Food history is not necessarily women’s history, but I’ve been reading and writing about Elizabethan recipes over the past month and I’m tired of men stealing the show. The most prominent authors in my sources, John Partridge, Thomas Dawson, Hugh Plat, Gervase Markham and more, all offered up popular recipe books in the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in which they vaguely refer to certain gentlewomen but steal all the credit for themselves: Partridge even inserted an illustration of himself writing out his recipes in his Treasury of Commodious Conceits. At the same time I was dealing with these gentlemen, I was trying to figure out who exactly was the authoress of a conspicuous cookbook entitled The American Matron, or Practical and Scientific Cookery (1851): the anonymous “housekeeper” signed her preface with a place, Salem, and a date, July 7, 1851, but no name. I’ve browsed through all the books about historic cookbooks, but no one seems to know who she was.
John Partridge (with his fancy florets) getting all the credit and a Salem housewife getting none!
While searching for the author of The American Matron, I put together a Salem menu of recipes which are generally attributed to our city in a variety of old cookbooks and books about cookbooks. The brand Salem gets used quite a bit at the turn of the last century, especially for anything that is particularly spicy or made with rum, so I’m not sure all of these are authentic “Old Salem” recipes, but I cross-referenced as many as possible. Some of these dishes were definitely more inspired by Salem than derived from Salem!
Old Salem Smash: Next to “Whistle Belly Vengeance“, this gets mentioned the most often as a traditional Salem beverage. Mix together 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons water, and a handful of mint. Rub together to bring out the flavor of the mint, and then add rum–anywhere from 2 to 4 ounces!
Salem Soft Clam Soup: Remove the bellies from 2 dozen clams and put the remainder, with their juice, in a casserole. Add a quarter of water, herbs & salt and bring to a boil, then strain over the clam bellies. Bring to a boil again and add a pint of thick cream and butter. Season with salt and cayenne pepper and serve in a tureen with broken crackers. (From the Hotel St. Francis Cookbook by Victor Hirtzler, 1919).
“a fine Potatoe Pye” which is really an Oyster Pie: Kathleen Ann Smallzried found several authentic old Salem recipes in the Essex Institute and published them in her wonderful 1956 book The Everlasting Pleasure (see title page above). I presume they are in the Phillips Library up in Rowley. This is the one that later food historians seem to get the most excited about!
To Alamode 20 pounds of Beef: for banquets! Another recipe found by Smallzried in the Essex Institute:
Salem Codfish Balls & Carbonnade of Mutton: both of these recipes are referred to as of Salem origin in several sources but I have my doubts. The codfish balls are pretty generic, and I found Carbonnade of Mutton in a 1594 English recipe book!
A side? The Famous Salem Suet Pudding! No question that this is a Salem Recipe—it is mentioned in 18th, 19th, and 20th-century sources. Not sure when you would eat it though: is it sweet or savory?
Timothy Pickering’s Pumpkin Custard: do we know if this is an old Pickering family recipe? Maybe the folks at the Pickering House do. This particular recipe (and assertion) comes from The early American cookbook : authentic favorites for the modern kitchen (1983) by Kristi Lynn and Robert Pelton: I can’t speak for its authenticity but as I was just at the Pickering House I felt that I had to include it (plus it’s pumpkin time, of course). There’s no question that Salem was a major cake city, if only because “fancy cake maker” Nancy Remond lived here for decades: while serving as Hamilton Hall’s resident caterer with her husband John, she also maintained her own cake business in the later 1840s and 1850s, offering a variety of cakes upon request. I was actually hoping that Nancy might be the mysterious author of The American Matron but I imagine that her approach to food was more creative than “scientific”.