Thanksgiving means tables groaning with food, and families and friends gathered in fellowship. So, in that spirit, let’s delve into a sampling of the cookbooks that are part of the American Heritage Center’s Toppan Rare Books Library.
Fannie Merritt Farmer’s 1911 cookbook, Catering for Special Occasions with Menus and Recipes provides some food for thought.
Fannie Farmer was one of the pioneers of modern American cooking. She is credited with the invention of the format for the modern recipe. Her cookbooks championed the use of standardized measuring cups, tablespoons and teaspoons. Farmer wrote “correct measurements are absolutely necessary to ensure the best results”. Earlier cookbooks had often specified a pinch of this or a handful of that, but Farmer’s recipes instructed cooks to measure out ingredients in leveled off cups and spoons.
For Thanksgiving, Farmer developed two elaborate menus, each with more than a dozen dishes.
While modern readers will recognize the classic roast turkey and stuffing, there are also recipes for “Puritan Pudding” and “New England Thanksgiving Pudding” – both variants on bread pudding. The recipes call for “common crackers”, but Farmer didn’t mean Ritz or Saltines. “Common crackers” were a food staple of the 1800s and 1900s. More closely resembling hard tack than modern era crackers, “common crackers” were round and thick and could be split in half like an English muffin or crushed using a rolling pin.
Thanksgiving desserts featured in Farmer’s recipe book include the classic pumpkin pie and also a recipe for “French Vanilla Ice Cream” to be served with a liquor laced “Dewey Sauce”. Perhaps the most impressive Thanksgiving dessert recipe in the book is for “Mince Pie”. It is a hearty dish, involving 3 pounds of sugar, a quart of brandy, and 4 pounds each of lean beef and raisins. Preparing such a pie was surely a labor of love – in 1911 the raisins had to be seeded by hand.
While Fannie Farmer was helping cooks plan a feast for multitudes, Amelie Langdon’s 1907 Just for Two cookbook, pared down recipes for wives cooking only for their husbands. But even Langdon’s “Thanksgiving Dinner” menu included a dozen dishes.
Curiously, while the menu begins with “Cream of Carrot Soup”, careful perusal of Langdon’s cookbook reveals no such recipe included. Celery, on the menu as an appetizer, is an interesting choice – Langdon writes “Nervous persons, for instance, should eat lots of celery for celery is the best nerve tonic in the world.” Her cookbook provides detailed instructions for roasting a turkey and offers a helpful page titled “How to Carve a Turkey”. Langdon’s menu counsels “Plum Pudding or Pumpkin Pie”, leaving the possibly nervous homemaker to choose.
Ann Batchelder’s Own Cook Book, published in 1944 offers an eclectic approach to both cooking and Thanksgiving. Ann Batchelder, a suffragette and Vermont’s first female attorney seems an unlikely figure to pen a cookbook. However, she was also the food editor of the Ladies’ Home Journal where she had the attention of hundreds of thousands of subscribers. Her cookbook includes essays, reflections and even her own poetic homage to Thanksgiving, which she declared to be her favorite holiday:
Thanksgiving is the day for me,
From twelve o’clock to twelve o’clock;
(My, the food I’ve lived to see!)
Next day I simply sit and rock.
When it came time to select a turkey, Batchelder opined somewhat cryptically “Choose your turkey as you choose your best friend – with affinity of tastes in mind. A somewhat young and non-dieted bird is best, with an admirable figure, but not streamlined.” Batchelder’s Thanksgiving menu is less elaborate than Farmer’s or Langdon’s, perhaps because her cookbook was published during World War II when homemakers were challenged with rationing of foodstuffs like sugar and canned goods. Vegetables, which often would have come from war time home victory gardens, feature heavily in the Ann Batchelder’s Own Cook Book Thanksgiving menu.
We hope this peek into of some of the cookbooks from the Toppan Rare Books Library has whetted your appetite for a feast. Happy Thanksgiving from the American Heritage Center!
Post contributed by AHC Writer Kathryn Billington.