For many in today’s world, baking is a hobby, something dabbled in once the leaves begin to change into their brilliant colors towards the end of another year. Baking is a reason to show off a recipe seen practiced between the pages of a trendy magazine, or seen demonstrated on any number of television shows clamoring for our attention and ratings.
In the South however, baking is more than a hobby, it’s a way of life. It is as much a fixture in our DNA as in our culture.
Southerners share food at every occasion, in times of celebration as well as sadness. Ask any Southerner to share a favorite memory of childhood and usually the answer will involve a grandmother’s kitchen filled with aromas that comforted the most troubled soul. The memory may include holidays and women with busy hands gathered together to make easy work of pies, cakes and cookies. Or perhaps thoughts harken back to a time one was in need and a special dish made from the heart was sure to accompany healing words. Nevertheless, kindness was the most important ingredient of any bake.
My mother remembers the multitude of baked goods served at dinners on the ground of her hometown church. She recalls how her mother made a well in the wooden bowl filled with flour, salt, and buttermilk for biscuit dough and “pinching off” the dough into drops that would mysteriously form a perfect round biscuit.
I still remember my grandmother’s fried chicken she always made special when we came to visit. The delicious, perfectly seasoned poultry was juicy and tender and far superior to anything you could buy in a bucket! My grandmother has passed on, but forty years later have not lessened the memory for me.
Old-fashioned Southern baking is too quickly becoming only memories for many. Today’s South seems to have no place for what is tried and true, replacing everything Southerners know and love with something newer, quicker, and more exotic. There is nothing wrong with trying something new, but when I can no longer find pimento cheese at the supermarket because it is considered “too Southern” for newcomers, I feel like a part of my heritage is being stripped away.
And so, I created this blog for classic Southern baking. You will not find obscure ingredients, or words you cannot pronounce. Along the way, I’ll provide stories and history behind our favorite bakes, as well as how-to videos and the recipes that didn’t work. (I’ve had many recipe fails! I am not a pro pastry chef!)
I look forward to sharing, learning and creating the bakes that are truly Southern as well as many that we have adopted as our own and become Southern through the years.
Forgive me by my going off subject this once in the few years since I began this blog, but baking is impossible right now, let alone writing about it during the current situation in our country. I hope those who read my blog for recipes and southern baking will excuse me as I go off on a rant.
First, I like so many millions around the world, am horrified by the continued brutality and injustices aimed at the African-American and other non- Caucasian people in America. I also know our police forces have a very difficult job to do and it requires a personality that can endure situations putting their lives at risk. I have a nephew in law enforcement and I worry about him when I hear of these vicious acts.
Many of you may not be familiar with British historian, Lucy Worsley. Her documentaries are journeys into the unspoken facets of British lives in a time long gone by. I have been a fan for years. When I watched her BAFTA award-winning documentary, “Sufferagettes,” last year on the streaming service, Britbox, I was moved to tears. The reenactments and portrayals of the women who fought and endured horrifying acts of brutality for the right to vote, was a turning point for me. I often shoo away politics and vote on occasion, but now I feel a sense of duty to uphold the rights women suffered so much to gain for future generations. That includes me whether or not I asked them to do so on my behalf.
It wasn’t comfortable to watch reenactments of women being slandered, molested, assaulted, inprisoned, and strapped down in chairs and force-fed as a doctor pours liquids down a tube shoved in their noses and down into their stomachs. But this didn’t stop them. They were determined to have the right to speak, to vote, to have a voice after millenia of being treated as chattel. It was not an easy fight and not easily won. Women were killed, and many died from mistreatment in the process. Eventually, after decades of being denied their right to vote, these women employed terrorist tactics to get their points taken seriously.
The documentary is more than just a fact-by-fact telling of this happened on such-and-such date; instead, it brings these women to life and we, the on-lookers, are a part of what they endured.
In watching “Sufferagettes,” I see the parallel with the struggle of African-Americans and their struggles with equality. They want what those brave women around the world fought for 100 years ago, to be treated like a human being, and nothing less. I can’t say I understand what the feelings are of being black in America, but I do appreciate their feelings of anger. I have had encounters with police in the past over traffic violations that left me wondering…is it because I am a woman? Why is this happening.
