I can’t remember the last time I actually grabbed a cookbook for directions prior to whipping up something in the kitchen. Instead of looking through cookbooks for ideas, I think I’m a little dyslexic as I do it in reverse. I scour my cupboards or fridge first, inventory what isn’t growing anything suspicious or moving, then search or come up with my own concoctions depending on what’s available at hand.
I do, however, have an obsession with collecting odd and unusual cookbooks. One such book jumped out at me at an antique store one day. With a copyright of 1903 stamped inside the front, stained cover, I leafed carefully through the delicate pages, the binding loosely still attached, knowing by the looks of it that it had once been some housewife’s bible – or it belonged to The Help of said housewife.
The book is called 365 Dinner Dishes and, as promised, it contains a dish a day for an entire year. I leafed through it, admiring the concept and wondering what might have pleased the palate back in 1903. I also wondered how they managed without microwaves, toaster ovens, broilers and, at times, basic running water.
I always thought I was pretty creative when it came to designing creative dishes, until I read some of these recipes. I might as well have picked up a book written in Greek. The only thing missing in the book is a glossary. Some of the ingredients include plants and animals that I wouldn’t know if they grew in my bathtub. Recipes included titles like Gooseberry Fool, Chestnut Balls, Quince Fritters and Birds Nest Salad. And even with the ingredients I am familiar with, my curiosity was peaked by names like Cream of Beet Soup, Jellied Chicken with Mayonnaise and Queens Orange Pudding. Uh, Cream of Turnips, Curried Eel? No, thanks. And, ew. But I was intrigued nonetheless.
Other instructions aroused my curiosity, like, “Dip a napkin into boiling water, wring dry, and strain the soup.” Gee, who needs cheesecloth? One of my favorites was, “Crack a knuckle of veal.” Well, that sounds pretty painful. But not as painful as a dish called “Calf’s Head en Tortue.” Don’t need a Latin degree to figure out that one! Yes, the first step is to wash and clean a calf’s head. Holy cow.
But an interesting thing happened as I was leafing through the pages. Out fell a yellowed, slightly faded newspaper clipping. It was similar to a Hints from Heloise column, with a letter written to the columnist, one Mrs. Symes, asking for a recipe for thin and oily hair. I figured it was a common question posed by the ladies of that era, and I can see why. In the question posed by the reader, she noted that her hair “gets oily after a week’s washing.” Alrighty then, back to the running water dilemma. I can’t even imagine life without my Root Lift on Steroids, my Blueberry Aloe Tequila Acai fragrant shampoo and, oh, yeah, soap.
So, for all of you regressed hippies or environmentalists who want to save on water and decide not to wash your hair for a week, here are the secret ingredients you’ve been waiting for.
1/4 ounce of bicarbonate of soda
1/4 ounce borate of soda, powered (huh?)
1 ounce eau de cologne
2 ounces alcohol
16 ounces distilled water
The directions say to mix and agitate. Those are her words, not mine. Either way, with smelly hair you haven’t washed for a week or with this potion poured on your scalp, you’re sure to agitate someone.
Children: Don’t try this at home.