Archive for the ‘food myths’ Category

A year ago (June 22nd, to be exact) I gave a presentation at the 2015
National ALHFAM* Conference. Held at the College of William and Mary,
down in Williamsburg, Virginia, it featured five days of sessions, tours,
professional-development workshops, time spent traipsing all ’round
Colonial Williamsburg, Yorktown, and Jamestown, and more.


During my session, I offered the paper below. It deals with my research
and findings surrounding various supposedly-historic cookbooks, starting
with the two published by the Montclair Historical Society, which oversees
the operation of The Israel Crane House. As you’ll see, it was what I like
to call “a straight talk,” in that there was no power-point slideshow or
shoot-from-the-hip ramblings. It was just me, speaking for about 35
to 40 minutes, followed by a brief Q & A. Oh, and I also took down


a boat-load of books for “show ‘n tell” and two batches of small cakes
(aka cookies), for an audience taste-test. My session was held in what
was probably the smallest room in the building, but a good-sized crowd
filled the space. Overall, I think it went well, and I had great fun
conducting it. HUZZAH!

Now, the material given here is as I presented it. And yes, it’s quite
long, as there’s alot of information. So I’ll be sharing it in several
separate sections. In addition, this is the ONLY place where you’ll
be able to read the entire paper, word for word, as I wrote it. Most
papers, you see, (but not all, as not every presenter participates)
are compiled each year in a bound volume entitled “Conference
Proceedings.” However, when I submitted mine, I was promptly
told that it wouldn’t be published. And then I was given a laundry
list of reasons why. It was too long, it was too critical, I’d pointed
fingers, I’d named names. I’d even dared to suggest that too many
book authors, as well as museum staff, are not as historically-accurate
as they could, or should, be. They even found fault with the length
of both the job title I use and that of my bio (apparently, the former
was limited to just two words and the latter to two sentences). Oh,
and BTW, the photos I sent were useless. And so on and so forth.
I was simply dumbfounded! The Proceedings’ editors told me, if I
wanted my presentation published, I must re-write it, removing all
that they deemed “offensive.” Then we went back and forth, ’round
and ’round, and back again. I’d ask, “What objections, specifically,
do you have?” and receive no definitive answers in return. Well,
other than being told that a single paragraph at the bottom of page
such ‘n such was fine.


The whole thing was downright bizarre.

Finally, I gave up trying to understand their issues. Besides, I had
absolutely no interest in re-writing what I’d spent years researching
and compiling. I had no intention, either, of re-doing it just to appease
the odd sensibilities of a couple people. I mean, come on. If you’re
afraid of being sued, print a disclaimer that states something along
the lines of, “Opinions expressed herein are solely those of individual
authors and not of the organization as a whole.” Golly, doesn’t that
already exist? If not, it should! In any event, eventually I made peace
with the fact that my small contribution to the 2015 National ALHFAM
Conference was vanishing into thin air. It was to be as if it’d never
been presented. Ahh, well…such is life.

But, wait. Someone had second thoughts. Or something. This past
winter I was contacted and told to review the edited version of my
paper “as it will appear in the Proceedings.” Huh?!? I didn’t know
what was going on or what to think. What games were these? First,
you won’t, then you will? What’s up with that?! And more importantly,
WHY?!? What happened to the whole “it’s not being published?” stance?
In any event, I couldn’t bare to read it, to see what white-washing had
been done to my years of hard work. And I don’t know what the final
decision was. I gave up trying to figure it out. And, at this point,
I don’t really care.

You know, this nonsense reminded me of when, at Conner Prairie,
I was given the task of fleshing out more fully the bio (fictional,
of course) of a particular Prairietown family. I remember putting
alot of time and effort into it, but, dagnabit, it seems that it wasn’t
what those in charge expected or wanted! So a committee (!)
was formed, and its members completely re-did it. Too bad
for me! And then there’s the more recent “Savoring Gotham”
debacle…but that’s a tale for another day.

Nevertheless, I’m posting my paper here, in its entirety, warts and
all. Like it or don’t like it. Your choice. But it’s MY choice to publish
it. I’m proud of what I wrote. And I’m pleased to be able to offer
up here, in this forum, what I had to say a year ago. As opposed
to what someone else thinks I should’ve said.

So, let’s get to it…

[NOTE: Details on all books and other materials mentioned herein
can be found under “Sources” at the end of each section.]



This session is dedicated to long-time librarian Lynne M. Olver, who
passed away this spring
[April 2015]. Her passion for food history
led to her creation of the well-known and highly-valued site,
http://www.foodtimeline.org. Lynne was always supportive
of my on-going research for this project.


Several precepts have stuck with me since my initial foray
into hearth cooking nearly 25 years ago. It was then that
I worked at Conner Prairie in my home state of Indiana.
And it seemed, at least to me, that certain directives were
drummed into interpreters’ heads on a daily basis. Naturally,
I often wondered if perhaps they were just messing with us.
You know, setting up impossible standards for us to follow,
just for sport, and then laughing, as they watched everyone
fail miserably? Of course, since leaving the Prairie, I’ve
discovered that it indeed often tended to be a case of “do
as I say, not as I do,” so…but more on that later.

Nevertheless, I took them at their word, took it seriously
and took it all to heart. I did my darnedest at the time
to adhere to the rules that were given me. In fact, the
overall philosophy that governed my time there was, and
has become, the very foundation of everything I did while
there, and that I still do, even today.

So, what were those mandates? They were:

1.) always be as historically-accurate as possible; and
2.) the three most important things are research,
research, and research.

Now, six years ago, when I began cooking over the open
hearth at The Israel Crane House in Montclair, New Jersey,
which is a property owned and operated by the Montclair
Historical Society (MHS), the powers-that-be requested
that I use receipts from the two cookbooks that’d been
published by the Society, especially the first one:

1.) Fanny Pierson Crane, Her Receipts, 1796; and
2.) The Thirteen Colonies Cookbook.

I promptly, but politely, replied, “No, thanks!” And I said
this because of what was instilled in me at Conner Prairie
all those years ago. I then explained that when doing any
hearth cooking, I use only receipts from original historic
cookbooks. This means works by Hannah Glasse, Amelia
Simmons, Mary Randolph or any other author appropriate
for the time period at hand (the 1830s at the Crane’s).

Of course, I’d previously read both of the Montclair Society’s
cookbooks from cover to cover, so I knew that neither
contained original historic receipts. In fact, for me, those
two volumes have more in common with Joy of Cooking
than with Glasse’s The Art of Cookery, Mrs. Bryan’s The
Kentucky Housewife
or any other historic cookbook. Nearly
every recipe in the MHS books is a modern adaptation. They’ve
been re-worked and/or re-written and thus bear little or no


resemblance to any originals. It’s not difficult to determine,
as there’s everything from the use of baking powder and
cornstarch to cans of “frozen lemonade concentrate.” Even
the format is modern, with lists of ingredients given first,
followed by instructions on what to do with them. In addition,
my years of experience working with historical receipts,
together with my knowledge of culinary history, enables
me to ascertain that some ingredients and cooking methods
scream “MODERN!” as they either didn’t exist or they couldn’t
be done during this or that time period. It ranges from the
afore-mentioned baking powder (not until 1859) to the use
of chocolate as a candy coating (not until the late 1840s).
The bottom line is, as anyone who knows me well can
attest, I prefer to use ONLY those receipts that’ve been
taken from original historic cookbooks. I don’t care one
iota for any that’re adapted or modernized. Just blame it
on those principles I learned, and the training I received,
while at Conner Prairie!

