Back in May of 2016, I had my first attempt at trying to bake from a historical recipe. (You can read about it here.) Over a year later I decided to give it another try, this time with a different recipe. In looking through old cookbooks, I stumbled across a Swiss Cake in an 1881 copy of Betty, the bishop’s lady, or, Choice receipts from experienced housewives, published in Newark, New Jersey.
The description that reads, “This makes a good and inexpensive cake” really sold me. The ingredients seemed normal for a cake recipe and they were all things that I had home. It was perfect.
I collected my ingredients and measured them out as the recipe stated. The recipe states to flavor with nutmeg or lemon, however, I am not a fan of nutmeg on its own so I added one and a half teaspoons of cinnamon and a fourth of a teaspoon of nutmeg.
I creamed my butter and sugar, added my eggs and condensed milk, then slowly incorporated my sifted flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
It was at this point that I realized my 21st century baking skills did not translate well to 1880’s baking. My batter was thick, too thick to be a cake batter, but resembled cookie dough instead.
The recipe called for “sweet milk,” in my modern mind that meant condensed milk, which is what I used. But it turns out that “sweet milk” is just whole milk. In older recipes “sweet milk” was used to differentiate from “sour milk” meaning milk that was left out to sour or in some cases it meant buttermilk.
The “batter” was made, it tasted good, but it did not seem like it would bake well as a cake. I tested this theory by making a few mini-cupcakes. After 10 minutes of baking they were still raw on the inside, after 15 minutes of baking they were cooked though, but were rather dense and not very enjoyable.
Since the “batter” seemed more like cookie dough to me, I made them into cookies instead. They baked in 13 minutes, were soft, and rather delicious. While I did not end up with Swiss Cake, I did get some enjoyable cookies. Maybe my next attempt at historical baking will be more successful.
Swiss Cake Cookies
1/4 cup (half a stick) butter
1 and 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups flour – sifted
8 oz condensed milk
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 and 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
Set oven to 350 degrees.
Cream together sugar and butter.
Add eggs and condensed milk to the sugar and butter.
Combine sifted flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg. Slowly add to wet ingredients.
Once well combined, drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto greased baking sheets.
Bake at 350 degrees for 13 minutes, rotating halfway though.
Earlier this month, we challenged the students in Dr. Lena Struwe’s Byrne Seminar on Food Evolution to dig into a fraction of our holdings concerning culinary history, recipes, cookbooks and global food exchange. Below are some highlights from materials we pulled for the class.
An herbal is a compilation of information about medicinal plants including their botanical identifiers, habitats, therapeutic effects on the body, and medicinal preparation. All herbals follow the same pattern: for this condition, take this plant, prepare it in a certain manner, administer it, and expect this result. Throughout Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, herbs might not have been ranked high on the European gastronomic table, but they were well-established remedies, and with the help of herbal recipes the cook was expected to keep a household healthy.
Written by one of the most respected plant experts of his time, John Gerard’s thick tome, The Herball Or, Generall Historie of Plantes (ca. 1633) included the first descriptions printed in English of New World imports like potatoes, corn, yucca, and squash.
Notably, The Herball contains images that would have been the first that most English speakers would have seen of the potato. Although the plant was brought to England in 1586, it was not until the early eighteenth century when the potato finally became a staple in the European diet. Ahead of his time, Gerard commended potatoes as a “wholesome” food, best prepared “either rosted in the embers, or boyled and eaten with oyle, vinegar and pepper.”
To illustrate The Herball, publisher John Norton rented nearly 1,800 of the most accurate illustrations of the time, woodblocks from the Frankfurt publisher of the “father of German botany,” Jacobus Theodorus’ Eicones Plantarum (ca. 1590). Norton commissioned sixteen additional woodcuts of plants. Among the edible imports was an illustration of the potato, supposedly illustrated from a specimen grown in Gerard’s garden that was given to him by Walter Raleigh and Francis Drake.
The French Cook: A System of Fashionable and Economical Cookery (ca. 1822) was perhaps the most extravagant work on French cookery published in England up to that time. By the eighteenth century, French food had been clearly established as the most popular type of cuisine in Great Britain. As was typical for the time, the author modified French techniques, Anglicized recipes while keeping French terminology, and equated French food with expense and extravagance throughout the introductions and commentary framing the recipes.
Such cookbooks targeted Britain’s middle classes, who desired fashionable displays of wealth and sophistication, straight from the mouth of the former cook to Louis XVI and the Earl of Sefton, and steward to the Duke of York. In a world that was becoming increasingly globalized, cookbooks meant that it was easier than ever to create an enviable lifestyle. Industrious Brits could serve an elaborate wild boar pie based on Ude’s pastry patterns, creations that epitomized Britain’s nobility—the ultimate expression of a life of wealth and ease. If you flip through its pages, you will surely notice how this book was written for English “gentlemen” and “ladies,” terms which became associated with a specific type of attitude, wealth and sophistication rather than family history.
