Tuesday, August 31, 2010

How to Cook a Frog

I’m back.

The topic this week is “old” cookbooks. It all began for me when the bookstore acquired “The 1901 LaConner Cook Book.” What delightful recipes could I find to surprise my friends? Well, surprise. In 1901 they still cooked with wood or over a fire, so recipes were lists of ingredients, sometimes without measurements, that did not include baking times or temperatures. Each recipe became an experiment, and, as such, some were delicious but many were not.

Since then we have acquired two more even older cookbooks (pictured). “Palatable Dishes, Illustrated,” by Sarah J. Cutter was published in 1891 and “Home Messenger Receipt Book,” was published in 1886. Note that “Receipt” is not a misprint or spelling error but evidently the correct use of the word for the times (this needs research I haven’t done yet). The title page reads, “Revised Edition. Home Messenger Book of Tested Receipts Total Abstinence.” The book is “Respectfully dedicated to the patrons and friends of the Detroit Home of the Friendless.” The price was $1.00 and all proceeds were also devoted to the Detroit Home of the Friendless (can we read “friendless” as “homeless,” or “street person?”).

The Index of "Home Messenger" reads like a modern cookbook with a few exceptions. For example, they apparently ate frogs in 1886, and the directions for cooking one properly includes scalding it, boiling it, and then frying it in a “spider over a bright fire.” Yummy (but what’s a “spider”?). I admit I spend most of my time reviewing the bread and pudding sections of these older cookbooks, but if I ever need to cook a frog, I now know how to do it.

“Palatable Dishes,” a much thicker book, contains not only directions for cooking almost anything (it also includes frogs), but also wonderful full page inserts advertising unimaginable (now) kitchen items. Another fun section is ‘washing and cleaning” which includes directions for removal of mildew or rust stains, for restoring old velvet, or for cleaning woolen or washing flannel without shrinking it. These are treasures.