CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If you like to read cookbooks, an entertaining outing awaits you in the Culture Center on the Capitol grounds.
The library and archives of West Virginia Division of Culture and History has a section of about 80 historic state cookbooks on its shelves. The cookbooks date from 1829 to modern cookbooks from West Virginia authors such as Lucy Bennett Smoot of Madison, who chronicled her cooking experiences from the Depression through the 1960s.
A fragile 1863 copy of "Confederate Receipt Book" features recipes and tips for making do during the lean war years. Antique cookbooks often refer to recipes as "receipts," a term that might be unfamiliar to modern cooks, but Merriam-Webster Dictionary still lists "recipe" as the first definition for "receipt."
Older cookbooks usually contained household tips as well as recipes for remedies like cough syrup and foods for invalids. "West Virginia's Treasured Recipes" produced by the extension Homemakers Council includes a sore throat remedy that used lard, turpentine, kerosene and Vick's salve. It was applied to the throat, not ingested, but still. Turpentine and kerosene?
A mouse must have nibbled the corner of "Old Timey Recipes," which was printed in 1920. Recipes for homebrew and moonshine appear under the heading "Whiskey and Beer." Find hog jowl and turnip greens and persimmon pudding in other sections.
The tome "Mackenzie's Five Thousand Receipts," published in 1829, is a comprehensive guide to running a household and to feeding its occupants. Chapter heads include Agriculture, Bleaching, Diseases, Farriery, Gardening, Metallurgy, Pickles & Preserves, Watercolors and Perfumery.
For acceptance into the archives, cookbooks should be written by a West Virginian or be about West Virginia. Most copies have been donated, often from family collections. The Confederate cookbook bears an inscription in spidery handwriting saying, "My Father's when in Dixie," presumably referring to the owner's southern residence.
Anyone can peruse the cookbooks in Archives and History, located in the West Virginia Culture Center on the Capitol grounds. They're shelved in the stacks, but a librarian will retrieve them as requested. Look through the card catalog or online for specific titles or under general subject headings.
Women's groups printed a flurry of local cookbooks in the early 1900s as a way to raise money for churches, charities and organizations. The women who submitted the recipes are usually credited, but they were identified by their husband's names. Sally Smith would be "Mrs. Harold Smith."
Most contain advertisements from local businesses that offer a window into home lives of the era and divert the reader from the recipes.
"I've dated a book produced by the Baptist Temple as 1907 or 1908. It didn't list a date, but I based it on an advertisement in it for wallpaper," said librarian Susan Scouras. "An advertisement for wallpaper says, 'Our 1908 line is now ready.' "
She's not sure if it was given to all brides who were married at the Kanawha County Courthouse, but "Brides Cookbook" appears to have been given out by the County Clerk's office. Printed in 1934 by Rose City Press, the comprehensive cookbook has an advertisement from Charleston Broom Manufacturers, still in business today.
The book contains both practical and gourmet recipes for tomato aspic, hasenpfeffer, "Tipsy Parson" dessert and Charlotte Russe as well as tips for cleaning marble and silver.
"The Wesleyan College Clubs Cook Book" also catered toward more refined palettes and entertaining styles with lots of recipes for oysters. Knox Gelatin clearly sponsored the publication -- its tagline ran across the top of every page -- but many local businesses placed advertisements.
"Many older cookbooks have advertisements for druggists because they sold spices and extracts," Scouras said. "They compounded them and would have their own vanilla extract." An advertisement for Roth Drug Co. on Washington Street listed 2 ounces of pure vanilla extract for 25 cents.
The advertisements also give clues to the clothing styles, appliances, tools and services available to women of the era. Mrs. S.A. Motley of Charleston Street offered "up-to-date millinery," one of seven millinery advertisers in an early 1900s Charleston cookbook. "Your husband's dinner will be more satisfactory to him if he follows it with a good cigar," reads an ad by Harry A. Hawkins of No. 4 Arcade.
Eskew, Smith & Cannon, still in business today on Smith Street, advertised "Everything for the Kitchen" in its line of refrigerators and freezers and NuWay Cleaners, also still in business, recommended itself "To all Economical Housewives who want the Best."
"You can see what women were supposed to be. They were queens of cleanliness and paragons of virtue," Scouras said
Recipes in old newspapers diverted archive employees when they were reviewing microfilm of newspapers produced in each county during World War I and II. They were looking for names of fallen soldiers to add to the memorial on the Capitol grounds when the original was damaged. Wartime food tips caught their eyes.
The recipes mostly featured tips to deal with rationed foods, especially meat. During the war years, the better cuts of meat were processed and sent overseas for the soldiers. On the home front, cooks looked for creative uses for less desirable organ meats.
The food editor for the Beckley News-Herald at the time ran recipes for liver pancakes, beef tongue with cherry sauce, brains scrambled with eggs and veal hearts and noodles. Liver loaf recipes abounded. Scouras shuddered when she recalled a recipe for liver meatballs suspended in gelatin.
Inconsistent, archaic measurement systems in older recipes can thwart a modern cook. One book offered translations. A "slow oven" is 300-325 degrees. A "very hot" oven is 450 to 500 degrees. Butter measurements were listed as a "filbert nut" (1 teaspoon), a "butternut" (1 desert teaspoon) and a "hen's egg" (2 ounces).
"These are books and recipes that you're not going to be able to find elsewhere," said Scouras. "We keep things that are considered ephemeral by others. We're looking at the past, but thinking of the future and what people might research."
Archives and History Library is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday with a later closing on Thursdays at 8 p.m. Call 304-558-0230 or visit wvculture.org or West-Virginia-Archives-and-History on Facebook.
Reach Julie Robinson at jul...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.
3 quarts green tomatoes
3 red peppers
1 head cabbage or cauliflower
1 pint small onions
3/4 cup salt
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 quarts vinegar
4 tablespoons mustard seed
1 1/2 tablespoons whole allspice
1 1/2 tablespoons pepper berries
2 tablespoon whole cloves
CUT vegetables into small pieces. Cover with salt and let stand for 24 hours. Drain.
HEAT sugar, vinegar and spices to boiling point. Add vegetables and cook until soft.
PACK in sterilized jars and seal.
Source: Mildred Zinn of Tucker County in "West Virginia Treasured Recipes"
2 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
6 1/4 cups water
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 pound cooked pork or sausage
BLEND cornmeal in 2 cups water. Boil remaining 4 1/4 cups water. Add blended cornmeal mixture, sugar, salt and pork/sausage to water. Cook until thickened, stirring constantly.
POUR mixture into well-greased mold or pan. Allow to set up.