Preserving a Cookbook Treasure

Usually a copy of a copy isn’t always a great thing. But if this copy happens to be a copy of a “A Domestic Cook Book,” written by America’s first African-American cookbook author Malinda Russell, it IS a great thing.

Domestic Cook BookA Domestic Cook Book was discovered in California in the bottom of a box of material kept by Helen Evans Brown, a well-known culinary figure in the 20th century. Janice Longone acquired the book for the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan. The worn pages of the book were carefully preserved as a facsimile for future cooks to enjoy.

As the beginning of Janice’s introduction reveals, Malinda was a free woman of color in the 1800s. At the age of 19 she was to travel to Liberia, but after having money stolen from her she had to stay in Virginia. She worked as a cook and traveled as a companion, serving as a nurse. After her husband’s death, Malinda moved to Tennessee and kept a pastry shop. A second robbery forced her out of Tennessee into Paw Paw, Michigan, “…the garden of the west.” As Janice notes, the “receipts” in her book are incredibly diverse on account of her travels near and far. Malinda’s personal account of her life’s story takes you back into history, making you realize just how important her life’s work was then and is now.

Not only does the facsimile contain more than 250 recipes from Malinda, but it also houses medical and household hints, too. In the Clements Library at the university, the preserved original copy joins the ranks of other early African-American cookbooks, including “What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking,” a name very familiar to guests at Greenfield Village.

Like so many of the historic recipes found in the collections here at The Henry Ford, this copy of A Domestic Cook Book provides great inspiration for our programming team in Greenfield Village. Cathy Cwiek, Manager of Historic Foodways and Domestic Life Programs at The Henry Ford, especially enjoys pouring over the book reading about Malinda’s fascinating story and her favorite recipes. Here are two of Cathy’s favorite recipes from the book, shared just as Malinda wrote them, that you can try at home.

A Domestic Cook Book: Containing a Careful Selection of Useful Receipts for the Kitchen
By Malinda Russell, an experienced cook.
Printed by T.O. Ward at the “True Northerner” Office
Paw Paw, Mich., 1866
Ginger Pop Beer
Five and a half gallons water, 3-4ths lb ginger root bruised, half ounce tartaric acid, two and 3-4ths lbs white sugar, whites of three eggs well beaten, one teaspoonful lemon oil, one gill yeast. Boil the root thirty minutes in one gallon of water. Strain off and put the oil in while hot. Make over night; in the morning kim and bottle, keeping out the sediment.

Beef Soup
Take the shank bone, boil until tender; chop fine, potatoes, onions, and cabbage, and boil until done; season with salt, pepper, parsley, rosemary, or sweet margery. Rub the yolk of one egg into the three tablespoons flour, rubbed into rolls and dropped into the soup to boil.

Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford.

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