I am a collector of recipes and cookbooks. I could sit for hours in a cozy chair thumbing through countless pages, absorbing every detail of technique and measurement while imagining the ingredient palate mixing together on my tongue.
One day while digging thru boxes in my parent’s garage, I unburied what I think was my Great Great Grandmother’s collection of vintage cookbooks.
There were nine in this collection, ranging in copyright from 1888 to 1915, making them all over a century old. I was curiously excited as I brushed the dust gently from the top of the stack. “How different would these cookbooks be from today’s beautiful presentations, especially sans photography and carefully measured ingredients?”
Photography was barely in existence back then and was more than likely too expensive to publish in mass quantity. One was more likely to find hand illustrations instead. In this handful of gems, that was also few and far between.
These nine were clothed plainly as servants, bound and pressed in their best blacks, grays and browns. Inside, upon the brittled paper, were commands of instruction occasionally separated by title, comma or period, breaking up small sandwiches of stacked text like an olive and a toothpick.
One particular title stood out among the rest, “Aunt Babette’s Cookbook”, copyright 1889. This title sported a chestnut jacket with black, elegantly hand-illustrated text. The thin, hymnal-like pages were tipped in red. No photos, just paragraphs stacked and separated by title in no particular order.
The recipes themselves contained very few measurements and read like stereo instructions. Spider? What’s a spider? Had to Google that to see what it meant and the verbiage tended to be very vague.
If your Great Great Grandmother was anything like mine, pictures and detailed information didn’t really matter anyway. The “how-to” part was passed down in the kitchen as they stood side-by-side the Master Craftsman, learning each measurement by the weight in their hand and every technique by feel. The ingredient list was filed neatly in the card catalog inside their head.
Today with our busy lives, that tradition has dwindled and it’s sad to think that family favorites, some unpublished, have now faded out of existence. In an effort to keep this alive, I will be posting some of my family’s Finnish, German, Lithuanian, and Croatian recipes that were handed down to me as taught by my Mother and Grandmothers, so they may be shared, not lost. So, stay tuned.
In the meantime, here is a recipe brought back from my Great Great Grandmother’s cherished 126-year old recipe book. Perfect to take along on your next summer picnic.
A recipe from Aunt Babette’s Cookbook ©1889
Take four large, juicy oranges and six tablespoonfuls of sugar. Squeeze the oranges upon the sugar, add a very little water and let them stand for fifteen minutes; strain and add pounded ice and water.
In this recipe, I used blood oranges, which are a favorite because they are never bitter. I followed the recipe to a tee, using pure organic cane sugar (as Great Grandmother would have) and a couple of tablespoons of water.
I saved the straining step by juicing the oranges by hand, on my stainless steel citrus juicer. When it came time to add more water, I added about 3.5 cups, along with the ice. You could easily double or triple this recipe and serve in pretty mason jars with a colorful straw. This recipe as written makes approx. 4 cups.