So you’re living in West Virginia in the 1860s and you decide to bake a nice Sally Lunn bread. You obviously need flour along with butter, sugar, salt and eggs. And yeast, of course. Where to get the yeast? If you haven’t any from the general store–let’s say you live many miles from the nearest town and are fresh out–where does it come from? You make it from scratch in your kitchen, of course.
Or so I’ve learned from this lovingly preserved recipe book. The cook noted this location and date on the page with a recipe for soft soap (page 83): “Springfield, Monroe County, West Virginia, 1867.” At that time, West Virginia would have been a state four years unto its own, broken off from Virginia during the Civil War in 1863.
This foodie treasure comes from Virginia Tech’s History of Food and Drink Collection and is one of several you’ll find on the library’s website. You learn from reading the handwritten recipes that the aforementioned yeast could be made from either hops or potatoes (as in the case of “Philadelphia Yeast,” page 58). The book also includes natural dye recipes, such as one for “turning wool brown.”
Pantaloons as Pastry
There are many delightful finds in these pages, like the dessert named “Tangled Pantaloons,” which really has no modern equivalent in undergarments or desserts. This is not just a recipe book, though. Tucked in between recipes for corned beef and blackberry wine are inspirational quotes, like this one:
“May all your youthful days be spent in peace, prosperity and happiness. May not one single cloud of sorrow arise to mar your pleasures in this life. And when the evening of life draws near may all who know you be able to say of you, ‘None knew her best but to love her, none named her but to praise.'”
This is taken from a women’s periodical published by the Methodist Episcopal Church. Other verses found in the cookbook were commonly written in Victorian memory or autograph books. The combination of recipes and rosy sentiments gives the reader a peek into one Appalachian homemaker’s daily meals and meditations.
And of course you’ll want the recipe for Tangled Pantaloons…