COOKBOOK COLLECTION | A Welcome Repast for a Bustling Holiday Season

With this post we introduce a new Verso series from Shelley Kresan, one of the rare book catalogers in the Library. She is in the process of cataloging the Anne M. Cranston cookbook collection, which consists of approximately 4,400 British and American cookbooks from the 19th and 20th centuries. Every few weeks, Shelley will share fascinating recipes, quotes, kitchen solutions, and anecdotes she has uncovered in the collection.

Harold A. Parker (1878–1930), Jordan’s Department Store, 268 East Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, Calif., 1926. Shoppers crowd around displays during the Christmas holidays.

“God made the first Christmas, and man has ever since been busy spoiling it.”

These are the opening words in Lady Agnes Jekyll’s essay “Country Friends to a Christmas Luncheon.” Lady Jekyll wrote a series of unsigned essays for the London Times and reprinted them in Kitchen Essays, a volume in the Huntington Library’s Anne M. Cranston cookbook collection. She goes on to describe how merchants are very busy during the season convincing potential customers that the only way to keep Christmas is to buy, buy, BUY. The gifts, she says, get more elaborate every year; the hustle and bustle becomes “bewildering.”

If only the good lady could see into the future from 1922. I myself am taken aback by the scenes of the post-Thanksgiving 2012 shopping frenzy. Still, many of us brave the crowds because we wish to please our loved ones and celebrate the season. The year might be extremely frugal, but most of us wish to do it up right whether it is Christmas, Hanukkah, or a more secular celebration of family and friends.

For me, the most important aspect of the celebration has always been the food. It starts early in December when I pick the ripe pomegranates off our tree and seed them for the jelly I make every year. Then there is the baking, the candy making, and finally the dinner on Christmas Day with the whole family and more than a few friends.

Agnes Jekyll (1861–1937), Kitchen Essays: With Recipes and Their Occasions [London, Edinburgh, New York, Toronto, and; Paris]: Thomas Nelson and Sons, Ltd., [1922].

Lady Jekyll knew how to soothe her friends in the midst of their early 20th-century buying frenzy: It was food lovingly prepared and enjoyed in good company. She suggests that the luncheon be prepared with foodstuffs that might be scarce or unavailable in the countryside so as to make the occasion even more special. These days, prawns and cocoanuts are hardly scarce, but this unusual and exotic luncheon recipe for Malay Curry of Prawns from Lady Jekyll would be a welcome repast:

Malay Curry of Prawns
One cucumber, 1 cocoanut, and allow 4 prawns a head.

  1. Remove shells from prawn, putting them into a bainmarie,* and covering with milk to simmer for the sauce, placing prawns aside till required.
  2. Peel and cut the cucumber into pieces like a large olive, boil in salted water, strain off and drain when cooked, but not overdone.
  3. Drain the milk from the cocoanut, retaining for use at the last, grate a cupful of the white part, pour over some boiling water, and let infuse.
  4. Put in a stew pan a piece of butter, adding when melted a small onion cut in fine rings to fry a golden brown.
  5. Add a clove of garlic chopped very fine, a tablespoon full of crème de riz,** a teaspoonful of turmeric powder, one of powdered cloves and cinnamon, a little salt, a teaspoon full of sugar; fry together, then add the strained liquor from the prawn shells, the water from the grated cocoanut, cook for a few minutes, then add the prawns and cucumber, and let it remain as it is for a half hour.
  6. Slowly reheat, adding the milk from the cocoanut.
  7. Serve in small brown flat fireproof egg dishes with handles, encircled by plain boiled rice, which could alternatively be handed separately.

*A pan containing hot water in which a smaller pan is set for uniform heat when cooking delicate foods like custards.

**Most probably rice flour.

Recipe from Agnes Jekyll (1861–1937), Kitchen Essays: With Recipes and Their Occasions [London, Edinburgh, New York, Toronto, and; Paris]: Thomas Nelson and Sons, Ltd., [1922].

Advertisement from Matilda Lees Dods, The Art of Cooking: A Series of Practical Lessons. By Matilda Lees Dods of the South Kennington School of Cookery; edited by Henrietta De Condé Sherman. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Son, 1880.

Shelley Kresan is a rare book cataloger in The Huntington’s technical services department.

8 thoughts on “COOKBOOK COLLECTION | A Welcome Repast for a Bustling Holiday Season

  1. I hope that they will be on display and possibly some reprinted. I too collect cookbooks and have a few old ones from family and friends.

  2. i look forward to seeing some of the collection displayed. I too collect cookboos and hope sone if the collection will be reprinted.

    • There are currently no plans for a physical cookbook display or reprint, but you never know what the future might hold. And you can be sure that we’ll keep highlighting stories about these lesser known, rarely seen items here on Verso and in our print publications.

  3. So glad you are providing these highlights. I agree with the other comments – hoping this will become an exhibit in the near future!

  4. Fascinating! You go, girl. There was a recipe-of-sorts in one of the Laura Ingalls Wilder series for apple pie, made not from apples (scarce to unavailable) but with something(s) else. What was that something?

    • In Chapter 3 of The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Ma uses green pumpkin. Pa even thinks it’s apple until Carrie lets the cat out of the bag. It’s got to be better than other recipes I’ve heard of for mock apple pie using soda crackers. I imagine that with the sugar and cinnamon, the pumpkin would have resembled green apples when cooked. That was an excellent way to improvise.

    • The Cranston collection is not slated to be digitized (at least anytime in the near future), and this is one of the reasons we’re so excited to be able to give some behind-the-scenes glimpses of it here on Verso. Keep your eyes peeled for more collection-related images that will be highlighted in future posts in this series. Shelley Kresan has lots more up her sleeve.

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