Arcane Cookery

In keeping with last week’s Mother Earth Monday topic, I have been going through a large number of very old cookbooks. The sort of recipes that don’t measure much of anything and if they do it is often in the form of some vague non-standardized measure. You can give yourself a lot of headaches testing these recipes and tweaking them. There’s no way to know for sure if what you finish off with is true to the flavors of the time period, but honestly I doubt it matters much.


What matters is seeing if there is anything about it that you like with your modern palate. If it is true to the time, but not enjoyable, then you probably aren’t ever going to make it anyway. Some recipes absolutely fail to stand the test of time. Others may have fallen out of favor and been mostly forgotten, but still have a lot to offer.

One such recipe comes to mind immediately. A few years ago, I found a recipe for an apple pie from the time of George Washington. It was an apple custard pie and it certainly stands the test of time. Others like eggs in jello don’t really match the current flavor profiles favored by modern people very well.

In my search the last few days, I’ve uncovered several that have caught my eye as being something I’ve not seen very often elsewhere. I figured some of you might be interested in hearing about these. First was something called Cream Mustard. It seems to be intended as a sauce or condiment and is mostly vinegar and cream, with only a tiny bit of actual mustard. Given my dislike of strong mustard flavors, this might be an interesting dish to try pairing with beef at some point in the future or using on a sandwich

A few other oddities included a walnut loaf, a plum pudding that had no actual plums in it, and a recipe for French dressing that I highly doubt is anything like our modern French dressings. In all honesty, I am surprised that last was being called French dressing at all. I had understood that the original name for French dressing was Yum Yum dressing and that it had been changed to be more marketable to adults.

My point here is that these old books provide a lot of really interesting recipes. They are almost always simple in their ingredient list and invariably seasonal. For someone who likes to cook local and seasonal, this makes them an ideal location to plumb new recipes. Sure, they take more work and there are going to be a number of recipes that simply fail to be worth the effort, but in the end you might end up with something unlike anything you’ve seen before. A calla lily shaped cookie filled with thickened cream is one such unique find that comes to mind right away on that count.

Go exploring and if you find something really interesting, let me know. What are some of the more interesting recipes you’ve run across? Let me know in the comments.

What are your thoughts?

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