However, I told the Montclair Society officials that if they
could provide me with the actual original manuscript book,
the one written in Fanny Pierson Crane’s (Israel’s wife) own
hand, I’d be more than happy to cook from it. In fact, it’d be
a tremendous thrill to do so! I’d simply love the opportunity.
Problem was, no one knew anything about the book or where
it was or might be. Was it somewhere in the Crane House?
Or in the MHS offices? Was it hidden on a shelf? Or maybe
buried under a pile of books in a rarely-used room? Had
anyone ever seen it? Or heard of it? Alas, no one knew
anything, but everyone vowed to hunt for it.

And thus, the Great Search for Fanny’s personal collection
of household receipts began. As months went by, I’d inquire
every now and then, “Has anyone found Fanny’s book, yet?”
Sadly, no one had. At least, not yet. And before long, as no
manuscript materialized, I began to have my doubts. I even
jokingly said once or twice, “Maybe this book doesn’t exist?!”
Of course, I hoped that wasn’t true, but…you never know!

Eventually, toward the end of that first year’s season, one
of the two books’ five authors visited the Crane House. The
Museum Director brought her into the kitchen where I was
cooking, they both sat down and a conversation about Fanny’s
receipt book began. The woman rambled on about this and
that, these things here and over there, all nothing of any
real consequence, until finally the Director asked her, point
blank, “Is there an original manuscript upon which the Fanny
cookbook is based?” The author’s reply was, “Oh no, dear!”
in a tone that sounded as if she meant, “Oh no, dear. Where’d
you get a crazy idea like that? What a silly thing to think!”

Wow. So my earlier suspicions were correct. There is NO
manuscript! Unbelievable. So, it really IS a fake. A phony.
Wow. Guess the title should be “Fanny Pierson Crane, Her
FAKE Receipts.” And this, from an historical society, no less.

Naturally, this raised all sorts of questions, including:
Where’d all the recipes in this little booklet come from?
Are they adapted from original historic ones? Are they
at least based, even in the slightest, on any? Or are
they, indeed, made up, crafted out of thin air? Are they
what I hate to see, modern recipes masquerading
as historic ones?

So I set out to answer as many of the above questions
as I could. I began my investigation by spending much
of that summer looking through historic cookbooks in my
own personal collection (all facsimiles) for any and all
receipts that might possibly match, at least in part,
those in the Fanny book. I compared multiple “reals”
to the “fakes,” line by line. It proved to be a difficult
and tedious task. It was pretty fruitless, as well!

Then one day, I sat down and opened what I’d by then
dubbed “Fake Fanny” at random, and I happened onto
the page with the recipe for “Maids of Honor.” Suddenly,
it hit me: I’ve seen that before! I think it’s in The Williams-
burg Art of Cookery
, by Helen Bullock. So I got out my copy,


checked and sure enough, there it was. The same name,
the same ingredients, the same amount of those, even
a few of the exact same words. The only difference was
that Williamsburg’s is in paragraph form (as are most
original historic receipts, up until roughly the late 19th
century), and Fake Fanny’s is not. Then I remembered,
too, what the previously-mentioned author had said
during her ramblings that day in the Crane kitchen,
that she and the other authors had “studied” the work
of Helen Bullock. AH-HA! It was now becoming clearer!

So then I began to carefully compare, in any and every
detail, the Williamsburg book to the Fake Fanny. In
short, there are at least ten recipes in Fanny that’ve
been lifted from it. All are much like the “Maids of Honor,”
above, in that they have the same title, the same
ingredients, the same amounts, etc., with the only
difference being, again, that Fake Fanny’s are not
in paragraph form. Many are similar, yet slightly
different, such as Williamsburg’s “Orange Cake” and
Fanny’s “Glazed Orange Cake,” while others are nearly
direct lifts, such as Fanny’s “Greengage Plum Ice Cream,”
which is a poorly-disguised “King’s Arms Green-gage
Plum Ice Cream.”

Of course, this stealing, er, I mean, “borrowing” of receipts
is nothing new. It’s been done for centuries. Glasse stole,
er, borrowed from E. Smith and Raffald, Farley borrowed
from both of them. Emerson stole from Glasse and Simmons
(in fact, according to the late food historian, Karen Hess,
Emerson copied everything in Simmons, including the
mistakes!). Nowadays, though, there are more and
supposedly stricter laws against plagiarism, although
they can be complicated. I asked prolific book writer
and fellow food historian Andy F. Smith about all this,
and he told me,

This is all a murky area. Recipes are
considered formula and therefore
cannot be copyrighted. However,
the form of the recipe is considered
intellectual property and therefore
is copyrighted. So you can take
the ingredients and the instructions,
put them in your own form/words,
change the name, and it is now yours.
What professionals do is take a recipe
and change several ingredients/steps
and place ‘Adapted from’ and give
the original source.

Of course, the problem here is, nowhere in Fake Fanny
is the Williamsburg book mentioned, let alone an “adapted
from” credit given. There’s no bibliography of any kind,

Smith went on to say,

However, you can quote sections
directly from published works
without making changes. The
courts have limited this in
a number of ways (can’t take
poetry or songs, for instance)
and to be on the safe side it
must be less than 1-2 percent
of the total work. So if a cookbook
has 200 recipes you could take
2-4 recipes without a problem.

Well, there are 60 recipes in Fake Fanny, so “1-2 percent”
of that is 0.6 to 1.2. And there are, as I stated earlier, at
least ten.

There’s another problem here. The fact that the Fanny book
is indeed a fake also affects Thirteen Colonies, because its
New Jersey section is comprised of some (but not all) of
the same recipes. Oddly enough, a few are ever-so-slightly
different here and there, which may be the result of some
minor editing. Or perhaps the authors were aiming for that
“change at least one thing, and the recipe is yours” criteria?
At the same time, this all means that they’re guilty of pla-
giarizing themselves. Which, as I understand it, opens up
a whole ‘nother can of worms and causes a new set of
problems (a topic for another time, perhaps).

However, what I was most shocked to discover during my
perusal of all these books is that recipes in Fake Fanny
can be found in different sections of Thirteen Colonies!
For example, Fake Fanny’s “Abigail’s Soft Molasses Cakes”


are also given as Lydia Watrous Buckingham’s “Soft Molasses
Cakes” in the chapter for Connecticut. And Fake Fanny’s recipe
for “Miss Mary’s Meringues, Kisses for Dessert Pyramid” is
also Elizabeth Matthews Heyward of South Carolina’s “Kisses
for a Slack Oven” (not to mention, who the heck are Abigail
and Miss Mary?!). The “Hospitality Thins” in Fake Fanny
also belong to Sarah Gibbons Telfair of Georgia. Fanny’s
“Crock-Preserved Fruits” are also offered by New York City’s
Samuel Fraunces. And “Rose Geranium Jelly” was supposedly
also part of Catherine Moffatt Whipple of New Hampshire’s
repertoire of dishes. The list goes on and on and on, and
all told, there are 26. Yep, 26 recipes allegedly collected
by Fanny Pierson Crane were apparently also compiled by
some other person in some other colony. From Massachusetts
to Delaware to Georgia, Fanny’s recipes are spread throughout
the East coast. I tell you, I’ve heard of recipe sharing, but
this is ridiculous! And too widely-rampant to be plausible.

