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!


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