All posts by Rachel A. Snell

Rachel Snell is a Ph.D. Candidate in History at the University of Maine. Her dissertation project focuses on discourses of domesticity through a comparative Atlantic perspective on the cultural construction of domesticity in Anglo-American print culture to better understand the everyday lives of middle-class, white women in the United States and British North America. The principal sources for this project, printed cookbooks authored by women for a female audience and manuscript cookbooks created by individual women for their personal use, reflect women’s agency in the definition of their roles. Rachel is also the editor of the University of Maine History Graduate Student Blog, khronikos.com.

Transcending Seasonality: Preserving in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Recipes

By Rachel A. Snell

By the mid-twentieth century, the combined forces of science, technology, and industrialization freed the American consumer from the dictates of seasonally available ingredients. The tomatoes, peas, asparagus, spinach, and other vegetable delicacies once proudly featured in spring and summer menus in nineteenth-century cookbooks could be obtained virtually year-round. However, the desire to conquer the limits of seasonality existed long before the origins of the modern, industrial food system. The Fiske Family Cookbook, a manuscript recipe collection likely compiled by Joanna Ober Edwards Fiske and her daughter Joanna A. Foster of Beverly, Massachusetts, over the bulk of the nineteenth century, contains a rich and detailed record of the struggle with seasonality.[1] Instructions to keep meat fresh without ice, prepare cucumber pickles, dry apples, and create other preserves hint at the challenges of food preservation in an era before reliable refrigeration.

Table Diagram from Fiske Family Cookbook, ca. 1810-1890, Winterthur Museum and Library. The appearance of two detailed table diagrams in the cookbook hints the Fiske women had other concerns or aspirations.

Mid-nineteenth-century recipes like those collected by the Fiske women suggest the considerable effort women exerted to transcend seasonality in an era before reliable canning, refrigeration, and other methods of food preservation. Preserving, the process of preventing spoiling and extending the shelf life of foods using various techniques, was a fundamental development in human history. Preservation techniques like drying, salting, pickling in vinegar, smoking, fermenting, and many others evolved and were perfected over thousands of years. While the techniques to preserve food remained nearly constant, technological innovations during the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries expanded the lifespan of preserved foods. Until the invention of home canning equipment, beginning with the patenting of the screw-on zinc lid in 1858, home preserving was limited by unreliable methods to seal preserved food from bacteria. Storage was especially fraught, since for all preserved foods “the more often they are exposed to the air by opening, the more damage there is of spoiling.”[2] Prior to 1858, sealing methods were imperfect with domestic advisors recommending queensware pots or glass jars or tumblers covered with tissue paper, writing paper dipped in brandy, or oiled paper. With these imperfect methods, the housewife had to be constantly vigilant for signs of decay amongst the family’s food stores. Lydia Maria Child advised her readers to regularly, “examine preserves, to see that they are not contracting mould [sic]; and your pickles, to see that they are not growing soft and tasteless.”[3]

Assortment of mason jars and lids.

Before the invention of Styrofoam trays filled with cuts of meat in refrigerated cases, preserving the meat was a considerable task requiring time and skill. In November 1852, Susan Pettibone recorded in her diary the multi-day task of butchering, processing, and preserving the families’ livestock. On November 17, Pettibone records killing a 330lb pig. On the nineteenth, she and her sister Julia “worked at the sausage meat,” but were waiting for colder weather to tackle the larger cuts. The next day, Pettibone records Julia spent the day “making brine” to complete the labor necessary to preserve the pig slaughtered four days before. Similarly, in December the sisters require several days to prepare “our beef” for brining. Pettibone does not record the brine favored in her household, but Sarah J. Hale’s The New House-Hold Receipt Book included a versatile recipe “for hams, tongues, or beef,” claimed to “keep for years” composed of spring water, coarse sugar, common salt, saltpeter, and various spices.[4] After brining for a set period, dependent on both the size and type of meat, Hale provides minute instructions for drying and smoking the cuts of meat. The following January, Pettibone records, “Mr. Pettibone brought home our hams from Mr. Shepards they are beautifully smoked,” suggesting the Pettibone family did not smoke their own meats but arranged for a neighbor to complete the preservation process. Perhaps as Hale recommends, the Pettibones’s reused their brine, adding “two pounds of common salt and two pints of water every time you boil the liquor.” Various versions of this brine circulate in both printed and manuscript recipe collections, such as “cure for beef or pork” found in Mary J. Hall’s contemporary recipe book.