No woman feels safe driving dark roads at night. Blue flashing lights in rear-view mirrors are cause for a quickened pulse. My mother and I experienced this when we were pulled over one winter night by a police officer asking, “why we were out at night.” And his reason for pulling us over? Driving too slow. (We were only slightly under the speed limit.)
Another, more recent occasion occurred during the day on a two-lane country highway. My mother and I were going out for a shopping excursion one afternoon when we made a right-hand turn into a two-lane country highway. (Not the same on as mentioned above). A police car driving in the opposite direction turned around in the highway and proceeded to follow us. We thought nothing of it thinking he must have received an emergency call as he was closing in on us. Imagine our panic when another police car topped the hill opposite of us and drove straight at us ay a high rate of speed, blocking our path!
“Oh my God!” I cried. “Do they think we just robbed a bank?”
The officer that had pulled up behind us proceeded to lecture us very curtly that we had, “just rolled right through that stop sign back there.” He continued to lecture us that the sign says, “S-T-O-P! Stop! Not Y-I-E-L-D!” (Yes, he spelled it out to us.)
With racing hearts and apologies to the officer he returned to his patrol car and left us to wait for I assume to check our insurance and license information we had provided. He returned with a written warning but not before spelling out the Stop sign again. And to make sure we remembered that. All this for performing what is known simply as a “California stop.” Yes, I know it wasn’t right, but did it require such aggressiveness?
I certainly do not place those isolated incidents on the same scale as what happens with people in the black community, but it gives me reason to wonder why these police officers needed to pull us over, two white women, alone on lone country roads and proceed to talk to us as if we were children who had committed a wrong and needed a darn good scolding from someone in “authority.”
I am not a child, and I don’t like being treated like one. And that is how people of non-white, non-male, society have dealt with and continue to endure.
Lucy Worsley concludes her documentary asking what we are willing to suffer in efforts to demand our rights as human beings. The women of long ago triumphed because they were willing to do whatever it took to have their rights. They didn’t want to endure what they suffered, but their hand was forced. Too many years of violence against them stirred them to the extremes of violence in response. It runs on the same lines of what we see in society today.
I am writing this because I am angry and tired. I am sick of watching people being murdered. I am tired of excuses and complicity. Please, I ask if you don’t understand the anger in these protests, watch “Sufferagettes.” It is available for viewing on Britbox. You can join their service for the free trial period, watch the documentary and cancel afterward. This is too important to people everywhere and the only way we can end these senseless acts of criminality against each other is to listen and understand what others who are different from them endure everyday of their lives.
It was only a couple of months ago when I was tired of chocolate. This was a shock to me, as I am a self-confessed chocoholic. It just seemed, at the time, I was overwhelmed by the recent chocolate covered holidays and sickly sweet sentiments. My, what a difference a couple of months makes. Perhaps it is the uncertainty of the pandemic and the negativity of daily news feeds reporting the worst that causes us to return to our past and what seemed like simpler times, that makes us crave the flavors of childhood.
Last week, it came back to me with a fury. I wanted chocolate cream pie. There was no rhyme or reason to it, I just fancied a homemade chocolate cream pie, the kind like you see displayed under a glass cake dome in the local diner, or offered among the many desserts while standing in line at the K&W Cafeteria.
I tried to remember the last time I had tasted a truly homemade chocolate cream pie. It would have been before my teen years. Yes, it was that long ago.
My mother made chocolate cream pie using chocolate pudding as the filling for the pie, topped with mounds of whipped cream. I still rememebr the long wait for the pudding to set and scraping the bottom of the plate for the last bit of chocolate and flaky pie crust.
But without ready-to-serve pudding mix in my cabinets, I looked through my cookbooks for a recipe that would come close to what I remembered. I found this particular recipe in a cookbook dedicated to pie making. I tweaked it a bit however by adding two 2 ounce squares of dark chocolate to the custard mix while it was still hot for an added punch of rich chocolate flavor. The picture was from what was left of the pie after my mother and I indulged. That’s what happens when you neglect chocolate cream pie for too long!
