Front Cover: “Meals For A Day”

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Damn. I can only hope this article reflects lofty aspirations rather than cultural norms/expectations. Not to judge (too harshly) however, if the author of TotUG really wanted or actually succeeded in cooking and serving  three multi-course meals in a single day.

Anyway, enough gawking. The inclusion of this article not only suggests culinary ambition, but also the existence of a household that comprised more than just the author herself.  I am assuming, perhaps foolishly, that she would be less interested in preparing such an elaborate feast for just herself. But, if you were, m’dear, God bless ya!

Among the dishes listed, “black butter,” “Radnor potatoes” and “Swish Chocolate Bread” particularly intrigued me.  Recipes for two of the items posted below the menu provide instructions and ingredients but no history. [Break for cursory internet research].

I was familiar with beurre blanc, but happy to learn that “black butter” (beurre noir) is a sauce of butter and lemon juice or vinegar that is typically served with fish.

Another version of “black butter” finds its origins in England, specifically Jersey, where it is used as sweet spackle for carbohydrates, sort of like jam.

Author of TotUG seems to be following a recipe for the former version:

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There is no recipe for “Radnor Potatoes” pasted in the scrapbook, which makes me wonder if the author was not interested in making them or the recipe was self-evident/familiar she didn’t need to memorialize it. The former is probably the more likely explanation considering I had trouble finding any recipes, except a few for different potato dishes that just happened to be contributed by home cooks living in Radnor, Pennsylvania.

Note the final line of the recipe: “A slice of shallot infused with the vinegar is an improvement for some”…but, WHO, Mrs. G. D. Harrington? For philistines? For gourmands? For garlic-lovers? God forgive you for that orphan modifier. 

“Swiss Chocolate Bread” sounds delicious and I though it might even qualify as a wonderful alternative starch base for French toast.  Not so much.

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I’m not entirely clear on these “long narrow strips of bread free from crust.” I am doubtful of the availability of French or Italian bread in the early twentieth-century suburban Midwest, though of course, it’s entirely possible the author made her own. But neither of those long-loaf forms resemble wafers, or at least not the wafers with which I’m familiar. Perhaps the Bread Maiden has more insight. 

The structure described in the instructions sounds like a sweet version of garlic bread, with chocolate replacing the butter and almond bits standing in for garlic bits. 

“Less than the entire recipe may be tried.” Eh, why not just do the whole thing?

 

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Front Cover: “Do Not Forget” and L. M. Montgomery

DNFBecause 90% of the content of TotUG is food-related, the occasional news clipping, society column, or story that was included among the legions of recipes seems all the more significant. Why did the author choose to paste a clipping of L.M. Montgomery’s “Do Not Forget” in the top right corner of the front cover of her scrapbook? The simple, and perhaps obvious, answer, is that she liked the poem.  Nevertheless, as a literary critic, I find that answer completely unsatisfying. I wonder about the original source of the poem (newspaper? local home journal? newsletter?) and why its message of kindness toward strangers might have particularly resonated with the author. During the time period in which I believe the author of TotUG was first starting her scrapbook (roughly the early 1900s), L. M. Montgomery (1874-1942) was just beginning her famous Anne of Green Gables series of novels. In 1916, she published The Watchman & Other Poems, but this collection does not contain “Do Not Forget.” lucy-maudSome preliminary research suggests Montgomery wrote this poem specifically for periodical publication and some sources claim it appeared in newspapers in multiple states.  The Adventist Archive has a reproduction of the September 1923 edition of the newsletter “Field Tidings” that contains the poem, so I can at least conclude it existed by that date.  How long “Do Not Forget” had been in circulation prior to its printing in “Field Tidings” is yet unclear.  The poem may have been a favorite among smaller, local newspapers, which due to murky/non-existent copyright laws, were able to print and reprint “Do Not Forget” in different editions without having 1) pay Montgomery for each reproduction and/or 2) credit other publications as the original source.  Regardless, the poem’s placement in TotUG demonstrates at least that the author did not consider her scrapbook to serve exclusively as a repository for culinary information.  Its inclusion also supports my preliminary hypothesis that this book functions as a sort of visual diary of its author.  I don’t think TotUT was intended for mass public consumption (which thus makes me feel a bit guilty analyzing it so intensely) but rather designed as very personal history to be viewed, and perhaps only understood, by the author and her immediate household. That this chronicle emerges through the lens of domesticity is not terribly surprising given the author was living in early twenty-first century rural Iowa (I think), a setting I’m willing to bet was fairly encouraging of traditional gender roles.  But that is not to say that the author wasn’t herself a radical or progressive thinker with regards to women’s equality because she sunk a considerable amount of energy into researching recipes.  I self-identify as a feminist and God knows spend a lot of my day thinking about food.