To Cure Beef of Pork, Mary J. Hall, Receipt book, ca. 1851-1927, Winterthur Museum and Library.

If brining and smoking meat was the work of the cooler months, the summer months were equally filled with feverish preserving. In 1853, Susan Pettibone began making cheese on July 4th. Just over a month later on August 6, she noted, “I have made my eighth cheese which closes my dairying for this season.” Although Pettibone obscures the prodigious labor behind cheese making in her terse records, “I have made my sixth cheese today,” Eliza Leslie’s Directions for Cookery provides a sense of the process. Cheese making required diligent cleanliness and patience. Although Leslie includes precisely heated milk and purchased rennet (she also provides instructions for preparing your own rennet), her notation, “the best time for making cheese is when the pasture is in perfection,” recalls an intuitive and experiential version of women’s domestic knowledge that was waning by the mid-nineteenth century as technology increasingly conquered seasonality and preserving took on new meaning.[5] Recipes and diaries from this era suggest both the practical purpose of preserving (extending the usable lifespan of seasonal produce) as well as the genteel desire to produce confections that evidenced classes and status. Ingenious methods for preserving eggs, instructions to salt large quantities of beef, and the trading of recipes for curing hams evidence the importance of women’s seasonal labor to preserve food well into the nineteenth century.

[1] Fiske Family, Cookbook [ca. 1810- ca. 1890], The Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, Winterthur Museum and Library, Winterthur, DE ; 1870 and 1880 U.S. Census, Beverley, Essex, Massachusetts, (Ancestry.com [database on-line]. Provo, UT), accessed March 1, 2016.

[2] Eliza Leslie, Directions for Cookery in its Various Branches (Philadelphia: Henry Carey Baird, 1851), 231.

[3] Lydia Maria Child, The American Frugal Housewife (New York: Samuel & William Wood, 1841), 8.

[4] Sarah J. Hale, The New Household Receipt-Book (London: T. Nelson and Son’s, 1854), 518.

[5] Leslie, Directions for Cookery, 384.

Research from the Kitchen: Emma Schreiber’s “Apple Jelly for a Corner Dish”

By Rachel A. Snell

Author's creation of Emma Schreiber's "Apple Jelly for a Corner Dish" served with custard.
Author’s creation of Emma Schreiber’s “Apple Jelly for a Corner Dish” served with custard.

“Boil 12 good juicy apples or more if not of a large size in a pint of spring water,” Emma Schreiber’s Apple Jelly for a Corner Dish, a recipe for a molded apple jelly served with custard, begins with a curious mix of specificity and ambiguity. This recipe, from a manuscript recipe collection compiled in the Toronto area during the mid-nineteenth century is, seemingly, among the most complex in the collection, requiring a great amount of instruction and filling most of the page. The dish’s name references the growing significance of gentility in previously rural and isolate areas. Labeling it as a “corner dish” signals its placement on the table, balanced by a similar dish at the opposite corner. In the 1830s and 1840s, instructions for creating a pleasing tableau for a dinner or tea table became commonplace in domestic guides, such as the diagram below. The types of dishes and their placement on the table indicated the gentility and status of the hostess.

Bill of Fare: Dinner of 16 Persons, Book of Household Management (1861)
Bill of Fare: Dinner of 16 Persons, Book of Household Management (1861)

Schreiber’s recipe collections and related sources demonstrate the translation of the genteel lifestyle to a rural, agriculture-based transnational region focused on Lake Ontario. Much like the adapted recipe for Snowballs in the Frugal Housewife’s Manual, Schreiber’s recipe demonstrates shift in the types of recipes women collected and the focus of their domestic labor. This change is reflected in the growing emphasis on “fashionable dishes” that ornamented the tea or dinner table and had far reaching consequences for women’s household labor. Among these “fashionable dishes” were recipes like the apple jelly featured on the first page of Emma Schreiber’s recipe book.

Early in my research process, I frequently experimented with the recipes I found in archival sources. However, writing deadlines, teaching responsibilities, and life changes left little time for culinary experimentation. Although Schreiber’s recipe for apply jelly figures prominently in a chapter of my dissertation, I had never attempted to produce the recipe. Fortunately, contact with other researchers reminded me of the value of kitchen-oriented research. In Cooking in the Archives, Alyssa Connell and Marissa Nicosia translate early modern recipes for twenty-first century cooks. They argue, “these historical recipes belong in the modern kitchen – that they can and should be read and enacted as instructions, as well as studied as archival texts from a specific historical period. After all, what are recipes if not primarily instructions for cooking?”[1] Inspired by Nicosia’s talk at the Manuscript Cookbook Conference at NYU, after three years of working with Schreiber’s recipe book, I determined to bring my work back into the kitchen. It proved to be transformative.

