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.

Old-Fashioned Recipes, New-Fashioned Kitchens: Technology and Women’s Recipe Collecting in the Nineteenth Century

By Rachel A. Snell

When I first started exploring nineteenth-century manuscript cookbooks, I was astonished by the prevalence of recipes for cake in these sources. I expected cookery in the past to be more practical, concerned primarily with preserving, providing calories, and making do with what was available. Printed cookbooks, such as those authored by Lydia Maria Child, Sarah J. Hale, Catharine E. Beecher, and others, that emphasized frugality, efficiency, and thrift supported my assumptions. Early in my research process, I struggled to reconcile what I perceived as the inconsistency between thrift and efficiency obsessed printed cookbooks with manuscript collections nearly entirely devoted to cakes, puddings, cookies, and other baked goods. Now, hundreds of cookbooks later, I’m prepared to offer three explanations for the prevalence of cake recipes in the manuscript cookbooks I study: evolving technology, new ingredients, and shifting social expectations that are indicative of changes in women’s work and roles over the course of the nineteenth century. In this post, I’d like touch upon the technological innovations that influenced women’s recipe collecting.

Frontispiece showing two women working in a kitchen. Mrs. E.A. Howland, The American Economical Housekeeper and Family Receipt Book (Cincinnati: H.W. Derby & Co., 1845)
Frontispiece showing two women working in a kitchen. Mrs. E.A. Howland, The American Economical Housekeeper and Family Receipt Book (Cincinnati: H.W. Derby & Co., 1845). Library of Congress.

Kitchens changed dramatically over the course of the nineteenth century, as figures 1 and 2 demonstrate. Until the 1850s, most women cooked over an open hearth as generations of cooks before them. Ruth Schwartz Cowan described the cookstove as “the single most important domestic symbol of the nineteenth century” and there is no denying the adoption of the cookstove transformed how women prepared dinner and what was served.[1] Cookstoves expanded the repertoire of the cook to allow baking, boiling, roasting, and other cooking techniques to occur simultaneously. No longer did the amount of wood and time necessary to adequately heat a brick oven limit baking to once or twice a week. Women could, if they desired, bake something for dessert every day. Further, the dry, relatively constant heat produced by the cookstove reacted well with chemical leaveners allowing for the creation of layered cakes and other elaborate desserts.

“Prang's aids for object teaching--The kitchen” (Boston : L. Prang & Co., c1874). Lithograph. Library of Congress.
“Prang’s aids for object teaching–The kitchen” (Boston : L. Prang & Co., c1874). Lithograph. Library of Congress.

Long before Fannie Farmer advocated level cup measures, cookbook authors recommended the standardization of measures within individual kitchens. Using the same coffee cup for measuring ingredients, even it wasn’t exactly the same volume as the cup used by one’s neighbor, improved results and was more economical. By the mid-nineteenth century, women could purchase vessels specifically manufactured for measuring ingredients, like the objects pictured in figure 3. Over time, the recipes in manuscript and printed cookbook adapted to new methods of measuring as pounds of flour were replaced by cups and a piece of butter the size of a walnut by a tablespoon.

Metal Measures, Late 19th Century. Michigan State University Library.
Metal Measures, Late 19th Century. Michigan State University Library.

As women increasingly worked alone in the kitchen with husbands leaving the home for work and children occupied by school and play, a wide variety of laborsaving devices appeared on the market to help ease their labor. The mechanized eggbeater, first patented in 1856, made the task of beating eggs for cake recipes considerably easier. Before the invention of the eggbeater, eggs were frequently beat using a whisk assembled from tree branches and preparing the whites and yolks for a sponge cake might require hours and great endurance. Cookbook author, Eliza Leslie, described the procedure for properly beating eggs in The Lady’s Receipt-Book,

“Persons who do not know the right way, complain much of the fatigue of beating eggs, and therefore leave off too soon. There will be no fatigue, if they are beaten with the proper stroke, and with wooden rods, and in a shallow, flat-bottomed earthen pan  . . . In beating them do not move your elbow, but keep it close to your side.”[2]

Prior to the availability and widespread use of commercial chemical leaveners, properly beaten eggs were essential to the creation of light, airy cakes. The ability of the mechanized eggbeater to produce five rotations of the wire blades with one rotation of the handle significantly eased the labor associated with preparing cakes. This innovation coupled with chemical leaveners and the improved quality of raw ingredients, would literally take cakes to new heights.

Eggbeaters, Late 19th Century. Michigan State University Library.
Eggbeaters, Late 19th Century. Michigan State University Library.

Thus, evolving technology altered the rhythm of women’s baking habits and eased the labor associated with the production of baked goods. Recipes from the 1850s onward reveal the influence of new technology and changing ingredients as cookbook authors reconfigured old-fashioned recipes to new-fashioned kitchens. This was part of the reason cooking schools became popular in the late nineteenth century and women shared recipes amongst their social circle or submitted recipe requests to the “Home Department” of their local newspaper: the fundamentals of cooking and baking has changed significantly and very quickly. A woman’s early training, the recipes she learned from her mother, and the recipes she collected in a manuscript cookbook as a young bride were increasingly obsolete. As women experimented and perfected recipes in the new system, it was natural to share and collect.

