For most nineteenth-century women, domestic life centered on the kitchen and the meals prepared there.
A group from the Friends of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries is recreating a sense of that life with a cookbook, using literary excerpts describing meals or meal preparation to illustrate recipes from contemporary cookbooks.
A Literary Feast: Recipes and Writings by American Women Authors from History appeared in bookstores in August and is the culmination of 10 years of work.
A Literary Feast recalls the days before microwaves, refrigerators, and standardized cooking measurements. The recipes were selected from the William B. Cairns Collection of American Women Writers (1650-1920) in UW-Madison's Special Collections, which is primarily a literary collection of approximately 8,000 titles by more than 3,250 women writers.
The cookbook highlights fiction and nonfiction pieces by female authors such as Kate Chopin's The Awakening, Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, and Catharine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe's The American Woman's Home, or, Principles of Domestic Science, as well as cookbooks from the Cairns Collection.
Other recipes come from the historical cookbook collection at Steenbock Library, the Wisconsin Historical Society, second-hand bookstores and family collections. The writers appearing in this collection, including Louisa May Alcott and Kate Douglas Wiggin, often celebrated with special meals in their novels and the recipes in the cookbook reflect food women would have prepared at the time.
Although most recipes were not kitchen-tested, they were adapted to meet modern cooking practices, and the authors enjoyed the recipes they made. The cookbook includes instructions for chowders, pies, candy, vegetables and more.
"I spent a whole weekend measuring cups of sugar and flour," says Yvonne Schofer, the English Humanities bibliographer at Memorial Library and editor of the cookbook. "I had to make sure the recipes could be understood and, if you did try to prepare them, they would turn out normally."
The writers appearing in this collection often described meals for special occasions in their novels, and the recipes in the cookbook reflect food women would have prepared at the time. The cookbook includes instructions for chowders, pies, candy, vegetables, and more.
A Literary Feast was compiled by Joan Jones, Loni Hayman, and Anne C. Tedeschi, all members of the Friends of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries.
The writers and editor have assigned all royalties from the book to the Friends. Jones Books in Madison, operated by Joan Strasbaugh, a former UW-Madison editor, is the publisher.