“A Recipe for Cooking Husbands,” and Nineteenth-Century Joke Recipes

Avery Blankenship, PhD Student, Department of English, Northeastern University

“A good many husbands are utterly spoiled by mismanagement,” begins a recipe printed in the December 31, 1885 edition of the South Carolina Anderson Intelligencer [1], “some women go about as if their husbands were bladders and blow them up. Others keep them constantly in hot water; others let them freeze by their carelessness and indifference. Some keep them in a stew by irritating ways and words. Others roast them. Some keep them in pickles all their lives.” The writer of this recipe, referred to only as a “Baltimore lady,” however, promises to provide a tried and true method for cooking a husband to perfection. 

Image 1 – “A Recipe for Cooking Husbands,” The Anderson intelligencer. December 31, 1885, Image 4. Courtesy of Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

This recipe, like many of the joke recipes that made the rounds in nineteenth-century newspapers, takes the form of a recipe and puts a unique twist on it. Typically, these joke recipes have very little to do with food—often focusing on domestic issues such as marriage, keeping house, and tending to children. In this particular recipe, the reader—who presumably has yet to be married—is instructed to not “go to market for him, as the best are always brought to your door.” The rest of the recipe unfolds like a recipe for boiling crab or lobster, instructing the reader to make and cook them while alive, add “sugar” in the form of affection but never vinegar, and that in doing so, he will “keep as long as you want, unless you become careless and set him in too cold a place.” 

Joke recipes, particularly in the nineteenth-century, though their popularity certainly continued beyond this one-hundred year span, enabled people primarily operating out of the domestic sphere to speak to a wider audience through a genre that their audience might not typically read. Occasionally, male writers would attempt to copy the style of a joke recipe, for instance in the February 6, 1885 edition of the Maryland Aegis & Intelligencer in which a male writer is directly responding to the popularity of  “A Recipe for Cooking Husbands.” The writer is offering up advice on how to cook a wife, though he admits “I have never tried any of my receipts yet, but I am anxiously looking around for some one to practise them on.” 

Through this style of humorous recipe writing, domestic writers were able to set aside the seriousness of a typical nineteenth-century recipe with its precision and focus on the task of feeding families in order to share frustrations, joy, sadness, and even anger with others operating in domestic spaces. Particularly for nineteenth-century domestic writers and workers, for whom the division between work and leisure time was indistinct, carving out a place where they could play within the framework of work was especially important. Through joke recipes, domestic workers could take the frame of labor—in this case the recipe form—and share a particular type of humor that is associated with their lives outside of the kitchen. The appearance of the  “A Recipe for Cooking Husbands,” recipe in a newspaper, as opposed to a formally published cookbook or even community cookbook which both occasionally printed joke recipes, points to the ability of the joke recipe to speak back to audiences outside of the domestic sphere. On one hand, the recipe is a humorous inside joke amongst women, but with the wide readership of the newspaper, it ensures that male readers will also come across the recipe and take note of the complaints that women have regarding their domestic lives. 

“A Recipe for Cooking Husbands,” not only provides a window into domestic humor in the nineteenth century, but also domestic struggles. The recipe urges its readers to not be lured in by silvery appearances or by a golden tint. In other words, to not prioritize looks or wealth over other factors such as attitude. The recipe also provides guidelines for when one’s husband angers, writing that “if he sputters and fizzes, do not be anxious; some husbands do this till they are quite done.” These lines, though comical, provide advice to young women either in the early stages of marriage or considering marriage, warning against too much focus on wealth and appearance and providing instructions for dealing with disagreements using humor to mask domestic advice.

The humor of “A Recipe for Cooking Husbands,” although crafted around nineteenth-century domestic life, continued to have cultural relevance even into the late 1950s, appearing in reprint in community cookbooks, magazines, and other domestic ephemera even the particular style of recipe writing used was outdated. This uptake and re-circulation of joke recipes shows that the stories coming out of the domestic sphere—tensions within a marriage, trouble with raising children, and even abstract depictions of joy, happiness, and even anger have a cultural relevance that extends beyond a single lifetime.  

