Saturday, August 19, 2017

Six Cups of Coffee (1887)

Six Cups of Coffee: Prepared for the Public Palate by the Best Authorities on Coffee Making

When I went to the Project Gutenberg website and searched for more Catherine Owen, it offered this up to me. Listed as being by Marion Harland, Maria Parloa, Helen Campbell, Catherine Owen, Mary J. Lincoln, Juliet Corson and Hester M. Poole, it immediately made me go "Hmmmmm...". Most of those names are VERY recognizable to me as cooking experts of the day.

Initially I assumed that this was made up of sections from books by each of them, the coffee-making portions being excerpted for this. I haven't checked, and I may be wrong.

The publisher is listed as Good Housekeeping Press, Clark W. Bryan & Co., Springfield, Mass. A trip to Wikipedia tells me that Good Housekeeping magazine was founded in 1885 by one Clark W. Bryan. So far, so good. Among the multitudes of ads at the end of the book (which remind me that the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval is still in the future -- quackery abounds!) I find an advertisement for the magazine itself, which includes a long list of contributors to its pages. Included in that are the seven ladies whose work was brought together for this book.

To the book itself! It's not very long and I suspect this was a stapled booklet. The preface, written by someone at Good Housekeeping explains that there is a lot of bad coffee out there, and given how much of it America drinks, it really should be the best. It also says of the "six cups of coffee", "They are not made from old grounds re-heated for the occasion, but are as fresh as the intelligence and the experience which have produced them." I guess that told me!

While this booklet may have really been too much information for anyone who wanted to make a simple pot of coffee, it is very interesting in how it illustrates the ways the different authors went about it. Maria Parloa probably does the best overall summary. Beginning with a plug for Guatemalan coffee (?), she quickly explains the different types of coffee, how to buy and store them, how to roast your own, and four different ways of making coffee, depending on whether you wanted to start with cold or boiling water, and if you were going to filter it or not.

Marion Harland is next, and she very briskly explains to you the one and only best way of making coffee. As a small concession, she does give you instructions for two different pots.

Helen Campbell takes a different tack, and uses two stories to illustrate the bad way and the good way to make coffee.

Juliet Corson gives several ways of making coffee, but gives special attention to the coffee's effects on one's digestion.

Mrs. D.A. Lincoln explains that bad coffee is a very slapdash affair, then gives exceedingly precise instructions how to make good coffee. Think parody hipster barista.

Catherine Owen gives recipes and expands on them, then explains how to troubleshoot your coffee problems.

After our six cups, we get 'The Story of Coffee' by Hester M. Poole which is what it says it is, a nice overview of the history of coffee, plus a look at the coffee industry "today".

We finish with a section of advertisements. The first spot is, of course, given to The Schnull-Krag Coffee Co., advertising their coffee and the "QQ common sense condensing coffee pot". A quick look for Schnull-Krag on the internet today finds me only ephemera for sale, all of it suggesting that the S-K Coffee Co. never made it into the 20th Century.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Gentle Breadwinners: The Story of One of Them by Catherine Owen (1888)

Yes, that's a screenshot. This lovely little book I have found (so far) only as a free e-book online, and I can't even find a picture of the cover.

The two young Misses Fortescue -- Dorothy, 25 and May, 20 -- find themselves in dire straits upon the death of their father. They move to the country where their elderly aunt and uncle, well-bred but horribly poor, have a house.  But how will they make a living? They try their hands at one thing and another, then the eldest discovers that her former hobby of baking can be more useful than she realized. Not only that, she seems to have a talent for it, and the business that ensues. At the very end, however, she is tendered a marriage proposal, seemingly to assure the gentle reader that even an old maid of 25 who lowers herself to cooking for other people and becoming a businesswoman can still get a man. In the author's defense, there is no suggestion that marriage will make her quit the business. (Whether that would be the assumption of the day or not is something else.)

I love this sort of book. It's a cozy read with nice characters and a message of "if she can do it, so can you". I'm not likely to cook from it at any point soon. Trying to do that would be a project, and require a bit of research on my part. Some of it would be translating the recipes (What is that temperature? What is that measure?), some would be translating terms. For example, what she describes as "marzipan" sounds different than what I am used to. And then there's ingredients. Can you still get "bitter almond oil"? And if I tried it, would my husband move out immediately, assuming I was trying to poison him?

The recipes in the main portion of the book are primarily baked goods, but also candied fruits and other confections as she branches out. There is an added section at the back, "The Contents of Dorothy's Notebook", which contains recipes of the Aunt, and are therefore recipes that can be made on very little money (in 1888).

Friday, August 4, 2017

Cooking With the Dead by Elizabeth Zipern (1995)

This is not a zombie cookbook. This is a cookbook made up of the stories and recipes of the folks who followed the Grateful Dead around from show to show, and frequently acted as food vendors to pay for their travel.

Me, I'm not much of a Grateful Dead fan. Their music was okay, but I never sought it out. I picked up this cookbook because I found the fan culture interesting, the way people would travel on the road with them and feed each other. I keep it because of the stories of the people. They talk about how and why they do what they do. Some are constantly on the road, some hit half a dozen shows in the summer, and all of them talk about what they make and why and how they make it. There's usually a picture of the person who contributed the story and the recipe.

The recipes are all vegetarian. They sound like perfectly good, way-too-healthy recipes.  I have made none of them. I have no problem with vegetarian recipes, but these hit a slight phobia of mine: that of "happy hippie food". I have no problem with hippies either, but when I come across a lot of recipes with tofu, hemp seed, "vegan", I flash back to my earliest experiences with hippie/vegan food in my youth.  It took me a long time after to believe that lentils could be enjoyable things. I have no problem with hippies or vegans, but LEARN TO COOK BEFORE YOU FEED OTHER PEOPLE.
Bleah.  Brown rice and lentils are both wonderful ingredients, but when cooked in plain water with no other items they can taste like wet cardboard.

I got way off topic there. There is nothing about this cookbook to suggest that the recipes would taste like wet cardboard. They look delicious. But it is the stories of the people that keeps this one on my shelf.