Last week I talked about rediscovering an old copy of the Settlement Cookbook that has been in my possession for many years. My copy is from 1931, the original having been published in 1901. The book was compiled and published by Elizabeth Kander. My copy is in very bad shape, the pages have separated from the spine, despite being repaired with heavy blue tape, some time before I got it. The alphabetical index is in the front, and many pages have come loose, but they are all there. To publish this book Kander sold ads, and those make up the last eleven pages of the book. These ads are for all kinds of products including baking powder and yeast, as well as for a Kitchen Aid mixer that doesn’t look very different from the one I own.
The book is a manual for almost everything related to running a home, in addition to being a cookbook. It starts with a section called ‘Household Rules’ which includes instructions on how to properly measure any number of ingredients liquid and solid, and goes on to cover table setting, all styles of service including with or without a maid, cleaning tips, housekeeping, laundering, and cooking methods. The next sections gives explicit instructions on feeding your family from infants to the elderly and up to forty people.
The recipes truly range from the sublime to the ridiculous with some really revolting sounding dishes thrown in. I might make the lobster bisque, but I think I’ll pass on the cream of herring! Though the book is filled with recipes for pork and shellfish, there is a section devoted to Passover Cookery, and another for game which includes recipes for mud hen and reindeer! The most recent edition— an abridged reprint of the original was published in 2005 is in print. That as well as many other editions are still available.
There must be over one thousand recipes in the book, but the artifacts I found stashed in it are the best part! There were hand-written recipes from both my mother and grandmother. Recipes for chop suey, caramel devil’s food cake, for reasons I will never know there are three identical recipes for matzoh balls, a recipe for duck a l’orange copied from Gourmet, something called Madison Ave Potato Salad, and my mother’s chocolate cake. Some of them in such bad shape, and falling apart, and I will have to gently copy them, others quite well preserved.
There are six small typed pages of menus for dinners my grandparents hosted from November 14,1929 until March of 1930, including a Thanksgiving dinner. This was not long after the stock market crash of 1929, so the menus are surprisingly lavish, and perhaps they were scaled back from what they were accustomed to serving, though family stories say my grandfather lost everything in the crash. There are things like lobster, and caviar, asparagus with hollandaise, roast squabs, and filet mignon. Other items I’ve uncovered are a few newspaper clippings; one from Valentiine’s Day 1953 about Trader Vic’s in San Francisco.
My siblings and I are now the eldest generation in our family, so finding these relics feels like a whisper from the past, though a whisper not entirely audible. I will not likely find the answers to some of the questions these pieces of paper elicit, there is no one left to ask. I will show them all to my daughter, and try to reconstruct the pieces of history I can. I can make copies of papers in tatters, and keep them all safe. In this age of digital everything I sometimes forget to treasure what is written. My mother’s handwriting is like a touch from her, and I understand that even as I type these words I know I will leave plenty of written words behind to tell my story when I am not here to answer my great grandchildrens’ questions.