1855 Recipe Book – Taste of the Past

Posted on: January 28, 2016

by Halle Forbes, Student Assistant

Need some new recipes to test out? JMU Libraries’ JMuse Café is hosting a presentation all about food originating right here in the Shenandoah Valley. The presentation will be held in Rose Library on January 28th at 6:30pm. The presentation and discussion will include the history of over 80 handwritten, classic recipes, from how to make a cheap white cake and coconut pudding, to how to remove ink stains. These timeless techniques will be read and discussed. In addition, Chef Tassie Pippert will present selected recipes of main dishes and desserts for all to sample.

Many of these recipes are found in a Shenandoah Valley recipe book from 1855 found in JMU’s Special Collections. Although the authors of the cookbook are unknown, the recipes live on even today, as this event showcases. The Cookbook is believed to have been written in Rockingham County. This book is significant as it predates the Civil War. Materials from that time period, such as this handwritten, family resource, are not widely available. JMU’s Special Collections purchased this book from the estate of Lois Gaynor, of Elkton, Virginia, in an auction.

The recipes have been transcribed by Mark S. Purington, Digital Content Coordinator in JMU’s Carrier Library. In looking at the original, one can understand the intensive labor and time that Mark must have put into this project. The final product lists the transcripts next to the digitized images of the pages of the recipe book.

Ingredients and descriptions foreign to most people today are explained in the glossary. Need to know about rye chop, syllabub churn, or bobbinet? Go to the end of his PDF and you’ll find the answer. Another interesting point to these recipes is the difference in oven technology. Some cooks used open fires, and those with ovens heated them with wood or coal. Instead of setting the oven to a precise temperature, cooks would stoke their fires to get to a “moderate oven” (about 350° F), or a “quick oven” (about 400° F). Readers will see these, and other new terms and ingredients, in the transcription. Originally created as a class project, Mark has donated the file to Special Collections. Thanks to Purington’s efforts, the Shenandoah Valley Culture may be preserved and studied through this revised manuscript, and modern, twenty-first century audiences may read the manuscript and try some of these recipes on their own.

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