Historical Society of Pennsylvania Publishes Historic 1865 Cookbook

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Book contains hundreds of recipes from Cherry Bread to Broiled Oysters

Ever wonder what the typical meal was like back in Civil War-era Philadelphia? Now you can find out and try your hand at cooking dishes like Cherry Bread and Broiled Chops. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) recently published a facsimile of a cookbook written by Philadelphia resident Ellen M. Emlen.

Emlen, a 19th-century Philadelphia housewife born in 1814, organized her cookbook into 13 categories of recipes, including meats, vegetables, sauces, food for the sick, and desserts. Written circa 1865 and containing more than 200 recipes, this book is a must for any culinary historian or Civil War buff. The cookbook can be purchased at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania at 1300 Locust Street, Philadelphia or online at HSP's shop. Copies of this limited edition printing are $19.99.

The Ellen Emlen cookbook is only one of many historical cookbooks in the collections of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. HSP also holds cookbooks once owned by Martha Washington and Hannah Penn. The Ellen Emlen cookbook was discovered in our collection a year ago by Tara O’Brien, HSP’s Director of Conservation and Preservation. At that time, the Emlen cookbook was in disrepair, with a missing spine and damaged pages. HSP staff spent months restoring the book.

“After spending more than a month repairing it and reading many mouth-watering recipes out loud, we came to feel close to this document. We wanted to share it,” O’Brien said. “Mrs. Emlen’s book is a peek into the American past. It is a documentation of years of trial and error and the desire to preserve that knowledge.”

The reprint of the cookbook is in Emlen’s own hand. The recipes, although handwritten in script, are legible. Emlen includes tips and tricks passed down through her family and recipes collected from her friends. This is not simply a how-to book. It is a peek into the American past, into a documentation of years of trial and error, developing delicious recipes, and the desire to remember and preserve that knowledge.

The publication of the cookbook was sponsored in part through the generous support of the vice president of HSP’s Board of Councilors, Tom Moran, and Cynthia Starrett.