Diner Worthy Chocolate Cream Pie
9 inch baked pastry pie shell 12 ounce can evaporated milk
1 1/2 cups water (or coffee for a more mocha flavor)
(2) 2 ounce squares dark chocolate (86% cacao)
In a large saucepan, combine the sugar, flour, cocoa, salt, water, (or coffee), and evaporated milk. Stir until smooth. Cook mixture over medium heat until thick and bubbling. This may take 3 minutes or longer depending on your stove and heat source. Reduce heat and continue to cook for 2 minutes.
Remove mixture from heat and slowly stir in beaten egg yolks. Return to heat and bring the mixture to a slow boil. Stir continually.
Remove from heat and add the butter and vanilla. Continue to stir to allow mixture to cool slightly and add two 2 ounce squares of dark chocolate to the mixture. (optional)
Pour warm; not hot, mixture into pie shell and cool for at least 1 hour, then place pie in refrigerator and allow pie to set. Garnish pie with whipped topping.
Hint* Place cling film over slightly cooled pie before placing in refrigerator so as not to allow a skin to form on top of pie. Remove before serving with whipped cream.
I still remember shop class. I hated it. My saving grace was that as an asthmatic, I was forbidden by my doctors to be exposed to the dust and small particles surrounding such an environment. I was appointed to helping out in the library. Whew! But I did enjoy baking cookies. However, that was never an option in my school days. The 80’s had turned the tide of the American schoolroom. Girls were no longer regulated to baking and sewing; now they took Shop, along with the boys. I am sure, had it not been for my asthma, I would have learned some very important skills in home improvement.
A few years ago, a small, private, women’s college opened their doors to men. This was met with great opposition from female students and graduates who believed their alma mater’s traditions were being challenged. To make matters worse, the staff and faculty had decided, without input from graduates or students, to remove Home Economics majors from their courses of study. The faculty along with many of the incoming young students believed Home Economics was passe and no longer useful, and a slap against women. Girls today were programming computers not kitchen stoves.
Now, ten years later, the world is experiencing a pandemic not seen since the Spanish Influenza outbreak in 1919. One hundred and one years later has produced a generation who believes food comes from a supermarket and clothes from The Gap. No one has learned from their school lessons that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
If we had listened to those bright, intelligent graduates from years past, we would not be so quick to dismiss their hard work or to complain now. We would not be in a panic over toilet tissue as we would know how to make due with cloth strips and the flush, wash and reuse as our mothers did with cloth diapers; before we became a disposable world.
We would also know the fundamentals of food preservation and canning for a “rainy” day. Right now we are under a deluge.
Sewing skills would be handy as we could make our own masks and help protect ourselves and others. I am thankful I learned to use a needle and thread at a young age. I can sew a button back on my shirt and fashion a few simple stitches for emergency hems. Thank goodness so many women from the generations before us were savvy enough to use those skills others called outdated, to make masks for family and friends.
Meal planning, budgeting a household, making clothes, making due with resources at hand…all but about gone and needed now more than ever!
Maybe when the pandemic has faded and life begins to resemble once again some picture of normalcy, high schools across the nation will encourage home economics for all of their students as we remember the importance of life skills in a world that believes a computer can do everything for you. Maybe there will be a resurgence of Home Economics degrees throughout our universities and colleges. If so, I might exchange my Associates’ for a four year degree.
Who is with me on this? Are we doomed to keep repeating lessons until they are learned? I’m for Home Economics Now!
As I have been using this time of social distancing as an opportunity to expand on my baking skills, I decided it was time to have a showdown with plain old sandwich bread. I have a history with bread making that rivals my troubles with cakes. My cakes don’t rise very well, but my bread always does, it’s just the final result is a dense, heavy bread as my mom says, “you could knock a bull in the head with it.
So now is the time for all good men (and women) to come to the aid of their country. I am doing my part by becoming as self-reliant as possible. It is amazing how well off bakers are when it comes to tough times. Our skills shine brightest in adversity. I remember my mother whipping up a batch of cookies without sugar, she used Jello as a replacement. Of course the cookies were of a different color, but they were cookies nonetheless.
