I began collecting cookbooks ages ago and I still am. Garage sales, library sales, inherited from family members, the list goes on. Each has bits of information that I have found use for.
Now I collect the e-book versions more than I do the hard cover books. We have a small apartment and space has really become an issue. You can only stack books so high when you run out of space in the bookcases.
One of my favorite websites for cookbook e-books is Feeding America at http://digital.lib.msu.edu/projects/cookbooks/index.html. The years covered range from 1798 to 1922. You can browse either by date or by interest and the site has a limited search feature. You can view the books by individual pages, an HTML webpage or you can download a PDF file. That is what I usually do because that type of file retains the illustrations from the book.
The collection of historic cookbooks contains many books that cover all types of household topics. How to setup a kitchen, the care, types of stoves and fuel, how to clean, how to carve meats, the management of servants, the care of the sick, the care of infants, how to entertain and other topics that will have you wondering how our grandparents and great grandparents survived.
Some of the recipes have, at least in my mind, a high yuck rating. Others sound rather appealing. It is interesting to read how the gems of the 1800s evolved into today’s muffins thanks mostly to baking powder. Yeast was used for most baked goods including pancakes before 1900. Cooks would make a batch of yeast dough several times a week or a really big one once a week. There are a lot of recipes for homemade yeast in the cookbooks of the 1800s.
People ate a great deal more fish than we do today. They would have some type of fish or seafood for any meal in the day and usually for more than one meal. They would turn fish into a vast variety of dishes from soups to lunch and dinner dishes. I found a lot of recipes for different types of fish paste sandwiches. Before the railroads could bring saltwater fish and seafood to landlocked areas of the country cooks would use local freshwater fish. Today there is not a body of water in this state I would eat a fish from.
In earlier times pie was a breakfast food. That is one concept I can firmly get behind. From what I read that was common in Colonial times among many of the German and Dutch settlers. Meat pies were more common than they are today. Hand pies, such as the pasties of miner fame, were portable lunches for workers.
Cooks also used a lot of wild game before the mid 1900s. Many of the old cookbooks contain pages and pages of recipes for preparing any type of wild animal or fowl that could be hunted or caught. It was understandable because there were no corner grocery stores with butchers nearby as we have today unless you lived in an urban area. Cooks of the 1800s were good at using all of the animal or fowl. Bones and other bits were cooked down into broth to use in making other dishes, bits made into headcheese, sausages and other types of shaped meat dishes.
If nothing else reading cookbooks from earlier times has made me appreciate our modern kitchens, even the tiny like a closet one I live with. The thought of trying to bake bread or anything else in a wood or coal fueled stove makes my head ach. There were no temperature settings or thermometers. One method for testing the oven temperature involved the cook putting her hand inside the oven. Another involved a small piece of bread. I’d vote for the piece of bread.
Making a morning pot of coffee or tea would have been gosh darn difficult without having a morning cup of coffee or tea first. Hauling water to use for washing up; dishes, laundry and humans, and cooking is something we no longer need worry about unless we are out in the wild on a camping trip.
There were all sorts of kitchen gadgets. A chopping knife and chopping bowl were the food processors of the time. Cast iron was the pan of choice whether for a Dutch oven or a frying pan. One means of cleaning cast iron mentioned in several books was to scour the pan out with sand. They used tin a lot for kitchen utensils and for pots. Some books even included methods for patching tin pots.
All the means of food storage and the ways people preserved foods before refrigeration in the home was common are interesting to read about. How to preserve eggs is one example and how to dry fruit another. The need to preserve what people raised in their gardens was a constant concern as fresh food during the winter months was not that available.
My mother said my grandmother grew herbs in their large garden and would hang them in the kitchen to dry for use during the winter. They used the basement as a root cellar and she would can, pickle and put up preserves though out the summer. My grandfather would make root beer that would on occasion blow up in the bottles stored in the basement. My parents often talked about the icemen and the iceboxes they grew up with in the early 1900s. Dad said that the early refrigerators were so noisy that people would keep them on back porches instead of in the kitchens.
I think I’ll go out into my tiny kitchen and be very thankful for all the wonderful labor saving devices in it. Including the electricity to run them all.