February 11th--The Frugal Housewife

On this date in 1802 Lydia Maria Francis Child was born. We don't usually recognize her name now, but your great-great( in my case perhaps one more great) grandmother would have. Her book, printed in 1829, The Frugal Housewife made her the Julia Child of the 1830's-50's.
Sometimes referred to as The American Frugal Housewife, to differentiate it from a British book by the same name by one Susannah Carter, the book combines tips for running a Victorian-era household with recipes, folk-medicine, and ideas to assist in the frugality required in most homes during the 1820's depression.

Reading the recipes, however, makes one grateful to not live in that era, particularly when it comes to cooking vegetable matter:

Cabbages need to be boiled an hour;
beets an hour and a half.
The lower part of a squash should be boiled half an hour; the neck pieces fifteen or twenty minutes longer.
Parsnips should boil an hour, or an hour and a quarter, according to size.
New potatoes should boil fifteen or twenty minutes...

She later suggests boiling asparagus for 20 minutes, longer if older! It begs the question--how were Americans of this era getting any nutrition?

Her advice on preparing catsup is more tempting:

The best sort of catsup is made from tomatoes. The vegetables should be squeezed up in the hand, salt put to them, and set by for twentyfour hours. After being passed through a sieve, cloves, all-spice, pepper, mace, garlic, and whole mustard-seed should be added. It should be boiled down one third, and bottled after it is cool. No liquid is necessary; as the tomatoes are very juicy. A good deal of salt and spice is necessary to keep the catsup well. It is delicious with roast meat; and a cup full adds much to the richness of soup and chowder.

Perhaps something worth experimenting with next summer, when the farmer's market tomatoes are ripe and tender. It certainly warrants further investigation, since it's hard to believe that once families made their own of the condiment that these guys have made for us all for the past 141 years.

Mrs. Child must have been a fascinating woman to know. In the 1830's she shocked polite society with her Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans (1833), which was followed by History of the Condition of Women in Various Ages and Nations (1835), while her husband, David Lee Child introduced the manufacture of beet sugar to America, technology which enabled a great degree of self-sufficiency for pioneers in the Rocky Mountains. She also assisted in the publishing of other anti-slavery authors, such as Harriet Jacob's Incidents In the Life of a Slave Girl, and fought for rights for Native Americans.

Links you may find interesting:

A full text of The Frugal Housewife

A brief biography

More on sugarbeets (bet you didn't know they had an association for that, did you?)


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