Some people collect stamps or coins, which probably have real value. I hoard cookbooks, and have been doing so since 1950.
Even after getting rid of some when we moved to Marco Island (a mistake, I now think), I still have over 300 and counting, and there seems to be no end in sight. Some are unusual and some are very old, but I don’t think the entire lot has much value, except to me. Many came from my family, and I treasure them for that reason alone.
In the small town of Waseca, Minnesota, a mail-order company named Herter’s used to sell sporting goods and shotgun shell loading equipment, among other things for hunters. George Herter tucked recipes into his catalogues, and eventually wrote cookbooks: Bull Cook and Other Historical Recipes and Practices was one of them about 50 years ago.
His books were full of household hints, helpful tips for surviving in the woods when lost, directions for making your own moccasins and the like. The books are maddening because he never furnished an index, and Bull Cook starts on the first page with a recipe for corning your own venison, not much help to a modern household.
George was very chatty, and I enjoy reading cookbooks, so I stuck with him and plowed my way to page 126 where he printed a longwinded recipe for Worcestershire sauce. This was developed by John Crafton of England in the 17 or 18 century to supplant elegant French sauces. His thick version is nothing like Worcestershire as we know it, but it became a family favorite and I am giving you a shortcut version of the original, which calls for peeling 40 apples.
Crafton’s Worcestershire Sauce
6 ounces soy sauce
1 15-ounce can of red kidney beans, undrained
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 small canned sardines (preferably oil-pack)
3 quarts unsweetened apple sauce
1 quart cider vinegar
¼ cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 Tablespoons each allspice, turmeric and nutmeg
3 Tablespoons instant coffee powder
3 Tablespoons salt
2 ounces white corn syrup
1 Tablespoon sugar
3 Tablespoons prepared mustard
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
More vinegar as needed
In a very large pot, place everything except for extra vinegar. Simmer these ingredients for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. As liquid evaporates, add a mixture of water and cider vinegar as needed.
Remove from heat and put sauce through a food processor or blender in batches until smooth (or use a stick blender). Return sauce to the pot and cook gently until well blended and very thick, stirring to prevent sticking.
Pour into a gallon crock or jug and top off with more vinegar, mixing well. Leave the sauce standing overnight at room temperature before using. In New England, we stored it at room temperature as well. You may wish to refrigerate the sauce.
George suggests nine uses for his sauce, including serving it with mashed potatoes or cooked eggs, but we used it as a steak sauce. Then one day my husband mixed it 50-50 with catsup and made a superb barbecue sauce. Bottle it and it makes a wonderful and unusual gift.
The Gullah language (also called Geechee) is used by descendants of African Americans on the coastal plains of the Low Country (the Carolinas and Georgia) and nearby islands. It is a Creole patois of English and their native tongues, which includes the Yoruba dialect. Their cooking is wonderfully inventive, and their approach is pragmatic and humorous. One elderly Gullah lady, when pressed for a recipe, replied that her mama didn’t teach her to read books, she taught her to cook.
In spite of that, my Gullah cookbook has many delightful recipes which have been adopted by modern cooks. The vocabulary can be daunting at times: bacon and baking come out the same, biddle means victuals and bile means boil. Once you get the hang of it, the food speaks for itself. Here’s one of my favorite Gullah recipes.
Corn Pudding/Cawn Puddn
Pull six ayers cawn from stock and shuckem. Cut kunnels from ayers. Mix with 2 beaten aigs and 2 cups milk. Add 2 Tablespoons melted butter. Pour into greased baking pan and bake at 350 degrees until pudding is set and top is golden brown. This is a vegetable dish—for dessert, add sugar cane syrup to taste before baking.
Shredded Wheat Bread
2 cups boiling water
2 shredded wheat biscuits, crumbled
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup molasses
3 Tablespoons shortening
1 envelope yeast
½ cup lukewarm water
5 to 6 cups bread flour
Pour boiling water over shredded wheat. Add salt, sugar, molasses and shortening and set aside. Sprinkle yeast on lukewarm water and leave for 5 minutes. Stir and add to wheat mixture when it reaches room temperature. Add flour until mixture makes a firm dough, then turn out onto floured surface and knead for a few minutes to make a springy, smooth dough. Place in oiled bowl and let stand covered overnight at room temperature, or in warm place for 2 hours until doubled in bulk. Punch dough down and place in two greased 5 x 9” loaf pans. Let rise about an hour and bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, then reduce to 350 degrees for 25 to 35 minutes longer, until loaf rings when tapped with handle of table knife. Cool on wire racks.
Alternate: Make biscuits of this dough and place on greased cookie sheets. Bake at 400 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.
The oldest item in my collection is the White House Cookbook from around 1900, which contains many fine basic recipes, as well as directions for making your own cold cream, soap, cough syrup and other necessities of life. It makes for interesting reading, but I can’t say I use it often.