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Housekeeping In Old Virginia

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Cole Matthews


On our recent trip, we did some antiquing and I found several fun old cookbooks. I think I will present some of my most interesting findings over the next couple of weeks. If you like cooking, eating, history, or goofiness, it should be enjoyable. Of course I am easily amused


Let's begin our old cookbook adventure. I started collecting these chestnuts from history because I love eating, the past, and of course reading. Soon I found so many interesting things about how food, cooking, and the interaction with technology and sociology shape culture. My first example I present from this past vacation is a tome entitled 'Housekeeping in Old Virginia'. This book was first published in 1879. The copy I purchased is a reprint, but it's the content that matters to me most.


This book is a compilation of many cooks' contributions much like a church cookbook from today. What's unique about this collection is the depth of its study into the recipes. Until this point, previous cookbooks were concerned about managing a household along with general food preparation. This book almost exclusively deals with actual recipes and not how much it costs to employ a maid or what silver to use with oysters. From Marion Cabell Tyree:


"It will be seen that she is indebted to near 250 contributors to her book. Among these will be found many names famous through the land. Associated with them will be discovered other of less national celebrity, but who have acquired among their neighbors an equally merited distinction for the beautiful order and delightful cuisine of their homes."


I find this fascinating for several reasons. Perhaps one of the most important is the author felt compelled to support her writing with celebrity endorsements. She is also concerned with pleasing others with her cooking. Not too much different from today, it appears.


Anyway, here is a tasty recipe if you'd like.


Brunswick Stew


About four hours before dinner, put on two or three slices of bacon, two squirrels or chickens, one onion sliced, in one gallon of water. Stew some time, then add one quart peeled tomatoes, two ears of grated corn, three Irish potatoes sliced, and one handful butter beans, and part pod of red pepper.


Stew altogether about one hour, till you can take out the bones. When done, put in one spoonful bread crumbs and one large spoonful butter. - Mrs. M.M.D.


Now, I don't expect most of you to run out and trap or hunt down some squirrels for stewing. I also think it speaks powerfully of the era. Keep in mind, chickens for stewing weren't the nice, tender spring chickens we see in the grocery store today. A stew chicken would be an old bird that needed as much cooking as a stringy and bitter squirrel would to become tasty. Brunswick stew is a recipe to redeem rather marginal ingredients to become something sustaining.


In addition, I love the fact we are using both butter and bacon in this recipe. Delish!!! Until later...

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Replace the butter beans with lima beans an it could be my Gram's recipe!

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