Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Susan Adair's Relevant History

A Book of Cookery by a Lady

Kimberly Walters author photoRel­e­vant His­tory wel­comes Kim­berly Wal­ters, a liv­ing his­to­rian, author, and owner of K. Wal­ters at the Sign of the Gray Horse, which offers historically-inspired jew­elry. Kim is a proud horse mom first and fore­most. She is a mem­ber of the National Soci­ety Daugh­ters of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion, cur­rently of the Fin­cas­tle Chap­ter of Louisville, Ken­tucky, as well as the Asso­ci­a­tion of Liv­ing His­tory, Farm, and Agri­cul­tural Muse­ums. She also serves her coun­try as a Fed­eral employee. Sales from A Book of Cook­ery by a Lady help sup­port her res­cued Colo­nial Williams­burg horse. To learn more, check out her web site.
Fire, frying pan, and potsWhen I started par­tic­i­pat­ing in liv­ing his­tory events, a friend rec­om­mended that I look into hearth cook­ing to give me a pur­pose and some­thing to do. I was skep­ti­cal, but I am not one to sit around and do noth­ing, no mat­ter where I am. Wasn’t that hot and sweaty work? With five res­cue horses, I’m not a light­weight, so I am used to work­ing hard, but this was a dif­fer­ent kind of work. Nev­er­the­less, I was not pre­pared for what I was get­ting myself into! I did start my research with pas­sion and immersed myself into the sub­ject. What’s not bet­ter to like than food?
First and second course layoutAfter I stud­ied period cook­ery books and actu­ally cooked over a fire, I com­piled appro­pri­ate recipes (also known as receipts in the time period). I was so enam­ored with how they did things in the kitchen and in din­ing, I couldn’t stop. My orig­i­nal con­cept was to find the most com­mon things of the time period that would assist me with inter­pret­ing this part of his­tory to the pub­lic with­out a bunch of notes tucked away in my pocket (or hav­ing to remem­ber it). It was all really meant for me. That sounds kind of self­ish but it is true! How­ever, many of us that do research cher­ish the lit­tle bits of infor­ma­tion that we find that are not well known and like to keep them close to us like the “Gol­lum” did of the “One Ring” of the The Hob­bit by J.R.R. Tolkien. They are precious!
18th-century mealFive years later, I decided to pub­lish my find­ings as A Book of Cook­ery by a Lady. I did so on what would have been my Mom’s birth­day as a trib­ute to her. I was also enam­ored with an arti­cle writ­ten about Mrs. Eliz­a­beth Thomp­son, George Washington’s house­keeper dur­ing the war years, by Ms. Nancy K. Loane. Mrs. Thompson’s ser­vice is not really well known, yet she deserves to be remem­bered for run­ning the great general’s house­hold and feed­ing his staff. I have com­piled a his­tory on her as a memo­r­ial of her ser­vice. It is a high­light of the book.
A lot of chap­ters are inter­est­ing from a his­tor­i­cal viewpoint—but also very prac­ti­cal for today. This includes items in sea­son, cook­ing terms, mea­sure­ments, receipts, how to carve meats, set­ting a table for one to thirty dishes, and even how to choose your pro­duce at the market.
Kitchen clean­li­ness and safety in the 18th cen­tury
One of the other areas that I think is highly impor­tant and under­rep­re­sented is clean­li­ness and safety in the 18th-century kitchen. What was really con­sid­ered, done, and writ­ten down? I’m always asked if I am going to use bleach, soap, and san­i­tizer when cook­ing. No. I use 18th-century meth­ods, and they work. Gen­eral obser­va­tions for cooks and what they needed to do to ensure they did not poi­son or make any­one sick were also noted in my book. This focused on uten­sils and equipment.
The types of met­als that the equip­ment was made from and how they were cleaned was very impor­tant. If a cook wanted to poi­son some­one, they could do so by using a cer­tain type of pot that had verdi­gris on it and serv­ing it right up! Cooks did not know that some of the met­als were deadly that they used, but they at least knew that if they were not cleaned cor­rectly, they could be deadly.
I cau­tion the reader not to use an orig­i­nal pot or uten­sil to cook for demon­stra­tion or at home. We may not be able to iden­tify the type of metal it is made from today. By focus­ing on M. Rad­cliffe, I high­lighted this very issue. Rad­cliffe talks about lead and its haz­ards, which is some­what unique, but by this time well known. Here is an excerpt from her book:
Lead is a metal eas­ily cor­roded, espe­cially by the warm steams of acids, such as vine­gar, cider, lemon-juice, Rhen­ish wine, &c. and this solu­tion, or salt of lead, is a slow and insid­i­ous, though cer­tain poi­son. The glaz­ing of all our com­mon brown pot­tery ware is either lead or lead ore; if black, it is a lead ore, with a small pro­por­tion of man­ganese, which is a species of iron ore; if yel­low, the glaz­ing is lead ore, and appears yel­low­ish by hav­ing some pipe or white clay under it. The colour of the com­mon pot­tery ware is red, as the ves­sels are made of the same clay as com­mon bricks. These ves­sels are so porous, that they are pen­e­trated by all salts, acid or alka­line, and are unfit for retain­ing any saline sub­stances. They are improper, though too often used, for pre­serv­ing sour fruits or pick­les. The glaz­ing of such ves­sels is cor­roded by the vine­gar: for, upon evap­o­rat­ing the liquor, a quan­tity of the salt of lead will be found at the bot­tom. A sure way of judg­ing whether the vine­gar or other acid have dis­solved part of the glaz­ing, is by their becom­ing vapid, or los­ing their sharp­ness, and acquir­ing a sweet­ish taste by stand­ing in them for some time; in which case the con­tents must be thrown away as pernicious.
Rad­cliffe, M., A Mod­ern Sys­tem of Domes­tic Cook­ery: or, The Housekeeper’s Guide, Arranged on the Most Eco­nom­i­cal Plan for Pri­vate Fam­i­lies. Orig­i­nally pub­lished in 1823, dig­i­tized on Google Books Aug 15, 2007.
A Book of Cookery by a Lady book cover imageA big thanks to Kim­berly Wal­ters. She’ll give away a copy of A Book of Cook­ery by a Lady to some­one who con­tributes a com­ment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the win­ner from among those who com­ment by Fri­day at 6 p.m. ET. Deliv­ery is avail­able within the U.S.