September 3, 2012

Cooking up the past: how to roast beef, from the Frugal Housewife (c. 1803)

I love both history and food, so it stands to reason that I find the history of food very interesting.

In trying to find recipes from colonial New England, I discovered a really neat website,, that actually has links to information on foods eaten at various times in history. This site actually links to very old recipe books, with images of the actual pages.

One of these was The Frugal Housewife or Complete Woman Cookbook by Susannah Carter, published in 1803.

Here's one recipe contained therein for how to roast beef:

"If it be a sirloin or chump, butter a piece of writing-paper, and fasten it on the back of your meat with small skewers, and lay it down to a soaking fire, at a proper distance. As soon as your meat is warm, dust on some flour, and baste it with butter; then sprinkle some salt, and, at times, baste it with what comes from it. About a quarter of an hour before you take it up, remove the paper, duston a little flour, and baste it with a piece of butter, that it may go to the table with a good froth. Garnish your dish with scraped horse-radish, and serve it up with potatoes, brocoli, French beans, cauliflower, or celery."

Other than having to cook over an open fire, this recipe sounds surprisingly modern... and pretty yummy to boot, though I personally would forego the flour but add garlic and coarse ground pepper.

I'll probably post more recipes from the past in subsequent posts.

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