Cookbooks as we know them began as handwritten manuscripts of trial and error, what worked and what didn’t. The first printed cookbook appeared in 1470, but most cooks relied on their mother’s or their cook’s hard won receipts.
Cookbooks can also tell us something about the society and ecomonics of the time. Where eggs and fresh milk were plenty and refrigeration a thing of the future.
In our Special Collections we have many cookbooks dating back to the 17th century. But it is in a fairly new cookbook, Famous Recipes from Old Virginia (1941) that we find some recipes from well-known cooks.
“Thos. Jefferson’s Recipe for Ice Cream
2 quarts of ‘good’ cream
½ pound sugar
6 yolks eggs
Mix yolks and sugar. Heat cream (with vanilla) until near boiling point, the pour it gently into the egg mixture. Stir well, and heat again to near boiling, stirring constantly; strain and when cool, freeze.”
Some recipes almost need translations!
“Martha Washington’s Crab Soup Recipe
Throw into boiling water fifteen crabs that are alive and kicking. When done pick meat up fine. Have ready a broth made of two quarts of water in which you have boiled until done one pound of middling meat, to this add crab meat. Heat two cups of rich milk and stir in well beaten yolks of two eggs. Pour into boiling crab soup, but do not let it come to a boil any more. Cook five minutes. Season with salt and hot pepper and serve from hot tureen.”
The Washington Wedding Cake with its pound and a half of butter, 10 cups of flour, pound and a half of sugar and 18 eggs, is shocking, and then you get to the part about baking for three and a half to four hours! Ah, the good old days!