Politics and cooking have a long history together

If you are following the US presidential candidate primary, you may have seen Pete Buttigieg’s controversial salsa/ranch dressing mashup, or perhaps viewed Stephen Colbert talking with Elizabeth Warren over a meal featuring traditional foods of South Carolina. Combining food and politics did not begin with these events, of course. There is a long history of food and politics being intertwined, whether through politicians glad-handing their way through crowds at county fairs or coming together over a meal to hammer out a legislative deal. Women played a role in this process as well, as Sydney chef Liz Mason discovered. She found an 1886 cookbook titled The Woman Suffrage Cookbook and was fascinated by what she discovered inside.

Enamored by the stories and recipes in this Boston-based book and a similar UK tome titled The Women’s Suffrage Cookery Book, Mason decided that she had to make a meal using recipes from the volumes. During the suffragette movement, these books were used as fundraising devices and featured recipes from women involved in the movement. (The book pictured here was from that era but is neither of the books described above.)

Mason has spent the past six months poring over the cookbooks, choosing and adapting eight recipes that she will serve at an International Women’s Day dinner on March 7. Deciphering the sparsely-detailed recipes was no mean feat, says the chef. “You need to have an understanding of how to cook to interpret [them],” she explains. The measurements are not standardized either, with things like “loaves of sugar” adding to the challenge.

Not only is Mason going to serve dishes from these vintage books, she and her team will be making them just as they did when the books were written. That means no modern appliances: her staff will be performing tasks such as churning butter by hand. Even though the women writing in the 1880s did not have fancy gadgets, they did develop ingenious methods that Mason is putting to work today, like using gelatin to stop sorbet from separating. 

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  • hillsboroks  on  February 28, 2020

    This sounds like my efforts years ago to try some of the recipes from my grandmother’s 1916 edition of the White House Cookbook. All the instructions are for a wood burning range and when I made a cake from it I saw that the temperature instruction said to gauge the temperature of the oven by throwing small pinches of flour into it to see how fast the flour browned. Luckily I knew that most cakes required a 350F oven so I didn’t have to do the flour throwing. But converting instructions like a teacup full of sugar or a gill of milk took a bit more effort. The cake turned out fine but this is more of a curiosity cookbook now than one I turn to for recipes.

  • MarciK  on  February 28, 2020

    I have The White House Cookbook, originally made in the late 1800s, with mine copywrited sometime in the mid 1920s. I understand how these are hard to follow. I’m reading a book now called The Flavor of Wisconsin. The 2nd half of the book is old recipes submitted that have been passed down in their families. There are measurements like “half an eggshell of water”. The other thing I found interesting is the cooking techniques, like how to make lye to prepare hominy, and an explanation how to make a fireless slow cooker (from the 1927 Calumet Baking Powder Cook Book) using a box/basket, excelsior, cotton cloth, and newspaper formed tightly around a kettle.

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