Sunday, 2 February 2014

The Surprise Cookbook, 1868?

I've been meaning to post about this book for months.
I found it when we were packing up Grandma and Grandpa's books. (For the record, they're not actually dead, they just moved into an assisted living place.) I snatched the book up when I saw it, because it was clearly very old.
It's in pretty bad shape. The spine has fallen off and the pages are barely clinging together.
There are 3 dates written on the inside cover in pencil. The first one is 1929, which can't possibly be the publication date. Under that there is "1868", and under that "61". Judging from the contents, I am willing to believe that this book is indeed from the 1860's.
There isn't any publication date. They don't even give the author's name or the country in which it was published(though it's quite obviously from England).
There is, however, a very snobbish dedication.
Though I'm showing it here, it actually appears after the index.
To Those Housekeepers
Whose patience has been often tried, and their materials wasted, in
attempts to follow the impractical directions contained in cookery-books
written with delicate fingers, and based upon French
and other foreign writers,
This Volume,
(Expressley and painstakingly prepared for those who would have good
living without an exorbitant outlay of time and money, and
free from the risks of mere "experimenting")
Is humbly dedicated
The Author"

Humbly dedicated indeed. Those "French and other foreign writers" were probably publishing much better recipes than these ones at the time this book was written. Just look at how much of this stuff is boiled.
I made the pictures bigger than usual, but you still might need to click some of them for a larger image.
Apologies for the mangled and stuck together edges.

The end of the index has a couple of lovely pictures. Unfortunately someone has scribbled on one of them with a purple crayon. At least half of the illustrations in this book suffered the same fate.
A cow and sheep. Aren't they pretty?
Rather than scanning these pages, I am photographing them. The images aren't as nice as scans would be, but scanning would require bringing it to school, opening it, and turning it upside down multiple times. The book is in no condition for that kind of handling.
I'm not blogging the entire book. Ideally I would like to make the whole thing available online, but for now I've just skimmed it and photographed the bits that looked most interesting.
The first chapter was Meats. There was too much boiling. Ick.
At the beginning of the next chapter I found the spine.
No sense in trying to reattach it, but it's nice to know it isn't lost.
At the beginning of each chapter there is page or two of general observations or general remarks.
It's interesting to see instructions on dealing with freshly killed fowl.
Ashes? Is that safe? I suspect that some of these recipes are more than a little poisonous.
The picking chapter covers just about every kind of meat and vegetable there is.
I'm familiar with pickled cucumbers, and pickled onions, but not oysters. Oysters make quite a few appearances in this book. There are also a lot of things that are tied with bladders.
I wonder how well the Mock Turtle Soup imitates turtle. Never having had turtle or calf's head I couldn't begin to guess.
The rest of this recipe is on the next page, sorry!
Some of the recipes have highly amusing names.

Oysters again.
And even more oysters! I seem to recall a lot of oysters in Dickens's books as well.
Tucked in between the pages of the fish section, I found a piece of paper.
It was so exciting!
On it was a handwritten recipe for soap.
It looks like they started writing it on the other side, but then scratched it out and started over on the other.
That's the first 25 of the 119 pictures I took of this book. I'll post some more of them later.
If you find something in the table of contents that you would like to see, just ask me and I'll make sure it gets posted.


  1. My mother's aunt made hard soap and I bet it would have been pretty much the same recipe. I didn't knew that oysters could be fattened up with oatmeal and water, interesting.


  2. How kind of you to include your grandparents' cookery book. I am afraid to say that I just about boil everything here in England! I eat vegetarian stews (all ingredients thrown in together and boiled up). I love old books - they are a window onto a different world. Natalie

    1. Thank you. I love old books too.
      I have nothing against stews, or any kind of dish like that where the broth is kept, but when you boil a piece of food and drain the water off it loses a lot of the flavor and nutrients. It just seems like a disagreeable way to cook a joint of meat.
      I suppose the Victorians didn't know much about nutrients.

  3. I love experimenting with old cake and bread recipes. Could you post some of them?

    1. Certainly! I have photographed quite a few of the recipes from those chapters. There are recipes for waffles, doughnuts, crackers, biscuits, and lots of bread and cake.

  4. There is a whole drawer full of old recipes at the cottage too. Not quite as old, but some are still very entertaining.

    1. I remember those. Some had names like "a salad" and "another salad".