Getting back to my adventures in bread making, I have tried several recipes and all with similar results. I won’t claim to take full responsibility though as making a loaf of bread can be as fussy as brewing the perfect pot of tea. I have no control over kitchen temperatures, humidity levels, or if the bread making gods are up to ensuring a perfect dough rise. All I can do is follow orders and do my best, the rest is out of my hands.
I found a recipe for white sandwich bread in Phyllis Pelham Good’s, “Fresh From Central Market” Cookbook. And with its basic ingredients and simple instructions, I felt I could not go wrong. I also saved a page from an old copy of Cook’s Illustrated on making bread and referred to it many times through the process. I learned that room temperature does indeed affect the rise of the dough, and a longer proof can be beneficial to the quality of flavor that develops as the dough rises. I also learned the chefs at America’s Test Kitchen prove their dough in the refrigerator to allow a longer proof for better flavor!
So with all my ingredients at hand, tools at the ready, and enough written information to overwhelm the most solid chef, I began another journey into producing a loaf of bread I could actually eat!
My results were good. The texture was still rather dense, but the loaves came from the oven nicely browned on top and the crumb, though close, was still tasty to eat. I used the loaf for a turkey sandwich the next day and found it was as good as anything I could have bought from the grocery store.
So if you are like me and have found bread making intimidating, try this recipe for a first time attempt. I think it can work for anyone.
Homemade White Bread
1 ½ tbsp. Fleischmann’s yeast
1 tbsp. sugar (I used Dixie Crystals)
2 cups warm water, divided
½ cup cooking oil (I used canola)
5 ½ cups occident, or white bread flour (Pillsbury’s is my favorite)
In a 2-cup glass measuring cup, sprinkle yeast and 1 tbsp. sugar into 1 cup warm water. Let stand for 10 minutes.
Pour yeast mixture into a large mixing bowl. Gradually add oil, remaining cup of water, ⅓ cup sugar, salt, and flour, stirring constantly.
When well mixed, pour dough onto lightly floured board. Knead well, until dough is no longer sticky.
Cover with a tea towel. Let rise in a warm place. Check after 1 hour; dough should have doubled in size.
Punch down. Cover and let rise another hour.
Punch down. Divide dough in half. Shape into two loaves. Put into two greased loaf pans. Pierce tops with a fork.
Let rise until dough comes a little above tops of pans, about 30-60 minutes.
This past weekend was rough. I had my plans all laid out before me for baking Daffodil Cake. The spring flowers bursting forth after their winter slumber was my inspiration and as I tend to be impatient, I was ready for a recipe from the old days that would hopefully bring a little sunshine into everyone’s lives right now.
However, best laid plans tend to never come into fruition. I went to bed Thursday night with a headache and woke up Friday morning with a migraine. I struggled through the day with the usual nausea and what came with it, praying I could keep down the pain medication my doctor prescribed and hoping I could just get through the day. Maybe tomorrow would be better. “After all, tomorrow is another day,” to quote Scarlett O’Hara.
My recipe for Daffodil Cake came from the archives of one of America’s most famous and trusted resources for homemakers of the previous century. I will not mention the fictional character by name as not to cause a panic of die-hard fans to attack me online. But I will say, the pictured cake from the cookbook resembled the opening of a daffodil, hence its name. Topped with a orange gelatin and frosted with yellow tinged icing swirled over the edges and draped over the top, I had not seen a prettier cake in years.
The cake tasted great, I just wish it had risen up into a fluffy masterpiece as pictured in the cookbook. Two attempts using an all-purpose flour and again with a cake flour, did nothing to change the texture. I had four orange flavored pancakes on my countertops. Now I am down to my last cup of flour and remembering my mother’s memories of rationing during and after World War II. I’ve already become like those millennials I keep reading about…it’s all about me. I feel so ashamed.
But as our state goes into stay-at-home orders by the governor at 5PM tonight, and neighbors hoard toilet paper, and what would seem to be otherwise rational people give in to fear and panic making runs on gun stores for pistols and ammo, I am just trying to unravel the mystery of why my cakes never rise, and if I will survive another headache from hell.
