Want to Make Historic Recipes?
October 27, 2012 9:12 AM   Subscribe

Want to make historic recipes? You can help transcribe the University of Iowa Libraries age old assortment of handwritten cookbooks, ca. 1600s-1960s, documenting culinary history in America and Europe and how tastes have changed over the years. Copy the text as is, including misspellings and abbreviations.

The transcription for this Girl Scout Cookbook from 1948 is complete (with Pecan Balls), but won't you help transcribe a sure cure for black diptheria?
posted by cashman (31 comments total) 83 users marked this as a favorite
Good lord, I could do this all day. It is so much fun to look at this stuff and a great help for everyone. Thanks!
posted by agress at 9:59 AM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Now this is the way to crowdsource transcription work. The last time I saw one of these here, there were intricate instructions and varying sign-up processes... and a month later, I've still not gotten a login. This one is much easier.
posted by Houstonian at 10:16 AM on October 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've started on one from 1856- so fun! And I'm kind of dying to know what a "Corn starch pudding" would be like.
posted by Mouse Army at 10:17 AM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Heck, I just finished 3 recipes from the 1933 cookbook. I'm not sure why I find this to be fun, but I do. Thanks, cashman, for sharing this!
posted by Houstonian at 10:25 AM on October 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

This page is fantastic. It's for "Verna's rolls". The book itself is from 1933 and it is a mix of handwritten recipes and pasted in recipes from newspapers. In the corners of some recipes the owner had written down notes about how the recipe did ("good" for example) or where it originated.

So, the page. It's splattered with multiple different liquids over the years. You can tell that the book had been opened to that recipe many, many times probably especially over holidays. But pasted onto the bottom of the page, just under the recipe, is a tiny clipping from a newspaper:
Tired, Swollen Feet
Arnica, diluted with warm water, acts like magic in soothing tired, swollen feet, and a footbath of this every other night is very good.
That page tells so many stories.
posted by Houstonian at 10:56 AM on October 27, 2012 [5 favorites]

I was looking to see if they had any from the early 1600s that needed doing, as I've done 16th century transcriptions (different hand from modern). But hey seem to start at c1700, when the hands were more modern and much easier to read - yay italic/humanism. c1700 can be easier to read than c1800.
posted by jb at 11:51 AM on October 27, 2012

Fabulous! I love old cookbooks and getting access to non-published ones is great. What a wonderful project.

As Houstonian commented actually seeing the manuscript can tell so much more then just what the text says.

Going to pick one now.
posted by Jalliah at 12:59 PM on October 27, 2012


To Pot Tongues

Cut off the roots of your Tongues, run a knife at the great end, & stuff in some salt [Petre] & Bay salt, & also rub the outsides well, when they have lain a week dry them in a Cloth, then rub them with cloves, Mace Nutmegs & pepper, bake them in some water 'till they are tender, take them out and blanch them, then rub them with Spice as before, put them in Pots & fill them up with Clarify'd Butter

Cook Jones
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 1:27 PM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

That potted tongue recipe is good, clear and easy, but I'm a little surprised there is no instruction to peel the tongues after cooking. Unpeeled tongues are not appetising to look at
posted by howfar at 1:48 PM on October 27, 2012

Also please wear gloves if you decide to take the saltpetre option. Itchy!
posted by howfar at 1:50 PM on October 27, 2012

Holy crap, this is perfect. My family has been arguing who should get my Mom's old cookbook, which has entries from my grandmother dating back to the 1920s, I think. I ended up with it, since I cleaned out her house and none of my sisters wanted to ship the heavy boxes of cookbooks. They stole pretty much everything else of value from the estate.

Now I can just donate it to the library and my siblings can download it once it's scanned. The library would probably accept the book into their collection, since it's of local interest. My mom ran local restaurants and her recipes are still being used by local restaurants 30+ years later. Some were copied from her by employees who left and took their favorites with them. One restaurant she founded is still in operation, using the same recipes.

My mom once said she wanted to publish her mom's old cookbook. She showed it to me, one note puzzled her, it said, "Why Lord, why?" She said it took her a while to figure out it actually said, "Why lard, why?" because the recipe contains a lot of lard.

But there's a big problem with transcribing recipes like this. Units have changed over time. My sisters tried to replicate our grandmother's recipe for fudge that called for chocolate measured in units of Hershey Bars. I did some research and the size of the bars varied over the years. Since we could not be sure when the recipe was written, we never could determine the amounts. But we were pretty certain that the current bars were at least double the size of anything that might be in the antique recipe. Well this explains why my mom's fudge always turned out hard as a brick, like solid chocolate bars.

I have the same problem with my mom's recipe for pumpkin custard pie. I scanned it and put it on my blog, where it was the top Google hit for Pumpkin Pie for several years, until they reindexed their recipes to use metadata that major cooking sites provided. The recipe calls for 1 pound cans of pumpkin, but nobody makes 1 pound cans anymore. If I want to follow the recipe, I either buy too much and throw it out, or use just a little bit less than required.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:52 PM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ooooooh. This is fun! I suppose I define "fun" in a less-than-traditional way.

