Tag Archives: vintage cookbook


Mary Randolph: Here’s To the Women Who Wrote Cookbooks

Forget the old chestnut “Who was buried in Grant’s Tomb?”  Today we talk about the first person to be buried in Arlington Cemetery. Civilian, woman, cookbook author Mary Randolph. Follow that link to learn more about her life, because I’m going to concentrate on her cooking and household management.


In a book titled The Virginia Housewife: or Methodical Cook, published in 1842, Mary Randolph addressed the well-to-do ladies who managed homes and plantations in Virginia. These women wanted advice suited to the new world, rather than having to depend on cookbooks from England. Had Mary read those early books? The books by Amelia Simmons aimed at “the poor orphans” and by Hannah Glasse, writing from England and addressing servants, did not help her compatriots in Virginia, apparently.

Most cookbooks of the time, as we have seen countless times in my various food posts, did not believe exact measurements were necessary.  The authors assumed a basic knowledge, that Mary Randolph admits she did not possess when first married.

“The difficulties I encountered when I first entered on the duties of a house-keeping life, from the want of books sufficiently clear and concise to impart knowledge to a Tyro, compelled me to study the subject, and by actual experiment to reduce everything in the culinary line, to proper weights and measures.”

Sometimes, she sounds a bit like Benjamin Franklin in her ‘rules for living.’

Early rising is also essential to the good government of a family. A late breakfast deranges the whole business of the day, and throws a portion of it on the next, which opens the door for confusion to enter.

Her introduction gives us an interesting peek into the lives of the female head of household in a slave-owning culture.  You may be surprised when you read the introduction to her book to see her strong moral stand against leaving the servants and slaves to their own devices.  Whatever happens in the household can be credited to the management practices of the lady of the house. However, there is no hint of concern for the workload or improvement of the life of the slaves and servants–just the reputation of the lady.

Mise En Place

I find something to love in all these old cookbooks, and my favorite advice from Mary Randolph is this:

Before a pudding or cake is begun, every ingredient necessary for it must be ready; when the process is retarded by neglecting to have them prepared, the article is injured.

The French call it “mise en place” and if I could give only one piece of advice to fledgling cooks, it would be prepare everything in advance.  It saves you from getting into a recipe and discovering a missing ingredient.  It saves you from having the cake in the pan while the oven is still cold.  It saves you a whole lot of work and makes things seem effortless.


Common purple eggplant or aubergine. Photo by Petr Kratochvil, Google images


The purple ones are best; get them young and fresh; pull out the stem, and parboil them to take off the bitter taste; cut them in slices an inch thick, but do not peel them; dip them in the yelk of an egg, and cover them with grated bread, a little salt and pepper–when this has dried, cover the other side the same way–fry them a nice brown. They are very delicious, tasting much like soft crabs.

I love eggplant, and cook it frequently.  One of my go-to side dishes is the simple breaded, fried eggplant slices.  So I wanted to see if Mary Randolph’s technique could improve on my usual way of doing things.  Spoiler: It Did.

How could such small changes in a simple recipe make such a difference?



Inch thick breaded eggplant slices fried

First, I generally cut the eggplant way thinner than one inch, partly because thicker slices do not cook in the middle before the outside gets browned, when you only cook them in the skillet.

So although horticulturists have bred out the bitterness, removing the need for pre-salting and parboiling, I cut the slices one inch thick as directed, and parboiled them as directed

Second, it sounds as though she might be using a much younger eggplant than mine.  I generally peel anything other than the tiny Japanese eggplants because the peel is too tough to eat. I couldn’t figure that out for sure, but nevertheless, hesitantly followed her instructions not to peel the eggplant.


Kikkoman® Panko Bread Crumbs

Third, because I do not bake bread every other day as they probably did on the plantation, I did not have appropriate crumbs, so I cheated and used Panko.

There were no negative effects in using Panko.  I would question her using only one egg “yelk”. The one yolk did not quite coat all five of the slices that I got out of my eggplant.


Fourth: In the past, I have dipped, breaded, flipped over and dipped, breaded the other side.  I learned that it works much better to let one side dry before dipping the second side.


Who would have thought that I could learn so much from such a simple recipe?

The parboiling not only ensured that the inch thick slices (much more satisfying than my thin slices) cooked all the way through, but amazingly, we could easily cut the skin with a knife and it was a delicious addition.  I will definitely be cooking eggplant the Mary Randolph way in the future.


