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5 Victorian Recipes From a Virginia Housewife

By Charles Green (1840-1898) public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Originally published in 1824, Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife: or, Methodical Cook, was immediately popular, and it was republished many times before the Civil War. Some consider it to be the first American cookbook. It is most certainly the first Southern cookbook.

Randolph, born in Chesterfield County, Virginia, was the daughter of Thomas Mann Randolph, a member of the Virginia Convention of 1776. She and her husband lived in Chesterfield County and Richmond before moving to Washington, D.C. in 1819. It was there that she wrote her book that would become one of the most influential housekeeping and cookbooks of the 19 th century.

In the book’s preface, she explains that she developed her knowledge of cooking and managing a home after realizing there were no adequate books to guide her as a new homemaker. She hopes to share what she learned to guide others who embark on the journey of household management.

"Management is an art that may be acquired by every woman of good sense and tolerable memory," she writes in the introduction.

It is merely one of many pieces of advice she offers throughout the manuscript. Others include an admonishment to rise early and tackle small problems before the grow into larger ones.

If the mistress of a family, will every morning examine minutely the different departments of her household, she must detect errors in their infant state, when they can be corrected with ease; but a few days’ growth gives them gigantic strength: and disorder, with all her attendant evils, are introduced. Early rising is also essential to the good government of a family. A late breakfast deranges the whole business of the day and throws a portion of it on the next, which opens the door for confusion to enter.

Her recipes span from basic cooking methods to international recipes – or “receipts” as they were called in the Victorian era. She offers recipes for soups, various meats and fish, vegetables, puddings, cakes, sauces, and more.

Here are few of the interesting delicacies she offers. Note that some ingredients were spelled differently than today, like “yelk” instead of “yolk.”

OYSTER SOUP Wash and drain two quarts of oysters, put them on with three quarts of water, three onions chopped up, two or three slices of lean ham, pepper and salt; boil it till reduced one-half, strain it through a sieve, return the liquid into the pot, put in one quart of fresh oysters, boil it till they are sufficiently done, and thicken the soup with four spoonsful of flour, two gills of rich cream, and the yelks of six new laid eggs beaten well; boil it a few minutes after the thickening is put in. Take care it does not curdle, and that the flour is not in lumps; serve it up with the last oysters that were put in. If the flavour of thyme be agreeable, you may put in a little, but take care that it does not boil in it long enough to discolour the soup.

HARE OR RABBIT SOUP Cut up two hares, put them into a pot with a piece of bacon, two onions chopped, a bundle of thyme and parsley, which must be taken out before the soup is thickened, add pepper, salk, pounded cloves, and mace, put in a sufficient quantity of water, stew it gently three hours, thicken with a large spoonful of butter, and one of brown flour, with a glass of red wine; boil it a few minutes longer, and serve it up with the nicest parts of the hares. Squirrels make soup equally good, done the same way.

MOCK TURTLE SOUP OF CALF’S HEAD Have a large head cleaned nicely without taking off the skin, divide the chop from the front of the head, take out the tongue, (which is best when salted,) put on the head with a gallon of water, the hock of a ham or a piece of nice pork, four or five onions, thyme, parsley, cloves and nutmeg, pepper and salt, boil all these together until the flesh on the head is quite tender, then take it up, cut all into small pieces, take the eyes out carefully, strain the water in which it was boiled, add half a pint of wine and a gill of mushroom catsup, let it boil slowly till reduced to two quarts, thicken it with two spoonsful of browned flour rubbed into four ounces of butter, put the meat in, and after stewing it a short time, serve it up. The eyes are a great delicacy.

CABBAGE A-LA-CRÈME Take two good heads of cabbage, cut out the stalks, boil it tender, with a little salt in the water—have ready one large spoonful of butter, and a small one of flour rubbed into it, half a pint of milk, with pepper and salt; make it hot, put the cabbage in after pressing out the water, and stew it till quite tender.

TOMATO CATSUP Gather a peck of tomatos, pick out the stems, and wash them; put them on the fire without water, sprinkle on a few spoonsful of salt, let them boil steadily an hour, stirring them frequently; strain them through a colander, and then through a sieve; put the liquid on the fire with half a pint of chopped onions, half a quarter of an ounce of mace broke into small pieces; and if  not sufficiently salt, add a little more—one table-spoonful of whole black pepper; boil all together until just enough to fill two bottles; cork it tight. Make it in August, in dry weather.

Find more of her recipes in the digital archive of her book.

Want more from the Victorian age?  Read about  Victorian music.

Listen to tunes from that era on  From the Parlor.

Learn about the  premiere of Victoria on January 15.