Early American Cookery:

Early American Cookery: "The Good Housekeeper," 1841

by Sarah Josepha Hale

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Engagingly written volume not only provided the mid-19th-century housekeeper with recipes for scores of nutritious dishes but also offered wide-ranging suggestions for frugal and intelligent household management. Includes advice on selecting and preparing foods, health tips, cleaning domestic accessories, dealing with hired help, and much more.  See more details below


Engagingly written volume not only provided the mid-19th-century housekeeper with recipes for scores of nutritious dishes but also offered wide-ranging suggestions for frugal and intelligent household management. Includes advice on selecting and preparing foods, health tips, cleaning domestic accessories, dealing with hired help, and much more.

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Early American Cookery

"The Good Housekeeper," 1841

By Sarah Josepha Hale

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1996 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-13693-6



Bodily health, satisfied appetite, and peace of mind, are great promoters of individual morality and public tranquillity.—DR. COMBE.

THE main object of those who have prepared works on cookery, has been to teach the art of good living, or of cheap living;—the "Cook's Oracle" is one of the best examples for the first purpose, the "Frugal Housewife" of the last.

My aim is to select and combine the excellences of these two systems, at the same time keeping in view the important object of preserving health, and thus teach how to live well, and to be well while we live.

The physiology of digestion and the principles of dietetics, as laid down and explained by Dr. Andrew Combe, of Edinburgh, form the basis of my plan, which will inculcate temperance in all things, but rarely enforce total abstinence from any thing which the Creator has sanctioned, as proper food for mankind.

I follow chiefly in the system of Dr. Combe, because, though I have examined many popular works on Diet, Health, &c. and have found much to commend, and some things to adopt from these writers, yet he defines, with most clearness and precision, those rules of living, which my own experience has taught me are good and judicious. Indeed, in most cases, even when I may quote the language of Dr. Combe, I still write what I know to be true.

I have been a housekeeper, both in the country and the city, and have had a practical knowledge of those rules of domestic economy which I shall recommend. And I have brought up a family of children, without the loss, or hardly the sickness, of one of them during infancy and childhood. I can, therefore, claim some experience in a successful manner of managing the health and constitution of the young.

As our bodily health, and, consequently, our happiness and usefulness in domestic and social life, depend very much on the proper quantity of food we eat, and the time and circumstances under which it is taken, I shall give a few hints on these subjects, before laying down rules for the preparation and quality of the food.

TIMES OF TAKING FOOD.—Nature has fixed no particular hours for eating. When the mode of life is uniform, it is of great importance to adopt fixed hours ; when it is irregular, we ought to be guided by the real wants of the system as dictated by appetite.

A strong laboring man, engaged in hard work, will require food oftener and in larger quantities than an indolent or sedentary man.

As a general rule, about five hours should elapse between one meal and another—longer, if the mode of life be indolent; shorter, if it be very active.

When dinner is delayed seven or eight hours after breakfast, some slight refreshment should be taken between.

Young persons when growing fast, require more food and at shorter intervals, than those do who have attained maturity.

Children under seven years of age, usually need food every three hours; a piece of bread will be a healthy lunch, and a child seldom eats bread to excess.

During the first months of infancy, there can be no set times of giving nourishment. Different constitutions require different management. The best rule is to satisfy the real wants of the child, but never tempt it to take food to still its crying from pain when it is not hungry.

Those persons who eat a late supper should not take breakfast till one or two hours after rising. Those who dine late, and eat nothing afterwards, require breakfast soon after rising.

Persons of a delicate constitution should never exercise much before breakfast.

If exposure of any kind is to be incurred in the morning, breakfast should always be taken previously. The system is more susceptible of infection and of the influence of cold, miasma, &c., in the morning before eating, than at any other time.

Those who walk early will find great benefit from taking a cracker or some little nourishment before going out.

Never go into a room of a morning, where a person is sick with a fever, before you have taken nourishment of some kind—a cup of coffee, at least.

In setting out early to travel, a light breakfast before starting should always be taken; it is a great protection against cold, fatigue and exhaustion.

In boarding schools for the young and growing, early breakfast is an indispensable condition to health. Children should not be kept without food in the morning till they are faint and weary.

Never eat a hearty supper just before retiring to rest.

It is injurious to eat when greatly heated or fatigued. It would very much conduce to the health of laboring men if they could rest fifteen or twenty minutes before dinner.

PROPER QUANTITY OF FOOD.—As a general fact, those who can obtain sufficient food, eat much more than is required for their sustenance.

Nearly one half of the diseases and deaths occurring during the first two years of existence, are owing to mismanagement and errors in diet.

Children should never be fed or tempted to eat when appetite is satisfied; and grown persons should also be careful of eating beyond that point.

The indigestion so much complained of, and which causes so many disorders and sufferings in the human system, is a wise provision of nature, to prevent the repletion which would otherwise ensue, when too much food is taken.