My experiment with this recipe convinces me that Mary Randolph did indeed know her business. By the way, last week’s cookbook author, Amelia Simmons suggests straining an egg after beating, and although Mary Randolph doesn’t mention that trick, it seems to me it would be a good idea for the “yelk” used for dipping breaded foods. So, now I am not only getting favorite hints from these women who wrote cookbooks, but beginning to combine those hints from the past to improve today’s cooking.

Randolph’s book is available in many formats. I recommend Project Gutenberg, where you can get various formats free.

Sick Food: Barley Water For Invalids

No, not food that is sick. Food you eat when you are sick, like barley water.  A better term is the chapter heading in one of my vintage cookbooks: “Invalid Cookery.”

1925 Cook Book

1925 Cook Book Cover

I had noticed this intriguing chapter title in the 1925 book, The Home Makers’ Cooking School Cook Book by Jessie M. DeBoth (cover title: Buffalo Evening News Cooking School Cook Book).  This book, which qualifies as an heirloom, belonged to my great aunt, Maud Stout Bartlett.  As I’ve explained before, a number of newspapers across the country carried Miss DeBoth’s column on cookery, and each published a book of recipes, putting their own name on the cover.

I’ve had a cold that knocked me down this past week, and I kept thinking if I had the energy to get up, I’d cook something from the chapter on “Invalid Cookery.”  Now I’m back up and at the computer, and still feeling the need of comfort food, although not feeling good enough to actually cook anything complicated..

Sick Child

Child in Sick bed, photo from The London Blitz, 1940, Photo by Cecil Beaton, public domain

We all have our sick food favorites, some the same from childhood. Mine include Vernor’s ginger ale (it has to be Vernor’s and if I have to explain why, you’re not from the mid-West); pudding of any kind, but particularly rice pudding; tea with lemon juice and honey; white bread toast to dunk in the tea–or spread with applesauce. Soup and club crackers. It has now been scientifically proven that chicken soup actually IS good for you when you’re ill.

From Mrs. DeBoth’s Cook Book

Back to the book. The introduction to the chapter “Invalid Cookery” is preachy and thorough– as is every chapter introduction in this book. It encourages the housewife by saying,

Caring for the invalid falls to the lot of a large majority of homemakers at some time.  Very often the homemaker has much to do with the recovery of the invalid.  Special foods must be cooked, appetites must be coaxed back to normal, and the patient must be catered to in every possible way.

That is a proposition that I am sure every husband would agree to, and every homemaker might wonder just who was going to “cater to [ME when I get sick]..in every possible way.”

Not only must you prepare the right food, but the appearance of the food affects the appetite.

Sick person breakfast tray

From American Food Roots website.
In “Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent,” Fannie Merritt Farmer called for setting a pretty breakfast tray to stimulate the appetite. / Courtesy of Little, Brown and Co. and the USDA National Agricultural Library

A simple dish of pudding can be made to look so attractive that the person for whom it is intended will be glad to take it no matter what it is.  Daintiness is of primary importance.  The tray must be attractive.  The portions should be small.  A large serving may look so overwhelming that the patient will not try to eat it.  When hot liquids are served, they should be brought in a covered pitcher to be kept hot.  By pouring it in the room, there is not the danger of spilling in carrying.  Nothing so quickly mars the appearance of a tray as a saucer into which some of the liquid of the cup has been spilled.

Oh, dear! Heaven forfend that I should slop some liquid into a saucer!

Monotony should be avoided, even if only the garnish on the food is changed.  When the diet is so limited that great variation is not possible, it sometimes helps to change the dishes with which the patient is served.  A bit of parsley in place of other garnish makes the plate look a little different.  Cress, too, makes an attractive garnish.

The author of this book, does not apparently have a high opinion of the brain power of the reader.

Special care should be taken that no liquid food is ever served in the glass which has contained medicine.  Even if the glass has been thoroughly washed, it may have a slightly unpleasant taste or odor.

Okay, got it! Be dainty. Don’t spill stuff. Add some parsley. Don’t put the lemonade in the paregoric glass. But what should I prepare?  Some suggestions sounds okay, but some just sounds downright weird.


When I was a child, and my children were small, I made rennet custard.  My vintage cook book calls for Junket tablets in an eggnog, which sounds awfully good, but I didn’t have any Junket (a brand name) rennet tablets on hand, so I couldn’t try that.

Barley Water

Nor did I have pearl barley on hand for barley water.  (See UPDATE below) But I know that barley water was a headliner in feeding injured soldiers during the Civil War, and it hung on into the twenties. By the way, have you been watching Mercy Street on PBS? Set in a Civil War hospital, where the head nurse spends quite a bit of time worrying about what the soldiers are eating.

In case you want to try it:

  • 2 Tablespoons pearl barley
  • 1 Quart cold water
  • 1/2 Teaspoon of salt
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • A little sugar if desired.