At the same time, I had to laugh while reading in Fake Fanny
such statements as “simple enough for the Crane children
to make,” when the same recipe is Magdelena Hoch Keim’s,
in the Pennsylvania section. Gee, don’t they mean the Keim
children?! Or when in Fake Fanny, the copy for “Chocolate
Truffles” mentions Thomas Jefferson’s supposed influence
on the use of chocolate in the early years of this country
(um, yeah, no!), and how it was felt even “in the Crane
household,” despite its presence in the Virginia chapter,
since it purportedly belonged to Betty Washington Lewis.
So, don’t they mean the Lewis household?!

Unfortunately, this stealing, er, I mean “borrowing” doesn’t
end there. A few years ago, I bought a used copy of The First
Ladies Cook Book, Favorite Recipes of All the Presidents of
the United States
cheaply at a neighborhood flea market.
I discovered that recipes were taken from it, as well. There


aren’t as many, though, only five. At least that I’ve found
thus-far. There may be more. Of course, as before, this may
also mean there are a few in Thirteen Colonies, seeing as
the two books share quite a bit of material.

Incidentally, when I initially skimmed through First Ladies,
I found a clipping from The New York Times of Helen Bullock’s
obituary tucked inside (she was the book’s Consulting Editor,

Image (102)

and the author of Williamsburg’s pseudo-historic cookbook).
NYT didn’t mince words. It bluntly stated,

Her [Bullock’s] Williamsburg cookbook
became the bible for the preparation
of food in Williamsburg exhibitions,
at least until the 1980’s, when it
was discovered that Mrs. Bullock,
an eminently practical woman, had
taken certain liberties with the
original recipes. Having discovered
that 17-century [sic] cooks, lacking
ingredients like baking powder and
vanilla, has often prepared dishes
no discriminating 20th-century diner
would eat, she sensibly adapted them
to modern tastes and ingredients.

She did WHAT?!? Oh, my! I guess that explains the insertion
of baking powder and confectioner’s sugar (cornstarch), the
use of modern measurements, and more throughout the book.

So, is that it? Sadly, no.


To be continued…stay tuned to see what other travesties are
lurking out there!


*ALHFAM = The Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural
Museums. See my postings about the 2015 National Conference starting
with THIS ONE.

SOURCES mentioned in Part I (only):

Bullock, Helen, Consulting Editor. The First Ladies Cook Book,
Favorite Recipes of All the Presidents of the United States
Parent’s Magazine Press, NY, NY, 1966.

Bullock, Helen. The Williamsburg Art of Cookery. The Colonial
Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, VA, 1938 and 1966.

Bryan, Mrs. Lettice. The Kentucky Housewife. Cincinnati, OH, 1839.

Donovan, Mary, Amy Hatrak, Frances Mills, and Elizabeth Shull,
written and illustrated by. The Thirteen Colonies Cookbook.
Montclair Historical Society, Montclair, NJ, 1975.

Emerson, Lucy. New-England Cookery. Montpelier, VT, 1808.

Farley, John. The London Art of Cookery. London, England, 1783.

Glasse, Hannah. The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy.
London, England, 1747.

Hatrak, Amy, Frances Mills, Elizabeth Shull, Sally Williams,
compiled and illustrated by. Fanny Pierson Crane, Her
Receipts, 1796
. Montclair Historical Society, Montclair,
NJ, 1974.

The New York Times. November 11, 1995. The New York
Times Company, NY, NY.

Raffald, Elizabeth. The Experienced English Housekeeper.
London, England, 1769.

Randolph, Mary. The Virginia Housewife. Washington, D.C., 1824.

Rombauer, Irma S. Joy of Cooking. Scribner (imprint
of Simon & Schuster), eighth edition, 2006 (continuously in print
commercially since 1936; first published by the author in 1931).

Simmons, Amelia. American Cookery. Albany, NY, second
edition, 1796.

Smith, Andrew Franklin. Author and food historian. Personal
correspondence via e-mail, 2011.

Smith, E. The Compleat Housewife. London, England, 1727.


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Speaking of Conner Prairie…when I was employed as an Interpreter
there, beginning 25 years ago, I was frequently reminded of specific
principles to which I was required to adhere at all times. Of course,
being an institution that (at the time) prided itself on its first-person
capabilities, the main, and most important, one was that we always
be as historically-accurate as possible. Another, which constituted

A special invite: Yes! I'd visited often before becoming an employee.

A special invite: Yes! I’d visited often before becoming an employee.

the site’s very foundation, was that the three most important things
were research, research, and research! In turn, these two mandates
supported a third, namely, that if any interpreter wanted to make,
sew, wear, cook, build, create, or whatever, anything that had not
been done before, she or he must procure at least (as in a minimum;
more was ideal) three pieces of documentation. And preferably, that
person would find primary documentation (although, if none could
be found, secondary would, possibly, suffice), to prove that, indeed,
whatever “it” was, had existed or had been done, or worn, made,
cooked, built, and so on, during our time period (1836). At least,
that’s how I remember it. These mandates influenced my entire
experience at Conner Prairie. They’re also the foundation of all
I do, even to this day.

Okay. Great! So, what’s the point? Where is this going? Well,
here’s the deal…

You see, when I was at Conner Prairie (at least, as I recall, my
fading memory notwithstanding), “spider” was the word used
for this piece of cooking equipment:

my antiq bake kettle__post 10_24-2010

And no, I don’t know why. I never asked, and no one ever said.
It’s what I was told, and what I heard others say. I suppose,
maybe, it’s because of the three legs?

Nevertheless, then I moved East, where I found many people
who called the above pot a Dutch oven. That is, until I started
attending assorted hearth cooking classes and symposiums. There
I met dozens of fellow hearth cooks who, like me, were dedicated
to being as historically-accurate as possible. And they always
referred to it as a bake kettle.

What the heck?! So, which is it? A Dutch oven? Or a bake kettle?
Or hey, maybe a spider?

I’ve already thrown out the last one (spider), as I believe that’s
likely what this cooking implement is called:


Which makes sense. Three long legs. Kinda like a spider? But
I’ve also seen it simply referred to as a long-legged skillet.
Although, if you continue reading, you’ll see that I found one
citation with the word “spider.” It’s just the one, though. Or,
perhaps it’s a regional term? You know, it’s known as a “bake
kettle” in the East, and as a “spider” in the West? I don’t know.
Alas, more research specifically on this term is needed!

In any event, I’ve been searching for answers for quite awhile,
and I believe that I’ve found those requisite “at least three”
pieces of documentation. HUZZAH! Two are from primary
sources, and the others are from secondary. Of course, I’m
constantly on the prowl for additional evidence, especially
primary, but certainly these, below, satisfy that “Let’s see
your proof” mandate, as it was set forth at Conner Prairie.

In short, I’ve determined that this:

bz cd__tansey__outside WFM

is a bake kettle, and not a Dutch oven, because that’s what this is:

Biz Cd__reflec ov__bake ket__fire

And here’s why…

Documentation Number One, Primary Source

A tinsmith’s advertisement in The Pennsylvania Gazette
of May 16, 1765:

from the House he formerly lived to
a House in Market street, at the Sign
of the gilded Still and Teakettle, next
door to the Widow Wister, and nearly
opposite to the Indian King; where
he continues to carry on his Tin and
Coppersmith Business as usual, and
hath for Sale, Stills, Brewing Coopers,
Washing Kettles, Boilers, Fish Kettles,
Dutch Ovens [emphasis mine], Stew
Pans, Preserving Pans, Chocolate and
Coffee Pots, Tea Kettles, Sauce Pans,
Plate Warmers, Coal Cases, brass
and iron Wire, Scales of all sorts,
Brass and Lead weights, with a
compleat Assortment of best
London Pewter, &c. &c.

