The Virginia Housewife
This is one of the first cookbooks made in the New World, but was not published until 1824. The book has been published several times under different names associated with the Randolph family. It has been called The Martha Washington Cookbook, The Robert E. Lee Cookbook and even The George Washington Cookbook. It was in fact all of these, as it was their family cookbook passed down the line.
This book has also been plagiarized by just about every cookbook published in that era as well as any historical cookbook on early American cooking. It is however an excellent source book for colonial cooking. It includes some Mid-Atlantic specialties, but it is largely British and French in design. It is kind of like Escoffier’s book, but for American cooks, the recipes are brief and only used as an aid to memory, so this is not for a novice cook to use.
The edition I have is a historical reproduction you can get on WWW.Amazon.com it contains some historical and biographical information, but this cookbook is more for the researcher as well as the collector rather than the home cook. The recipes are wildly out of date and the methods to prepare them are obsolete in today’s kitchen.
It is a must have if you are building a collection of American cookbooks, but otherwise, you could invest in a more modern book and get much more out of it. This cookbook today is more of a historical document than a relevant book, but if you are an experienced chef (like me) you can look through it and find all sorts of ideas and interesting flavor profiles which haven’t been used in a hundred years.
Overall, it is a great book in understanding American cuisine and Mid-Atlantic cuisine in particular, but it is for serious chefs and historians only. the influence of this book is undeniable, but its usability has long since passed unless you are trying to make a historically accurate reenactment of the past.
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