Wash the barley, pour the water over it and soak for several hours.  Add salt and cook in a double boiler for at least three hours.  Strain through cheese cloth or a fine strainer, flavor with lemon, and add sugar if desired.

Note: Most current day recipes call for cooking barley for 45 minutes–but that is for eating it as a grain. Also, pearl barley has had a lot of the nutrients removed (which apparently Ms. DeBoth hadn’t caught on to, so its benefit to invalids is a bit questionable.)

The Book of Household Management by Mrs. Beeton has a similar recipe for barley water , but a more intriguing one proposes barley gruel made with red wine. Mrs. Beeton’s book, published just before the Civil War, must have been quite influential. I found her book at the intriguing site called Ex-Classics and from another site that contains her whole book, Mrs. Beeton.com.

Mrs. Beeton’s barley water recipe.

INGREDIENTS – 2 oz. of pearl barley, 2 quarts of boiling water, 1 pint of cold water.

Mode.—Wash the barley in cold water; put it into a saucepan with the above proportion of cold water, and when it has boiled for about 1/4 hour, strain off the water, and add the 2 quarts of fresh boiling water. Boil it until the liquid is reduced one half; strain it, and it will be ready for use. It may be flavoured with lemon-peel, after being sweetened, or a small piece may be simmered with the barley. When the invalid may take it, a little lemon-juice gives this pleasant drink in illness a very nice flavour.

Time.—To boil until the liquid is reduced one half.

Sufficient to make 1 quart of barley-water.

UPDATE: I could not stand the suspense, so finally got out to buy some pearl barley and try making barley water.  I used Mrs. Beeton’s recipe, because it sounded a little more logical to me.  The tiny amount of barley in relation to the water, gives the barley water a pinkish-brown hue. I got just over a quart of liquid at the end.  I added to one glass, 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice and 2 teaspoons of sugar (channeling my grandmother Vera Anderson who would put the maximum amount of sugar in anything).  Neither of the recipes specify drinking it warm or cold, but I drank it cold, thinking that would be more soothing for a sore throat.

 It really is not bad. You get a bit of the flavor of the grain, plus the lemon and slight sweetness.

Medieval Recipe for Barley Water

Finally, if you want to go back to Medieval days for a recipe for Barley Water for Invalids:

This is an excerpt from Libre del Coch
(Spain, 1520 – Robin Carroll-Mann, trans.)
94. Barley-water for Invalids. You will take barley and cook it the night before, according to the quantity that you wish to make. Then take a pullet or cockerel, and break its bones and then make a pot boil with water that is clean; and moderately, in such a manner that when you cast in the pullet or cockerel, the water only covers it; and [this is] if it is little, of necessity you will have to cast in more water if the pullet is larger, and it is necessary that it cooks longer; and it must cook or boil constantly, and never cease to boil. And do not cast in salt until the last, when you know that there is no more than a dishful of broth, because it will be more flavorful. And having done this, after the patient has supped, you will take a few peeled almonds and grind them with a little of the white meat of the pullet in a mortar; and blend them with the broth of the cockerel or pullet; and when you have strained it, put this milk in a little pot; and if you wish, cast in a tiny bit of starch; you can cast it in at the same time as the milk; and then take the barley or ordio when it is cooked, and take a hemp-tow which should not be very thin, and put it in that ordio or barley, and press down the hemp-tow very well, in such a manner that all the liquor comes out of the barley; then take that milk that you removed, and strain it through a sieve, in such a manner that little of the starch passes through it; and then strain everything again, the barley and all; and it should be a little clear and thin. Because in resting overnight it will turn thick. And I wish to say this now: let it cook the night before with sugar; and in the morning, when the patient is going to drink it, make it boil a little, and that will make it of great benefit; and when you give this barley-water, cast a little sugar over the dish; and if you don’t wish to cast in starch, do not cast it in, [and see] that nothing goes into it.

The things you can find on the Internet!!

What I Will Not Cook

I’m going to pause here, but promise that I’ll bring you some more–but probably NOT “Toast water” (a piece of stale bread soaked in boiling water). And NOT Irish moss (it’s a seaweed and is controversial because it is the source of carrageen which some health experts warn against.) So while cold and flue season is still upon us, I’ll be back with more Invalid Cookery in the future.

Source in addition to those linked above: A Manual for Invalid Cookery. (1880) (available on line)

Hutty Cutty Ginger Cookies

Yes, I know Halloween is past, but….

