Woman's Favorite Cook Book
by Mrs. Gregory & Friends (1902)
My mother recently gave me this beautiful old cookbook that belonged to my Great-Grandmother, Florence, who lived most of her life in a small wheat-farming town in central Washington. She was a divorced, single mother—fairly rare in her day, as you can imagine—and ended up living with her parents for the remainder of her adult life, while raising her two sons. Florence shared a kitchen with her somewhat fractious mother (who was the first owner of this cookbook; she filled it with little newspaper clippings, which were stabbed through the cookbook’s pages with sewing pins).
Great-Great-Grandma Mary was an avid newspaper reader, and collected whole scrapbooks of news clippings during her lifetime. She later went on to write her memoirs of her childhood journey to Washington State (in a covered wagon), which I’ve unfortunately been unable to locate. I believe they were donated to a museum at some point.
My mother recently shared some lovely recollections of her childhood visits to her grandmother's kitchen in Washington, at which point the only family still living there there was Florence, her mother Mary, and her brother Johnny:
Often used in this charming kitchen, Woman’s Favorite Cook Book, published in 1902, reveals fascinating insights into how cooking (and women’s lives, for that matter) have changed since then. The author, Mrs. Gregory, wrote to friends of hers across the country in order to collect material for the cookbook. In her initial letter, she wrote:
The cookbook is full of beautiful pen-and-ink drawings, such as these:
Woman's Favorite Cook Book is arranged in three segments: recipes, household advice, and the treatment of ailments/beauty tricks. The recipes, of which there are several hundred, are fairly short on details, and contain fascinating units of measure which I'd never heard of before, calling for "a half an eggshell of water," for example. The author includes several sample holiday menus; for a Christmas feast, she suggests the following sumptuous affair:
Decorate the table with holly and mistletoe.
Breakfast Dinner Supper
Oranges Oysters on half shell Cold roast goose
Germia (a brand of porridge) Cream chicken soup Oyster patties
Broiled salt mackerel Broiled Whitefish Cold Slaw
Chipped beef on toast Roast goose, apple sauce Charlotte Russe
Baked Potatoes Boiled Potatoes Mashed Turnips Popovers
Griddle Cakes Muffins Sweet potatoes Currant Jelly
Coffee Christmas Plum Pudding
Lemon Ice Squash Pie
Quince Jelly Delicate Cake
Salted Almonds Fruit
I mean, if you didn't have a cook and a couple of kitchen maids on call, could you whip that one up at the holidays? Me neither.
Woman's Favorite Cook Book also has many quotes, and enough advice to keep you on the straight and narrow for the rest of your life. For one thing, Mrs. Gregory was big on morals, character, and cleanliness, and the housewife was expected to play an outsized role in cultivating these at home. The author exhorts her readers in regard to avoiding wastefulness: “Does not the Bible speak of the careful wife thus: ‘She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.’” Included throughout the cookbook are directions on how to keep ones kitchen clean; how to wash one’s corsets (thank heavens we got rid of those!); and how to eat so as to make “…our bodies fit temples for the dwelling of the immortal soul” (emphasis added by one of my great-grandmothers, who underlined the above phrase blue ink), which the author interpreted to mean avoiding animal products (interestingly, she was an early vegetarian).
After the recipe section, there’s a whole segment dealing with Sick and Convalescent care, which was probably something every housewife got a fair amount of practice with prior to the development of modern medical care and hospitals. The author writes: “Nursing the sick is a duty that requires intelligence and patience. Few sick persons retain the cheerfulness that characterizes them while well, and in dealing with their little whims, the tenderest forbearance should be exercised…Permit little or no company in the sick room. Caution is to be observed regarding remarks about the sick in their presence.”
Of course, this was back in the bad old days when paid sick leave from work wasn’t something people generally had to worry about, and there would be a mother or maiden aunt at home to force-feed you some of the concoctions inflicted upon the sick (many of which would be enough to spur one to recover, just to avoid the treatment). Here, I include a small sampling of delectable “invalid diets:”
(Disappointingly, there is no mention of cod liver or castor oil here.)