This blog post is excerpted from a talk given by the author at the Maine Historical Society August 12, 2014.


[1] Ruth Schwartz Cowan, A Social History of American Technology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 194.

[2] Eliza Leslie, The Lady’s Receipt Book (Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1847), 193.

Mapping Women’s Social and Cultural Influences: An Exercise in Historical GIS

By Rachel A. Snell

Winterthur Library, Doc 47, Mrs. E.A. Phelp's recipe book
Winterthur Library, Doc 47, Mrs. E.A. Phelp’s recipe book

Dear Lizzie, You are quite welcome to the recipe & I wish you success in making the cake. I will come & see your cousin as soon as possible. Yours in such haste, Anne[1]

The above note accompanied a recipe for Hallowell Cake tucked into a recipe book kept by Mrs. E.A. Phelps of Canandaigau, Ontario County, New York. Manuscript recipe books from the nineteenth century overflow with examples of women’s social networks including notes marking the exchange of recipes like the example above, but also references to printed cookbooks, newspapers, churches, and social contacts.

In Eat My Words: Reading Women’s Lives through the Cookbooks they Wrote, Janet Theopano argued, “women’s cookbooks can be maps of the social and cultural worlds they inhabit.”[2] Cookbooks record not only what women cooked, but also their reading material, purchases, spirituality, and social networks. Occasionally, manuscript cookbooks contain enough information that the researcher can use GIS techniques to literally map these connections.  An extraordinary example of a manuscript cookbook from the Winterthur Museum and Library recently presented just that opportunity.

The inscription in the Rappe Family recipe book attributes the book to Grandmother Rappe. Dates recorded with some recipes as well as newspapers listed as sources for recipes suggest Grandmother Rappe complied the cookbook between 1810 and 1840. It consists of recipes for food and medicine as well as hints for housekeeping and gardening. A variety of categories are represented including cakes, puddings, preserving food, keeping cheese, creating a vegetable chimney ornament, various dyes, several recipes of tomato ketchup, advice to make cows come home, and remedies for common injuries as well as diseases like cholera and dysentery.

In most respects, the Rappe Family recipe book is typical for the period. Uniquely, the volume has an unusually precise record of recipe sources. Whoever compiled the Rappe Family recipe book included a source for nearly two-thirds of the recipes contained in the book. These sources include printed cookbooks, newspapers, almanacs, and individuals. Furthermore, for many individuals their location is recorded with the recipe. This inclusion of locations allows the researcher to create a GIS map of recipe sources, thus allowing us to view spatially Grandmother Rappe’s network: the connections and influences that shaped her cookbook and, by extension, her everyday life. As I start exploring GIS as a tool to better understand women’s networks, what follows is a description of my process thus far and some research questions I’m currently investigating.

Printed materials constitute a major source for the work; about half the attributed recipes were copied from newspapers or almanacs (marked in blue on the map). The Rappe Family recipe book references newspapers and almanacs published throughout the Mid-Atlantic including New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. A handful of recipes originated from newspapers published in Indiana and Virginia. The state of Ohio, unsurprisingly, is the best represented with The Ohio Repository contributing sixty recipes largely devoted to remedies, preserving food, and household hints. Published in Canton, Ohio under varying names from 1815 to the present, the domination of the local paper is unsurprising. While the recipes from The Ohio Repository are sprinkled throughout the text, suggesting it was consulted on a regular basis, the recipes from other newspapers appear in clusters such as six recipes from The Hagerstown Almanac (published in Hagerstown, Maryland) recorded successively in the volume.  This clustering suggests these publications were not regularly available and perhaps shared amongst friends forcing the cookbook compiler to transcribe the desired recipes in one sitting.

Winterthur Library, Doc. 512, Rappe Family Recipe Book
Winterthur Library, Doc. 512, Rappe Family Recipe Book

Other printed sources include two cookbooks printed in Vermont and Massachusetts (marked in red on the map). The first, New England Cookery, is a pirated edition of Amelia Simmon’s American Cookery published in Montpelier, Vermont in 1808. The second is Lydia Maria Child’s classic work, The Frugal American Housewife first published in 1829. Like the non-local newspapers, the recipes copied from these two printed works appear in clusters. Again, it is likely the compiler borrowed these cookbooks from a friend or neighbor.

Winterthur Library, Doc. 512, Rappe Family Recipe Book
Winterthur Library, Doc. 512, Rappe Family Recipe Book

Finally, the remaining attributed recipes are from individuals. A portion of these individuals are identified in the cookbook by their name and location, suggesting the compiler of the recipes had contacts within the state of Ohio in Akron, Newark, Sandusky, Columbus and Dover and with persons residing in Pennsylvania and Virginia (marked in purple on the map). My hunch is that the individuals lacking locations, the majority of the individuals appearing in the cookbook, were the compiler’s close friends and neighbors.

