Monday, November 16, 2009

The Virginia House-wife, or Methodical Cook

Before Betty Crocker and Paula Deen, there was Mrs. Mary Randolph, author of The Virginia House-wife or Methodical Cook.  First published in 1824, an original copy of the 1828 edition, containing 240 pages of recipes and helpful household hints, is held in Marietta College's Special Collections.  Mrs. Randolph's motto, "Method is the Soul of Management," is boldly printed on the title page.

Mary Randolph was born into the Virginia aristocracy in 1762.  In addition to a formal education, she received training in the managment of an upper-class household, which required knowledge of cooking and entertaining.  Following her marriage to a cousin in 1780, Mary's reputation as a hostess was unsurpassed.  About 1800, her family experienced severe financial setbacks, and Mary helped out by opening a boarding house in Richmond.  Noting the lack of clear and concise directions available on the art of housekeeping, she decided to produce her own.  Mary died in 1828, with her burial being the first recorded in Arlington National Cemetery.  The inscription on her tombstone states that she was "a victim to maternal love and duty."

The following recipes selected from The Virginia House-wife may provide some assistance, or at least amusement, when planning this year's Thanksgiving dinner:

To Roast a Turkey

Make the forcemeat thus: take the crumb of a loaf of bread, a quarter of a pound of beef suet shred fine, a little sausage meat or veal scraped and pounded very fine, nutmeg, pepper, and salt to your taste; mix it lightly with three eggs, stuff the craw with it, spit it, and lay it down a good distance from the fire, which should be clear and brisk; dust and baste it several times with cold lard, it makes the froth stronger than basting it with the hot out of the dripping pan, and makes the turkey rise better; when it is enough, froth it up as before, dish it and pour on the same gravy as for the boiled turkey, or bread sauce; garnish with lemon and pickles, and serve it up; if it be of a middle size, it will require one hour and a quarter to roast.

Potatoes Mashed

When the potatoes are thoroughly boiled, drain and dry them perfectly, pick out every speck, and rub them through a colander into a clean stew pan; to a pound of potatoes put half an ounce of butter, and a table-spoonful of milk; do not make them too moist; mix them well together.  When the potatoes are getting old and speckled, and in frosty weather, this is the best way of dressing them - you may put them into shapes, touch them over with yelk of egg, and brown them very slightly before a slow fire.

Pumpkin Pudding

Stew a fine sweet pumpkin till soft and dry - rub it through a sieve, mix with the pulp six eggs quite light, a quarter of a pound of butter, half a pint of new milk, some pounded ginger and nutmeg, a wine glass of brandy, and sugar to your taste.  Should it be too liquid, stew it a little drier; put a paste round the edges, and in the bottom of a shallow dish or plate - pour in the mixture, cut some thin bits of paste, twist them and lay them across the top, and bake it nicely.