Recipes for Ratifia Cakes, Damson or Green Gage Jelly, and Apply Jelly for a Corner Dish, “Recipe book of Emma Blomfield Schreiber, 1856-7,” Una Abrahamson Collection, Special Collections, McLaughlin Library, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario.]
Recipes for Ratifia Cakes, Damson or Green Gage Jelly, and Apply Jelly for a Corner Dish, “Recipe book of Emma Blomfield Schreiber, 1856-7,” Una Abrahamson Collection, Special Collections, McLaughlin Library, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario.]

Reading a recipe and following a recipe are, of course, two completely different acts. At my desk, I read recipes to uncover insights into women’s daily lives. I compared recipes from different sources, mapped women’s recipe sources, and tabulated the types of recipes in a collection. In the kitchen, I confronted new questions. What exactly constituted a juicy apple? How could one determine if an apple was sufficiently large? Should the dozen apples be peeled? Cored? Cut into small pieces? While I consulted more detailed recipes for apple jelly, I frequently had to rely on my best judgement.

First attempt at Schreiber's Apple Jelly.
First attempt at Schreiber’s Apple Jelly.

The results of my first kitchen foray was a very sturdy, apple-cider colored jelly with a subtle apple flavoring. A second attempt with peeled, cored, and sliced the apples produced a more translucent jelly, but far from the translucency described by one cookbook author, “it should be so transparent as to let you see all the flowers of your china dish through it, and quite white.”[2] Even my unskilled efforts revealed the attractive display of the molded apple jelly alongside a creamy custard, the custard serving to offset the translucence and shape of the jelly. The flavor was much nicer than I anticipated and the pairing of the jelly with the vanilla custard was really quite lovely, even elegant. Like any proud chef, I sought an audience for my creation. The students in my third-year Honors tutorial were the lucky taste-testers.  The students overwhelmingly liked it or were very polite. One declared it “the best mid-nineteenth century jelly I’ve ever had!”

Second attempt at Schreiber's Apple Jelly.
Second attempt at Schreiber’s Apple Jelly.

Producing the jelly not only provided me with a new way to connect my students with my research, it also revealed new insights. Prior to my jelly-making efforts, I assumed molded jelly recipes like Schreiber’s were time-consuming and required great skill. In fact, I poured my first jelly into a plastic container rather than a mold because I firmly believed it was a flop. But I was amazed by how easy the jelly was the prepare. I could easily imagine allowing the apple to simmer and the juice, thickener, and sugar to boil while preparing other dishes and pouring the resulting liquid into a mold to sit in a cool place until the next day’s dinner or tea. Schreiber’s recipe made molded jelly, a symbol of gentrified refinement, approachable for women who did their own cooking.

[1] http://www.archivejournal.net/issue/4/notes-queries/cooking-in-the-archives-bringing-early-modern-manuscript-recipes-into-a-twenty-first-century-kitchen/

[2] The Lady’s Own Cookery Book, and New Dinner-Table Directory (London: Published for Henry Colburn, 1844), 221.

First Monday Library Chat: The Bowdoin College Library

Welcome to the January 2016 edition of the First Monday Library Chat. This month The Recipes Project journeys to Brunswick, Maine where the Bowdoin College Library recently acquired a collection of printed American cookery books. Special Collections & Archives Outreach Fellow, Marieke Van Der Steenhoven, kindly provided an overview of the collection along with information about upcoming events highlighting the collection and information about doing research at the library.

A view of the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives, Bowdoin College Library, Brunswick, Maine.
A view of the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives, Bowdoin College Library, Brunswick, Maine.

For our readers who may not be familiar with the Bowdoin College Library, can you provide a brief overview of the library’s holdings and research strengths?

The Esta Kramer Collection of American Cookery is housed here at the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives, a department of the Bowdoin College Library. The Library supports the teaching and research of the Bowdoin community, a small liberal arts college in Maine. Our library also has branches that specialize in science, music, and art.