But even in the current chaos, people are trying their hand at baking for the first time. Maybe they have decided to give it a go as a means of keeping the peace in their own homes where bored children are driving parents to scratch out every morsel of hope to keep their sanity with the little ones home all day. If so, just remember what the Bible says, “This too shall pass,”
From years back, I can remember those colorful posters from childhood classrooms. Those with a monkey dangling from a long string with slogans like, “When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on!” Or, the drawing of someone with a frown being rained on by a bucket of lemons, and the saying, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade,” with the person smiling in the next frame with a tall glass of cool lemonade in their hand.
Well, many of us feel we are at the end of our rope, and life is sure pelting us with lemons right now, but we can turn it around if we just, “tie a knot and hang on.” Instead of lemons, I had oranges and a cake that didn’t rise very well. But I still had cake, so…I made trifle!
The past few weeks have not been easy on anyone, whether they have been affected directly from Covid-19 or are just trying to keep their sanity while being cooped up for the duration of the outbreak. Meanwhile, I have been neglecting my blog for other reasons. A bout of unexplained nausea knocked me off my feet a week ago and it hasn’t allowed me to enjoy cooking or baking.
The sight of food hasn’t been easy. Just a glimpse at my Twitter page and a bevy of posts from fellow bakers and chefs with their culinary victories made my stomach beg for mercy.
At least now my stomach bug has disappeared as silently as it came on and after days of plain chicken, boiled rice and an occasional banana, I was able to savor a classic from the Campbell’s Soup archives. Their One Dish Chicken and Rice Bake was just what my tummy and taste buds needed.
If any of you have forgotten this blast-from-the-past or even if you have never tried it before due to the simplistic ingredients and instructions, give it a try. I know my stomach is thankful. A side of a green vegetable makes this casserole a blessing when times are tough. It stretches out the meal for a family, or someone with a healthy appetite!
Campbell Soup’s Classic One Dish Chicken and Rice Bake
1 can (10 1/2 oz.) Campbell’s Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup or Campbell’s Condensed 98% Fat-Free Cream of Mushroom Soup
3/4 cups of uncooked long grain white rice
1 cup of water
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. paprika
1 1/4 lbs. skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (I cut mine into smaller cubes for ease of serving)
Stir soup, water, rice paprika and black pepper into an 11x8x2 inch pan. (A bigger pan is fine, the casserole will just be a bit flatter). Cover the baking dish with foil.
Bake for 45 minutes until chicken is cooked through and rice is tender. Let stand 10 minutes before baking.
The original recipe states to add an additional 1/3 cup of water for creamier rice. I tried both ways and like the creamier version better.
I am back to loving chocolate again. After breaking away for a few weeks from chocolatey treats and gooey filled confections, I am ready to embrace my favorite sweet treat again. The past three months have been rough. Christmas is an overload of chocolate in every description, and once you have your feet under you, and an attempt to keep away the New Year celebrations added pounds, in comes Valentine’s Day, just when you thought you were well off.
Even if some of us are expert at keeping resolutions made over the holidays, it doesn’t mean we can’t indulge. And unless you decided to give up chocolate for Lent, (I did one year and it didn’t go well), these cookies are great as an after supper treat. The chocolate is just enough to satisfy your sweet tooth without being overly indulgent. One cookie is enough to keep you from losing your cool. (As I did when I gave up chocolate for Lenten season). Also, this recipe calls for cocoa powder instead of melting chocolate to be added into the mixture, which makes these cookies a snap to make.
If you like the chewiness of a cookie, bake these no longer than 8 minutes, then remove from oven and cool on a wire rack. If you desire a more crumbly texture, leave them in the oven for a full 10 minutes and allow them to cool for an additional 3 minutes in the oven. They will break with a few crumbs and result in a cookie perfect for dunking in milk!
Chewy Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 2/3 cups Martha White all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup butter or margarine
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup Dixie Crystals granulated sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips ( I used Nestle for this recipe)
Stir together in a large bowl the flour, baking powder, salt, and cocoa powder. Set aside.
In another bowl, beat butter or margarine until creamy. Beat in the brown sugar, and granulated sugar. Add egg and vanilla and mix until creamy. Add gradually the dry ingredients and mix well. Stir in the chocolate chips.
Drop tablespoon sized portions of mixed dough onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8 minutes for chewy cookies or a full 10 minutes for crisp cookies. Allow to cool on wire rack.
The weather is still playing tricks with Mother Nature here in the South. One day, we are teased with warmer temperatures and small buds appearing from trees, the next is a blast of cold and icy winds ripping the air. My dad always says, “Spring is just around the corner,” and he is always right. Spring will always come after the long days of dark skies and bitter cold. I am impatient though and have already began searching cookbooks for recipes bringing thoughts of warmer weather to mind.
Last week I indulged in another tropical favorite, using sweet pineapple and a twist of salty crackers, and grated cheddar cheese. Pineapple Casserole is a side dish popular in the South. Though many think of it as a dessert, and it certainly is sweet enough for an ending to any meal, but with fish, pork, or especially, chicken dishes, as a side, it works well. Why not have a second helping for dessert?
Pineapple Casserole is a mix of sweet and tart, as well as a hint of saltiness from buttery, crackers. Soup crackers could be used as a substitute, just be sure to mix them well with extra butter. Buttery crackers such as Ritz brand work best though. The addition of cheddar cheese pulls this casserole together and gives it another level of texture and taste. If you have never tried Pineapple Casserole before, I think you will find this particular recipe easy to make, and a joy to serve and enjoy. Even in the dish it looks tempting with it’s cracker crust and bubbly fruit underneath.
2 20 -ounce cans of crushed, unsweetened pineapple, drained well
3/4 cup of granulated sugar
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour (I use Martha White)
1 3/4 cups grated cheddar cheese
3/4 cups crushed Ritz crackers
1/2 cup butter, melted
Preheat oven to 350*. Pour the drained pineapple into pan. In a separate bowl, combine the sugar and flour, and sprinkle over the pineapple. Sprinkle the grated cheese over the sugar and flour mixture. Mix the crushed crackers and butter together and sprinkle over the top of casserole dish. Bake for 30 minutes.
It’s been a month of non-stop sweets for everyone. After filling my sweet tooth with a heart-shaped box of decadent chocolates from my dad over Valentine’s Day, I needed a break. I was craving something different, and non-chocolate. I kept thinking of the sharp taste of lemon, and with the rain beating outside against my windows and the assuredness of snow overnight, the bright yellow orbs stacked in bins at the local grocery store were calling to me.
While others stock their carts with the staples of bread and containers of milk, I am glad I reached for lemons. I had my mind made up…lemon squares would just hit the spot right now.
There are many recipes for lemon squares in my many recipe books, and I have found they are satisfying. But the addition of lemon zest, brings them to another level. Of course, one doesn’t have to add the zest, but since you already have the lemons, you might as well take advantage of the fruit and get the most for your money and efforts.
I think this recipe will help anyone get over their Valentine’s Day chocolate hangover.
3/4 cup powdered sugar (set aside 1/2 cup for crust)
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup cold butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon lemon zest
Preheat oven to 350*. Line a 13 x 9 inch pan with aluminum foil. Lightly grease the aluminum foil.
In a large bowl, cut butter into 2 cups of flour and 1/2 cup of powdered sugar. Continue to use pastry blender or fork ( or your hands) until the flour and butter resemble tiny crumbs and can be squeezed together in your hand and hold their shape. Press the mixture into the bottom of aluminum foil.
Bake for 30 minutes or until the crust is slightly browned.
In a bowl, mix together the sugar, baking powder, remaining flour. Add the eggs and lemon juice along with the lemon zest. Pour the mixture over cooled crust.
Return the pan to the 350* oven and bake for 20-25 minutes. The edges should be brown and the mixture set. After removing from oven, allow to cool for at least an hour. Cut into squares and dust with powdered sugar before serving.
“The prosperity and happiness of a family depends greatly on the order and regularity established in it.”
Usually, I don’t make resolutions for New Year’s Day since I have a habit of breaking them as soon as January 1 comes around. This year however, I vowed to “get things done.” For me, that meant sitting down, planning my daily activities, writing out my short and long-term goals, and scheduling out time for them. That never happened, in spite of my good intentions. Life, somehow, always gets in the way.
I began to wonder how in days of old, anyone accomplished anything. With no electricity, no phones, no computers, no modern appliances, how did my Appalachian great-grandmothers get it done? I figured it out. Because they had to.
My mother can watch any movie or television program set in the past century and recall how her mother washed clothes by hand, used a coal burning stove, slaughtered chickens for Sunday supper, and hung clothes out on the line. Today we have more items promising a simpler life and all we really own is more frustration and stress.
In my efforts to streamline my recipe collection, I came across a small article about Mary Randolph, the author of, “The American Housewife; or The Methodical Cook.” The book is considered America’s first cookbook focused on regional cuisine, and guide to housekeeping. She was the Martha Stewart of her day, though Mary Randolph’s advice is more practical and probably more sound.
Mary Randolph was born to one of the wealthiest and most politically important families in American history. Her father, Thomas Mann Randolph Sr., was raised by Thomas Jefferson’s parents who were distant cousins and the ever growing tensions with England made for social and political stirrings within the Randolph household. From a young age, Mary would have learned the importance of keeping and running an efficient household.
“Management is an art that may be required by every woman of good sense and tolerable memory.”
After marrying her cousin, David Meade Randolph, they moved from Chesterfield County, Virginia, to Richmond. Their home, called Moldavia, a combination of their names, became a central gathering place for the Federalist Party and Mary would have been required to meet the demands of a heavy social scene. It has been suggested by some in the articles I have read about her, that Mary would not have been very “hands-on,” in her duties, as the actual physical labor would have been delegated to the slaves in the household. However, I am sure, if she needed to, Mary Randolph would have been more than capable of getting her hands dirty in order to “get it done,” as the Randolph’s financial status changed considerably after Thomas Jefferson won the presidency in 1801. The Randolphs and Jeffersons may have been family, but blood was definitely not thicker than water when it came to their opposing political views. David Randolph was removed from his office as United States Marshall, and as tobacco prices fell, the Randolphs were forced to sell their beloved home. They rented a house and Mary turned it into a boarding house to make ends meet. This was a risky venture and had Mary not the training and determination, the family would have floundered even further.
“The government of a family bears a Lilliputian resemblance to the government of a nation. The contents of the Treasury must be know, and great care taken to keep the expenditures from being equal to the receipts.”
It was around this time when Mary began compiling the various items of recipes and household hints handed down to her from family, and organizing them into book form. It was in hopes of publishing her cookbook that would support more income to the family. Mary’s cookbook included uses for various vegetables and quickly became a staple for the Southern housewife. Turnips, roasted ham, bacon and cornbread along with batter breads and advice for making soap and cleaning silverware and making starch and blacking were just samples of the many recipes used in the cookbook. She emphasized the importance of making good use of the household resources and making due with what one had. As always, order in the home was of the utmost importance.
“Let everything be done at the proper time, keep everything in its proper place, and put everything to its proper use.”
It must have been a revelation for many women as they left the comforts of their family and friends and began making families of their own, to find a guide in running their own households. I can’t imagine marrying in my teen years and being expected to keep a house and run the daily activities of a family at a time when many children were orphaned at a young age and had often no proper guidance in managing a home.
The American Housewife; or The Methodical Cook, was published in 1824 and reprinted 19 times before the outbreak of The Civil War.
In her declining years, Mary nursed her son who had been injured while in the Navy. She was much loved and was the first person to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Her epitaph reads:
“In the memory of Mrs. Mary Randolph,
Her intrinsic worth needs no eulogium.
The deceased was born
The 9th of August, 1762
at Amphill near Richmond, Virginia
And died the 23rd of January 1828
In Washington City a victim to maternal love and duty.”
We owe much to this great lady who worked so diligently in the face of such changing fortunes, who never gave up and believed in the value of home and the family. God Bless.