Monday, October 18, 2010

On the Bookshelf: The American History Cookbook

I've been reading various cookbook histories and picked up The American History Cookbook by Mark H. Zanger at my local library. This book provides the reader with  historical information on food and recipes throughout American history. These recipes are largely from cookbooks published in each historical era. Recipes begin with America before it was "discovered" and then continue through history to include the Revolutionary War, Early American Health Food, The Civil War, Settlers and Homesteaders, World War I, The Great Depression, World War II and ends in the 1970s. With over 50 chapters providing information on food during different time periods, you are bound to get some ideas about what your ancestor may have ate or may have had access to.

One aspect of my own family food history I find interesting is the differences in the diet of my mother's family vs. my father's family.  For example, my paternal great-grandmother use to make a bunch of pies each Thanksgiving.  There were many different flavors to choose from. One was mincemeat pie.  Now as a young girl, just the name of that pie was enough to make me run.  The name alone made it seem like a pie to avoid, especially since the pumpkin pies were plentiful.  Her version of this pie is probably what many people are familiar with.  It was a mixed fruit pie.  I have noticed that some stores even sell mincemeat in jars that you can then pour into a pie crust.

For my mother's side of the family, mincemeat was a lot like it sounded. It was a meat pie. There was no fruit in it.

Reading The American History Cookbook provided me with some other versions of mincemeat pie. One of which, is found in the Temperance and Prohibition Recipes (1837-1930) section on page 195. This recipe calls for beef  heart, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, salt, molasses, apples and raisins. So a mixture of meat and fruits fill this pie. This recipes was found in a temperance cookbook, substituting the brandy usually found in the recipe from that era, with molasses.

The second recipe a Green Tomato Mincemeat from 1940 (page 394) shows a version where green tomatoes and apples are used in a "mock" mincemeat pie version.

Obviously, food preferences change over time. What may have been considered everyday fare in the past may have all but disappeared in the present. Food availability, food storage methods, money and other factors largely determine our diets. Reading cookbooks like The American History Cookbook provides us with some ideas about the food lives our ancestors lived.  And doesn't that make for a more interesting family history?