The young house-keeper : or, thoughts on food and cookery
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Feeding America: the Historic American Cookbook Project
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- 390 pages
The introductory texts reproduced here were written by the original Feeding America team to contextualize the books that were selected for inclusion as part of the 2001 digitization project.
The Young House-Keeper: or, Thoughts on Food and Cookery Boston: Waite, Pierce & Co., 1846, c. 1838.
As is discussed in the biographical note on Dr. Alcott, his prolific pen brought forth many high-minded, moralistic tomes on his suggestions for the proper behaviour and way of life of his readers. This makes many of his books a bit hard-to-read in today's freer age. But much can be learned from his preaching and pseudo-medical ramblings and this book well represents the many of its genre that appeared in America throughout the 19th century.
In this book, Dr. Alcott indicates that he is attempting to promote physical and moral education. He further suggests that a large amount of the time now devoted to the preparation of food and drink is worse than wasted and that this time ought to be and must be redeemed, and applied by the house-keeper herself to the physical, moral and social improvement of her family.
Dr. Alcott is absolutely certain that these responsibilities belong only to the female members of society. His pronouncements are unequivocal. He does not, for example, approve of any hot drinks and says, "The rejection of hot drinks I consider indispensable, and I am unwilling to make any concession in their favor." ( p.337 ).
Given this type of thinking, it is not surprising that the recipe section of this book is composed of plain and simple dishes. Almost no seasonings, herbs or spices are recommended. Although he can't resist one aside that a little cinnamon or ginger might enhance his Newly Invented Pudding. Otherwise, most of the recipes use only a little salt and some sugar when necessary. All vegetables are boiled or steamed only in water (usually without salt), with the recommended time for green beans being one hour and a half to two hours.
Many of Dr. Alcott's recipes would obviously be too timid for present day cooks, but it might be interesting to try some of his bread recipes, such as his Brown Bread, Rice Bread, Plain Corn Bread, Flour and Rice Bread, Clap Bread (oatmeal) and Apple Bread.
One might also benefit from reading the detailed chapters on a variety of foodstuffs. The Strawberry chapter is especially interesting.