Image credit: Warner’s Safe Cook Book
As part of the Genesee Valley Historical Reprint Series, Milne Library is pleased to share the release of 8 reprinted cookbooks originally published between 1817 and 1921. This collection may not be the best resource for everyday cooking in the modern kitchen, but if you want to know how to cook chicken soup (starting with choosing the unlucky bird!) and other little-known culinary tricks, these are the books for you.
Old cookbooks preserve otherwise lost culinary and household knowledge. Many of these reprinted books, which are largely put together by the members of institutions and societies local to the Geneseo area, include recipes and advice for removing stains, concocting cleaning agents, and creating curatives that many people may be glad to rediscover. Warner’s Safe Cook Book has a robust section of miscellanea which ranges from laundry (“To Clean Clothing,” “To Keep Furs,” and “Old Fruit Stains”), to first aid (“For Severe Sprains”), to smoothing irons and putting together a bouquet of herbs. The Genesee County Cook Book offers “Substituting for Wheat in Any Recipe,” and The Genesee Valley Cook Book contains a recipe for “Good Paste,” as well as for various lotions and creams.
Also illuminating to read are game recipes that used to be quite common but are now almost never seen, calling for creatures such as turtles, blackbirds, and squirrels. One might find it interesting to know that the old nursery rhyme “Sing a Song of Sixpence” speaks truth in the line “Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie,” for that is how many birds are needed in a Blackbird Pie!
More timeless, and contained in each of the eight cookbooks, are sections on jams, pickling, and preserving, which may be useful to cooks interested in canning or gardners with excess crops.
The cookbooks in the Genesee Valley Historical Collection, and in the Genesee Valley Historical Reprint Series, remind us of what life must have been like for women and their families during this time period, and how important and fortunate it was that they shared their wisdom in book form, when this wisdom otherwise was contained within families and communities and mainly passed on orally. My own reliance on the internet for simple cooking basics, or to learn something new, reminds me how lucky we are to have (often) free and easy access to this vast world of cultural and academic knowledge.
The books in the Genesee Valley Historical Reprint Series are available free online, through our website at go.geneseo.edu/omp. The titles are also available for purchase through Amazon.com (with proceeds supporting Milne Library’s Special Collections), and the originals are available for the community to browse and check out at Milne Library.
~ written by Allison Brown