I'm a lover of words that I do not have the occasion to use very often. A "gill" is a unit of measurement that I was aware of before but have never had cause to use it ... until today. I know this is weird, but that gives me a tiny measure of satisfaction.
posted by neewom at 3:31 PM on October 27, 2012

There was a restaurant in St Louis that attempted this sort of cooking as a concept. Painfully researched historical and seasonally appropriate cooking. It closed after 3 weeks.
posted by asockpuppet at 3:41 PM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

A restaurant closing after 3 weeks had some serious financial problems in its business model, or serious problems among its owners. Thus its failure doesn't really tell us anything about the concept. For what it's worth the concept sounds reasonable to me, but I can see how it could be a big money loser in the wrong hands. But you can say that of pretty much anything in catering.
posted by howfar at 4:35 PM on October 27, 2012

Yeah, the comments on this article pretty much assert that.
posted by asockpuppet at 4:52 PM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

That's a great insight into local life!
posted by howfar at 5:02 PM on October 27, 2012

Gosh, that was fun! I had a spice cake recipe with dates and chocolate chips and powdered sugar...sounded pretty tasty!
posted by misha at 7:14 PM on October 27, 2012

Since looking at this post a few hours ago and dabbling in other pages, I've managed to get sucked into the world of this cookbook. I'm sure I'm using too many commas. Currants, nutmeg, raisins and suet play a large part so far.

I mentioned this all to my mother since she's an avid baker, and she insisted that I share the link. It led to a lot of anecdotes about my great-grandmother's cooking, who was a farm girl and did a lot of similar baking (i.e., lots of lard or suet, lots of tiny shriveled fruits and no hesitation to use a cow tongue). Stick-to-your-sides food. She evidently left a lot of recipes written down, too, and they're all like this book only with more modern spelling and grammar (that is, no precise measurements, but a lot of encouragement in the margins to "just play around with the amounts). I'm pretty sure that this post will be directly responsible for a few fantastic failures in the kitchen the next time I see her, but it will be a lot of fun. God, I love this post.
posted by neewom at 12:03 AM on October 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I used to watch Upstairs, Downstairs, then I saw a BBC documentary on the cooking used in the show, which was always historically accurate. There were lots of meat pies, which was apparently a custom of the time because they didn't need refrigeration to keep from spoiling. I saw one show where the cooks made mince pies for christmas.

So I asked my mom to make a real mincemeat pie from scratch for christmas. She looked up a recipe in her mother's old cookbook, and said I wouldn't like it. But I assured her I would love it. So she said she'd make it, but only if I took her shopping for the ingredients, which wasn't going to be easy.

After running all over town to find the proper fruits, there was only one last stop to the grocery store for the most basic, easy to find ingredients. The last stop was the butcher counter, where she ordered the meat that would go in the pie, and then to my surprise, about a pound of suet. I was stunned when the butcher showed her a huge mound of white, greasy fat. I asked her if this really belongs in a mince pie, and she said of course, that's the most basic ingredient. I was skeptical, even queasy, at the thought.

So my mom put her whole heart into making this elaborate mincemeat pie. She trimmed off all the worst bits of the suet, leaving only the whitest fats, then got out her big meat grinder and ground it all into little bits, along with some of the fruit. She finished the pie filling, put it into one of her perfect hand-made crusts, and put it in the oven. The smell was wonderful, but not quite what I expected, it smelled more like meat than pie. It certainly didn't smell like those mince pies she had made from canned mincemeat. She made the pie a couple of days early, insisting that it would take a while for the flavor of the spices and meats to mature.

At christmas dinner, it was the moment I had long anticipated. At our family's holiday dinners, it is never a question as to whether or not you will have pie. The only question is how many pieces of pie. Mom would always make two types of pies, one traditional and one experimental, and now this was a special third pie. She warmed it in the oven just before serving it, the aroma was incredible. So I cut a piece of mincemeat for myself. Nobody else would touch it. I put a little daub of freshly whipped cream on top and it looked like something from a cooking magazine. I took a bite, and it was the heaviest food I had ever eaten. It was delicious, but it felt like I was eating pure fat, because I basically was eating gobs of suet. I even had trouble swallowing it. For the first time in my life, I could only finish one piece of pie, and even that was an enormous effort. At most holidays, I would have another piece, and maybe another piece that evening, but after this one piece, I felt like my entire body had turned into one solid piece of suet. I will not even speak of the difficulties digesting it.

