THE FARMER’S WIFE COOKBOOK(s)

As I have said before, book titles cannot be copyrighted – that is why you might find half a dozen different cookbooks with the same title. I was reminded of this a few days while writing a review of a cookbook titled CLASSIC CHINESE COOKING. (I have known this ever since I started writing in the early 1960s but now I asked myself why do I know this and has it been changed?  So, I asked Google and found this response:

“Generally, No.” You cannot copyright a book title.  The U.S. Copyright Office does not typically allow someone to copyright a book title because titles are not considered intellectual property but are only “short slogans,” which are not eligible to be copyrighted.  The Copyright Office doesn’t want titles to be restricted to one book; there may be other works in which the title may be equally usable and appropriate. ..”  I see examples of this multi-titles in the world of cookbooks quite often.

I’m now looking at a few cookbooks titled THE FARMER’S WIFE COOK BOOK and one of the interesting aspects of this cookbook title is that one of them was published in Great Britain while another closer to home was published by a magazine called The Farmer’s Wife, edited by Martha Engstrom. Are there more? I wondered.

I turned my attention to Google.com and discovered quite a collection of Farmer’s Wife cookbooks.  Apparently, the Farmer’s Wife magazine is one of the earliest of periodicals to use this title.

According to Google “The Farmer’s Wife (magazine) was first published in 1893, and had a circulation of 3,000 a month. In 1897, the Webb Publishing Company in St. Paul, Minnesota bought this magazine, and from that point they raised the circulation rate through the early 20th century decades to 1,100,000 a year. In mid-1939 The Farmer’s Wife was bought by Farm Journal, and became a subsection in the back of this magazine.

The connection to Farm Journal gave me a jolt—I have many of the Farm Journal Cookbooks. Penpal Penny in Oklahoma and I began collecting the Farm Journal cookbooks back in the 1970s and loved the recipes.  They were always our “go to” recipe source before anything else. Whenever I found an extra copy of one of the Farm Journal cookbooks, I’d buy it to give to a family member or a friend.

Well, I would have sworn I had more than two of the Farmer’s Wife Cookbooks but so far I have only found two of them. And the slew of them I have discovered on Amazon.com only adds to the mystery—how can so many different books have the same affiliation to the Farmer’s Wife Magazine?

One is The Farmer’s Wife Cookbook containing over 400 blue-ribbon recipes, compiled by editor Martha Ergstrom and published in 1996. The best explanation of the cookbook can be found in the introduction, Welcome to the Farm Kitchen, which reads, “The recipes I the Farmer’s Wife Cookbook are true farm recipes. They originated in country kitchens and were submitted by readers to The Farmer’s Wife, a monthly magazine published from 1893 to 1939 by Webb Publishing Company of St. Paul, Minnesota. Many of these recipes are almost a century old, offering a step back in time to another era of cooking. They have all been updated for the modern kitchen to produce similar results today as they did in Grandma’s kitchen.

Many of the recipes are downright delicious…such as the Swedish Meatballs, the pies and cakes…Some are chock full of nostalgia, reviving memories of Grandma’s special cooking. Others are quaint, offering a window to look back at a long ago style of North American farm country cookery that is largely forgotten today.”  (Actually, I don’t think it IS forgotten – the responses I get whenever I write about some of these cookbooks is prove enough that many people are still interested in the recipes—and the follow-up cookbooks are a strong indicator that the books are greatly welcomed).

“Other than spices and such, the recipes call for the homegrown ingredients that were typically raised and produced on American farms during this era. Milk and cream, both sweet and sour, butter, chicken and eggs, cured meats, variety meats (the vernacular for organs such as the heart and liver), and fresh and home-canned fruits and vegetables were considered staples. The recipes were created to give equally satisfying results using either fresh or preserved ingredients….”

Martha Engrstrom goes on to say that “in reviewing issues from almost forty years of the Farmer’s Wife [magazine] I was struck by the number of feature articles and fictional works that touched on the significance of ‘community’. The desire or need for farm families to participant in both social events and common work-related activities, within the greater community, was an everyday embracing theme.

The purpose or focus of such gatherings varied but common  to all was food. Whether it was a church circle or some other women’s society, the 4-H club or the crews of men who aided neighbors in raising barns or threshing grain, a meal to be shared by all participants was considered central to the event or activity itself.”

