Hannah Keen’s Cookbook

0 Comments | October 16, 2014

Hannah Title: Hannah Keen’s Cookbook
Dates: 1870s
Cookbook images: view
Historical Context:

Although unable to definitively identify this Hannah M. Keen to the Hannah M. Keen of the recipe book, several primary documents and Federal records depict the life of a woman from the same time period, town, and area as described by Rare Book & Manuscript Library of University of Pennsylvania. Hannah M. Keen was born around 1818 in Pennsylvania. The Federal Census and Voting records of Pennsylvania in 1870 states she lived in Ward 27, District 90, which correlates to the address from the recipe book, 3312 Race Street. According to current maps of this address, the location is now part of a small courtyard within Drexel University.

Other househoRecipe Page from Keenld residents include J S Keen, Lucy Keen (presumably Mary Keen’s sister-in-law, who is also credited for some of the content in the cookbook), Carrie Keen, Mary McCarthy, Mary Corle, and Charles Wood. On pages 6 and 7 of her cookbook, there appears to be pencil markings and scribbles like that of a child, and since Carrie Keen was 11 in 1870, it is possible these are from her. With the Keen household having so many residents, the woman of the house keeping a collection of recipes does not seem farfetched. She would need to cook meals frequently and in abundance, which explains the large quantities of ingredients in the recipes, as well as have collaborations from other friends and relatives. The fact that there was frequent collaboration and a multitude of recipes reflect that cooking was a social practice for Ms. Keen, not just a necessity, because it was an activity she truly enjoyed.

Hannah Keen was also an active member of society, participating in philanthropic organizations and events. Keen was documented as a member of Sisters of Charity group in Philadelphia. As such, she, with other members, signed a petition, published in the Philadelphia Evening Telegraph on July 16,1869, for female prisoners in Philadelphia to be guarded and inspected by fellow females. Her actions within this committee portray her community involvement as well as her interests in civil liberties and social issues of the time.

Ironically, Hannah M. Keen died of starvation. According to The Star a Pennsylvania newspaper she was in a poor physical condition and was not able to leave her home and get food. Her only companion at the time was her brother, who was also sick and mentally unstable so he unable to care for her. While it is truly heartbreaking that such a connoisseur would die of starvation, she is remembered today through the existence of her remarkable cookbook. Hannah M. Keen is a perfect example the importance of historical documents because they can reveal things about our amazing predecessors.

Recipes in Hannah Keen’s Cookbook

Cup Cake
Ribbon Cake



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