GINNA PARSONS: Old cookbook brings insight into the past

By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal

Don’t go to bed with cold feet. Don’t try to get cool too quickly after exercising. Don’t try to get along without flannel underclothing in the winter.
Don’t sleep in a draught.
These health suggestions, plus tips on relief from sunstroke and how to cure growing pains, are just some of the interesting tidbits I found when I happened upon a 19th-century cookbook at an antiques store in West Point last week.
“The White House Cookbook” was published in 1899 and the presidents’ wives, through Mrs. Grover Cleveland, are pictured in the pages that are so brittle they’re starting to disintegrate.
The book features hundreds of recipes, including everything from Oatmeal Gruel to Whortleberry Pudding, and there are chapters on table etiquette, health suggestions, toilet recipes (shaving cream, lip salve, etc.) and special menus. Listed in these pages are the menus for Mrs. Cleveland’s Wedding Lunch, General Grant’s Birthday Dinner, a State Dinner at the White House and a Buffet for 1,000 people.
I paid $12 plus tax for this 600-page tome and I’ve already spent hours perusing its pages. Tucked inside the book are a few personal effects from past owners: a newspaper article from 1965 about an Alabama woman who also found a copy of this cookbook; a receipt from D.E. Day Dry Goods and Groceries from July 27, 1939 (butter was 10 cents a stick and bread was 10 cents a loaf) and three hand-written recipes – one for Joe Wheeler Cake, one for Blackberry Jam Cake and I can’t read the other one, but I think it has to do with tomatoes.
All the recipes in the book are written in paragraph form … there’s no separation of the ingredient list and the cooking instructions. Here’s the recipe on Page 217 for Macaroni and Cheese.

Macaroni and Cheese
Break half a pound of macaroni (vermicelli spaghetti) into pieces an inch or two long; cook it in boiling water, enough to cover it well; put in a good teaspoonful of salt; let it boil about twenty minutes. Drain it well and then put a layer in the bottom of a well-buttered pudding dish; upon this some grated cheese and small pieces of butter, a bit of salt, then more macaroni, and so on, filling the dish; sprinkle the top layer with a thick layer of cracker crumbs. Pour over the whole a teacupful of cream or milk. Set it in the oven and bake half an hour. It should be nicely browned on top. Serve in the same dish in which it was baked with a clean napkin pinned around it.
Ginna Parsons is the Daily Journal’s food/home/garden editor.