Previous posts on parody and joke recipes have focused on early modern Russian recipes. 

Notes:

[1]  It should be noted that this version of the recipe is a reprint of an earlier version which appeared in the Baltimore Sun. Based on commentary from other reprints of this recipe, we can guess it was originally printed at the end of January 1885. The Baltimore Sun is not included in Chronicling America’s database of historical newspapers, so I’ve pulled an early reprint of the recipe.

 

 

“You know I am no epicure”: Enslaved Voices in Eliza Lucas Pinckney’s Receipt Book

By Rachel Love Monroy

The Papers of the Revolutionary Era Pinckney Statesmen

The Pinckney Papers Project at the University of South Carolina includes both the Papers of Eliza Lucas Pinckney (1722-1793) and Harriott Pinckney Horry (1748-1830) and The Papers of the Revolutionary Era Pinckney Statesmen. Both editions are published by Rotunda, the digital imprint of the University of Virginia Press, in its “American Founding Era Collection.” The Pinckney Family represents one of the most important, yet lesser-known, families of the founding period. Eliza is best known for the management of her father’s South Carolina plantations at a young age and subsequent experimentation with cultivating improved strains of indigo in the colony. Her sons, and their cousin, are the subject of The Papers of the Revolutionary Era Pinckney Statesmen: Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (1746-1825), his brother Thomas Pinckney (1750-1828), and their cousin Charles Pinckney (1756-1824). They served as military, economic, political, and diplomatic leaders in South Carolina and the nation during and after the American Revolution, working as governors, diplomats, military officers, and delegates to the Constitutional Convention.

 

Image 1 – The first page of Eliza’s receipt book marked simply with her name and the date 1756, as well as Rect. Book No. 2. at the top. Citation: Pinckney, Eliza Lucas, 1723-1793. Eliza Pinckney receipt book, 1756. (43/2178) South Carolina Historical Society.

The pages of Eliza Lucas Pinckney’s receipt book reveal one hundred and thirty-nine recipes: ninety-eight culinary, thirty-nine medical, and two household related. With titles from “Plumb Marmalade” to “For an Ague of Fever” they depict an image of Eliza in the kitchen testing, improving, and adjusting her own concoctions. When she reminds us “your mold must be greased with fatt bacon before you put your wafers inn” and “be sure to grease it again each time,” the intimacy of her tone, knowledge of the ingredients, and tactile descriptions paint a picture of Eliza’s fingers stained with currant juice, hands sticky and scented of rosewater, and palate carefully judging.[1] Yet her familiar tone and interjections of advice obscure a different reality. The surviving manuscript is conspicuously clean of grease marks and stains. Eliza’s name is alone printed on the front, but what follows is a forced collective effort not a solitary enterprise. It is Eliza’s work, but it is also the work of enslaved people, their thoughts, inventions, ideas, and alterations. Eliza has erased and appropriated black hands mixing, chopping, stirring, kneading, and folding; black mouths tasting, black minds adjusting, and black voices retelling the recipes recorded in her own hand.

As a plantation mistress in colonial South Carolina Eliza Pinckney was a slave owner. Historians estimate that at the time of her husband Charles Pinckney’s death she kept between two and three hundred slaves.[2] She grew up among slaves in Antigua and inherited them from both her father, George Lucas, and late husband. A 1745 inventory of her father’s slaves at Garden Hill Plantation listed 79 individuals by name.[3] Yet Eliza’s receipt book included no passing mention of black enslaved labor to produce ingredients or execute recipes, no discussion of “Mary-Ann” who “understands roasting poultry in the greatest perfection you ever saw,” or old Ebba who fattens the birds “to as great a nicety.” She left out Daphne who made “a loaf of very nice bread.”[4] In Eliza’s day, recipe books transitioned from products of independent women perfecting their recipes to collections of recipes reflecting the wishes of the household mistress more than her labor. Culinary skill transferred to the author of recipes and away from those who painstakingly executed them. Cooking was still an act of the hands, but not hands in peeling, dicing, or folding, but a hand grasping a pen and recording a recipe on the written page.[5]

Image 2 – An example of the recipes included in Eliza’s receipt book. This page includes recipes for “Little Pudings” and “Rusks.” Citation: Pinckney, Eliza Lucas, 1723-1793. Eliza Pinckney receipt book, 1756. (43/2178) South Carolina Historical Society.