Once again, cookbooks prove to be powerful tools for better understanding the lives of ordinary women. When mapped, these sources reveal the far-flung nature of Grandmother Rappe’s connections and influences. Of particular note and deserving of more research, is the greater significance of newspapers and almanacs as sources of recipes and domestic advice.  What prompted women to create manuscript recipe books? Does the compilation of the Rappe Family recipe book reveal something about the availability of printed cookbooks in early nineteenth-century Ohio? Did collecting recipes from newspapers and friends provide a low-cost means for women to create personalized recipe books?

 


[1] Mrs. E.A. Phelps, Cookbook [1800?-1899?] Doc. 47 Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera. Winterthur Library, Winterthur, DE 19735.

[2] Janet Theophano, Eat My Words: Reading Women’s Lives through the Cookbooks they Wrote, (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), 13.

The map for this post was created using arcGIS.com and can also be viewed here.

 

Navigating a New Domesticity: Women, Marginalia, and Cookbooks

By Rachel A. Snell

Example of annotation from A new system of domestic cookery, formed upon principles of economy, and adapted to the use of private families. By a lady. Boston, W. Andrews, 1807. LOC.
Example of annotation from A new system of domestic cookery, formed upon principles of economy, and adapted to the use of private families. By a lady. Boston, W. Andrews, 1807. LOC. 

During the first half of the nineteenth-century, as domesticity was increasingly redefined as a skill demanding instruction and experience, the geographical mobility of the industrial age removed young women from the traditional source of that instruction, their mothers and other female relatives. To meet this need a cadre of women authors published a canon of cookbooks and domestic manuals to instruct middle-class American women on the art of housekeeping.

These household manuals included recipes and advice on all aspects of domestic work, including managing servants, caring for the sick, aiding the poor, laundry and other cleaning tasks, and even advice on selecting furnishings and attire. By their design and purpose, these texts encouraged annotation by the reader. Housekeepers commonly used blank pages to record additional handwritten recipes, mark favorites and failures, and alter recipe measurements or make substitutions. These marginalia provide the researcher with invaluable clues about how ordinary women navigated domesticity. After all, “a women’s recipe book is the record of her life.”[1]

Women created annotated household manuals and cookbooks for their personal use, reminders that allowed them to perform their daily and seasonal tasks more efficiently. However, marginalia also allow the researcher a window into a previously inaccessible space: the nineteenth-century, middle-class kitchen. Printed cookbooks and household manuals also record the development of domesticity during this period. The marginalia in these texts suggest how ordinary women both conformed to and negotiated with cultural expectations of their proper place in society. Much scholarship focuses on the extraordinary women who supported themselves (and often their families as well) with their pens and worked to define domesticity, but what about their readers? How did the relatively silent majority of educated, middle-class, white women who consumed domestic literature apply that ideology to their daily lives? Marginalia may hold the key to answering these questions.

Figure 1
Figure 1

Ten copies of A New System of Domestic Cookery by Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell published between 1807 and 1866 illustrate some of the ways that marginalia preserve the reader’s experience. Collected from the archives at the University of Guelph, the University of Waterloo, and the Library of Congress, this sample contains the most common types of annotation found in cookbooks, including handwritten recipes, newspaper clippings, inscriptions, and a variety of means for marking recipes for later attention. As figure 1 reveals, the annotators devoted most of their attention to cakes, pastries, puddings, and sweet dishes with more practical methods of food preparation largely ignored. The contrast is even more apparent when categorized by purpose. Of ninety-two total annotations, fifty-four modified to recipes related to entertaining (cakes, fruit preserves, wines, etc.), while just sixteen annotations related to everyday cookery and even fewer to keeping house and home remedies.

Figure 2
Figure 2

Why such disparity? During a period when the expectations of housekeeping were expanding and authors specifically addressed the poor quality of everyday cooking in their manuals, why aren’t women paying more attention to the everyday? One explanation for the general lack of concern toward daily cooking tasks is, as Janet Theopano offered, that “everyday cookery was common knowledge, [it] required no detailed instructions.”[2] Women knew how to bake bread, prepare a simple supper, nurse a sick child, and serve a hearty breakfast. These were the routine tasks that composed the daily life of the nineteenth-century housewife.

Thus, marginalia in printed cookbooks and household manuals is indicative of the influence of educational opportunities on women during the early nineteenth-century. Women identified species of birds, noted the best seasons for salmon, adapted chemical leaveners to older recipes, and recorded the production of their gardens in the pages of their cookbooks. While many annotators mark books as part of a learning process, a habit developed in the classroom, cookbook annotators (although often clearly educated) practice annotation for a different reason.

Their annotations mark them as experts rather than learners; they modify the text to suit their needs and experiences. Despite the stated purpose of the cookbook authors and the opinions of those who decried the influence of women’s education on domestic endeavors, most women did not depend on cookbooks as instructional manuals for the daily practice of domesticity, but turned to them for special occasions and entertaining. Women were empowered and confident in the domestic space–and their marginalia reflects that status.

This post references copies of A New System of Domestic Cookery that are part of the following collections:

The Una Abrahamson Canadian Cookery Collection at the University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

Special Collections at the University of Waterloo Dana Porter Library, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.