When I discovered that I had not put any gingerbread or ginger cookie recipes on Ancestors in Aprons, I realized what a serious oversight that was.  Gingerbread was a very early type of cookie* , and with the holidays coming, we want to find the best possible recipe for gingerbread boys. Today it is Hutty Cutty Cookies.

Ginger Cookies

Ginger Cookies decorated for Halloween

Stay tuned–this week, a recipe from the 1920’s America, next week, a German spice mixture for Gingerbread cookies, and the following week a genuine Ginger Cookie recipe from Germany that utilizes that special spice mixture.

I flipped through my go-to old recipe book**–the one that belonged to my Great Aunt Maude–and found not one but SEVERAL Ginger cookie recipes–Ginger Snaps, Soft Ginger Cookies, Molasses Wafers, Ginger Bolivars (like Ginger Snaps except with molasses instead of sugar), not to mention ginger cake and four kinds of ginger bread and Ginger Gems.

But the one I could not resist had the puzzling name of Hutty Cutty Ginger Cookies. What or who is Hutty Cutty? Beats me. Beats Google, too.  The closest I found to an answer was a letter to a Chicago newspaper asking about a children’s story from the 20s called Hutty Cutty. Sounds like a likely source, and if your researching skills are better than mine, PLEASE let me know who/what Hutty Cutty is and what it/he/she has to do with Ginger Cookies.

I like to compare lots of more modern recipes before baking or cooking an old recipe, and in this case I learned something from Joy of Cooking that I have somehow missed all these years.  Instead of rolling the cookies out on a floured cloth or sheet of whatever and transferring them to the pan–roll them out on a lightly-greased pan and cut them there. What a revelation!  It worked just great for these cookies.  Just don’t try it on a pan coated to be stick-proof, or you’ll damage the coating.

Although I don’t include the frosting in the recipe below, I frosted these with a simple confectioner’s sugar glaze (just mix in drops of water until you get the texture you want) and then sprinkled with orange sugar and made faces with one of those little tubes of decorating gel. It doesn’t go far and is rather expensive, so I’d recommend making your own, or dipping a toothpick in melted chocolate for the face on the jack-o-lantern.

Gingerbread Hutty Cutty Cookies

Serves 30+
Prep time 20 minutes
Cook time 40 minutes
Total time 1 hour
Allergy Egg, Wheat
Meal type Dessert, Snack
Misc Child Friendly, Freezable, Pre-preparable, Serve Cold
Occasion Halloween, Thanksgiving
From book Buffalo Evening News Cooking School Cook Book
Control the spiciness and make them soft or crispy--delicious gingerbread cookies.


  • 3/4 cups sugar ((white or brown))
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3/8 cups molasses
  • 3/8 cups honey
  • 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 3/4 tablespoons ginger
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/8 teaspoons salt
  • 4 1/4 cups flour


1. Whisk together flour, soda, baking powder and spices
2. Melt butter over low heat. Meanwhile, beat eggs. Let butter get cool and add, eggs and sweeteners.
3. Add flour mixture. Stir well. Put bowl in refrigerator for 2 hours to overnight.
4. When ready to bake, either roll and cut shapes, or form balls and flatten with the bottom of a glass dipped in flour.
5. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes--more if you like them crispier.


I made quite a few changes in the original recipe for Hutty Cutty Gingerbread Cookies from the Buffalo Cooking School Cook Book. First I cut it in 1/4 because the original called for 14 or 15 cups of flour, which would have had me baking all day! I used more flour than called for, because their proportions resulted in a very sticky mass. They did not suggest refrigerating the dough, so I don't know how you could roll it.

I changed the method of mixing, rather than creaming the butter and sugar, melting the butter and all the sweeteners blends them better in my opinion.

You control the spice mix. I added a bit of ground cloves to kick up the spiciness, and you can adjust as you like.  I also used brown sugar although the original recipe did not specify brown.

You also control crispiness by how thin you make the cookies and how long you cook them.  I rolled my cookies to slightly over 1/8" for cutting and baked just over 20 minutes (stoves vary, so you'll just have to keep an eye on them).  Mine came out soft, but not cakey, and have stayed a nice soft texture for several days.

The pumpkin cut-out cookies in the picture are approximately 3 1/2 " wide and I got 30 cookies, plus scraps to make a half dozen smaller round cookies besides.

The spice taste kicks up a bit after they have been stored in an air tight container for a while.

*For more history of cookies see the Kindle edition of Cookie: A Love Story: Fun Facts, Delicious Stories, Fascinating History, Tasty Recipes, and More About Our Most Beloved Treat, by Brette Sember.

**Still available from used book dealers:The Home Makers’ Cooking School Cook Book (It was apparently published by many newspapers, those who carried the author’s columns)

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