Eliza consumed her slaves’ physical labor, as well as their creative power: their knowledge of native ingredients’ medicinal power in her remedies. Her whitewashing of recipes obscures both the role that slaves played and her own contribution. It is difficult to know how the drama unfolded. Did Eliza dictate and observe, or pass along recipes as an absentee cook? Where did her knowledge end and theirs begin? Were these Eliza’s ideas, or recipes developed by enslaved Africans for which she simply took credit? Eliza readily admitted, “You know I am no epicure, but I am pleased they [the slaves] can do things so well, when they are put to it” Eliza kept “young Ebba to do the drudgery part, fetch wood, and water, and scour, and learn as much as she is capable of Cooking and Washing,” while “Old Ebba boils the cow’s victuals, raises and fattens the poultry, Moses is imployed from breakfast until 12 o’clock without doors, after that in the house. Pegg washes and milks.” Mary-Ann pickled oysters very well, while Daphne cooks.[6]

Image 3 – A medicinal recipe from Eliza’s receipt book entitled: “For the Flux.” Citation: Pinckney, Eliza Lucas, 1723-1793. Eliza Pinckney receipt book, 1756. (43/2178) South Carolina Historical Society

Eliza discounted enslaved workers’ intimate knowledge of rice and sweet potatoes from West Africa and their ability to knead bread to its perfect consistency because they were merely an instrument in her cooking. Hers was the creative enterprise, intellectual pursuit, and scientific experiment. Just as Aristotle had called slaves an “instrument of their owner” a “living tool” Eliza’s slaves acted as her culinary instruments.[7] They were the knives, the ladles, and the frying pans. The kitchen tools were an extension of slave bodies, because to Eliza the slaves were tools themselves, that she held and manipulated. She recognized their contribution no more than she might have noticed the utility of a particular spoon or knife in performing the job at hand. Because just like these inanimate tools, Eliza believed tools of flesh and blood could not perform the task without her. They needed Eliza’s mind, her knowledge, and her creativity to breathe life into their bodies and cook.

 

[1] To make Wafers, in The Papers of Eliza Lucas Pinckney and Harriott Pinckney Horry Digital Edition, ed. Constance Schulz. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2012..

[2] Ted, Morgan, Wilderness at Dawn: The Settling of the North American Continent (New York, NY: 1993), 262.

[3] List of Slaves, George Lucas, May 1745, in The Papers of Eliza Lucas Pinckney and Harriott Pinckney Horry Digital Edition, ed. Constance Schulz. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2012.

[4]Eliza Lucas Pinckney to Harriott Pinckney Horry, n.d. , in The Papers of Eliza Lucas Pinckney and Harriott Pinckney Horry Digital Edition, ed. Constance Schulz. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2012.

[5]Wendy, Wall, Recipes for Thought Knowledge and Taste in the Early Modern English Kitchen (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), 50

[6] Eliza Lucas Pinckney to Harriott Pinckney Horry, n.d. , in The Papers of Eliza Lucas Pinckney and Harriott Pinckney Horry Digital Edition, ed. Constance Schulz. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2012.

[7] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. David Ross (London, 1980), 212.

 

 

Around the Table: Publisher Chat

Welcome to the latest Around the Table! I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Karen Merikangas Darling, an Executive Editor in the Books Division at the University of Chicago Press, about the process of publishing recipes-related research.

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat! First, could you tell me more about your role at the University of Chicago Press?

Thank you for inviting me! I am one of fourteen acquiring editors at the University of Chicago Press. The Press was one of three original divisions of the University when it was founded in 1890. Although for a year or two it functioned only as a printer, in 1892 the Press began publishing scholarly books and journals, making it one of the oldest continuously operating university presses in the United States. We publish significant scholarly and nonspecialist (trade) books by authors from within and beyond the academy; translations of important foreign-language texts, both historical and contemporary; and essential reference works, such as the Chicago Manual of Style – now in its 17th edition. In all of this, the Press is guided by the judgment of individual editors who work to build a broad but coherent publishing program engaged with authors and readers around the world.