In contrast to the male “food artists” coming out of France, women who wanted to establish a professional presence as a cookbook author framed their books by drawing on experience as wives, mothers, and housekeepers. Relegated by feminine stereotypes, female cookbook authors sold themselves as experts in all matters of the household, not just as cooks. As women ventured into this male-dominated realm, cookbooks slowly evolved into manuals of instruction for amateur cooks and housekeepers to maintain hearth, home, and familial values.
Late to the gastronomic game, Americans only began publishing cookbooks in 1742. Nearby New York and Philadelphian publishers cornered the market until New Jersey’s first cookbook, Economical Cookery: Designed to Assist the Housekeeper in Retrenching Her Expenses, by the Exclusion of Spiritous Liquors from Her Cookery (ca. 1839). It was written by an anonymous female author who urged women to take an active part in the Temperance Movement by eliminating liquors from their cooking and thereby safeguard their families from “the debasing slavery” of alcoholism.
Among her booze-free recipes is election cake, a culinary creation dating back to 1660 that makes the rounds every election. Originating from when food and “ardent spirits” were persuasive agents for controlling local votes, both were dispensed lavishly as bribes and rewards. Be sure to check out NPR’s coverage, “A History of Election Cake and Why Bakers Want to #MakeAmericaCakeAgain,” complete with audio!
The collection includes privately and commercially produced recipe books, typically written for women. Among the commercial ones is a recipe book from the New Jersey based Campbell Soup Company, published in 1910 for “the ambitious housewife, confronted daily with the necessity of catering to the capricious appetites of her household.” The booklet has menu suggestions for every day of the month, with a Campbell soup as one of the courses for lunch or dinner or both. Another Campbell recipe book, shown above, addresses not only the women of the 1950s, but also future consumers: teenage girls. The section “Teen time menus” includes cheerful references to marching band practice, babysitting jobs, and being “happy as a clam.”
A great number of the non-commercial recipe books are produced by women communities of various denominations, often for fundraising purposes. One of the more unusual ones is the Cook Book of the Stars, printed in 1959 by a Flemington chapter of the Freemason society “Order of the Eastern Star,” which ended its list of recipes–tongue-in-cheek–with a recipe “how to preserve a husband” (displayed on top).
Newbold family account books
A more unusual place for New Jersey recipes is one of the five farm account books, kept by Thomas Newbold (1760-1823) at Springfield township, Burlington County, and his son Thomas Jr. The first three of the volumes, which altogether span almost eighty years (1790-1877) are “day books:” daily accounts and memoranda of transactions and agreements that were later transferred to ledgers. Among the regular entries on the last few pages of the first day book are a few recipes for dishes and remedies for cures, jotted down in different hands, either from Newbold family members or customers visiting the farm. The food recipes include calves feet jelly, puff paste, bologna sausage, and cured ham, while the remaining recipes are remedies for dysentery, cancer sores, felons (finger infections) and botts in horses (a disease caused by botfly maggots in a a horse’s intestines or stomach).
Whether looking for recipes or remedies, visitors are always welcome to browse the collections at Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives. Bon appetit!
I have always enjoyed cookbooks. I even wrote a whole blog post about it back in November of 2015. I will post pictures of cookbooks to our Instagram page on occasion. But on one Wednesday morning in April I asked a simple question to our Instagram followers, “Is #WhatsCookinWednesday a thing?” The community of libraries, archives, museums, and historical societies quickly insisted we make this a challenge. (The #LibrariesOfInstagram community likes to challenge other repositories to post pictures of different things each month.) The month of May became a Library Feast (#LibraryFeast). To add to the challenge, it was suggested that people try to make a recipe from a cookbook in their collection.
I wandered the Special Collections and University Archives closed stacks to see what cookbook I could find. I stumbled upon Salute to New Jersey : a collection of original New Jersey recipes and historical anecdotes. Intrigued by the title, I flipped though the pamphlet to find a recipe entitled Dey Mansion Orange Cake. I enjoy baking and I thought that since Colonel Theunis Dey (the man whose family owned the Dey Mansion) was also a signer of the Queen’s College charter; this would be the perfect recipe to try with a nice hint of Rutgers history.
The recipe looked simple enough, though there was no size indicated for the pan, no baking temperature listed, and I was not sure I could buy mace for cooking. (To my surprise, mace is a common enough spice that it can be purchased at the local grocery store.) Three attempts later, I finally made a fully cooked Dey Mansion Orange Cake. I made a few changes to the recipe. Here is my version of Dey Mansion Orange Cake:
1 stick of butter
1 cup white sugar
1 medium orange
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon nutmeg (or mace)
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/3 cup + 1 teaspoon orange juice
1 cup craisins (or raisins)
1 cup powdered sugar
Bake in a 9 x 13 greased pan at 350 for 30(-ish) minutes
1) Cream together 1 stick of butter and 1 cup of sugar
2) Add 2 eggs
3) Add 1 finely chopped, medium-sized orange (I added the juice that came out of the orange)
4) Alternate adding sifted flour mix (2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon nutmeg (original recipe calls for mace), 1/2 teaspoon salt) and milk (1 cup of milk and 1 teaspoon of orange juice)
5) Add 1 cup of craisins (or raisins)
When finished, remove from pan. While hot, spread glaze on top.
