Mary Mason’s Cookbook

0 Comments | October 16, 2014

BaltimoreTitle: Mary Mason’s Cookbook (among other contributors)
Dates: 1800-1843
Cookbook images: view
Historical Context:

This cookbook was presumably a personal recipe book that was often used or moved from person to person because the cover was torn off, part of it was burned away, and there were smudges and marks all throughout. There were many contributors to the cookbook, which is apparent by the change in writing style, and by the different names listed throughout the book, as well as names listed in the description of the cookbook on the University of Pennsylvania website.F

First, we looked into the Mason family, going off the quote in the description,  “If you don’t hear from me, return this book to my sister in law Miss Mary C. Mason, 2212 N. Calvert St. Baltimore, Md. Mrs. Mary B. Mason.”

We found the lineage of the Mason family in America extend back to George Mason I, who arrived in Norfolk, VA in 1652.  We looked for Mary B Mason, but found instead Mary Barnes Johnson, who married John Thomson Mason. John Mason was born in 1827 and died in 1891, and he was the son of William Temple Thompson Mason, a name which we recognized from researching in “The Times” 1903 article in Baltimore. This was a short article published on January 15, 1903, that stated that “Miss Mary C Mason’s” remains were moved from Baltimore to Leesburg, VA, after her death 5 weeks prior. Miss Mary C Mason died from injuries after falling while out shopping, and breaking her hip and “right limb.” The article states, “She was the daughter of William T. T. Mason, of the ‘Temple Hall’, near Leesburg, and the sister of Dr. J. T. Mason, surgeon on the cruiser Merimac during the Civil War. She was connected with the Lee, Mason, and Pemberton families of Virginia, but had resided in Baltimore the last forty years.”

We presume that Dr. J. T. Mason mentioned in this article is in fact James Thomson Mason, the husband of Mary B Mason, who wrote the note in our cookbook to return it to her sister-in-law, Mary C Mason, if found. Mary C Mason was the sister of James, her full name being Mary Carter Mason. However, in the Wikipedia lineage, Mary C Mason was said to have died in 1897. We believe that Wikipedia may be wrong in this instance, and that Mary C Mason, daughter of William T. T. Mason, sister of Dr. J. T. Mason, in fact died in 1902 (five weeks before January 15, 1903 when the article in the times was published), but this is worth looking in to further.

The lineage on Wikipedia shows James Mason and Mary B Mason had a daughter named after James’ sister, Mary Carter Mason. According to the Wiki page, their daughter, Mary Carter Mason, was born in 1859 and died in 1945. Again, we wonder if the dates are wrong, and whether they named their last daughter after James’ sister before or after she passed away in 1901. Obviously, Mary B Mason had a close relationship with her sister-in-law, Mary Carter, because she wrote for her lost cookbook to be returned to her. So it makes sense that they would have named their daughter after a close relative, maybe a relative that recently passed away.

In looking at the typical kinds of food Chesapeake region in the 1800’s, we see a number of different influences and trends. Being of coastal geography, there is obviously a huge seafood influence that began with Native Americans. Oysters, catfish, and even terrapins were important parts of the food culture in Virginia and Maryland in the 1800’s. In addition, there is a strong influence from English cuisine including puddings, biscuits and pickled foods. To get a better idea for what types of foods were common in the area at the time, we looked at “The Virginia Housewife: or, Methodical Cook” by Mary Randolph, a book from Baltimore in 1838 that illustrates some of the food trends of the area. In Mary’s book we see many puddings, seafood, soups, biscuits and pickled foods which are consistent with what you would expect to see.

When looking at the recipes from the Baltimore cookbook, we see significant consistency with what was to be expected for this region, but with some southern influence as well. Similar to “The Virginia Housewife: or, Methodical Cook” there are many different puddings and biscuits, seafood, and many pickled things including pickles oysters. In addition to the eastern european and coastal influences, we see some influences from Virginia and the South creeping into the recipes. There are instances of walnuts, peaches, cooked greens, and stews which would seem to indicate that some of the recipes in the book come from southern parts of Virginia. We also thought it was interesting how recipes repeated themselves throughout the book, all in different handwritings. For instance, there are many “Walnut Catsup” recipes. We presume these may be new renditions of the same recipe, or that different people have different recipes for the same dish.

On the inside cover of the Baltimore cookbook, someone scribbled “1901 [new line] 1827 [new line] / 74 years”. We assumed that this was the lifespan of the cookbook and analyzed the current events of the that time period. First, we looked into a timeline of Baltimore’s current events and then the major historic events of America as a whole for a more general perspective. Baltimore became the home to multiple catalysts in the advancement or establishment of minorities in adolescent American society. Baltimore was the city that the illustrious Frederick Douglass wrote about escaping in his world famous slavery narrative. The third oldest synagogue in the country was erected in Baltimore, MD during this time period. A port-of-entry was established taking in thousands of European immigrants before it was shut down preceding WWI. The foundation of an unique company during that time employed both white and black people and the strike which halted railroad production until violent military intervention took place in Baltimore.

In terms of general major events in American history from 1827 to 1901, the most significant event was the Civil War. In fact, the first bloodshed of the Civil War, the Pratt Street Riots, took place in Baltimore, leaving it under martial law. The Civil War lasted four years from 1861 to 1865. A few other prominent American events that took place in the lifespan of the cookbook include the Trail of Tears, the accomplishments and assassination of  Abraham Lincoln, the prohibition of slavery and the foundation of the National Woman’s Suffrage Association in chronological order.

After a closer look at the characters or major players in the recipe book, we could distinguish a lot of the members of the book lived in or near each other during the time this cookbook was being written (according to the Machett’s CIty Directory of 1837). Among the names that were indexed by the city of Baltimore were Armistead, Mason, Alexander, Heath, and Thomas Johnson (thought to be Mary Barnes’s father). Due to the time this cookbook was expected to written, it is possible the lineage of families with the same last name had a greater likelihood of being directly related. From this we then ascertained that 2212 N. Calvert St. Baltimore, MD., could in fact be a residency of the Mason family, closely tied to many other people of Baltimore.

Another detail presented was the type of family this cookbook may have belonged to. With our assumptions these Masons are directly descended from George Mason, a founding father of America, it would seem logical this family would be upper class for this time period. After plotting all the possible residencies of people mentioned in the recipe book on a map of Baltimore from the 1800s, this ideation that the owner of this cookbook was well off was supported by the location of their house and the supposed location of the other people of the book. The map denoted the particular parts of the city that were most densely populated by the cookbook’s characters were an area close to the Theatre and an area called the dispensary district. The implications of being near a glorified pharmacy are less apparent, but the nearness to a theatre at a time when it was a large part of the high society culture helps further support our assumptions on the socioeconomic status of the characters.


Recipes in Mary Mason’s cookbook

Flannel Cakes
Mackaion Cake
Mrs. Pollards Receipt for Making Waffles
Carrot Pudding

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