The season of feasting is upon us. And this week’s theme here on Corsets, Cutlasses & Candlesticks is: What’s on your character’s feast table? I’m not going to mess around, here. I’m going to tell you right away about the most wonderful cookbook I may have ever read. I like to imagine this gem on the small shelf in the kitchen, beside the cookstove, in the Harding house in Whistle in the Dark.
It’s early 1920s, Missouri. And the cookbook is called 1925 Missouri Farm Women’s Cookbook. A book of its time, it assumes that, 1) women do the cooking and, 2) men do the eating. Do not let your modern sensibility dissuade you from reading this treasure! You’ll find sections such as Fish and Oysters, Eggs and Cheese, Bread. Home Remedies, Soap, and Farm and Garden Hints. You’ll find recipes for sugar cured meat, pickled meat, cold pack ribs, and a Tasty Way of Doing Liver. Pressed chicken, creamed chicken, smothered chicken, rabbit pie. Want to discover A Way with Cold Beef? This is the book for you. It’s terrifically diverse! In the Soup section, a recipe for Bone Stock (one quart water, one pound bones, all kinds of meat scraps. Simmer very slowly all day and even all night) is followed by one for Swedish Fruit Soup (good for a change on cold evenings; eat hot with bread and butter).
As for my character Clem Harding’s table? Ma might make some Missouri Boiled Ham. With that, she might cook up a pan of Onions-and-Apples. She knows (as the cookbook points out) that frying apples with onions makes the latter more digestible and delicious. She’d put out Cream Cabbage and Brown Bread. She might serve a Candlestick Salad (crisp lettuce leaf, a round slice of canned pineapple, a half banana in the center of the pineapple ring, topped with a candied cherry), because I think it would make her smile to see her children smile, and maybe even get a laugh from Pap and Grampy. Certainly there’d be a Mincemeat Pie, made of a gallon ground lean meat, two gallons apples finely chopped, raisins, currants, cherries, gooseberries, vinegar and sweet syrup. Vinegar Pie or Mock Lemon Pie, and Clem’s favorite, Chocolate Cake. A candy called Christmas Delight, made with three whole pounds of sugar, some vinegar and coconut, raisins and nuts, citron and candied cherries and cinnamon. Somebody’d have to knead the pulled candy for a half an hour, so Ma would probably ask Clem to take a turn. She’s pretty busy. And on the table, too, there’d be pickles. Spanish pickles, sweet pickles, pickled onions (sweet or sour), and crab apple sweets.
Stuffed? Ma knows that a bit of salt will often settle the stomach.
There’s more: the section titled Canning and Preserving starts off with the procedure for Preserving Children. Sounds treacly, but it isn’t. You’ll need 1 large grassy field, 6 children (all sizes), 3 small dogs (rat terriers preferred), deep blue sky, narrow strip of brook (pebbly if possible), hot sun, flowers. Mix the children with the dogs and empty into the field, stirring continuously. Sprinkle the field with flowers. Pour brook gently over the pebbles. Cover all with deep blue sky and bake in hot sun. When children are well browned, they may be removed. Will be found right and ready for setting away to cool in the bath tub. – Mrs. H. D. Brownlee, New Cambria. See? Poetry.
Please, do yourself a favor and go and read this cookbook. It’s a testament to thrift and industry and the family table; just reading will warm you on a chilly November night. You may view it in its entirety here, courtesy of the Missouri Folklore Society. Please do. Because, if you read to the end, you’ll find out How to Cook Husbands. The final pages of instruction are (sort of ominously) missing, however, and I don’t know if the average cook should mess around with this one. Maybe you’re better off sticking to the recipe for scrapple.