Mr. Harbeson operated a “Tin and Coppersmith Business,”
so these “Dutch Ovens” would’ve been made of tin and/or
copper, not iron.

Documentation Number Two, Primary Source

From Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife (1824):

Wash and dry your potatoes, (all
of a size,) and put them in a tin
Dutch oven
[emphasis mine], or
cheese toaster; take care not to put
them too near the fire, or they will
get burned on the outside before
they are warmed through. Large
potatoes will require two hours
to roast them. To save time
and trouble, some cooks half
boil them first.

A key word here is “roast.” The main purpose of a reflector
oven is to roast meats and other food items. In addition,
it mentions not putting the potatoes “too near the fire,
or they will” burn. Although they might burn in a bake
kettle, it’d likely be because they were left too long or
there were too many coals under or on top, and not
because they were “too near the fire,” particularly
since placing the pot near a fire is not required.
It can be near or far. If that makes sense?!

Documentation Number One, Secondary Source

From Alan Davidson’s “Glossary” in Prospect Books’ facsimile
of (First Catch Your Hare,) The Art of Cookery Made Plain and
(1747), by Hannah Glasse:

TIN OVEN. The reference to a tin
oven, [on page] 91, is to the
Dutch oven‘ [emphasis mine]
which was in common use and
which stood in front of the fire.
The food being cooked was exposed
to direct heat and also to reflected
heat from the polished tin interior.
A door in the back could be opened
to permit viewing and basting.

"A tin (Dutch) oven from the Hugh Roberts collection." (c) Prospect Books, 2004

“A tin (Dutch) oven from the Hugh Roberts collection.” (c) Prospect Books, 2004

Incidentally, this refers to a receipt on page 91 of Glasse’s cookbook
for “Salmon in Cases.” It’s instructions state, in part, “…a Tin
Oven before the Fire does best.” Now, I’ve cooked this dish
several times, and yes, I used a “Dutch oven” or tin reflector
oven. It works surprisingly well!

Documentation Number Two, Secondary Source

Below is an image from another secondary source that supports
the use of the term “Dutch oven” to mean a tin reflector oven.
Note, too, that a low-lying cast iron pot with three legs and

Image (99)

a lid is referred to here as a “bake kettle.” This is from Home
Life in Colonial Days
(1898), by Alice Morse Earle. Though
her work is often discredited by historic researchers, she
was a pioneer in the field of domestic and social history
of early America. In addition, according to the “Preface,”
the illustrations in this book “are in every case [taken]
from real articles” that were held at the time in the
collections of Deerfield Memorial Hall, the Bostonian
Society, the American Antiquarian Society (as they were
then known), various state historical societies, and others.

Documentation Number Three, Secondary Source

Old Cooking Utensils, by Britisher David J. Eveleigh (sixth
edition, 2001; first, 1986), contains more evidence. In
the “Roasting, Broiling and Toasting” section, the author
mentions dutch ovens, describing them as “made of tinplate.”
In other words, they were reflector ovens:

Roasting screens, also known
as hasteners or dutch ovens
[emphasis mine], appeared
in the early eighteenth century.
They were made of tinplate
and stood in front of the fire,
the bright surface reflecting
the heat, reducing cooking
time and saving fuel. They
were made in various sizes,
the larger ones standing on
three legs. Most incorporated
a dripping pan and a door
in the back for basting.

There’s a term I’ve not heard before: “hasteners!” And
his timeline is a little off. Reflector ovens, whether made
of tin or copper, were in use even in the 17th century (see
NOTE for more information).

Later in this pamphlet-sized book is a drawing of “A cast
iron camp oven [a new term!] with three legs.”

Documentation Number Four, Secondary Source

Gertrude Lefferts Vanderbilt’s (she knew well the Lefferts
house that now sits in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park) 1882 book,
The Social History of Flatbush, contains these passages:

The roasting of meats and
poultry was done before
the open fire, in what was
called a Dutch oven [emphasis
]. This was cylindrical
in form, but stood on four
feet, and the joint to be
cooked was held in place
by a long spit which
projected at each end,
so that the meat could be
turned without opening
the door of the cylinder.
It was of course open
to the front of the fire,
and there was a door
at the back for convenience
in basting.

And then:

For the baking of hot biscuit
for tea, or a single loaf of bread
or cake, a flat iron pot was used,
which was called a ‘bake-pan
or a ‘spider.’ [A-Ha! emphasis
] This was placed in the
corner of the fireplace upon hot
coals, and a layer of hot coals
covered with ashes was placed
upon the tight-fitting iron lid.

So, there you have it. An abundance of documentary evidence,
from not three, but SIX sources, two primary and four secondary.
All of which tell us that the words “Dutch oven” refer to a tin
reflector oven and NOT to the low-lying three-footed cast iron
container with a lid. Instead, that piece of cooking equipment
is primarily referred to as a “bake kettle.”

Of course, I’ll keep looking for additional documentation. Who
knows what else I might find? Besides, there’s no such thing
as TOO much evidence! Eventually, I hope to do a search of
other receipts from historic cookbooks (such as the previous
one from Randolph) to see what words are used and in what
context. I know I’ve seen others in my work during the past
umpteen years. There’s also the question of when, and if,
the words used were possibly changed and/or switched or
even utilized interchangeably. There’s more to investigate!
And if any readers know of, or discover, other tid-bits
of documentation, I hope they’ll pass ’em along. Please
and thanks!

So, to review all of the above…this is a bake kettle:


and this is a Dutch oven:

(c) 2014 MHS

(c) 2014 MHS



I’ve written previously HERE and HERE that, based on period artwork,
reflector ovens were indeed available during the 17th century.

Read Full Post »

It’s time once again for us all to hail the woman who’s largely
responsible for “inventing” our Thanksgiving holiday, and that
woman is…drum roll, please…Sarah Josepha Hale! Yes, we
should all hail Hale! (get it? it’s a funny…you know, ‘cuz
the two words sound the same!).

During the mid-19th century, Hale lobbied tirelessly for a national
day of thanksgiving. At the time, it was already observed somewhat
regularly in New England, but she thought it should be nation-wide.
As the first-ever female editor of Ladies’ Magazine and later, Godey’s
Lady’s Book
, Hale used her position to publish numerous editorials
promoting the idea. The New Hampshire native also wrote letters
to any and every politician she could find, including then-President
Abraham Lincoln. Her campaign finally proved successful when he
declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. However, it was
many years before the entire country embraced it, particularly
in the South (for obvious reasons!). Nevertheless, Thanksgiving
has become one of America’s beloved celebrations. And we owe
it all to Hale’s incessant efforts. It’s amazing what one person
(and a woman, at that) can do!

Incidentally, Hale was quite a prolific writer. She penned a variety
of works, including cookbooks (such as The Good Housekeeper,
which was first published in 1839), numerous novels (she even
described a Thanksgiving dinner in one), and the nursery rhyme
“Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


For more factual information about our annual feast day, check
out the following:

New England, in the time of the so-called “Pilgrims,” when a day
of thanksgiving meant a day spent listening to religious sermons
and of fasting, NOT feasting:



And from those who “live” it daily at Plimoth Plantation:


There are plenty more, but I’ll let you search for ’em!