Special Collections & Archives is an active partner in the scholarly pursuits of the College; our rare books, manuscripts, archival records, and related resources such as photographs, sound recordings, and historic newspapers, serve in teaching, learning, research, and personal enrichment.

The department’s holdings are wide-ranging and include substantial collections of unique manuscript resources, over 50,000 rare books, journals, and broadsides, 25,000 photographs, as well as maps, sound recordings, and electronic records. Among the printed works (the earliest dated 1478) are collections of early American, Maine, and British imprints; books by New England writers; material by and about Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (both Bowdoin graduates in 1825); finely printed and finely bound books; artists’ books and pop-ups; and works on travel, exploration, and natural history. Some of these books have been in the College’s possession since soon after its founding in 1794.

Manuscript holdings date from as early as the 13th century and are particularly rich for research into the early history of Massachusetts and Maine; antislavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction; Arctic studies and exploration; Maine writers; politics and government; and Bowdoin College, its alumni, faculty, and presidents. Complementing these resources are thousands of photographs and audio recordings, hundreds of maps, and a growing array of digital surrogates.

A shelf view of the Esta Kramer Collection of American Cookery at Bowdoin College Library.
A shelf view of the Esta Kramer Collection of American Cookery at Bowdoin College Library.

The Bowdoin Library recently acquired the Esta Kramer Collection of American Cookery; can you give us a broad overview of the collection’s scope?

The Esta Kramer Collection of American Cookery is a comprehensive gathering of printed American cookery books, dating from the eighteenth through early twentieth century and containing more than 700 books. The strength of the collection is from the Colonial era through 1900, though important works through 1960 are integrated. The collection was assembled by Clifford Apgar and is named after Esta Kramer, who made a generous gift to Bowdoin College to enable its acquisition.

As a resource for American food history, the collection represents every type and style of American cookbook to emerge between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries, which includes: cookbooks for every social and economic level, regional cuisines, quantity cooking, single subject books, cooking with few ingredients, réchauffage or cooking with leftovers, economic cooking, appliance and gadget cookery, foreign cuisines, professional chef books, banqueting, diet books, market guides, seasonal cooking, product promotion cookbooks, military cooking, vegetarianism, children’s cookbooks, and community cookbooks.

Beyond cooking, the collection illuminates the development of American culture, encompassing social movements and historical events, including women’s suffrage, temperance, the African-American experience, the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, technological applications in the household, immigration, and westward expansion. A significant number of community, church, and charitable cookbooks provide insight into local foodways, but also into women’s organizations and, through advertisements, the business communities of small and large towns across America.

Can you give us a few highlights from the collection? Or, can you highlight one or two of your favorite items?

It’s difficult to pick a personal favorite – but lately I’ve been utterly charmed by Housekeeping in the Blue Grass; A New and Practical Cook Book: Containing Nearly a Thousand Recipes, Many of the New and all of them tried and known to be valuable; such as have been used by the best housekeepers of Kentucky and other states. (Cincinnati: Geo. Stevens & Co.,1876) a community cookbook assembled by “The Ladies of the Presbyterian Church” in Paris, Kentucky in 1875.

From The Ladies of the Presbyterian Church, Paris, Ky., Housekeeping in the Blue Grass; A New and Practical Cook Book, Fifth Thousand, (Cincinnati:Geo. Stevens & Co., 1876), Bowdoin College Library [Kramer 3964].
From The Ladies of the Presbyterian Church, Paris, Ky., Housekeeping in the Blue Grass; A New and Practical Cook Book, Fifth Thousand, (Cincinnati: Geo. Stevens & Co., 1876), Bowdoin College Library [Kramer 3964].
This community cookbook, one of many in the collection, includes recipes attributed to over 150 women from the “Blue Grass” region of Kentucky. The preface states, “It was suggested six months ago, after mature consideration of ways and means, that we might not only greatly increase our funds, but also contribute to the convenience and pleasure of housekeepers generally, by publishing a good receipt book” (v-vi).