Jennifer Rampling, The Experimental Fire: Inventing English Alchemy, 1300-1700 (University of Chicago Press, 2020).

Specifically, acquisitions editors are responsible for publishing “lists,” or collections of books in certain areas: my areas include the history of science, medicine, technology, and the environment, as well as philosophy, sociology, and anthropology of science, medicine, and technology. Sometimes we sponsor book series within our areas. For example, in partnership with the Science History Institute and an excellent Series Board, I publish books in our Synthesis series, which focuses on the history of chemistry, broadly construed.

Day-to-day, my role is to shepherd books from idea into print. Acquisitions editors evaluate proposals for books that arrive unsolicited in our inboxes, but we also seek out and invite projects that we think might result in exciting books for the Press. We work closely with authors to develop their manuscripts so that they reach their full potential. As a university press, part of this involves steering promising projects through peer review.

UChicago Press has a reputation in the Recipes Project community for publishing scholarship showcasing very high-quality recipes-related research. Your catalogue includes topics as varied as studies of vaccine and medicine development, modern industrial food systems, early modern household recipe books, and even a study of medieval feasts. Could you describe the types of research and writing the UChicago Press seeks to publish?

Paul Fehribach, The Big Jones Cookbook: Recipes for Savoring the Heritage of Regional Southern Cooking (University of Chicago Press, 2015).

I appreciate how the Recipes Project community is attentive to the many ways recipes feature in our books! Researchers have drawn on and discussed—and on occasion ingeniously recreated—recipes in books on topics as varied as travel and tourism and musicology. But most of our work with recipes is historical, contributing to art history, historical geography, American and environmental history, and the history of science, medicine, and technology. And, of course, gastronomy itself, as in our Big Jones Cookbook!

We do not have a dedicated food studies editor at Chicago, but my colleagues and I are drawn to work that approaches all range of questions from innovative angles, and deep dives into recipes, as your readers know well, is a wonderfully vivid way to recreate everyday experiences. Analyzing recipes and, relatedly, actual experiments and instruments, is also, I believe, an especially fruitful way to get at what was really going on when people practiced alchemy, science, or medicine before our modern times. Recipe research resonates with a general interest in embodiment, and across our acquisitions areas we share an enthusiasm for work that brings to the fore the senses and lenses of gender and sexuality, race, and disability studies.

Could you help our readers navigate the active UChicago series and subjects related to recipes?

Elaine Leong, Recipes and Everyday Knowledge: Medicine, Science, and the Household in Early Modern England (University of Chicago Press, 2018).

Yes! The best way to approach this is to think about who your book is for. Aspirational answers like “everyone!” are not going to be of much help, so try to think about the main message of your book and then ask questions of yourself like these: Who cares about this? Who needs to know this? Who would find this interesting? If we look at Elaine Leong’s book Recipes and Everyday Knowledge as an example, we might say “historians of early modern science and medicine,” “family and gender studies scholars,” and “recipe-researchers.” These answers are useful because they locate the book’s specific contribution in ongoing conversations across fields, methodological approaches, and individuals’ interests.

The acquisitions editor who handles the areas that are most squarely represented by your answers is the one to approach with your book proposal. Every press website will have pages that introduce the editors and outline their areas and interests, and from these personal statements or descriptions you can figure out not only who to reach out to but also, and importantly, whether the press has a commitment to and presence in your specific area. It is important to you, your book, and the press that your manuscript have support from the surrounding titles the press publishes, so look around to see who publishes the books most relevant to your own and start there.

How does UChicago Press solicit and review publications for proposals? Is it helpful for scholars interested in publishing with UChicago to first reach out to a specific editor? Are there any aspects of UChicago’s process that are particularly notable or different from other presses?