Oh, and in case anyone’s noticed, yes, this is a repeat of what I posted
at this time last year…and the year before that and…

Read Full Post »

I haven’t written anything here in a while. Life just got in the way.
Too much other stuff going on. Plus, once I stop, whether for a short
or long period of time, it’s often tough to get up ‘n running again.
Nevertheless, here I am! And to make it easy on myself, I’ll start
with something simple (HA! famous last words!).

Awhile back there were some posts on Facebook about popcorn,
and whether or not it has been on America’s tables since colonial
days. I’d never really thought much about it. My only encounters
with it in an historical context was when it was popped nightly
at one house during the Candlelight Program when I worked
Image (59)at Conner Prairie decades ago. Eventually,
a fellow hearth cook (one Kathleen Wall
of Plimoth Plantation) mentioned a book
that might provide some answers: Popped
Culture, A Social History of Popcorn in America

(1999), by food historian and prolific book
writer Andrew F. Smith. So, not being too
familiar with the subject, I ordered it, and
my copy arrived soon after.* Of course,
being an ever-busy (or trying to be) person, I’ve not had
alotta time to read it. However, I’ve recently done a quick
look-through, and of particular interest was the following
passage found in the “Preface” that pertains to those
ubiquitous and highly annoying popcorn myths.

While it is impossible to disprove myths,
I can report that no archaeological or
historical evidence was uncovered
[presumably during his research]
to support the following frequently
repeated statements:
— Columbus found popcorn in the Caribbean;
— Pilgrims ate popcorn on the proverbial first
Thanksgiving in Plymouth in 1621;
— Amerindians attached religious significance
to popcorn;
— Native Americans living in what is today the
eastern United States or southern Canada ate
popcorn in pre-Columbian times;
— Popcorn or maize was cultivated outside
of the Americas before Columbus’s arrival;
— Colonial Americans ate popcorn as a snack.

My favorite is that last one. As if colonial Americans ate snacks!
What a hoot! I can’t wait to read the rest of this book.


*it came from amazon.com; the shipping was more than the book!

Read Full Post »

As always, I had a grand ol’ time this past weekend during
the annual Essex County (NJ) Holiday Historic House Tours.
I was busy both days chatting with visitors in the kitchen
of The Israel Crane House. I enjoy this event every year,
and once again, it was great fun. HUZZAH!

However, before I continue, I need to step back a few weeks
and report on the most recent hearth cooking class at Crane’s.
Held in mid-November when our national Thanksgiving holiday
was just around the corner, this particular session was designed
to offer participants opportunities to “Cook Like a Pilgrim.” And


so, we replicated several dishes that might’ve been prepared,
cooked, and eaten by those early Plymouth settlers and their
neighbors, the Wampanoags, in the autumn of 1621.

Now, I won’t delve too deeply here into the details of that
so-called “first thanksgiving feast.” I’ve written several times
about the myths behind the annual holiday, including this post.
In addition, you can check out the website for Plimoth Plantation,
as well as the various blogs associated with it. Suffice it to say
that it was far different from the modern incantation. The very
foundations of the holiday have been misconstrued, as it was
not a day of thanksgiving, particularly in a religious sense,
for if it had been, the settlers would’ve not only spent the day
listening to sermons in the meeting house (church), but they
also would’ve been fasting, not feasting. However, it was
indeed a harvest celebration, just like all the others that’d
been traditionally held in the colonist’s native England. It
wasn’t necessarily an annual event, either, in the homeland
or the new colony (there was none in 1622), even after
a spectacularly bountiful harvest.

But never mind all that. This was a hearth cooking class! What
about the food? What was offered at the long-ago colonial feast?
What was available? What did the colonists and the Native Peoples
eat? What specific dishes were most likely cooked and shared?
Heck, more importantly, what did WE cook during our recent
“Cook Like a Pilgrim” class?!

To create a viable menu for our meal, I began by studying
various sources, including books, websites, and the like.
I also relied on my knowledge of basic food history. All
of this enabled me to select period-appropriate foods and
dishes. Fortunately, there’s also an eye-witness account.
It’s a letter that Mayflower passenger and Plymouth colonist
Edward Winslow wrote to a friend back in England shortly
after the event, wherein he described the proceedings:

Our harvest being gotten in, our governor
sent four men on fowling, that so we might
after a special manner rejoice together after
we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They
four in one day killed as much fowl as, with
a little help beside, served the company
almost a week. At which time, amongst
other recreations, we exercised our arms,
many of the Indians coming amongst us,
and among the rest their greatest king
Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom
for three days we entertained and feasted,
and they went out and killed five deer,
which they brought to the plantation and
bestowed on our governor, and upon the
captain and others. And although it be
not always so plentiful as it was at this
time with us, yet by the goodness of God,
we are so far from want that we often wish
you partakers of our plenty.

So we know fowl (most likely ducks, geese, and other types
of waterfowl), and a good supply of venison were on the table.
Additional research revealed what else might’ve been offered
during the harvest meal. It also allowed me to safely say what
was probably NOT eaten. Thus, there were no mashed potatoes or
pumpkin pie nor any cranberries or 30-pound turkeys.

Thus, our “Cook Like a Pilgrim” menu was set. It would consist
of venison, duck, mussels, hasty pudding, a salad, and “pompion.”
I soon found receipts (recipes) for all these dishes in either my

our venison roasting in the tin reflector oven

our venison roasting in the tin reflector oven

own facsimiles of 17th century cookbooks or in others online.
I must say that, at first, it was a daunting prospect, this
searching in an unfamiliar century, but soon I was happily
discovering a host of different options. And so, with a bit
of tweaking,* we followed the instructions of the following:

Gervase Markham’s To roast venison, from his The English
Finding a specialty meat store that sells venison, effortless;
dealing with the resulting sticker shock, priceless!

To Stew a Mallard, from The Good Housewife’s Jewel, by
Thomas Dawson (1596)
A receipt Dawson stole, er, “borrowed” from The good Huswifes
Handmaide for the Kitchin
, which was published in 1594. Yep,
plagiarism was rampant even back then! And we used a duck,
as mallards are WAY too expensive. Heck, even our Miss Duck
wasn’t cheap! Which was surprising. I imagine it’s because
few people eat it nowadays. Most stores had a limited supply,
and the birds were always frozen. Boy, I tell ya, at one point
when I was in the midst of the meat section of one Brooklyn
Big Name Store, I was suddenly struck by the fact that I was
surrounded by vast quantities of different versions of chicken
(fresh, frozen, whole, legs only, wings only, boneless, skinless,
tenders, fryers, bites, etc.) and smaller sections of beef and
pork varieties, but there were only three $35 frozen ducks
in one little cubicle of a freezer case. Clearly, we Americans
have a VERY limited meat palate. Sad. But I digress…

John Murrell’s To frye Mussels, Perywinckels, or Oysters,
to serue [serve] with a Ducke, or single by themselves
from his A New Booke of Cookerie: London Cookerie (1615)
I wanted to include seafood of some kind on our menu, as
it would’ve most definitely been readily available. It was
too late in the season for some fish, but not for mussels,
so I choose them. I also figured they’d have been greatly
appreciated by the Native Peoples at the 1621 feast. After
all, you’ve heard the advice to “serve what your guests
will like,” yes?! The best part of this particular receipt
is that it states “to serue [serve] with a Ducke.” Perfect!
I just loved how everything fit together so well! HUZZAH!