From The Ladies of the Presbyterian Church, Paris, Ky., Housekeeping in the Blue Grass; A New and Practical Cook Book, Fifth Thousand, (Cincinnati:Geo. Stevens & Co., 1876), Bowdoin College Library [Kramer 3964].
From The Ladies of the Presbyterian Church, Paris, Ky., Housekeeping in the Blue Grass; A New and Practical Cook Book, Fifth Thousand, (Cincinnati: Geo. Stevens & Co., 1876), Bowdoin College Library [Kramer 3964].
I’m drawn to this book because it’s riddled with evidence of use. The book is a great example of a make-do kitchen (vernacular) binding, in this case a hand-stitched blue gingham. Throughout the interior are food stains indicating heavily used (or at least messy) recipes. On the interleaved blanks are manuscript recipes, all in one hand, but in many different inks indicating the growth of this recipe collection over time, further supplemented by printed recipe clippings pasted down and laid in throughout. The advertisements that appear at the back of the book represent businesses both in Kentucky and Ohio, illustrating the geographical interplay between the location of writing and publication.

From [Amelia Simmons, et al]. An American Orphan, American Cookery, or, The art of dressing viands, fish, poultry, and vegetables; and the best modes of making puff-pastes, pies, tarts, puddings, custards, and preserves. And all kinds of cakes, from the imperial plumb to plain cake. Adapted to this country, and all grades of life, (Poughkeepsie, NY: Paraclete Potter / P&S Potter, Printers,1815), Bowdoin College Library [Kramer 3787].
From [Amelia Simmons, et al]. An American Orphan, American Cookery, or, The art of dressing viands, fish, poultry, and vegetables; and the best modes of making puff-pastes, pies, tarts, puddings, custards, and preserves. And all kinds of cakes, from the imperial plumb to plain cake. Adapted to this country, and all grades of life, (Poughkeepsie, NY: Paraclete Potter / P&S Potter, Printers, 1815), Bowdoin College Library [Kramer 3787].
Other highlights from the collection include an early edition of Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery, or, The art of dressing viands, fish, poultry, and vegetables; and the best modes of making puff-pastes, pies, tarts, puddings, custards, and preserves. And all kinds of cakes, from the imperial plumb to plain cake. Adapted to this country, and all grades of life (Poughkeepsie, NY: Paraclete Potter / P&S Potter, Printers, 1815). First published in 1796, Simmons’ American Cookery is widely considered the first cookbook authored by an American and published in the United States. Though many of the recipes are borrowed from British cookbooks, for example Susannah Carter’s The Frugal House-wife (whose Boston imprint is the earliest in our collection), the use of native produce clues us into the true American-ness of this text. For instance, Simmons’ calls for cornmeal in five recipes and offers instructions for johnnycake, hoecake, and Indian slapjacks which are some of the first printed examples of these early American food staples. Other recipes call for cranberries and turkey, both indigenous to America.

From Catharine E. Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s The American Woman's Home: Or, principles of domestic science; being a guide to the formation and maintenance of economical healthful, beautiful, and Christian homes (New York: J.B. Ford and Company, 1869), Bowdoin College Library [Kramer 3935].
From Catharine E. Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s The American Woman’s Home: Or, principles of domestic science; being a guide to the formation and maintenance of economical healthful, beautiful, and Christian homes (New York: J.B. Ford and Company, 1869), Bowdoin College Library [Kramer 3935].
Another highlight from the collection is a first edition of Catharine E. Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s The American Woman’s Home: Or, principles of domestic science; being a guide to the formation and maintenance of economical healthful, beautiful, and Christian homes (New York: J.B. Ford and Company, 1869). This book has particular resonance for the Bowdoin community since Harriet Beecher Stowe and her sister Catharine Beecher lived in Brunswick, adjacent to campus, and the College now owns the home they lived in. While Stowe’s husband served as professor of theology at Bowdoin, she penned Uncle Tom’s Cabin and her sister assisted her with domestic duties and the care of the Stowe’s five children. Additionally the sisters ran a school from the home, which adds an interesting perspective to the principles and instruction enumerated in The American Woman’s Home (written over ten years after the Stowe’s and Beecher left Brunswick).

The collection is full of wonderful and rare cookery books, these are just three examples. There are further highlights listed on our website.

 Bowdoin has an upcoming exhibition featuring the new collection; can you provide our readers with more information and, perhaps, a sneak peak?

“What to Eat, and How to Cook It: A Celebration of the Esta Kramer Collection of American Cookery” exhibition will open on January 25, 2016 on the second floor of the Hawthorne-Longfellow Library and will be on view through June 5.

To open the exhibition antiquarian bookseller and epicure Don Lindgren will explore what the physical attributes of cookbooks can tell us about our social, cultural, and environmental past in a talk entitled “The Anatomy of the Cookbook” on Wednesday, January 27th at 4:30pm. This talk is open to the public and will also be livestreamed. A reception immediately follows at the Hawthorne-Longfellow Library where Bowdoin Dining Services will be serving hors d’oeuvres based on recipes from the collection.

