Michigan State University

Introductory Essay

Directions For Cookery, In Its Various Branches.
By Miss Leslie.
Philadelphia: E.L. Carey & Hart, 1840

As mentioned in the discussion of Miss Leslie's Seventy-five Receipts and The Lady's Receipt-book , we have selected to reprint three of her nine cookbooks, reflecting her place in American culinary history and the popularity of her cookery writings. Her most popular and most influential work was this one, Directions for Cookery.

This was one of the most popular of 19th century cookbooks. It was first published in Philadelphia in 1837 and went through many editions (with varying titles), including a 60th printing published in 1870, 13 years after Leslie had died. In fact, this last edition was itself reprinted as late as 1892. This book was so popular that when her publishers issued her subsequent titles [See 1847 The Lady's Receipt-book], they took pains to indicate that the new book was "supplemental" to Directions and had all new recipes.

Leslie's cookbooks were justly popular. The writing and instructions are clear and elegant; the author's comments on the nuances of good cooking, on the importance of quality ingredients, on honesty in the kitchen - all combine to make this work an American classic.

To examine the recipes is to open a window into the 19th-century larder: Apees, Beef-Steak Pudding, Moravian Sugar Cakes, Sassafras Beer, Rye and Indian Bread, Cat-Fish Soup, Chestnut Pudding, Fricasseed Chickens, Clam Soup, Chilli Vinegar, Green Corn Pudding, Cranberry Sauce, Election Cake, Federal Cakes, Flannel Cakes, Fox Grape Shrub, Hominy, Huckleberry Cake, Indian Pudding, Johnny Cake, Lobster Catchup, Molasses Candy, New York Cookies, Ochra Soup, Oyster Pie, Pepper Pot, Pine-apple Ice Cream, Pork and Beans, Potato Snow, Pumpkin Chips, Cocoa-Nut Pudding, Tomato Catchup, White Gingerbread. The titles alone stimulate the appetite!

But look beyond the titles; observe how carefully written are the recipes. Most ingredients are given in specific measurements - pounds, tablespoons, teaspoons, pints - a practice hardly routine in her day. And note also the many helpful hints and comments: "It is best the second day." "This is a very good plain cake; do not attempt it unless you have excellent yeast."

Her concern for quality extends beyond the kitchen. The Cat-Fish Soup recipe, for example, begins, "Cat-fish that have been caught near the middle of the river are much nicer than those that are taken near the shore where they have access to impure foods. The small white ones are the best." The soup is flavored with ham, parsley, sweet marjoram stripped from the stalks, pepper and celery. The broth uses rich milk, butter, and egg yolks and the whole is garnished with toasted bread cut into small squares. A splendid American dish.

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