Another way to make a hasty Pudding, courtesy
of The Queen-like Closet (1672), by Hannah Wolley
This is the quintessential British dish. It would’ve been easy
to make and would’ve fed a boat-load of people. Although it
was typically made with flour, Indian (aka corn) meal would’ve
been used in 1621. Flour would’ve been in limited supply, if
it was available at all. Plus, early wheat crops in the colony
did poorly, so corn meal was a handy, and logical, substitution.
And thanks to the Wampanoag’s assistance, it WAS readily
available. HUZZAH, again!

Markham’s To make an excellent compound boild Sallat
(from the same book as mentioned above)
The best part of this dish is…YES! They ate sallats (salads)!

And finally, we made use of several receipts for “pompion.”
Which to an early settler meant any type of squash, including
pumpkins and ‘vine apples (aka acorn squash). Among others,

"pompions" aka pumpkins & acorn squashes

“pompions” aka pumpkins & acorn squashes

we used one from Robert May’s The Accomplisht Cook (1685)
and another from New-Englands Rarities Discovered, by John
Josselyn (1672). It was quite fascinating to see the number
of pumpkin/squash receipts increase exponentially in cookbooks
from the early to the mid-1600s.

Overall, I think it was a successful class. It provided everyone
with opportunities to enjoy a meal composed of assorted and
non-traditional Thanksgiving (so-called) dishes. Of course,
I’d like to offer this class and its menu every fall. That
remains to be seen, I guess, but…well, here’s hoping!



NOTE: I sincerely apologize for the appalling lack of photos.
There just wasn’t time or opportunities to take any. I’m even
disappointed! **sigh**
Ahh, well…so it goes…dagnabit

*By “tweaking,” I mean taking into account what the early
settlers had access to, whether it grew in their own fields
and/or gardens and what they likely brought with them
on the initial voyage. I also wanted to be reasonable,
but not punitive, all while staying true to my concerns,
goals, and overall drive for historical accuracy. So, for
instance, one receipt calls for dates. Yeah, no to that.
No way. But many, in fact most, of them make use
of various spices. I said, “Yes” to those, and I did so
for a couple of reasons: one, they were a normal part
of the cooking process during this time period (the early
1600s); and two, they were easily stored, whether while
being transported or when in a home.

Read Full Post »

Recently, I presented my “Cook Like a Soldier” program
at The Museum of Early Trades and Crafts (METC) over
in Madison, NJ. Now, usually when I do this, I’m outside,
with a pot of soldier’s rations cooking over a fire, and it’s


all rather informal. I’m able to chat with folks in a leisurely,
give-and-take fashion, while sharing food and bits ‘n pieces
of information as I go. This time, however, seeing as it was
to be given inside the Museum, the situation called for more
of a straight-forward, linear talk, as in one with a beginning,
a middle, and an end.

Now, back when I was preparing the “straight talk” version,
I struggled a bit with melding everything into a cohesive
whole. After taking a few stabs at it, trying this, and then
that, it suddenly hit me! I’d utilize one of my favorite
activities, namely that of debunking historic food myths.
So I decided to demonstrate throughout the course of my
talk (both directly and not), why a certain story regarding
a dish purportedly served to soldiers at a particular point
during the Revolutionary War is nothing but pure fakelore.
And what is that dish? Why, Pepper Pot, of course! (more
details on the story’s content later; either that, or you’ll
just have to attend my program sometime!).

Everything was ready, and I eagerly awaited my “Big Day”
at METC. In the meantime, I found a few spare hours in
the days beforehand and did a little additional research.
As a result, I made a startling discovery about an original
historic receipt for Pepper Pot (yes, the dish, itself, DID
and DOES exist).

You see, there’s a facsimile of the Carolina Rice Cook Book,
compiled by Mrs. Samuel G. Stoney (1901), that’s included
in The Carolina Rice Kitchen, The African Connection (1992),


which was written by the noted food historian Karen Hess.
And in her work, Hess discusses in detail the contents and
possible origins of a receipt for Pepper Pot found in the first
book (Carolina Rice), where it’s attributed to The Carolina
(1847), by Sarah Rutledge. (Did you get all that?
I know, it’s a little confusing!) In any case, long story short,
here’s the problem: IT’S NOT THERE! It doesn’t exist! Yep,
there’s NO receipt for Pepper Pot in Rutledge’s book!

I made this shocking discovery when I searched the Index
of my copy of Housewife and didn’t find Pepper Pot. Well,
I thought, I know sometimes receipts, for whatever reason,
aren’t in the section where you’d think they’d be (in this case,
soups), and instead, they’re in another. So I combed through
ALL the possible alternatives. Again, nothing. Then I looked
through the ENTIRE Index, line by line. Still no Pepper Pot.
Finally, I thought, maybe the receipt IS in the book, and,
although it was (inadvertently?!?) left out of the Index, it’s
nevertheless located somewhere, and I just have to hunt


carefully for it. So, I searched the ENTIRE BOOK, looking
up and down every single page. And I did so TWICE. Alas,
a receipt for Pepper Pot was nowhere to be found.

I couldn’t believe it! Good golly, how can this be? Didn’t
Mrs. Stoney verify where the receipts she was given came
from? Didn’t she check and re-check her sources? Did she
simply not catch this? Or, if the receipt was submitted by
another person (to Stoney), what of her? Did she goof up?
Or (heaven forbid!), was it done on purpose? You know,
perhaps the receipt was created out of whole cloth, but
then attributed to The Carolina Housewife in a desperate
attempt to legitimize it?

And, holy moly, how is it that the famous Karen Hess didn’t
notice any of this?!? Had she never looked all that closely
at Rutledge’s book? Wasn’t she even curious to look at
the receipt she was going to write so much about? In its
original location? Just to see what else was in the same
section or on the same page? Or, heck, just to verify that
it was copied correctly by whoever submitted it to Stoney?
And yet, Hess dissects it as if it was written by Rutledge
(or at least included it in her book). She offers details
about the Southern author’s background and speculates
where she may’ve gotten the Pepper Pot receipt.

Golly. What a mess! So many questions, but no answers.
This whole affair is incredible!

Of course, now the treasure hunt is on to find the true and
original source for the Carolina Rice Cook Book’s Pepper Pot
receipt. There’s one that’s somewhat, but not entirely, similar
in The Cook’s Own Book, which was compiled by “a Boston
Housekeeper” (aka Mrs. N.K.M. Lee). The thing is, it was
published in 1832, 15 years before Rutledge’s book. And
in Boston, of all places! Also, as those who’re familiar with
Cook’s Own know, it’s an encyclopedia of receipts that’ve
been gleaned from other works, but not one is attributed
to any specific work.

There ARE a few other 19th century, even some earlier (18th
century), Pepper Pot receipts. However, none of them match
the one in Carolina Rice. I’m still looking, though. If I ever
find it, I’ll let you know. And of course, if anyone out there
hears of, or finds, the illusive matching Pepper Pot receipt,
please DO let me know. Until then, the mysterious case
of the phantom receipt remains unsolved.



