Rice Apples (1777). Sweet Potato Custard (1870). Ice Cream No. 3 (1899) For the past couple of months, librarians and staff at the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University have chosen vintage recipes from their extensive cookbook collection and tried them out in a project that feels a little like America's Test Kitchen meets Antiques Roadshow.
They've been blogging about the history of the recipes, their cooking methods, and how the dishes turned out. If you don't count the Goblin Sandwich (a halved donut filled with deviled ham, avocado and Worcestershire sauce) many of these recipes would be perfect for the Thanksgiving table.
Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen: Apple Kuchen
Intern Patrick Dollar kicked things off with a recipe found tucked away in the papers of Ted Minah. Minah was director of the Duke University dining halls for close to thirty years, beginning in 1946.
Dollar reports, "By his retirement in 1974, Minah had transformed the dining halls at Duke University from a small operation to 12 dining halls serving approximately 15,000 meals each day."
"The context for the recipe collection wasn’t clear," writes Dollar, noting that the recipe was designed to feed four to six people, not thousands of hungry Duke students.
Like many older recipes, it was short and to the point – no lengthy descriptions of methods or ingredients to coddle the home cook. I did encounter an interesting culinary term I’d never seen before, but which continues to appear in other archival collections I’m processing: Oleo. Oleo was a common colloquial term used to refer to margarine, whose full name is oleomargarine. I admit that I strayed from the recipe and used butter rather than margarine, but that substitution didn’t seem to hurt the recipe.
Overall, the recipe was perfect for fall – the tart apples, cinnamon, and somewhat unusual cake batter made a tasty seasonal treat. The recipe was easy and quick to make, used common ingredients found in any grocery store, and should appeal to even the pickiest eater.
Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen: Rice Apples (1777)
Library Director of Communications Aaron Welborn wanted to try something truly old-school.
"When the idea for this series of blog posts was first proposed, one of the names we considered calling it was 'Antiquarian Culinarian,' with the idea of recreating the flavors of times gone by," writes Welborn.
Browsing the library catalog for cookbooks of yore, I came across a title that looked promising: The Young Ladies’ Guide in the Art of Cookery, Being a Collection of useful Receipts, Published for the Convenience of the Ladies committed to Her Care, by Elizabeth Marshall (T. Saint: Newcastle, England: 1777).
The 200-page volume is part of the collections of the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture, and it’s one of many titles the Bingham Center holds that offer a fascinating window into the domestic and social life of women in the eighteenth century.
Marshall (1738-?) ran a cooking school in Newcastle-upon-Tyne from 1770 to 1790. Such schools were not uncommon at the time and catered to women who aspired to work as housekeepers or cooks for the wealthier class. As Marshall explains in her preface, the book came about after frequent solicitations from her former pupils to put her most sought-after recipes in writing:
"There are entries on how to make Herring Pudding, Calf’s Foot Jelly, Stewed Turbot’s Head, Eel Pye, and something called 'White Soop,'" notes Welborn. "Inspired by the changing of the seasons, I opted for something a little more autumnal (and less zoological): Rice Apples! The recipe not only looked relatively easy and tasty, but it also presented a rare opportunity to use my apple-corer, a handy but sadly neglected implement in my kitchen that only gets a chance to shine once every couple of years."
Here is a translation of the recipe, and notes about how Welborn made the dish.
"Quite delectable, by Jove!" concludes Welborn. "The apples were tender and sweet, and the milky-rice-breadcrumb mixture was like an envelope of bread pudding. The sherry added a subtle boozy kick that seemed especially English. I would have no qualms serving this to company, however high or low their station."
Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen: World War 1 Soldiers' Soup
Elizabeth Dunn is a Research Services Librarian at the library. She chose a recipe from Allied Cookery, a book written to raise funds to provide food and clothes to French soldiers, their families and others affected by World War I. Dunn was drawn to the historical significance of the time in which the recipe was written:
The impact of the damage was all the more horrific because these were France’s most fertile agricultural regions. With the buildings destroyed and the farm implements, livestock, and food stores seized, the surviving farmers could not produce food. With armies to supply, shortages were a real danger. Allied propaganda posters encouraged citizens to grow vegetable gardens and to restrict their consumption of wheat, meat, sugar, fats, and fuel. (French propaganda posters included the wine and tobacco products so badly needed by the military!) Fittingly, the recipes in this cookbook emphasize vegetables, beans, and soups. The section on meats includes many dishes using the less choice bits: tripe, kidneys, sheep’s head and the like.
I decided to try the Soldiers’ Soup (Soupe à la Battaille); it seemed altogether fitting when highlighting a World War I cookbook and also potentially tasty.
"The ingredients were, for the most part, easily obtained at my usual supermarket," writes Dunn. "I was unable to find chervil for the garnish, and so simply left it out. The note at the bottom suggests that 'a bone of ham or the remains of bacon improve this soup immensely.' I therefore purchased a bone of ham from our local HoneyBaked Ham. The instructions were extremely simple to follow and it is easy to imagine an army cook preparing the soup over an open fire using vegetables that had been requisitioned from nearby farms."
How was it?
"The flavor was absolutely delightful—a fresh vegetable taste with a little smoky depth from the ham and a creaminess from the potatoes," writes Dunn. "I shredded the ham and served it on the side, but the soup was delicious without it. My husband ate three full bowls. I would rate this soup a five out of five. Without the ham, it would be a perfect vegan dish. It makes so much that I refrigerated enough for another two or three meals and froze several large containers for later consumption. Civilians were called upon to sacrifice for the war effort, but preparing and eating this soup was no sacrifice whatsoever!"
Here are more recipes from the series: