Writing Project Wednesday

Writing Project Wednesday: 19th Century Cooking

It would be nice if there was extensive research to fit every subject in every place in every time. Sadly, that’s not the case. Sometimes doing research means looking backwards, forwards, and laterally and doing some conjecturing on the subject. The specifics of what people ate is one such arena. Sure, you can find plenty of research on what people generally ate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but if you want to get specific, you’ll need to put your thinking cap on.

I found a couple recipe books that were helpful to me in my research on specifics:

Eating Up the Santa Fe Trail by Sam’l P. Arnold

This recipe book covers what people ate along the Santa Fe Trail from 1821-1870.

The Little House Cookbook by Barbara M. Walker

This recipe book features the frontier food from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Classic stories (1870s and 1880s)

The Best of Shaker Cooking by Amy Bess Miller and Persis Fuller

This recipe book includes over 900 recipes from nineteenth century Shaker Kitchens

I found a lot of overlap in recipes between the three books which led me to believe that referencing a food from one of the three books would probably be a safe bet. I also made the assumption that things probably hadn’t changed too much by the end of the century.

The thing I found most interesting in researching 19th century cooking (but it shouldn’t really have surprised me) is how simple and clean the recipes were. Of course, they didn’t have processed foods like we do today. And people didn’t have the abundance of food we have in the grocery stores. But the vast majority of recipes contain less than ten ingredients and they used food pretty much in its natural form. I’ve included a recipe for chocolate pound cake below (adapted for modern times) for you to see what I mean.

When the weather gets cooler, I’ve been thinking about making some of these recipes in my own kitchen. If I do, I’ll certainly document my results!

Shaker Recipe for Chocolate Pound Cake


What You Need:

-1 Cup Butter

-1/2 Cup of Lard

-3 Cups Sugar

-5 Eggs

-3 Cups Sifted Flour

-1/2 Cup of Cocoa

-1/2 Teaspoon of Baking Powder

-1/4 Teaspoon of Salt

-1 1/2 Cups of Milk

-2 Tablespoons Grated Chocolate

-1 Teaspoon Vanilla

-Greased and Floured Tube-type Pan


How to Make It:

  1. Cream butter, lard, and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  2. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  3. Sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Add alternately with milk to egg mixture, stirring after each addition until well blended.
  4. Add chocolate and stir in vanilla.
  5. Put batter into the greased pan.
  6. Bake in preheated 325 F oven for 1 1/2 hours.
  7. Turn onto wire rack to cool
  8. Center can be filled with whipped cream and shaved chocolate or left plain.
  9. Enjoy!


Personal, Writing Project Wednesday

Writing Project Wednesday: Trains

I think I grew up knowing more than the average person about trains. My dad used to work for the railroad and there was always a healthy appreciation for these iron horses in our house. Sadly, the age of the train has long been on the decline. It was such a treat to get to research trains during their heyday! I’m sharing a few of my favorite tidbits of research below:

-Colorado’s history and growth is intrinsically bound up with the development of rail lines through and across the state. Colorado Springs was no exception. Until 1971, Colorado Springs had a functioning passenger train service. The historic train depot is still there. Until 2011, it was home to Giuseppe’s Italian Restaurant.

-The Colorado Springs train depot is the very same one Nikola Tesla arrived at in 1899. Tesla is just one of many famous faces who passed through that depot. If you’re ever in Colorado Springs, you should pay a visit to the beautiful old building. You can see my pictures of how the building looked at the end of 2014 here. Here’s how it looked in 1871:

-At the end of the nineteenth century, steam locomotives were still used to power passenger trains. They weren’t fully replaced by electric and diesel locomotives until the first quarter of the twentieth century.

-In 1876, the Transcontinental Express train made the journey from New York to San Francisco in just 83 hours. A few days after its historic trip, passenger service began.

-In the 1890s, railroad lines covered the eastern side of the United States, but were comparatively sparse in the west:

-There are many examples of steam locomotives in museums across the country. If you visit Colorado Springs, there’s an example of one in the park across the street from the train depot. Here’s a rendering of one:

If you ever have the opportunity to take the train across Colorado or more broadly, across America, I would highly recommend it! It’s one of the most fascinating ways to experience our country as the railways take you through places you would not otherwise be able to see.

On the next Writing Project Wednesday, I’ll be talking about food!