Oh, and here’s the receipt for Pepper Pot that’s NOT found
in Sarah Rutledge’s The Carolina Housewife (1847), but IS
found in The Carolina Rice Cook Book (1901), compiled
by Louisa Cheves Smythe (Mrs. Samuel G.) Stoney:

Take one-half peck of spinach, pick and
boil it as for dinner; drain off the water,
and chop it up fine. Put into a soup-kettle
6 quarts of water, 3 pounds of beef or
veal, about 1 pound of pork, which must
be scalded to draw out the salt, a piece
of ham with the ham bone is preferable,
and boil about an hour. Then add the
spinach, a dozen potatoes, or 4 pounds
of yam, 3 plantains peeled and cut up
into pieces about 3 inches long, and small
dumplings. Let all these ingredients boil
together slowly for four or five hours. Just
before serving add some pickled peppers
(cut up) and 1 or 2 long red peppers. If you
have crabs or lobsters previously boiled, add
a small quantity, pickled fine, about half hour
before serving. Serve with rice.


And, hopefully, everyone is aware that good ol’ Mrs. Stoney
was the wife of the chairman of the Carolina Rice Kitchen
Association, of Charleston, SC. In fact, her cookbook was
published by that very entity. Also, that the current name
Carolina Rice has absolutely NOTHING to do with the rice
that was grown in the American South during the 17th,
18th, and early 19th centuries. It was selected merely
because it was available and, according to a spokesperson
for the maker, Rivianna Foods, Inc., ” ‘they had simply
liked the name.’ ”


And finally, the receipt for Pepper Pot from The Cook’s Own
(1832). Note the similarities and differences between
this and the one above:

Pepper Pot.
Take as much spinach as will fill a good
sized dish, put it in a saucepan without
any water, set it on the fire, and let it
boil; then drain off all the liquor, chop
the spinach very fine, and return it
to the saucepan, with the water just
drained from it, more water, onions,
three or four potatoes, a lettuce or
head of endive cut small, the bones
of any cold roast meat, if you have
them, and half a pound of bacon; put
the whole on the fire, and when it has
boiled for about an hour, put in a few
suet dumplings; leave it twenty or
thirty minutes longer; season it well
with cayenne, and serve.

Interestingly, there are two Pepper Pot receipts in Cook’s
. The second, however, is a nigh exact copy of one
in Maria Rundell’s A New System of Domestic Cookery
(London, 1816). And it, according to Hess, demonstrates
perfectly that she (Rundell) “understood it very well.”

Read Full Post »

I began writing the following entry more than three weeks
ago. I was prompted to do so largely because of various
articles, blog postings, and the like, as well as an array
of comments and “discussions” on Facebook, particularly
those on the page of the Informal Association of Cookbook
Collectors and Foodists
(IACCF). Of course, I’m not normally
concerned with Lincoln and his early adult years or those of
his presidency, as none are really within “my” time period.
However, the times that came before certainly are. Besides,
I feel it’s my duty to dispel food-related myths no matter
when they allegedly originated.

Once I started, however, it seemed to take forever to finish.
The research, alone, was never-ending, for it led me in all
different directions. I’d read one website after another after
yet another. Then there were the numerous books I found,
both online and at my local library here in Brooklyn. And
just when I thought I’d finished my journey, I’d find even
more bits ‘n pieces of new information. I tell you, in some
ways, I suppose I’ll never REALLY finish this!

Okay. Enough of that! Now, due to its length, I’ve divided
this article into two sections. So, without further ado,
here’s Part One of
“Lincoln food myths.”

This year, it seemed to me that the month of February
belonged to one person: Lincoln.


I suppose it’s because of that recent, widely well-known,
blockbuster film of the same name and its accompanying
Oscar buzz, claims of historical inaccuracies, and so on.
Then there was his “real” birthday on the 11th, and the
“fake” but-conveniently-rescheduled-to-create-a-three-
day-holiday-weekend one he shares with Washington
that’s known as Presidents’ Day.*

And so, with all this attention paid to Lincoln, it was only
natural that people wrote about him. ALOT. And about his
wife. And their lives together. And the food that one or the
other ate. And then the…wait. What?!? Yep, there was an
abundance of stories about the dishes that were prepared,
cooked, served, and eaten in the Lincoln household. However,
nearly all of them are just that…stories. Tall tales that suffer
from an appalling lack of documented evidence or are based
on multiple broad assumptions or that rely heavily on mere
speculation. And so, even though these Lincoln food tales
have been swirling around for decades, and have recently
gained new-found momentum, they aren’t necessarily true.
In historic-speak, they’re commonly referred to as fakelore.

One of the most ubiquitous Lincoln-related food myths is
that of Mary Todd Lincoln’s “Courtin’ Cake,” which at times
was also referred to as her “White Cake” and at others,
as an “Almond Cake” and then by some combination of
all those. The jist of the story is that Mary made this cake
for Mr. Lincoln during the time they were courting. Some
versions even imply that it was this confectionery delight
that sealed the deal. Others also claim she made it after
they were married and beyond.

So, is it fact or fiction? Let’s look at information given on
various websites that deal with Lincoln history, such as
those of the Mary Todd Lincoln House and the Lexington
History Museum
, both in Lexington, Kentucky, that of The
National First Ladies
‘ Library, of Canton, Ohio, and others.
Books were consulted, as well, including a fascinating little
tome found online about the newly-married Lincolns’ first
Springfield residence.

Before I go further, however, let me say that I’m always
leery of these food tales, and so I question their validity.
Hearing it from someone or seeing it on TV or reading it
in a book usually doesn’t suffice. As a culinary historian,
I want, indeed demand, to see primary documentation,
be it diary entries, letters, newspaper accounts and ads,
or some other written proof that the incidents contained
in a particular story actually took place. If there is none,
then the story is just that…a story.

Now, just for the sake of argument, let’s say written
documentation proves nothing. Besides, no one really
knows what anyone ate 50 years ago, let alone 250.
Heck, few can remember what they ate last week. So
give it up, already! Okay, I will. So now what? How do
we prove, or disprove, that something is true? Well, for
starters, let’s look at other documented evidence that
may or may not support these Lincoln food tales.

First, Mary Todd was born into a Southern “prominent
and influential,” slave-holding, “wealthy and aristocratic
family” of Lexington, Kentucky, a city which was then
thumb_youngmaryknown as “the Athens of the West”
and was on a par with Eastern cities
like Boston and Philadelphia. Now,
this statement, which contains
known facts, should alone put a
halt to the “Courtin’ Cake” story.
Why? Because it proves that Mary,
as a child of a well-established and
prosperous Southern family, lived
a life of tremendous privilege, and thus she would not
have done any type of household work. Nor would it’ve
been expected that she do so. Yes, she likely learned
how to manage a busy home and to supervise the
daily activities that took place therein, but she would
not’ve actually DONE the work required. It would’ve
been beneath her station in life to do so. Besides,
to be blunt, her family had slaves to do such work!

Let’s add a few more facts from Mary’s life, just in case
the above isn’t enough evidence for the conviction of this
“Cake” myth. In 1839, Mary moved to Springfield, Illinois,
where she resided with her oldest sister, Elizabeth, and
her husband, Ninian Edwards, the son of a former Illinois
Governor. Certainly, seeing as the two girls had the same
upbringing, not to mention her own status in the community
at the time, Mrs. Edwards would’ve had hired help to do
any household tasks, whether it was cleaning, cooking,
washing and ironing clothes, or any other chore. It’s not
likely she would’ve done the work herself, nor would she
have expected Mary (as her sister AND as a house guest)
to do it. Therefore, it’s highly unlikely that Mary, who’d
never had to cook before, would’ve suddenly taken it
up while living with her sister’s family.