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Front Cover: “Very Attractive and Good” Eggs A La Milanese

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Obviously, I can never turn off my proofreading impulses because the first thing I thought about this recipe was that the “a” in “a la Milanese” was missing an accent grave. But the point of this blog, thank God, is not to nitpick the foreign spelling errors of turn-of-the-century newspaper printers who probably didn’t have access to diacritical typesets.

What is more interesting as well as characteristic of most printed recipes pre-1940 is that there is no list of ingredients nor standard measurements (saltspoonful?) nor very specific instructions. You’ll also notice the entire concept is based on the supposition you already have at least two cups of mashed potatoes on hand. (Btw, this dish is one of many I would like to recreate, but first I will have to figure out the proper oven setting, which is also not mentioned.)

“A La Milanese,” as you might have guessed, means “in the style of Milan,” and in a culinary context refers generally to a type of cooking common to the Lombardy region of Italy.  This is why perhaps in modern recipes the descriptor is usually spelled out in Italian (“alla Milanese”) rather than in some convoluted French transliteration.

Although Lombardy cuisine more often features rice as its staple starch, this recipe is all about the potato. This feature, in addition to the fact that internet searches of “eggs a la milanese” and “eggs alla milanese” yield few results (which don’t at all resemble this dish) make me sorta think some pseudo-cosmopolitan cook made it up and sent it in to the paper.

But that’s neither here no there, really, because Eggs A La Milanese certainly seems from the description and the ingredients like it would taste okay, bland maybe good considering the liberal amounts of butter, egg, and cream.  Even more importantly, it attracted the attention of the author(s) of TotUG.  Maybe living in Iowa she longed for a taste of the Mediterranean and thus a food influenced by or deriving from an exotic place like Milan was extremely appealing.

Or maybe she didn’t give a hoot about Italian food and was just looking for a way to get rid of some mashed potatoes.  

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Introduction

The Tome of the Unknown Gastronome (hereafter TotUG) is a large, rather hefty, book, measuring approximately 16 x 12 inches, with thick cardboard pages and an exterior cover of (now) very tattered thin black cloth. After perusing a few pages, I initially thought the book was originally some sort of clothing catalog, given the empty forms for sizes and vintage illustrations of suits and hats. However, then pages appeared with photographs of U.S. army troops at various camps (see subsequent posts for more details), so I am still puzzled as to the original intended purpose of the album, which is perhaps a composite of two different texts.  And though both the front and back cover pages are completely filled with recipes and articles, other interior pages are the book are completely blank, suggesting that those pages (many of which contain the soldier photographs) were of some importance to the author.

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After a rather tedious counting process, I found that the TotUG holds approximately 1027 recipes in addition to hundreds of articles, poems, local anecdotes, and aphorisms.  I have no intention of exploring every single pasting, but will focus on select individual items that are particularly interesting, weird, or suggestive about the character of the author(s) and the historical/cultural setting.  I plan to begin to begin where, I assume, the author did, with the inside left front cover page and then worked my way through the final interior right front cover.  I am wary of the perils of trying to figure “the point” of this text (does there even have to be one?), for God help anyone analyzing my own scrapbooks in an attempt to locate some grand theme or universal message. I am nevertheless excited at the prospect of learning more about the time and place in which the author(s) lived by examining her contributions and hypothesizing about what inspired them.  This book is a delicious puzzle and I intend to savor every bite. Even if I’m not quite sure what I’m consuming.

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