Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Local & In Season circa 1921: Mrs. Scott's North American Seasonal Cook Book

I don't think Mrs. Scott was a movie star chef from her picture here.
I just read an interview with a local chef, and honestly, he seems to think he invented farm-to-table cooking, or seasonal, local cooking.  Not naming names here, but you probably have heard some famous chef preciously spouting how wonderful it all is. Well, I've got news for them: The hunter-gatherers invented it thousands of years ago. While it IS wonderful, and no doubt there are some creative new combinations, it's what good home cooks have been doing for a millennium at least.

What set me off on this is while rummaging around looking for my copy of Beard's "American Cookery", I happened on a copy of a cook book my mother got from my Dad's mom back in the 1940's. Published in 1921, "Mrs. Scott's North American Seasonal Cook Book" had everything in it a thrifty housewife would need to know to feed her family well. The book isn't in the best of shape; the pages are a little brown on the edges and there's a page missing from the front, but it proves that these guys didn't think up using what was in season and locally available. Not many people had refrigerators in 1921; iceboxes were the thing still for most. So stocking up with out of season fruit and vegetables wasn't even a consideration. No frozen vegetables, no Concord grapes in May. The Spring and Summer and Fall recipes are good and varied. Winter relying heavily on roots, grains and hard squashes is a little less appealing to our modern tastes; the menus seem heavy and stodgy.

Kinda dry compared to the latest offerings from today's TV  food people.
But here we are in late Spring,--- May into June meant blackberries, asparagus, spinach, strawberries, rhubarb, early peas, hard shell crabs, lamb and--whatever Mother Nature in her grand and infinite cycle has provided. The recipes in this old book are quaint. Simpler stews and soups, with far fewer seasonings than even the average American is used to now. Fruit puddings, uncommon foods like creamed scallions...which gives me an idea... but you get the picture. If you lived in Philadelphia, where this book was published, you traipsed down to the market and looked over what came in, possibly still by wagon, from New Jersey or from Lancaster County and planned your meals around that. We should be doing that now.

Everything old is new again. People are canning. Smoking bacon at home. Making bread.  It wasn't unusual 75 years ago for there to be a few chickens or a beehive in the backyard, or a rabbit hutch behind the garage. This old book is a good reminder that while we like to think we've reinvented the wheel, or at least discovered seasonal, local eating, our grannies really had it wired. Cook on


No comments:

Post a Comment