The power of digestion is limited to the amount of gastric juice the stomach is capable of providing; exercise, in the open air, promotes the secretion of the gastric juice.

It is a good and safe rule to proportion our meals to the amount of exercise we have taken; if that exercise has been in the open air, there is less danger of excess. The delicate lady, who scarcely walks abroad, should live very sparingly, or she will be troubled with nervousness, headache, and all the horrors of indigestion.

Young persons, when growing, should have plenty of food; if they are active and healthy, and the food is of a proper kind and well prepared, there is little danger of their taking too much. But never tempt their appetites by delicacies, when plain food is not relished.

When the growth is attained, and active exercises are in a great measure abandoned—as is the case with females, particularly,—then be very careful to regulate the appetite, and never take such a quantity of food at a time, as to oppress or disturb the stomach. Remember that food which does not digest cannot nourish the system, but rather weakens it.

Variety of food is chiefly dangerous because it tempts to excess; otherwise it is beneficial. The gastric juice acts more easily where the contents of the stomach are of different kinds of food mixed together. Let no person think he is certainly temperate because he eats of but one dish. It is more hurtful to take too much of that one, than though he had eaten the same quantity of several.

Generally speaking, when food does not agree with the stomach, it is a sign that too much has been taken.

WHAT is THE PROPER FOOD OF MAN?—No certain rules can be given respecting the kind of food to be taken. The same diet which is healthful for an adult will be injurious for a child. The stimulating animal diet which in winter is necessary for a laboring man, would be destructive to an inactive and excitable man during the summer months.

Food should be adapted to the age, constitution, state of health and mode of life of the individual; to the climate, and the season of the year.

The milk of the mother ought in every instance to constitute the food of an infant, unless such an arrangement is impracticable. After the child is weaned, fresh cow's milk in which a small portion of soft water has been mingled, and sometimes a little sugar, with a small quantity of crust of bread softened, is usually the most healthy food; but this should be varied by occasional meals of gruel, arrow-root, or sago, and if the child is delicate and shows signs of acidity or flatulence, then a preparation of weak chicken broth or beef tea, freed from fat, and thickened with soft boiled rice, may be given.

The same kind of food ought to be continued, with the addition of good bread, (and potatoes, when well cooked, seem as healthy food nearly as bread,) till the appearance of the "eye teeth;" when these are fairly through, a portion of soft-boiled egg, and occasionally a little meat, the lean part, well cooked and not highly seasoned, may be given.

There is great danger of over-feeding young children with animal food. If given too early, and too freely, it irritates the system, and greatly aggravates the diseases of infancy.

Ripe fruits should never be given to children till they have teeth, and unripe fruits ought never to be eaten.

During childhood and early youth, the breakfast and supper should consist principally of bread and milk, ripe fruits and vegetable food; it will be sufficient to allow a portion of animal food with the dinner.

Fish, chicken, and other white meats are best for children. Fat pork is nearly indigestible for the young and delicate, and ought never to be eaten by them.

Pastry, rich cakes, plum-puddings, hot short-cakes, and all the family of fried cakes, are the most generally indigestible of any kinds of food. These should rarely be eaten, except by the strong and actively employed, and sparingly even by those.

In truth, there are few articles of diet which a person in health, and leading a very active life, may not eat without feeling much inconvenience; still a preference should be given, as far as possible, to such kinds of food as are most in accordance with the natural constitution. A phlegmatic temperament requires a mild, nutritious diet, but not the same amount of animal food as may be needed by the sanguine, which inclines to great physical activity. Those in whom the brain and nervous system predominate, should avoid a stimulating diet, unless they are in the habit of taking considerable muscular exercise. If it be the wish to rouse a phlegmatic organization to greater activity, then use a richer diet, more animal food—but be sure and take exercise at the same time, or it will prove highly injurious. The natural temperament may be essentially altered by diet and exercise.

Rich soups are injurious to the dyspeptic. Much liquid food is rarely beneficial for adults; but a small quantity of plain, nourishing soup is an economic and healthy beginning of a family dinner.

Meats should always be sufficiently cooked. It is a savage custom to eat meat in a half- raw-half-roasted state, and only a very strong stomach can digest it.

Rich gravies should be avoided, especially in the summer season.

Butter, when new and sweet, is nutritious, and, in our climate, generally healthy; during the winter, when made very salt, it is not a good article of diet.

Pepper, ginger, and most of the condiments, are best during summer; they are productions of hot climates, which shows them to be most appropriate for the hot season. On the other hand, fat beef, bacon, and those kinds of food we denominate "hearty," should be most freely used during cold weather,

The diet should always be more spare, with a larger proportion of vegetables and ripe fruits, during summer. Fruits are most wholesome in their appropriate season. The skins, atones, and seeds, are indigestible.

Food should never be eaten when it is hot—bread is very unhealthy when eaten in this way.

