While unpacking boxes after my parents’ move in the fall, this recipe book — titled Old Pottstown Recipes — surfaced. I believe it belonged to my maternal grandmother (“Grandmom”) and then my mother acquired it after she passed away. To give some context, Pottstown is a borough located ~40 miles outside Philadelphia and about half that from where I (and my mother) grew up. I’m not sure I’ve ever actually been to Pottstown before — there is not a lot interesting going on in P-town these days; the utilitarian industries that once thrived there died down — but it’s certainly within my geographic locale.
Anyway, I began flipping through the book and found it delightfully quaint; the recipes are presented and explained often with the utmost simplicity (“Put together and cook.”) and it’s fun to examine the palettes of those who’ve not been ruined by the food scientists of today. Dishes that now appear dubious would have not-so-long ago been considered standard fare.
I’m uncertain when the book was published (the first handful of pages where a date may have been printed were lost) but I believe many of the recipes originate from the 1920s and earlier. Terms like “ice box,” “moderate oven,” and “butter size of walnut” help provide context in this regard, as do certain ingredients themselves which I’ll delve into shortly. An article from the Pottstown Mercury in 1963 mentions a 40-year-old “Pottstown Recipes” cookbook, and who knows — maybe this is the same one.
Some of the more peculiar and archaic dishes include:
- Clam broth (for an invalid)
- Corn pudding
- Moulded salad
- Lemon butter mayonnaise
- Cucumber sauce
- Huckleberry pudding
- Orange Charlotte
- Blitz torte
- Polar chips
- Parsley sandwiches
Among the trends I’ve noticed between recipes, the most telling is the lack of vegetable and seed oils as ingredients … likely because Procter & Gamble was still in the early processes of propagandizing the edibility of Crisco at the time.
Other commonalities? Lots of eggs, butter, and cream.
I’m almost captivated enough to rummage through more old community recipe books and track the usage of common ingredients. Famous Old Receipts: Used a Hundred Years and More in the Kitchens of the North and the South looks like another solid resource from around this same time period and region. I imagine there are only so many early-twentieth-century documentations of American cuisine out there, and it would be possible to compile a database capable of mapping trends — like the adoption of certain cooking fats into households throughout the years — and make correlations with rises in diseases and parallel marketing campaigns.
I may at some point type out the recipes so that A) they’re easier to peruse and B) it’s more likely I try some of them — and maybe you will too! — but for now, the book can be accessed as a single PDF or JPGs of the individual pages. Both downloads are about 50 MB.