Monday, May 7, 2012

The Horsford Cook Book, 1895

I realize that your world doesn't revolve around whether or not I blog about history, but it's been a MONTH and I feel a need to 'splain.

This next Saturday I will be taking a walk in a funny hat. To receive my M.A. in historical studies. YEE-HAWWWWW! So that's my excuse for abandoning the blog for a while, although I haven't abandoned history. In fact, my 70-page final "paper" involved designing an eight-week undergraduate course on "Great Plainwomen to 1950." And did I ever meet some amazing women designing that course! In coming weeks, I'll introduce some of them. The course does an overview of the Great Plains, and then segues into one week each studying indigenous women, homesteaders, educators, military women, business women, political activists, and religious leaders. Just this past week I transcribed a few pages of an 1836 diary written by Eliza Wilcox Merrill, the wife of Moses Merrill. Together, the Merrills founded a school for Otoe Indian children in what would one day be Nebraska. Reading Mrs. Merrill's diary connected me with a sister in Christ I look forward to meeting one day.

IN THE MEANTIME ... don't you just love opening an old book and finding something handwritten from the past? That happened to me this past week as I sought a historical recipe to share in an upcoming novel. I can't help but wonder who wrote the above recipe for "Filling for Graham Crackers" on the page opposite this little book. My dear mother-in-law gave me The Horsford Cook Book by Fannie Merritt Farmer, principal of the Boston Cooking School, many years ago. It's a very fragile 107 page book that measures only 4 x 6 1/2 inches. At the bottom of the title page, one reads, "The publisher will send a copy of this book free, postpaid, on receipt of four labels from the bottom of the can of Horsford's Baking Powder." So I wonder whether the original owner paid 50 cents (the price that's listed) or saved up labels to get hers free.

I haven't given much thought to early improvements in things like baking powder, but Eben Horsford, who was quite the advocate for women's education (and was connected to Albany Female Academy and Wellesley College in his lifetime) actually became quite successful when he reformulated baking powder and created a more reliable product. He also improved condensed milk. 


Fannie Farmer is credited with standardizing measurements in recipes and thereby assuring more reliable results. The year after Rumford Chemical Works published this little cook book in my collection, the first edition of the still-in-print Fannie Farmer Cookbook was published.


Farmer's note in my little cook book references the issue of standardizing measurements, as she explains, "A cupful of dry ingredients is a level cupful. A cupful of liquid is all that the cup will hold. Butter and lard should be packed solidly into the cup."


Today I made the graham cracker filling. 
1 cup powd. sugar
1 tablesp. melted butter
2 teasp. cocoa
3 teasp. cold, mild coffee
1 teasp. vanilla
Add little cream if too thick.

It reminded me a little of Nutella, and the consistency would make it great frosting for cupcakes. I think I'd like it better if the coffee flavor were stronger ... and if I used European butter. Overall, though, I give this little recipe a "thumbs up," and the thing I like most about it is that I can pronounce every single ingredient and actually know what they all are. 

One thing I find fascinating about the cookbook is the fact that baking directions are nonexistent. For example:

                         Cream Almond Cake

1 cup butter                                      2 cups flour
2 cups sugar                                     2 level teasponfuls Horsford's Baking Powder
1 cup milk                                       5 egg whites
1 cup cornstarch                               1-2 teaspoonful almond extract

Cream the butter, add gradually the sugar, add the almond. mix and sift the flour, cornstarch and baking powder. Add alternately with the milk to the first mixture. Beat the whites until stiff; add, and beat vigorously. This makes two loaves.

Oh ... really? What size? And how long do I bake them? And at what temperature? I don't suppose 19th century ovens had temperature control, so I understand that, but it seems that we'd at least be given a hint. "Moderate oven for X minutes" or "until a knife inserted comes out clean" ... or something?!

Still, that cream almond cake sounds good .... 

The little book concludes with "A Suitable Dinner for Every Month." The menu for MAY is:

Tomato Soup. 
Croutons.
Baked Shad.
Sauce Hollandaise.
Saratoga Chips.
Lettuce and Radish Salad.
Bread and Butter Pudding.
Cold Sauce.

Bon appetit!.......................................................................................................................Stephanie