Eat slowly. One of the most usual causes of dyspepsia among our business men, arises from the haste in which they swallow their food without sufficiently chewing it, and then hurry away to their active pursuits. In England very little business is transacted after dinner. There ought to be, at least, one hour of quiet after a full meal, from those pursuits which tax the brain as well as those which exercise the muscles.

WHAT SHALL WE DRINK?—Why, water—that is a safe drink for all constitutions and all ages,—provided persons only use it when they are naturally thirsty. But do not drink heartily of cold water when heated or greatly fatigued. A cup of warm tea will better allay the thirst, and give a feeling of comfort to the stomach, which water will not.

Toast and water, common beer, soda water, and other liquids of a similar kind, if they agree with the stomach, may be used freely without danger.

Fermented liquors, such as porter, ale, and wine, if used at all as a drink, should be very sparingly taken.

Distilled spirituous liquors should never be considered drinkable—they may be necessary, sometimes, as a medicine, but never, never consider them a necessary item in house- keeping. So important does it appear to me to dispense entirely with distilled spirits, as an article of domestic use, that I have not allowed a drop to enter into any of the recipes contained in this book.

As the primary effect of fermented liquors, cider, wine, &c., is to stimulate the nervous system, and quicken the circulation, these should be utterly prohibited to children and persons of a quick temperament. In truth, unless prescribed by the physician, it would be best to abstain entirely from their use.

Most people drink too much, because they drink too fast. A wine-glass of water, sipped slowly, will quench the thirst as effectually as a pint swallowed at a draught. When too much is taken at meals, especially at dinner, it hinders digestion. Better drink little during the meal, and then, if thirsty an hour or two afterwards, more. The practice of taking a cup of tea or coffee soon after dinner is a good one, if the beverage be not drank too strong or too hot.

Dyspeptic people should be careful to take but a small quantity of drink. Children require more, in proportion to their food than adults. But it is very injurious to them to allow a habit of continual drinking as you find in some children. It greatly weakens the stomach, and renders them irritable and peevish.

The morning meal requires to be lighter and of a more fluid nature than any other. Children should always, if possible to be obtained, take milk—as a substitute, during the winter, good gruel with bread, or water, sweetened with molasses, is healthy. Never give children tea, coffee, or chocolate with their meals.

Coffee affords very little nourishment, and is apt, if drank strong, to occasion tremors of the nerves. It is very bad for bilious constitutions. The calm, phlegmatic temperament can bear it. With a good supply of cream and sugar, drank in moderation, by those who exercise much and take considerable solid food, it may be used without much danger.

Strong green tea relaxes the tone of the stomach, and excites the nervous system. Persons of delicate constitution are almost sure to be injured by it. Black tea is much less deleterious. If used with milk and sugar, it may be considered healthy for most people.

Chocolate, when it agrees with the constitution, is very nutritious and healthy. But it seldom can be used steadily except by aged persons who are very active. It agrees best with persons of phlegmatic temperament; and is more healthy in the winter season than during warm weather.

No kind of beverage should be taken hot—it injures the teeth and impairs digestion.

I have now given those general rules and hints in regard to diet, which will greatly preserve the health and promote the comfort of those who follow them. Particular directions and peculiar constitutions cannot be considered or recorded in this book, which is rather intended as a manual for those who require to be instructed how to remain well, than for the sick. Though for these, the plan of diet here recommended, if strictly followed, will be a great relief—in most cases, a radical cure.

We are now to give all necessary directions for the preparation of food in accordance with these rules for health and real enjoyment. I trust that every woman will agree in sentiment with the lady in Milton's Comus—

"That which is not good (beneficial) is not delicious To a well-governed and wise appetite."



Importance of good bread—Diet proper for mankind—Proofs that a mixed diet is the beat—Advantages of taking a portion of animal food—Flour—Bread—Making Yeast—Hints on the economy of bread making, &c.

THE art of making good bread I consider the most important one in cookery, and shall therefore give it the first place in the "Good Housekeeper." Not that I believe bread to contain the "quintessence of beef, mutton, veal, venison," or that an exclusive vegetable diet is best for mankind.

There has been, of late years, much said and written respecting the benefits of adhering to a strict vegetable diet, and many excellent people are sadly perplexed about their duty in this matter, and whether they ought to give up animal food entirely. As I profess to make my book a manual for those who wish to preserve their health, as well as prepare their food in the most judicious manner, I will here give a brief sketch of the reasons which induce me to recommend a mixed diet, bread, meat, vegetables and fruits, as the best, the only right regimen for the healthy.

It is an established truth in physiology, that man is omnivorous 1—that is, constituted to eat almost every kind of food which, separately, nourishes other animals. His teeth and stomach are formed to digest and masticate flesh, fish, and all farinaceous and vegetable vegetable substances—he can eat and digest these even in a raw state; but it is necessary to perfect them for his nourishment in the most healthy manner, that they be prepared by cooking—that is, softened by the use of fire and water.


Excerpted from Early American Cookery by Sarah Josepha Hale. Copyright © 1996 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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