett and Mrs. J.B. Hutchinson, in aid of the building fund for St. Paul’s Church in South Porcupine.

The well-thumbed copy is a glimpse into the life of the woman who used the book. Published in 1926, it features recipes and household suggestions.

The owner of the collection also wrote personal notes in the margins, added clippings of recipes that she found useful and slipped in other newsy items of interest. Each recipe in the collection was put forward by a resident of the Porcupine (and their friends from afar) and the completed book received this “ringing” endorsement from Archdeacon J.E. Woodall: “Having tried several of the recipes myself with good results and without any ill effect to my digestive organs, I am prepared to take the whole on trust and to confidently commend the book to all true lovers of the culinary art.”

Some of the recipes that would have been popular then, probably would not make it to our tables today. The very notion of “Pie of Honeycomb Tripe” is somewhat disturbing: “Cook a pound of tripe in salted water, a wee pinch of cayenne and a bunch of sweet herbs, simmering for an hour. Cool on a platter until the next day and the tripe jellies [firm up]. Cut into cubes, place in a baking dish lined with rich biscuit dough, rolled thin. Add a quarter pound of cooked ham cubed, thick slices of hard cooked eggs and cover with another sheet of biscuit dough. Cook at 350 degrees until well browned – especially good!”

I may beg to differ, and it’s not that I am a picky eater – but there are some things that just don’t sound appetizing (jiggly tripe with hard boiled eggs being one of them) – and I wonder if this dish is one sampled by the good Archdeacon.

Obviously, not all recipes were awful. The recipes from some of the desserts sound quite lovely and are probably still in use today. The directions for cream puffs, French pastry and butter scotch pie all sound like something I would make on the weekend (there’s a thought).

the recipe for “Maids of Honour” from Mrs. Frank Reynolds of South Porcupine sounds simple but quite good: “Line 12 pastry tins with pastry; put in each ½ teaspoon of jam then mix the following – 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 1 tablespoon of flour, vanilla, 2 tablespoons of coconut – put a little in each tin and bake in a moderate oven.”

Obviously Mrs. Reynolds was an accomplished home cook and assumed that her readers were equally comfortable in the kitchen (she assumed you know how to make pastry, what constitutes a moderate oven and how long you should bake those tarts).

Mrs. McLellan of South Porcupine provided a recipe for a “Busy Women’s Dinner” that still sounds like it might work today with a few additions: “Put in a casserole the required amount of beef cut fairly thick. Sprinkle with pepper, salt and a little butter or dripping. Cover with thinly sliced onions. Over this layer very thinly sliced potatoes and sprinkle with a bit of flour, salt and pepper and more pieces of butter. Cover tightly and cook slowly until all are tender.” Like I said, not a bad recipe base – needs a few veggies and herbs to round it out a bit and appeal to today’s palate.

With that in mind, and if you will please excuse me, I think I might go and tackle that butter scotch pie, ignoring the calories of course.

Karen Bachmann is the curator/director of the Timmins Museum and a writer of local history.  

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