Mrs. Paige’s Cookbook

0 Comments | October 16, 2014

PaigeTitle: Ms. Paige’s Cookbook
Dates: 1850s
Cookbook images: view
Historical Context:

Although the University of Pennsylvania archives believe the cookbook of one Ms. Paige was written somewhere near Charleston, SC around the 1850s, it is our belief this book of receipts originated somewhere in England as early as the 1840s. Many of the recipes in the book mention ingredients indigenous to the English region, such as pike and caraway seed, and also have a great deal of French influence, as seen in the recipes for potatoes a la maître d’hotel, turbeau de chicken (whole roasted chicken), and cote de boeuf (ribeye steak) with mushrooms. Mainly, we assume this cookbook is of British descent due to the several recipes for Theo Hook’s punch. Theo Hook was a practical joker that lived in the late 18th to early 19th centuries who was responsible for one of the greatest hoaxes of his time. To our knowledge, this recipe commemorates his prank, the Berner’s Street Hoax, by implying that one’s house would be the talk of the town if this concoction were created. This receipts in this book are primary dessert-based, consisting of pies, cakes, breaks, and other pastries, many of which (such as soap cake and gingerbread) have origins in England.

Going upon the hypothesis that this cookbook was originally created in England, the 1840s marked the peak of the English Industrial Revolution. It is possible this recipe book was written across several years by the same person. As is noted by the recipes for Hook’s Punch on page 25 and Tomato Piccalilli, some of these recipes were in fact written in the U.S. during the 1850s. The most historical evidence we receive from this recipe book comes from the newspaper clipping found within its pages. Although it includes a recipe for English bacon, which was considered superior to American bacon, it also includes an article noting the “diminishing” of what is now known as Bleeding Kansas, following the death of Charles Dow at the hands of Franklin Coleman. This death occurred on November 21st, 1855, which puts some of these recipes in the time frame of 1855-1856. Other more local events that occurred in SC during this time range are as follows:

  • South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks attacks Senator Charles Sumner with a cane in the hall of the U.S. Senate after Sumner gave a speech attacking Southern sympathizers for the pro-slavery violence in Kansas. Sumner would take three years to recover while Brooks was lionized throughout Southern states.

  • An exodus of people start their journey out of South Carolina due to the extension of cotton to the American Southwest due to the low yield of SC soil.

  • South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company was chartered and laid over 700 miles of track.

As for the author of the recipe book, we do not know her name. We can assume that given the similarities of the handwritings, this book has only one primary author, having written recipes over 10 years apart. Given the heavy French influence on some of these recipes, as well as the menus and request lists found in the notes between the pages, we assume that whoever Ms. Paige was, she was most likely a British female servant who served as the primary chef for an affluent British (and later American) family. Menus for “Vestry Dinner”, “Brichee’s(?) Order”, and “Brown’s Dish for Party” look similar to what chef’s special occasion menus look like. Given the nature of these meals, which look to be 5 course extravagant dinners with raw and fried oysters, soups, beef, turkey, duck, chicken, venison, corn, peas, tomatoes, and multiple desserts, such as apple pies, cakes, and multitudes of ice cream, it is fair to again assume that the family Ms. Paige served for in South Carolina came of wealth, and even potentially owned slaves.

We believe this cookbook was originally intended as a receipt book of desserts and other pastries in England in the 1840s, but as Ms. Paige moved to the states, she also wrote down several of dishes for soups, turkey, chicken, beef, vegetables, and other non-dessert items to serve to her masters, as well as several potential menus for certain events.


Recipes in Ms. Paige’s Cookbook

Corsican Gingerbread
Lemon Pudding

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