The Library of Congress’ book collections include thousands of cookbooks and recipes containing perennial kid favorites, including Thomas Jefferson’s recipe for macaroni and cheese and ice cream, cookbooks dating as far back as the 16th century, and even Rosa Parks’s recipe for “featherlite pancakes.”
In the Library’s extensive collection of what used to be known as Domestic Science, I came across a little book from 1910 titled Home-Making Cook Book. Written in 1910 by Mary McNamara Wilkinson and subtitled a Cookbook for The Poor, The Rich, The Sick, The Well, the book promises “A Reform from the Old Wasteful Methods to the Saving, Scientific and Nourishing Ones.”
How to adapt old recipes for the modern kitchen
It makes for fascinating reading, as much for what is still relevant 111 years later as for the recipes and recommendations that strike a 2021 reader as outdated, amusing, or just bizarre. For example, I doubt anyone recovering from an illness nowadays would find her recipe for toast water (buttered toast soaked in boiling water) at all appetizing.
Mrs. Wilkinson’s suggestions about how and why to get children involved in the kitchen are still valid. Many modern parents will agree with her that it’s sometimes easier to do things yourself.
With that in mind, these few easy egg recipes can teach kids some cooking skills and keep them busy for a little while—included below with a larger version available here. As dripping or meat fat is not a kitchen staple nowadays, you can use butter or your cooking fat of choice.
Household hints besides reviving antique recipes
The book can be the starting point for a conversation about family life past and present. In addition to its many recipes and holiday menu ideas, it provides hundreds of housekeeping and wellness tips.
In an age of online news, we’re unlikely to need 37 different ways to use up old newspapers, but there’s other evergreen advice:
- Have regular hours of sleep and never neglect them.
- Devote at least one half hour a day to your magazines and books—preferably outdoors so you will be getting fresh air, resting, and educating yourself.
- Each member of the family can be taught to wipe out the (bath)tub when through.
All this advice, of course, is aimed at women who did all the work of caring for the home and family.
You can’t help but think that Mary Wilkinson would probably have adapted to months of lockdown, even with her adorable daughter Isabelle. She is prepared, after all, to let standards slide in some areas.
Once a week, or at least once in two weeks, the bathroom should have a thorough clean.
Some things, however, remain non-negotiable. Let’s end with one of her most emphatic instructions:
Never sleep in your underwear. It should be hung up so as to be fresh and aired for the next morning.