Mrs. Gregory then launches into childcare. Her instructions for feeding infants (How and What to Feed Them) are rather stern: “If it is ascertained, past all doubt, that a mother cannot nurse her child, then a healthy wet nurse should be procured, as the food which nature has supplied is superior to any invented by art. Never bring up a baby, if you can possibly avoid it, on artificial food.”
The author then goes on to give timeless advice for how to Make A Child Happy:
Then we come to Prevalent Disorders and Their Remedies. (Most of these home remedies need to be prefaced with a warning: DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.) As with home nursing, your average turn-of-the-century housewife must have been a real pro at handling your basic daily emergencies (a small sampling: poisoning; choking; sunstroke; cholera; croup; diphtheria; and palpitation of the heart). It’s a miracle anyone survived, really.
Hiccoughs must have been a nuisance, as there are no less than 3 remedies provided by the author, one of which suggests applying “small pieces of ice suddenly, so as to surprise the patient” as a cure.
Care of the Ears is quite sage: “Children’s ears ought never to be boxed, for besides being an ill-mannered way to punish one, it is liable to injure permanently the delicate membrane of the ear. Nor should the ear ever be ‘cleaned out with the screwed-up corner of a towel,’ much less with a bodkin [a blunt, thick needle].”
How about this Internal Cancer Cure? “Take the dried blossoms of the common red clover, put them in hot water, let them steep over night and this will be a clover tea. Take a tablespoonful of this tea five or six times daily. Cases of virulent cancer have been cured by this simple remedy.”
And finally, Mrs. Gregory leaves us with Toilet Suggestions and Recipes, referring to a lady’s beauty routine. She asks: “Is your skin wrinkled and old-looking, your complexion muddy and unhealthy, your neck, cheeks, arms or breasts shrunken and unsightly? Why not remedy the matter?”
Sure, why not. I did like this simple suggestion, grandly entitled The Royal Road To Beauty: “Breathe deeply, bathe daily—think joy, not sorrow—eat wisely and never speak unkindly.” I think we can all manage that one (more or less).
Then Mrs. Gregory waxes poetic upon A Cheerful Disposition:
She tackles the joys of the dinner table (back when families sat down and ate dinner together) under Sufficient Time For Eating:
(As an aside: maybe people in the early 1900s in America liked being preached at. The Social Gospel movement was in full swing around this time, propounding the concept that clean bodies lead to clean souls and all that. At the end of the cookbook there’s a full-page advertisement for a 500-page tome entitled “The Perfect Woman” written by a female doctor (how many of those do you think there were in the early 1900s?) This book, marketed as “Next to the Bible, the best book of the age,” was published in 1903. The publishers claim: “You will save enough in doctor’s bills in one month to pay for a copy” and that “It will make better girls, nobler wives, happier mothers.” (I had to go see if there were used copies on Amazon. There were. Of course I had to get one!) In keeping with the Social Gospel movement, the first chapter discusses “The Body The Temple of The Soul.” However, (horror of horrors) this book is advertised to contain “scores of drawings showing the reproduction organs of women.” It has an entire chapter dedicated to “The Marriage Relations.” Where are my smelling salts??)
Mrs. Gregory continues her lecture on Toilet Suggestions by giving us a little dermatology lesson under The Complexion:
To conclude her beauty tutorial, Mrs. Gregory addresses a topic that women’s magazines everywhere are still obsessing over today, How To Obtain A Handsome Form:
One really couldn’t go wrong with that prescription. Those kitchen girls worked awfully hard back then (just think of little Daisy in Downton Abbey)!
Well, there you have it: food, housekeeping, and beauty advice, circa 1902. The Woman’s Favorite Cook Book tells you, in no uncertain terms, precisely what you must do to be saved from domestic chaos. I doubt Mrs. Gregory would think much of my housekeeping skills (true confession: my windows are definitely smudgy), and possibly she might critique my lack of maids, footmen, cooks, and staff, which she seemed to find indispensable, especially when throwing parties. I have a sneaking suspicion she had more money than I ever will, and that she kept a flask in the pantry (just for emergencies). Nobody could really be this uptight all the time! At least, you'd hope not.