So, here you are, planning to cook a nice chicken dinner for your family. You walk to your fridge, pull out the sealed-in-plastic chicken you purchased from your local grocer, clean out the innards, rinse under the faucet in the sink, salt and pepper, then throw it in your oven and turn the dial to your desired temperature setting.
As simple as that.
But, suddenly, you find yourself transported through time...back to the mid-19th century, and pretty much everything you know about cooking a chicken dinner (or anything else for that matter) no longer means anything. You can no longer purchase chickens from the cooler in your local store, but, instead, you head out to the coop in your barn. You also no longer have a fridge to keep the meat cold for an extended length of time, for there is no electricity in houses. Your cellar works OK but still cannot keep meat for too long. Nor is there running water inside your house to rinse it off. You must go out to the pump out back, pour water in a bucket, and bring it inside your house. Your stove? A woodburner. But, on this stove you don't turn a dial to 350 to get that particular temperature. Instead, you regulate the temp by the type of wood, the size of wood, and how much wood. You test the temperature by the tried and true method of heat on your hand:
if you put your hand inside the oven and you can keep it there without too much discomfort, it is not nearly hot enough for anything, if you can keep it in only a short time, maybe to the count of six or seven, well then you have a good baking fire. But, if you cannot keep your hand inside the oven for more than a moment – in and out quickly - now you have a good fire for frying. There are also the flues and dampers to help control the temperature.
You have to eat - - you have to survive - - what do you do now?
Fear not, for I am here to help. If, by chance, you should find yourself transported through time 150 or so years, take heed of what I am about to write - -
Now, let's cook that same chicken dinner...in 1877...
Do not feed poultry the day before killing; cut off the head, hang up by the legs, as the meat will be more white and wholesome if bled freely and quickly. In winter, kill them three days to a week before cooking. Scald well by dipping in and out of a pail or tub of boiling water, being careful not to scald so much as to set the feathers and make them more difficult to pluck; place the fowl on a board with the neck towards you, pull the feathers away from you, which will be in the direction they naturally lie (if pulled in a contrary direction the skin is likely to be torn), be careful to remove all of the pin-feathers with a knife or a pair of tweezers; singe, but not smoke over blazing paper, place on a meat-board, and with a sharp knife cut off the legs a little below the knee to prevent the muscles from shrinking away from the joint, and remove the oil-bag above the tail. Take out the crop, either by making a slit at the back of the neck or in front (the last is better), taking care that everything pertaining to the crop or windpipe is removed, cut the neck-bone off close to the body, leaving the skin a good length if to be stuffed; cut a slit three inches long from the tail upwards, being careful to cut only through the skin, put in a finger at the breast and detach all the intestines, taking care not to burst the gall-bag (situated near the upper part of the breast-bone, and attached to the liver; if broken, no washing can remove the bitter taint left on every spot it touches). Put in the hand at the incision near the tail, and draw out carefully all intestines; trim off the fat from the breast and at the lower incision; split the gizzard and take out the inside and inner lining (throw liver, heart, and gizzard into water, wash well, and lay aside to be cookedand used for the gravy). Wash the fowl thoroughly in several waters (some wipe carefully without washing), hang up to drain, and it is ready to be stuffed, skewered, and placed to roast.This was taken from a facsimile of an original 1877 cook book called 'Tried and Approved: The Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping - Compiled from Original Recipes 1877." According to the back cover, this was "Ohio's premier cookbook of the 19th century." But, it wasn't just a cookbook, for it also provided "detailed information on the fundementals of everything from bread baking to omelets to medicinal remedies" - "a treasure trove of forgotten knowledge."
It also delves into housekeeping, and tells, room by room, the how-to's in cleaning your house, as well as the cellar and ice-house. Cleaning of utensils, the fireplace hearth, kid gloves, laundry and so very much more is also covered.
One interesting chapter is called "The Management of Help." It's here where one can learn how to hire and keep a domestic.
"In all families whose style of living demands help in the household duties, the management of 'girls' is the great American puzzle. 'Girls' come and go like the seasons, sometimes with the weeks. The one who is 'such a treasure' to-day, packs her trunk and leaves her mistress in the lurch to-morrow, or, if she happens to have a conscience and works on faithfully, she becomes the mistress and runs the household in her own way, her employer living in mortal fear of offending and losing her. Too many American women who ought to know better regard work as degrading instead of positively elevating and ennobling when it is well and conscientiously done.
Is it wonderful that 'girls' catch something of this vicious sentiment, and that it poisons their minds with this false view of life, until they look upon their work as brutal drudgery, and strive to do as little of it as they possibly can and collect their wages?"
My, how times have changed...
The Buckeye Cookery is really an amazing "1st person" collection of everyday home life from another era. If I was truly able to time-travel, this would be the one book I would consider to be a necessity!