Friday, June 12, 2015

Austin's First Cookbook: Our Home Recipes, Remedies and Rules of Thumb by Michael C. Miller (2015)

I really couldn't be happier with Austin's First Cookbook: Our Home Recipes, Remedies and Rules of Thumb by Michael C. Miller (2015) [in partnership with the Austin History Center], and not just because Mike is a fellow-archivist and good friend.

When Mike and his colleagues were researching an exhibit on early foodways in Austin, they came across an intriguing book in their collection, the Our Home Cookbook compiled by the women of the First Cumberland Presbyterian Church as a fundraiser in 1891. Few other libraries held the book, the earliest known published cookbook from Austin, and the copy at the Austin History Center was very fragile, but filled with fascinating information reflecting the lives and values of the women who put it together. Mike and his publisher decided to reprint the volume, including all the penciled in notes from its previous owners, in order to share the history with the Austin community (and beyond!).

To add to the fun, Mike wrote a well-researched introduction delving into Austin life in the 1890s and the biographies of about a dozen of the women who contributed recipes. Rounding things off are an essay on the history of cookbooks in Austin and an exhaustive bibliography of every cookbook written, published, or about Austin, Texas. The beginning and concluding essays include lots of historic photographs, reproduced from the collections at the Austin History Center.

The book is nicely printed and the reproduced cookbook is crisply scanned and easy to read. The recipes are fascinatingly vague, sometimes pretty gross sounding, and often intriguing (you can broil deviled eggs?). If you buy this, you will never need another recipe for fruit cake! An unexpectedly fascinating part of the cookbook are the many ads that local businesses put at the beginning and end of the publication, a common practice at the time, which give a little more flavor to this piece of Austin history (see what I did there?).

Y'all. Go buy this book. All proceeds benefit the Austin History Center, and you will get some serious enjoyment from it. Great job, Mike!

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