Please reach out to us! We welcome it. Along with information about who to contact, every press will provide guidance online about how to do it in “information for prospective authors” or “submission guidelines.” Generally, what we would like to see is a letter of introduction, CV, and book prospectus. The latter includes a general project overview, annotated table of contents, description of audience and related work, and particulars about time to completion, production needs, and any other special circumstances. This is standard across presses, because these documents give us what we need to evaluate how well your work might fit on our lists. In short, they tell us what your book is about and how it is structured, who you aim to reach with it, and why you are well positioned to write it.

(As a tip: because recipe work can be quite interdisciplinary, I should reiterate that at any one press, please send your work to only one editor. It is perfectly fine to say, “my book might also be of interest to your colleague who works with reference books,” but please, in the interest of efficiency (and our sanity!), please do not write to both of us at once.)

We also are happy to begin discussions with authors early in the process—we may even contact you if we see a news piece, article, blog, review, poster, talk, or hear about your work from a trusted colleague or advisor—so don’t be afraid to approach us at conferences or reach out for a quick chat. We may do the same!

The Recipes Project community includes many graduate students and early career researchers. Do you have any general advice for these scholars as they plan and try to publish their first books, whether it is with UChicago or another press?

Good question. My main advice is to think of your book apart from your other writing. Figure out what your institution needs from your thesis or dissertation and work with your advisor or committee to provide that. A dissertation is not a book. So I recommend keeping a separate folder of ideas for the book. If your dissertation focuses on one archive, begin to think about how the book might fold in research from others to stretch its scope, geographically or temporally, or both. If your thesis revises previous work by making a careful case against another scholar’s reading of sources, this is likely something to excise from the book and publish as an article.

The idea is to think big about the book, and when you’re early in your career, an easy way to make headway on this is to listen. Listen to what others say when you talk about your work. How do they connect it to their own interests? What do they pick out as being most interesting or significant in what you are up to? Listening to their answers can help you plan your next steps. And so can talking with an editor!

Thank you for the opportunity to talk with you today.

Thank you, Karen, for chatting about publishing practices at University of Chicago Press! If you would like to feature a project, scholar, or institution on Around the Table, please email Sarah Kernan.

Recipes and Memory: Thinking Back

Amanda E. Herbert and Annette E. Herbert

Alzheimer's disease, artwork. Credit: Florence Winterflood. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Alzheimer’s disease, artwork. Credit: Florence Winterflood. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)


Over the past two months, we’ve learned so much about recipes and memory. Sonakshi Srivastava taught us about cities, identity, and the legal as well as cultural ownership of a historic recipe. Lina Perkins Wilder shared what happens when a family recipe is tweaked so many times that it stops working. Betsy Golden Kellem recovered the (delightfully unsavory) origins of the nostalgic treat that is pink lemonade. And Heather Ariyeh asked for community contributions to a project on beans and rice — and please do contribute! The project is ongoing and all are welcome to either skype, zoom, or write to teach Heather their recipe via hariyeh@sva.edu. We are extremely grateful, to all of our contributors, for sharing their writing, their labor, and, in many cases, their own memories with us.

This series has shown us the power and the pitfalls of remembering. The work of art that has been featured on our site over these two months is by Florence Winterflood, and it’s called Alzheimer’s Disease. Held by the Wellcome Collection, Winterflood’s oil and ink painting was “created shortly after ‘Mama’, the artist’s grandmother, moved to a nursing home after her Alzheimer’s disease progressed to a stage where could no longer look after herself. ‘She lost a lot of weight, and a broad, strong, matriarch became a feeble, bird-like woman. Yet however small her frame became, her hands remained large and strong and capable.’ The hand, here a strong tangible image, represents the way the body can settle and remain hardy, even when the mind has become chaotic. The maps breaking up the lines of the hand further represent fragmentation of character, particularly in the way Alzheimer’s interrupts neurological pathways in the brain, disrupting and even tearing up, knowledge, thoughts and memories.”

Strength and chaos, breadth and fragmentation, capability and disruption are all represented in the way that recipes are recalled and remembered. As we share them, ingredients can be forgotten, instructions lost, temperatures reset. But it is a recipe’s very capacity for and easy adaptation to communication, generosity, swapping, and donation which gives it such longevity, allowing it to transcend people, time, and space.