Special guest blog post from George Mason University Libraries’ Ordering Coordinator Meaghan O’Malley!

sca stacks collage
Cookbooks in situ.

The Rosemary Poole Cookbook Collection in Special Collections & Archives gives patrons of the University Libraries’ unique access to the documentation of 19th century housewifery, cookery, hostessing, basic first aid and treatment of common illnesses, and easy household maintenance tips. These titles supplement the University Libraries’ growing collection of cookbooks (modern and antiquarian) in SC&A as well as our expanding general collection of cookbooks.

Personally, I’ve collected cookbooks for as long as I can remember, fascinated by the descriptions of cuisines and the historical evolution of recipes, tastes, the American palate, and cooking methods. Working in Resource Acquisitions affords me the opportunity to see new titles added to the collection on an almost daily basis, and also inspires me to wander through the open stacks to check out the hidden gems one can only uncover through browsing. The recent uptick in our cookbook acquisitions is due in part to the Nutrition and Food Studies program, part of the College of Health and Human Services, and family recipes projects at New Century College. Sarah Sheehan, CHHS liaison librarian, has taken the lead on these general collection acquisitions after working directly with faculty in CHHS and NCC who expressed an interest in making various kinds of cookbooks available to their students as part of their curriculum and course work.

sca cookbooks in a row
Spines of The Hostess of To-Day, Miss Beecher’s Domestic Recipe Book, Jennie June’s Cook Book, and The Universal Receipt Book.

I was invited to do some cookbook browsing in SC&A recently and was completely mesmerized by our holdings, which contain an assortment of titles ranging from the original receipt book from Gunston Hall to a colorful resource on the seductiveness of casseroles. I elected to focus in on a few cookbooks from the 1800s, and found the variety of recipes and household tips contained within to be intriguing and, occasionally, bemusing.

The Hostess of To-Day, 1899

Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book, 1852

Jennie June’s American Cookery Book, 1878

The Universal Receipt Book; being a compendious repository of practical information in cookery, preserving, pickling, distilling, and all the branches of domestic economy. To which is added, some advice to farmers., 1818 (Second edition with great additions)

sca recipes collage 1
Clockwise from top left: Universal Receipt Book, The Hostess of To-Day, Jennie June’s American Cookery Book, Universal Receipt Book
sca recipes collage 2
Clockwise from top left: Jennie June’s, Jennie June’s, Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book, Hostess of To-Day.
sca whopping cough a universal receipt book
A cure for whopping cough from the Universal Receipt Book.
sca spot removal a universal receipt book
“Liquid to take out spots or stains of ink, red wine, iron mould, mildrew, &c.” from the Universal Receipt Book.

Cooking and baking have always been, at least to me, a form of self-expression and even with just a brief glance into this collection, I found the same to be true for their authors. Whether utilitarian, like The Universal Receipt Book, or lavishly decorated with illustrations and graphics, like The Hostess of To-Day, each title in this collection is a reflection of the times, but also a reflection of the socioeconomic status of the consumer for whom it was written. Cookbooks like these have become a form of historical record, giving insight into the appetites and cuisines of the time period in which they were written, as well as the structure of households and families. They were, in essence, the foundation upon which the modern American Family was built, giving women the ability migrate into work life by providing easy reference materials and simplifying their obligations at home; or, in some cases, making knowledge previously only available to women accessible to everyone.

In the coming months, I hope to report back to Vault 217 with some tested recipes from these books as well as others from the Rosemary Poole Collection.

You can follow my journeys through the stacks, as well as old and new cookbook discoveries, by following the hashtag #gmulibraries on Instagram and Twitter.

Leave a Reply