CHAUVINISM, TONGUE TOAST – A 19TH COOKBOOK (June 22/01)

If they could stop laughing after reading it, the people who produce the “Company’s Coming” cookbook series might call it quaint and curious. I can’t think of any more suitable words to describe the cookbook the good ladies of Toronto and other “chief cities and towns of Canada” contributed to in 1894.

Actually, it’s more than a cookbook. Besides containing over a thousand “tried, tested, proven” 19th-century recipes, the Home Cook Book also has an advice section for women on housekeeping, etiquette and “social observances.”

From our perspective today, the words of wisdom offered to 19th-century housekeepers in the Home Cook Book are not only quaint but chauvinistic as well. Imagine the terrible uproar if the following from the book’s housekeeping hints was published in a newspaper today: “No matter how talented a woman may be, or how useful in the church or society, if she is an indifferent housekeeper it is fatal to her influence, a foil to her brilliancy and a blemish to her garments.”

“Success in housekeeping” said the editors of the Home Cook Book, “adds credit to the woman of intellect and lustre to a woman’s accomplishment.” In other words, her place is in the home, baking, sewing, cleaning and so on. From the tone of the advice the editors condescendingly offer, it seems women’s lib in 1894 consisted of the freedom to bake any kind of pie the lady of the house wanted to.

This amusing male viewpoint on a woman’s role in the 19th century is rampant throughout the old cookbook. “Women were bred to do housekeeping as part of a ladies duty” is another mild example of what can be found in the book. “There is no earthly reason why girls, from eight to eighteen, should not learn and practice the whole round of housekeeping, from the first beating of eggs to laying carpets and presiding at a dinner party,” is another.

Before getting into the recipes that the ladies of Canada contributed, the editors of the Home Cook Book spell out exactly what, besides cooking, is expected of women in the way of household duties. “She is responsible for the health of the household and must allow no scent of decay.” “She must see that fires are started as early in the fall and kept as late in the spring as the weakest, chilliest of her family desires.” “She must look after the clothing from a hygienic view” and see that “her children and family are warm enough and cool enough.” She must never be “satisfied with anything but the nicest cooking.” And, of course, she must account for every penny and not “dare to call such work low.”

Some of the recipes in the cookbook are as quaint and curious as the household advice. In the section on sauces for meat and fish we find “tomato mustard,” and “goosebury catsup.” There’s a delightful page of recipes on pickling cherries, plums, apples and peaches in vinegar and sugar. “Tongue toast” apparently was a popular breakfast dish late in the 19th century. Yes, cow tongue was boiled, minced and served hot on toasted bread!

Fried bread in batter was another old-time breakfast delight. Fish Relish, made with the roe of shad, herring or cod looks tempting – this was likely submitted by a Nova Scotia housewife. I didn’t know one could fry squash (or even want to) make a potato pudding or a stew from calf liver.

There were several recipes for “Suet Pudding,” each using (ugh!) anywhere from a cup to a pound of raw beef suet. This pudding sounds terrible but it’s tasty. My mother brought the recipe for suet pudding over with her from the old country and I ate it many times.

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