Book Review: The Southern Cook Book Of Fine Old Recipes

The Southern Cook Book Of Fine Old Recipes, edited by Lillie Lustic, S. Claire Sondheim, and Sarah Rensel

So, what do you get when you have a group of three Northern women writing a cookbook about Southern food that was old in the early 1900’s?  You get a book that combines a lot of unclean dishes featuring pork and more exotic animals, a few classic dishes that deserve to be better remembered and some that hit the mainstream of American cuisine in the 20th century–I’m looking at you, Maryland Fried Chicken and mint julep–and a whole lot of racist humor.  I am no stranger to reviewing odd cookbooks [1], and this is definitely an odd cookbook.  The publisher (from Pennsylvania) was clearly looking to appeal to a Southern market and to encourage the development and popularity of Southern cuisine, though it is unclear how much this particular book had to do with that process.  We know, of course, that Southern food is particularly popular, and that much of it is immensely tasty if not necessarily wholesome and nutritious.  Yet in the aftermath of the Civil War, it was probably not a popular thing to admit that one liked Southern food to the extent that it is popular to say so now.

In terms of its contents, this book has quite a few indices of foods that help the reader to organize this work, but overall it offers a broad mixture of different types of foods that are organized in a way that combine related foods together by their ingredients.  If, for example, you have a fair amount of rabbit or terrapin meat around–I don’t know why you would–there are some dishes for that.  Some of the dishes focus on the foods of the elite, but most of the foods chosen are pretty modest in terms of their history.  These foods, for the most part, were eaten by the commonfolk of the South.  While some of the dishes remain obscure, a large portion of the dishes included have achieved some degree of popularity far outside of the South, and it is likely that this book had something to do with that.  Unfortunately, the book does not only include popular and/or tasty dishes on its pages, but also a huge amount of racist lines of the kind that would have been amusing to racist audiences in the 19th and early 20th century.  The artwork and its associated commentary are definitely awkward today.

Given contemporary feelings about the casual racism of this cookbook and its art, it is likely that this book will never catch on, and if it were not a nearly totally forgotten volume it would likely be a banned book today.  There are at least a few noteworthy aspects of the book, though, that do deserve to be remembered.  The work of northerners in appropriating the food of the south for their own cuisine is one of the ways that the South showed its cultural influence in the period after the Civil War.  Even today, food is one of the chief ways that the South and its ways have proven to have enduring and massive appeal, along with sports and music and other cultural elements.  It is also worthwhile to remember that among the ways that the people of the North and South reconciled in the period after the Civil War was in a common appreciation of racist humor.  This book is not exactly a praiseworthy artifact of our history, but it demonstrates the way that Southern culture became gradually diffused into the nation as a whole.  This is not a pretty picture, but it is a historically notable one.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/10/12/book-review-the-gourmet-jewish-cookbook/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/04/29/book-review-the-oregonian-cookbook/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/07/22/book-review-colorado-cook-book/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/06/11/book-review-salads-beyond-the-bowl/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/05/16/book-review-salads/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/10/12/book-review-the-artisan-jewish-deli-at-home/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Book Review: The Southern Cook Book Of Fine Old Recipes

  1. Pingback: Book Review: The Mac & Cheese Cookbook | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: The Colorful Kitchen | Edge Induced Cohesion

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