Frequently, I come across a very old book and then investigate its pages. The old publication might be mildly interesting. At best, the old book will contain fascinating anthropological clues about daily life in years gone by.
The other day, I helped scavenge through an attic full of old stuff. There weren’t any antiques of much monetary value. What was to be found were a few appealing magazines and books. One book, in particular, grabbed my attention. The Institute Cook Book by Helen Cramp, printed in 1913. It was offered to members of the “International Institute, Department of Domestic Science” members. It included a certificate of membership and the right to participate in discussions. All of this for $1.75 per year. That was the equivalant of about a day’s salary in 1913.
A serious book collector might turn up her nose at this book because of it’s poor condition. This particular copy has evidently seen much use. The binding is loose, there are stains and some water damage and a few pages have disappeared. I can almost picture this book opened up to a particular recipe in a farm kitchen as a reference for meal preparation.
I couldn’t help but investigate the cooking hints and techniques. Knowing that the information was state of the art almost 100 years ago piqued my curiosity. Keep in mind that people didn’t use electric ranges in those days, what very few gas ranges that were available weren’t widely used. The Institute Cook Book was written for the householder who owned a woodburning range.
There is a small section of the book dedicated to “flameless cooking”. That describes bringing a pot of water to boil over flame, removing the pot, then placing a pan of food over the hot water. Alternatively, a pan of food could be placed on top of a steam radiator, the sort that is used to heat a room.
Likewise, mechanical refrigeration was not to be found in homes. People used ice boxes or ice chests to keep perishables safely. I found some recipes for ice creams and sherbets that utilize the crushed ice and rock salt method of chilling a metal can filled with mixture that is still used in old fashioned ice cream makers, today.
I was amazed at how much time was spent preparing meals. Convenience foods didn’t exist at that time. Even canned and preserved foods were entirely processed in the home. I found a recipe for yeast waffles that required over an hour to prepare.
In addition to mundane food preparation, there were menus for formal dinners to be found. The meals would likely have required the employment of a staff of workers or a collection of ladies in the kitchen. The truth being that women, by and large, had exclusive domain in food preparation and household work in those days.
Even though, some pages were missing, and I had to take great care to peruse the book, I learned about traditional cooking and meal planning.
The Blue Jay of Happiness especially enjoyed looking through the section regarding candy.