I love old recipe books. When I was 17, I bought a 1905 version of “The White House Cookbook, a Comprehensive Cyclopedia of Information for the Home” in an antique shop. It was so much more than a cookbook: it had a listing of the menus of the (Teddy) Roosevelt White House, proper etiquette, rules of dinner-giving, menus for the sick and – the best part – “health suggestions and facts worth knowing”. This was from a time when a housewife needed to be able to make wallpaper paste, cure ringworm and butcher a cow. On the inner pages of the book someone had penciled recipes for Suet Pudding and something called Sunshine Cake. I loved this book for its glimpse into American life at the turn of the century, never thinking it would have any practical use. Thirty years later it was on a shelf in my White House office, providing insight on how things were done, and perhaps could be done again.
Food was a lot heavier then, and people seemed to really pack it away. Here is a typical May dinner menu, from the chapter on suggested menus:
Split pea soup
Burnt Almond Charlotte
That’s ONE meal in May. And there was no exercise room in the White House back then! While some of the remedies call for items that would be difficult to find today, like brimstone or hartshorn, many of the recipes are actually very good, like this recipe for baking powder biscuits.
In the meantime, if you’re searching for a recipe for Instantaneous Hair Dye, or you need a remedy for The Creaking of Bedsteads, drop me a line. I think I can help.
Also, I’m excited to announce that today is America’s Table’s first giveaway! All you have to do is sign up to receive the America’s Table newsletter, for your chance to enter and win a reprinted copy of the 1905 White House Cookbook!
Here is the original recipe:
Two pints of flour, butter the size of an egg, three heaping teaspoonfuls of baking powder and one teaspoonful of salt; make a soft dough of sweet milk, knead as little as possible, cut out with the usual biscuit-cutter and bake in rather a quick oven.
(I love that last part: ‘bake in a rather quick oven’!) Here’s the modern translation:
Prep time: One hour
- 4 cups flour, and more for patting out the dough
- 2 cups cream or milk (we did it both ways and the cream makes the biscuit a bit richer)
- 1 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- 1 Teaspoon salt
- 2 Tablespoons baking powder
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- Preheat over to 400 degrees. Whisk together flour, salt, sugar and baking powder.
- Cut the butter into the flour mixture, using a pastry blender, until mixture looks coarse and crumb-y.
- Pour in cream and fold into the mixture until a wet dough forms.
- Turn out the dough onto a flour-covered board and pat out dough to 1/and ½ inches high.
- Using the cutter of your choice (our was 4 inches in diameter), cut out biscuits and place on baking sheet, two inches apart. (They will grow in the oven.)
- Bake 25 minutes. Serve while still warm. Especially good with honey.