As the first formal introduction of the Esta Kramer Collection of American Cookery the exhibition will offer a tantalizing glimpse into the collection while celebrating its acquisition. We will feature cookery books spanning two hundred years and which will be presented along with archival material about the history of food and dining at Bowdoin. For many years, Bowdoin has been at (or near) the top of the “Best Food” Princeton Review college rankings and we’re excited to showcase what the College has been eating historically, and how it was cooked!

Through illustrations, narratives, and recipes, the exhibition explores how Americans have thought about, prepared, and consumed food from the Colonial period to today.

“What to Eat, and How to Cook It” will explore new ways of experiencing cookbooks, looking at what they can tell us about advances in technology, social movements, historical events, issues of race and gender, and place/regionalism.

What tips can you offer to help users find recipes via your catalogue or finding aids?

The collection has yet to be formally processed – but we do have an inventory of the collection available online and further bibliographic content available by request.

We are also happy to offer reference services to connect specific research inquiries to relevant materials in our collections, either in person or by correspondence.

For those who are able to travel to Brunswick, Maine, we welcome all to our reading room that is open 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday-Friday, major holidays excepted. Maine has an especially rich food culture, from the incredible coastal resources to a thriving agricultural economy (both historically and now), and we are thrilled to add a new dimension to that culture through public access to the Esta Kramer Collection of American Cookery.

Snowballs: Intermixing Gentility and Frugality in Nineteenth Century Baking

By Rachel A. Snell

Carolina Snow Ball, https://savoringthepast.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/001snowball.jpg
Carolina Snow Ball, https://savoringthepast.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/001snowball.jpg

For most readers, snowballs likely conjure memories of childhood winter games or, perhaps, the small, rounded cookies covered with shaved coconut or powdered sugar often prepared around the winter holidays. Of course, there is also the Sno Ball snack cake (cream-filled chocolate cakes covered with marshmallow frosting and pink coconut flakes), first introduced to American supermarkets in 1947.[1] The association between snowball named treats and coconut is a decidedly mid-twentieth century convention, likely due to the increased affordability, availability, and accessibility (dehydrated flakes) of this tropical fruit. In the nineteenth century, snowballs took a decidedly different form depending on the region where they were produced, revealing the intermixing of gentility and frugality that occurred in rural or peripheral areas.

My research suggests there were several versions of Snowballs circulating within the Anglo-American world during the first half of the nineteenth century. These versions of Snowballs were essentially apple dumplings served with a sauce or icing. One particularly sumptuous version consisted of whole apples, cored and filled with orange or quince marmalade, covered in pastry and baked. Once removed from the oven, the Snowballs were covered in icing and set near the fire to harden.[2] This description of Snowballs comes from Colin Mackenzie’s Five Thousand Receipts, first published in England in 1823 with several expanded American editions between 1829-1860 that were readily available throughout North America. The comparative extravagance of this recipe is unsurprisingly since Mackenzie’s recipes appear to be aimed at a middle-class or higher audience with many elaborate and costly recipes.

 

Snow Balls, Colin Mackenzie’s Five Thousand Receipts (p. 182).
Snow Balls, Colin Mackenzie’s Five Thousand Receipts (p. 182).

The American variation on this dish, appearing in several sources such as an entry for Snowballs in Caroline Hayward’s manuscript recipe collection and a clipping pasted into an edition of Catharine Beecher’s Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book, is a dish consisting of peeled and cored apples, flavored with lemon peel, cinnamon, and cloves, and tightly wrapped in cooked rice. Hayward’s recipe instructs the cook to tie each apple “up in a cloth like dumplings.”[3] The finished product would resemble Mackenzie’s Snowballs, but with rice in the place of pastry. These recipes are sometimes labeled Carolina Snow Balls, a reference to the use of rice. Since this version did not require the butter and refined wheat flour required for pastry or the costly marmalade, it may have been more economical to produce for family suppers or those with limited means.

Caroline Hayward Recipe Book, 1815-1834, Massachusetts Historical Society.
Caroline Hayward Recipe Book, 1815-1834, Massachusetts Historical Society.