But I could not say anything of this to my mother, after all the effort she went to, on my behalf. She seemed disappointed that I only ate one piece. I told her I loved the pie, and I really did, but that it was so rich I could eat no more. I was determined to to eat the entire pie over the next few days, even if it killed me. So I did. It took almost a week. I couldn't eat more than a small piece per day. That week was an endurance test requiring more intestinal fortitude than I had ever believed possible. She was so happy when she saw the pie pan, finally empty. And I was glad the mincemeat ordeal was over.

I seem to have inherited my mom's skill for making pies, at holidays everyone clamors for my pumpkin and apple pies. My crowning achievement was last Thanksgiving, where at a special dietary request I did a handmade gluten-free tapioca flour crust (which took 2 hours) with a no-sugar-added apple-pear filling. And perhaps someday I will even attempt the suet-filled mincemeat pie, but only if I have someone who would feel obligated to eat every single bite.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:23 AM on October 28, 2012 [6 favorites]

She made the pie a couple of days early, insisting that it would take a while for the flavor of the spices and meats to mature.

We made meat-based mincemeat (although with somewhat less suet than your recipe) a couple of times when I was a kid. We did it sometime around this point in the year and jarred it to mature until Christmas. It was very good, and not identifiably meaty at all, but it was, even in this less fatty version, still too rich to really make the sort of mince-pie you really feel comfortable about handing around at Christmas drinks.
posted by howfar at 7:29 AM on October 28, 2012

I note that all the promos for this project say the earliest date for the cookbooks is 1600, yet when you get to the actual manuscripts, the oldest one is labeled as 1700. Am I missing something? There is a huge gulf between transcribing Elizabethan handwriting and early colonial handwriting.....
posted by anastasiav at 7:30 AM on October 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think they are saying "ca. 1600s-1960s" to include English recipe and housebook, 1689-1732.
posted by Houstonian at 9:20 AM on October 28, 2012

I started with a recipe for how to cook a pig. I'm hooked. Done about twelve pages in a New England cookbook. Learning this woman's handwriting slowly and what the units of measurement were. There's one that I can't figure out that looks like 'do' but is a unit of volume in the cups range. No descender on the first letter, so not gills or quarts or pints, or ....
posted by sciencegeek at 10:51 AM on October 28, 2012

I'm working on 17th century cookbooks for my dissertation. This is fantastic!
posted by apricot at 10:59 AM on October 28, 2012

We made meat-based mincemeat (although with somewhat less suet than your recipe)..

She probably didn't use a whole pound, but I haven't found her recipe. But even a pound or so seemed like an enormous mountain of suet.

I started with a recipe for how to cook a pig.

My grandfather worked as a researcher for the USDA. I found this little gem in his library: The Large Quantity Barbecue. Prep time, 18 hours. Includes logistics to deliver 2500 servings in one hour.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:14 PM on October 28, 2012

sciencegeek, look at the context: "do" or "do." used to be an abbreviation for "ditto," meaning "repeat the above." Does that seem like a plausible reading?

I just learned that the word "mango" can mean a pepper, a pickled stuffed pepper, or any sort of pickled dish, such as pickled cucumber stuffed with horseradish, garlic, and spices.
posted by Naiad at 7:37 PM on October 28, 2012

I'd just reached the conclusion that it was ditto! Thanks! I'd never seen it abbreviated like that before. Time to go back and fix a bunch of stuff.
posted by sciencegeek at 12:29 AM on October 29, 2012

There's a bit of an update: Welcome, MetaFiltarians! (MeFites!)
We’re on the waiting list for a MetaFilter account so we can provide belated responses to some of the comments, but in the meantime let us state here that: (1) we are definitely interested in adding more manuscript cookbooks to the project, please get in touch with our Special Collections department if you have one you’d like to donate; and (2) the cookbook collection does indeed date back to 1600, we’re still in the process of digitizing everything, but we just bumped this item with its “records of pasley, and preserbes, wax work and Limning & fruits Artificial” to the head of the queue — all of you Elizabethan handwriting fans, check back soon!
posted by neewom at 4:49 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

That's pretty awesome that we actually made an impact there. I was transcribing things mainly as a way to distract myself from the hurricane. I'll have to head back there and do some more now.
posted by sciencegeek at 6:22 PM on November 3, 2012

I do have a question, actually, if any of you guys might know. I've been working on one book in my down times, and I keep coming across a shorthand symbol that I remember seeing before but can't remember its exact meaning... There are a couple of examples of it on the most recent page I've done (here), and it's either "the" or "your" or I'm just going nuts. Any ideas?

Anyway, yeah, that's a pretty marked increase in traffic. I know that my mother's started working on these and that my aunt is probably taking a stab at it as well, so it's kind of cool to have had a hand in that. I say again, woo.
posted by neewom at 9:36 PM on November 3, 2012

I think it is yr, as in your. But this is just based on how it looks to me.
posted by sciencegeek at 1:51 AM on November 4, 2012

« Older The Library of Babel in 140 characters (or fewer)   |   Research In Progress Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments