Thursday, September 3, 2015

ALHFAM Review, Summer 2015, Volume XLV, No. 2

I was honored to have Ms. Mercy Ingraham, of An Open Hearth Cook, review my cookery book.  She loved it so much that she submitted a review to the Association for Living History, Farm, and Agricultural Museums (ALHFAM) Bulletin.  It made it in the Summer 2015, Volume XLV, No. 2, issue along with an ad for my book.  I am so grateful to her for taking the time.

Here is what it says:

Resource Reviews

Kimberly K. Walters, A Book of Cookery: Containing Above Three Hundred Receipts Made at Hearth, Suitable for an Elegant Entertainment or Common Fare for Preparing and Dressing Every Thing Suitable for Drinking and Dining at Any Time of the Day including Receipts for Lent, Household Cleaning, and Remedies for Ailments. By a Lady. (Self-published by Kimberly K. Walters, 2014). ISBN 978-0-692-26980-0; $41.82 USD. 348 pages, illustrations, bibliography, soft cover.

Reviewed by Mercy Ingraham

Kimberly K. Walters is an historic cook and reenactor. Her guidance in things culinary is assured. She has given us a book that is useful to any historic cook as it addresses the wide body of knowledge that must be mastered by the eighteenth century interpreter. In particular, she honors General Washington’s housekeeper, Mrs. Elizabeth Thompson, to whom she dedicates her book. By outlining daily duties, the author gives us a good picture of eighteenth-century women’s work.

She has chosen to format the book in the style of the eighteenth century and mimics the language used then. This gives the book a feeling of authenticity. She has relied heavily upon primary material and dutifully acknowledges her sources at every turn.

The book contains the lessons your mother would have taught you if you had been an eighteenth century girl. It explains various techniques of cooking, such as how to manage the fire, and outlines culinary practices whose descriptions are largely absent from historic cookbooks. Culinary poisons are identified--mushrooms, hemlock, and laurel. Walters warns against some of the risks involved in using various antique cooking vessels, which may contain copper or lead, and the problems found in some older pottery glazes.

The book is divided into 11 parts. It begins by instructing you how to select meat, fish and poultry, dairy and vegetables. There are also tips for the twenty-first-century cook in choosing historically appropriate supermarket foods for use in reenacting. Walters considers seasonality but reminds you that this is dependent upon where you live. The bills of fare or menus are described, as is the arrangement of dishes upon the table. The largest section by far is the one that contains 300 receipts from 63 historic cookbooks. The original sources are noted in parentheses at the end of each recipe. The author also explains less familiar culinary terms, such as “neat,” “sweet meats,” “sippets” and “yelk.” The glossary at the end of the book is extensive and there is another very useful section which translates eighteenth-century quantities into more familiar contemporary measurements.

Many people will find the section on receipts to be the most valuable part of the book. It covers all sorts of recipes and saves one the expense, to say nothing of the shelf space, of buying the 63 cookbooks that are the sources of the recipes. The problem for the historic cook is that the section includes recipes ranging from medieval times to the mid-nineteenth century, and unless you know your cookbook authors and eras, you run the risk of using a Civil War recipe at a Revolutionary War reenactment.

You can, of course, check the dates of the books, which are, in most cases, listed in the bibliography. The author has added helpful hints—invariably useful—at the end of some of the recipes. She also includes a few of her own recipes, which look tasty and would not be out of place at any reenactment.  I personally learned the most from the section of the book on carving. I’ve always approached carving as if everything were either a chicken or a pot roast. This section has Henderson’s Housekeeper’s Instructor as its source and includes that author’s copious and helpful illustrations. The diagrams show the anatomy of any animal you are likely to cook (and some you might not), along with directions on how to best carve and present it. As we know, the quality of a meal is frequently judged by its presentation.

This is a lovely book and any serious student of historically authentic food will find it useful. I am in awe of the encyclopedic number of facts at the author’s disposal. The novice will find answers to questions they didn’t know they needed to ask. The experienced historic cook will surely learn more than a thing or two, and the expert will admire how well Ms. Walters has put together a lifetime of knowledge and a huge selection of recipes in an easy-to-read and portable book.

About the Reviewer Mercy Ingraham is an open hearth cook and food historian from Pennsylvania, who has been demonstrating and teaching the use of fire for cooking for the public and historic cooking practitioners over the past twenty years.