Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Farm and Household Cyclopædia

I've mentioned before that I love books. Through the years, I have collected some old books. Mostly they are not in very good shape, and sometimes they’re in pretty awful shape. But all still readable. As in you can tell what the words are on the pages. Some of them have turned out to be not very readable, as in I cannot figure out what they’re trying to say because the language is so old-fashioned or I cannot possibly read this for one more minute because it is so asinine. Sometimes these old books are entertaining. Like my copy of “The Farm and Household Cyclopædia.”

It is by no means the oldest book I own, but it’s old.

The preface begins, “The purpose of this volume is to supply a ready reference library of useful facts and suggestions for farmers and housekeepers.” The author has compiled tidbits of information he gleaned from a variety of sources, including “leading agricultural journals of this country and Europe.” It includes everything from floor plans for barns to how to exterminate bedbugs. It also has a lot of recipes, like this one for “Johnny Cake”:
Take one pint of milk, one pint of meal, three tablespoonfuls of flour, two tablespoonfuls sugar, one tablespoonful butter and one egg.
That’s it... that is the entire text of the Johnny Cake recipe.

There is even included instructions on how to prevent hair loss in “The Toilet” section on pages 462 and 463

One of my favorite passages so far, though I have a long way to go before reading all 530 pages, is this bit on the Signs of a Prosperous Farmer.

I kind of have a thing for pumpkins, so I always check the index of books like this to see what they have to say about pumpkins. Nothing. Except a recipe for pumpkin pie:
Stew the pumpkin as dry as possible without burning; rub it through a colander. To one pint of the pumpkin add three eggs, one quart of milk, one teacup sugar, half teaspoonful salt, and nutmeg or ginger to taste. The above quantity will make two large pies.

Sounds pretty awful... does no justice whatsoever to one of the most wonderfully edible delights that is pumpkin pie.

Just below that recipe is this one for Washington Pie:
Three eggs, one cup sugar, a scant half cup milk, half teaspoonful soda, a teaspoonful cream tartar, cup flour, a piece of butter size of a hen’s egg, spice to taste; this makes three layers; spread with jelly.

Can’t get much less specific than that. I think this recipe must be a good example of this part of the text included in the Preface:
The object of the work is not to tell the farmer and the housewife that which they already know...

Ah, that was a more simple time, to be sure.

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