Then, at some point in 1840, Mary met the struggling
young lawyer, Abraham Lincoln when both attended
a party given at the Edwards’ home. The couple soon
began courting, much to the dismay of Mary’s family.
Seems they thought he was beneath her, and that it
was a poor match. After all, Mary was well-educated,
and he was not. Mary came frommarylincoln
a wealthy family, he did not. While
growing up, Mary was given every
advantage in the world, he was
not. And he was nearly 10 years
older, to boot! No matter, for their
relationship was apparently a rocky
one, and the two split on the first
of January, 1841. All was not lost,
however, for they renewed their courtship 18 months
later. But when they did, it was done secretly! No one
knew about it. In fact, Mary didn’t tell Elizabeth until
November 4, 1842. Mary and Abe were then married
that same day.**

The point here is that, under the above circumstances,
Mary would not have been baking any cakes, even if
she had been cooking up a storm since before she left
Lexington. And golly, how the heck could she’ve baked
anything if she and Abe were courting secretly?!?

It does make for an intriguing scenario, though. I can
just see it now:

What are you doing, Mary?

(trying not to act suspiciously)
Baking a cake.

Why? If you want something to eat,
ask Cook to prepare you something.

Um, yes, well, uh, I’m not THAT hungry.
I’m, er, just doing this for fun?!

And then the following day, after Mary had secretly
spent time with Mr. Lincoln:

What happened to that cake you made,
Mary? It seems to have disappeared.

(again, trying not to act suspiciously)
Um, er, uh, I don’t know.
Maybe someone…stole it?!?

Yeah, sure! You bet!

Want more? Well, how about this: After Mary and Abe were
married, they lived for nearly two years at Springfield’s Globe
Tavern, where they had just one room. Their first son, Robert,


was born in that room. Many other newlyweds boarded
at the Globe, not only at that same time, but in the past
as well, including other members of Mary’s family. All meals
were taken in a common dining room, and so Mary wouldn’t
have been doing ANY cooking or baking. The couple then
purchased a small house in Springfield during 1844 and
moved there. And, according to several sources, Mary did
indeed have hired help by that time.

Now, I found another version of this “Courtin’ Cake” story
that claims it all started with a French pastry chef who ran
a bakery in Lexington. Supposedly, he’d made a cake for
the Marquis de Lafayette’s visit to the City in May of 1825.
And according to this tale, the women of the Todd family
tried a few pieces of that cake, fell in love with it, asked
for the recipe, and thus, forever after, it became a part
of the Todd Family’s “culinary repertoire.”

The problems with this are too numerous to mention. One,
however, is, if such a cake was indeed made, when, where,
and why were Todd family members eating it? Again, they
had their own slave chefs and pastry cooks to do any and
all baking. Same for the recipe becoming part of their family
collection. Why? Was it THAT good? And were the ones made
at home THAT bad?! Then there’s the fact that Mary was born
on December 13, 1818; she would’ve only been six years old
when General Lafayette came through Lexington in the spring
of 1825. It seems highly unlikely that both she and the Great
Frenchman partook of the same cake, at the same time, and
at the same place.

While researching this supposed Lexington/Lafayette connection,
I found a delightful little book that’d been published in Philadelphia
in 1829: Lafayette in America, 1824 and 1825; Or, Journal of a Voyage
to the United States
. An account book Lafayette's voyage to US 1824-5of the noted and
beloved-by-Americans Frenchman’s return journey
to the country he’d bravely assisted during its War
for Independence, it was recorded by his secretary,
Auguste Levasseur, and then later translated by
John D. Godman, M.D.*** In the few pages dealing
with the General’s limited time in Lexington, there
is NO mention of any foods or cakes or bakeries
or of meeting or spending time with any members
of the Todd family. In fact, General Lafayette spent a mere 48 hours
in the City. His schedule during that time included touring a boy’s
school, an academy for girls, and the University of Transylvania,
all of which were located within Lexington. He then traveled
several miles outside the City to the homes of General Charles
Scott’s widow and of the then US Secretary of State, Henry Clay.

There’s also another, similar, account that claims Mary acquired
the cake recipe herself, allegedly from her favorite Lexington
bakery. No date was given in this particular version. But again,
if her family had slave-chefs and bakers, why would she (or
anyone else, for that matter) even need a bakery, let alone
have a favorite one? Also, I’ve frequently heard someone say,
“Oh, I love to bake cakes using the recipe that belonged to my
[insert relative here] Great-Grandmother/Grandmother/Mother.”
But I’ve NEVER, ever, heard, “You’re gonna love this cake recipe
from the bakery down the street”?!? So…I mean…really?!

Another element of this “Cake Debate,” and in fact, of any
claims about what foods the Lincolns supposedly ate, is the
question of what cookbook (or books) Mary Todd Lincoln did
(or didn’t) own and did (or didn’t) use. Luckily for us modern
food historians, there IS documented proof that she bought
at least one. But which one? And when did she acquire it?
And why? And, well…stay tuned….

to be continued…

The FOURTH image, the marker located where the original Globe Tavern
stood in Springfield, Illinois, the text reads:

On this site stood
The Globe Tavern
the home of
Abraham Lincoln
and his wife
from the time of
their marriage on
November 4, 1842
May 2, 1844.
Here their first child
was born.

*“Officially,” Presidents’ Day was created (June 28, 1968) to commemorate
Washington’s birthday
ONLY. Congress later attempted to “officially” include
Lincoln, but failed. Of course, nowadays people think it’s a day to celebrate
ALL US Presidents, whether or not they have done anything of note.


**By all accounts, Mary and Abe courted in secret, and then “suddenly”
were married the VERY SAME DAY of the Big Reveal. And so, even I have
to wonder: Was it merely the fact that there was a secret? Or was it
because they’d violated the current rules of propriety? Or was her sister
afraid of potential stains on her own reputation? OR…was it a shotgun
wedding? After all, their first child was born a scant nine months later
(August 1, 1843). He was certainly a “honeymoon baby,” but was he
more than that? Is that birth date the REAL one? Or did someone
perhaps fudge with it at some point? I’d sure like to see the original
birth certificate. Heck, I even read in one source that some historians
have described Mary as being “pregnant at the altar”! Huh. Abe Lincoln,
country bumpkin AND major hunk! Who knew?!


***In the course of my research, I discovered another book about
Lafayette’s travels in this country:
Lafayette in America in 1824
and 1825, by Alan Hoffman (2007).
What’s interesting is the story the author shares about his fascination
with the General, and how it lead him to sit down with a French/English
dictionary and his recently-purchased $450-original-copy of Levasseur’s
account in order to translate it. Aww, how nice.
But what I’d like to know is…WHY?!? It’d already been translated! Way
back in 1829, just a mere four years after the Big Voyage! Why the heck
would anyone re-do it? What’s the point? Did Hoffman not know about
Godman’s translation? If so, well, how can that be? Just how bad ARE
his research skills?
So, I sought out Hoffman’s book at the Brooklyn library, because I want
to compare the two translations (without having to spend $30 or more).
However, apparently it hasn’t been at the top of the Library’s acquisition
list, and so I must await its arrival from another lending institution. I’m
eager to get it because, according to the listing on amazon.com, Hoffman’s
book “is the only unabridged English translation” of Levasseur’s account.
Hmmm…guess we’ll see. I’ll let you know what happens.

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