Sunday, July 24, 2005


First, Catch Your Hare

An interesting glimpse by Katherine Powers in today's Boston Globe into the delights of reading old cookbooks:

Mrs. Beeton's ''Book of Household Management," for instance, conjures up an idyllic England with country houses, servants galore, and a large cast of butchers, poulters, and greengrocers. Though an abridged version is available (Oxford University, paperback, $14.95), I have inherited my mother's 1,112-page, out-of-print facsimile version with its frontispiece entitled ''The Free, Fair Homes of England." While most of the book is devoted to food and its preparation, a good deal of advice on running a large house is also included, with sections beginning with such immensely satisfying sentences as ''Whilst the cook is engaged with her Morning Duties, the kitchen-maid is also occupied with hers."..... In its pages man is unashamedly at the top of the food chain, and his table displays it without euphemism, as in the triumphal illustration of a ''Roast Hare." Vanquished, he is laid on a platter, ears cocked, snarling, a scorched glare in his eye.

I too have a fascination with cookbooks -- this despite the fact that I cannot cook and indeed have no interest in learning to cook. My favorites, naturally, are oddball Victorian titles like What To Do With Cold Mutton (an 1867 cookbook for "gentlemen of a moderate income," in case you're wondering). And it's hard to top this description from the website of the Philadelphia Rare Books & Manuscripts Company for William Kitchiner's 1831 very odd work The Cook's Oracle:

Dr. Kitchiner says it best himself: “The following Receipts are not a mere marrowless collection of shreds and patches, and cuttings and pastings, — but a bonâ fide register of Practical Facts” (p. 1). Far indeed from being marrowless, this cookbook is an entertainingly spirited work full of recipes and suggestions tested by the author, as well as running comments and asides. Curiously, a few recipes have musical aides-mémoire: The bubble and squeak instructions feature printed music that spells out “B E E F, C A B B A G E” in the treble clef, while the bass clef runs “C A B B A G E, B E E F” (p. 388).

If anyone else has ever heard of musical cooking instructions, I'd certainly like to hear about it....

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?