The Frugal Housewife’s Manual, printed in Toronto in 1840, presents a related, but decidedly unusual version of Snowballs. A.B., the anonymous author of the Manual, undoubtedly had access to Mackenzie’s Snowballs recipe. Five Thousand Receipts was a major source for the Manual, nearly the entire cake section and many of the pudding recipes were adapted or copied from Mackenzie. Unlike the American versions, A.B. omitted the apples entirely. An unusual choice since apples would have been readily available in the Lake Ontario region. This incredibly simple recipe consists of balls of boiled rice, sifted with loaf sugar and served with “wine sauce is best with them, but butter and sugar with them is very good if they are kept warm.”[4] It is easy to imagine the source of the name; these balls of boiled rice covered with sugar glistening in the candlelight likely bore a striking resemblance to the snowballs manufactured by local children. It would be a very pretty dish and an economical one as well.

Snowballs FHM 1
Snowballs, The Frugal Housewife’s Manual (p. 9-10)
Snowballs, The Frugal Housewife’s Manual (p. 9-10)
Snowballs, The Frugal Housewife’s Manual (p. 9-10)

A.B.’s Snowballs were likely adapted to make the recipe better suited to regional cooking and entertaining habits. Her recipe for Floating Island, a popular nineteenth-century dish of French origin consisting of meringue floating on vanilla custard, has likewise been significantly altered to both simplify and economize the recipe. A.B. suggested serving her recipes for Floating Island and Snowballs together, which would produce a dramatic effect, Floating Island “is a very ornamental dish by candle-light, together with a dish of snowballs on the opposite part of the table; in exchange for a snowball you get a bit of floating island.”[5] Allowing the housewife to impress her guests with manageable effort. Thus, the recipe for Snowballs was tempered with frugality from the sumptuous and elaborate dish presented by Mackenzie, to the American variation that substituted cheap and plentiful rice, and finally A.B.’s version, which avoided expensive ingredients and time-consuming labor to produce a dish pleasing to both the eyes and the taste buds.

In this way, The Frugal Housewife’s Manual reveals a transition in regional foodways within the Ontario Lake region. At mid-century, recipe collecting was shifting from the practical and frugal recipes associated with subsistence farming in a frontier region to the recipes associated with status and gentility that signal established agriculture and the beginning of middle-class sensibilities about dining and entertaining. Recipe collections like The Frugal Housewife’s Manual allowed women to balance frugality and gentility in their cooking and entertaining. An example of the hybrid sociability identified by Catherine E. Kelly, A.B. and her community sought to imitate urban, middle-class social mores within the constraints of agricultural work rhythms and rural work-based sociability. For these women, gentility intermixed with frugality was the answer. While A.B. presents recipes that rely on imported luxuries (liquors, wine, citrus fruits, raisins, currants, and spices) and commercial products (saleratus, milled wheat flour, loaf sugar) that together suggest a comfortable family budget, economy is still the underlying theme. A.B. frequently notes recipes that are inexpensive to prepare or provides hints for preparing dishes less expensively, such as substituting or omitting rare and costly ingredients. She likely would have echoed Lydia Child’s advice to housekeepers to “prove, by the exertion of ingenuity and economy, that neatness, good taste, and gentility, are attainable without great expense.”[6]

Note: For those interested in attempting to make Snowballs in their own kitchens, Kevin Carter has an excellent post at Savoring the Past with instructions to make two versions and a discussion of rice’s connection to the American slave system.

[1] And we cannot forget the Baltimore Snowball, an iconic concoction of shaved ice and sweet syrup, often topped with marshmallow cream. More information about this local treat is available here.

[2] Colin Mackenzie, Five Thousand Receipts in all the useful and domestic arts (Philadelphia: James Kay, Jun. & Co., 1831), 182.

[3] Caroline Hayward Recipe Book, 1815-1834, Joseph H. Hayward Family Papers, Ms. N-2368. Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, MA 02215.

[4] A.B. of Grimsby, The Frugal Housewife’s Manual: Containing a Number of Useful Receipts Carefully Selected, and Well Adapted to the Use of Families in General (Toronto, Ont.: J.H. Lawrence, 1840), 10.

[5] A.B., The Frugal Housewife’s Manual, 9.

[6] Mrs. (Lydia Maria) Child, The American Frugal Housewife, Dedicated to Those Who Are Not Ashamed of Economy (New York: Samuel S. and William Wood, 1838), 6; Catherine E. Kelly, “‘Well Bred Country People’: Sociability, Social Networks, and the Creation of a Provincial Middle Class, 1820-1860” Journal of the Early Republic 19, no. 3 (1999), 451-479.