For glaze, 1 cup powdered sugar and 1/3 cup of orange juice whisked together
The Jersey shore is known for beaches and boardwalks, but what’s for dinner?
At the turn of the century, wealthy vacationers enjoyed elegant meals at oceanfront hotels. Guests at Lelands’ Ocean Hotel in Long Branch could choose from beef ribs, lobster, and halibut for dinner, and peach pie, chocolate eclairs, and tutti frutti ice cream for dessert.
In Atlantic City, guests at the famous Marlborough-Blenheim Hotel sat down for afternoon tea, then tucked into roast goose with apple sauce for dinner. Camembert cheese and pineapple pie finished off the meal.
But fancy hotels weren’t the only places to get a good dinner. In the 1960s, Taborn’s Restaurant in Asbury Park served up fried shrimp, scallops, clams, and oysters, along with a wide variety of ice cream sodas, milkshakes, and fresh parfaits for a sweet finish. The lunch menu included grilled frankfurters and blueberry griddle cakes.
When it comes to eating, Rutgers students have always had plenty of options, from pubs and taverns to diners and ice cream parlors. Today, we’ve dug into our archives to get a glimpse of what Rutgers students in the 1980s had to eat.
Shelly’s Ice Cream on Easton Avenue served sandwiches, subs, and most importantly, ice cream sundaes and milkshakes. Students really craving ice cream could order the “Heavy Chevy”: four scoops of ice cream, two sundae toppings, whipped cream, nuts, and sprinkles!
And students looking for Sunday brunch only needed to look to Stuff Yer Face for egg, bacon, or mushroom stromboli–or perhaps a frittata?
The Rusty Screw Tavern offered standard pub fare along with live music and film screenings. In 1984, the restaurant welcomed the Rutgers class of 1988 to campus with a free concert, featuring the new wave band The Resistorz.
Later in the semester, students could stop by the Rusty Screw for a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show or The Big Chill.
When I started my Library Science program at Simmons College in Boston, I came across an opportunity to become a Cookbook Librarian at America’s Test Kitchen. The collection is comprised of over 4,000 books ranging from local cookbooks to The ModernistCuisine. I held the position as a very well fed volunteer for two years. I loved my position but graduate school ended, cookbook librarians are rare, and my passion is archiving. I moved back to my home state of New Jersey and strung together part-time, and sometimes full-time, temporary archiving work until I became a full-time Processing Archivist in Special Collections and University Archives at Rutgers University.
The Sinclair Jerseyana Cookbook collection came to my attention: forty boxes of cookbooks that needed a finding aid. Finally my interest in cookbooks and my passion for archiving came together! The collection is made up of cookbooks from New Jersey towns, local churches, schools, and organizations, and companies that operated in the great Garden State. Every book is unique. Some have homemade covers, others are professionally bound; some focus on ethnic cuisine, while a few focus specifically on and promote products to be used. Two of my favorite cookbooks with homemade covers are this wood burned cover from the 1976 cookbook by The Christian Community Shrine of St. Joseph, entitled Our Community Cookbook,
and this screen-printed 1973 cookbook entitled Look Who’s Cookin’, by the Somerville Neighborhood Troop 12 from Rolling Hills Girl Scout Council.
Some cookbooks were for a cause.
(Muhlenberg Hospital Auxiliary. Cook Book. Plainfield, NJ: The Auxiliary, 1907.)
Other cookbooks were produced to promote products, such as the 1962 Fun-To-Do Party Book, by the Ballantine Beer Company from Newark, or the Gem Chopper Cook Book (seen below) from Flemington, 1902.
This collection is filled with so many wonderful and unique cookbooks, with dates ranging from 1902-2006, that you just need to check out the collection yourself. Julia Child did in 1992 when she came and received an honorary degree at Rutgers. More information about the collection can be found at
Do you call it “Taylor Ham” or “pork roll?” Either way, today would be the birthday of John Taylor, the man who created John Taylor’s Pork Roll [formerly known as Taylor Ham]. To make things easier we will be calling it “pork roll” because the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 forced Taylor to change the name, “Taylor Ham,” because it did not fit the new definition of ham by the Food and Drug Administration. He changed it to “Taylor’s Pork Roll,” however many people in North Jersey continued to call it by the original name, while South Jersey slowly transitioned to simply calling it pork roll, leaving those in Central Jersey using both terms.
Beyond creating the NJ diner staple, John Taylor was a businessman, member of Trenton City Council, and was elected to the New Jersey State Senate for Mercer County.
Today make sure to celebrate the day with a pork roll, egg and cheese, or maybe one of these pork roll recipes.