Ms. Engrstrom’s last two paragraphs struck another chord. For over forty years, one of my penpals has been a “farmer’s wife” in Oregon—although this farmer also worked in a paper mill for many years and in more recent years they have downsized considerably on the amount of crops that are raised. There is enough for my friend to can virtually all fruits and vegetables grown on their property to last for a year, plus to have plenty of extra fruit and vegetables to share with friends and family. But last year, I visited them in October and participated in picking apples from their half-dozen orchard of apples, and the family all gathered one Saturday to make gallons and gallons of apple cider. I contributed by making Cincinnati chili for the family dinner. In addition, my girlfriend and I made quarts and quarts of V-8 juice.  There was still a lot of tomatoes leftover and since she didn’t want to can any more for herself, I suggested buying a box of quart jars (available everywhere in Oregon!) and us making 12 jars of V-8 juice for myself – they could bring mine to me when they made their annual pilgrimage south to Southern California and from here to a place in Arizona where a lot of snowbirds spend the winters. And so we did, and I was thrilled to receive my case of V-8 juice when they arrived in late December.  This was a perfect example of a farmer’s wife using virtually everything needed to grow many fruits and vegetables (and they have blackberries growing wild along the perimeter of the property! Be still my heart!)

Years ago, before retiring, they also grew a mint crop annually, that grew easily with little attention and then would be taken to a place where the mint was processed. I STILL have a little bottle of mint oil from their property).  My experience with seeing how the family gathered and everyone spent hours cutting and forcing apples into a machine that extracted the juice was a small scale experience of how small town farmers and the neighbors joined forces to preserve the fruits of their labors.

Getting back to the Farmer’s Wife Cookbook, each chapter contains old-time photographs of kitchens, cooks, and their families – I assume all were taken from the Farmer’s Wife magazine. I simply love the illustrations as much as the recipes. The First Courses and Soups contains an introduction from The Farmer’s Wife.  For readers who are searching for the “old fashioned” way of making things, this book is for you. I don’t know how often women have asked me how on earth I ever found the time to make homemade soups—soups! One of the easiest things to make and it can be made with some leftover meat or vegetables, if you have them on hand. I love making turkey rice soup with a turkey carcass, or ham and bean soup with a leftover ham bone. Granted, if you are making bean soup, you will get a much better soup by letting the dry beans soak overnight, then drain and rinse them off and put into the pot with fresh clean cold water.  There is a recipe for Bean Chowder on page 13 of The Farmer’s Wife Cookbook. There are also recipes for Vegetable soup, Minestrone, and Beef Stock that can be converted into many different dishes. (if you have the time to do it, cook a turkey carcass in water until all the meat falls off the bones, then strain it – remove as much meat as you can find and toss the rest. I like to put any kind of beef or poultry stock in gallon size pickle jars. When it is cold, transfer the stock to 2-quart Gladlock plastic containers and freeze them. At this point, I like to transfer the frozen stock “bricks” to ziplock freezer bags and label them with a sharpee pen. The frozen soup bricks stack nicely in the freezer).

The next chapter in the Farmer’s Wife Cookbook is Cream soups – and Cream of Tomato Soup does not contain canned tomato soup but it does contain 2 cups of home canned tomatoes! Yum!

A chapter on Breads provides recipes for Boston Brown Bread, Peanut Butter Bread, Corn Bread and Spoon Bread and Quick Nut Bread. There are also muffins, biscuits  and popover recipes,  recipes for White Bread and Dinner Rolls, oatmeal bread – and one I am looking forward to trying—Swedish Limpa Rye Bread. There are also instructions for home bakers.

Under a chapter for meats you will find a recipe for Swiss Steak and another for City Chicken – I learned how to make Swiss Steak from my mother-in-law who was from West Virginia, and my mother sometimes made City Chicken which was small chunks of veal and/or boneless pork that were floured and browned and then put on skewers and cooked in a small amount of oil. I think it was a way of making a dinner for a family of seven using very little meat. As kids, my siblings and I loved City Chicken. Who even knows what it is, today?

Under ground meat there are recipes for Baby Porcupines, Swedish Meatballs and Hamburger Royal. There is also a chapter for making sauces (from scratch! Not from a little packet of seasoning mix – which, incidentally, have doubled in price in recent months…this is a good time to learn how to make your own sauces!

Under the chapter Titled “Chicken” you find first a recipe for roasting chicken (possibly one of the easiest entrees you can make and serve for a family meal or for company – followed by a recipe for dressing and another for making a boiled chicken, chicken pie, creamed chicken, chicken mousse or chicken loaf—proving that many recipes can be made from a boiled chicken. These and many other topics are included in The Farmer’s Wife Cookbook. There are recipes for using eggs to make suppers, cheese suppers and genuine New England Dishes—along with many recipes for low-income families, bearing in mind that the Farmer’s Wife magazine was being published throughout the war years of World War I and world War II – as well as the Great Depression. The only other place I have seen so many frugal recipes was in a Depression Era cookbook and some of my old Sunset cookbooks.

There are many recipes for making your own salad dressings (was there any other way, back in the day?) which include Sweet Cream dressing and Cooked or Boiled Dressing. There are recipes for vegetable salads, potato salad and slaws. Fruit Salads includes the famous Waldorf Salad, still popular today, decades later.  There are gelatin salads and gelatin desserts (and I am forever thankful no one called them congealed salads, which has such a dismal connotation in my mind). There are Whips and Puddings, steamed puddings and custard recipes, many old and perhaps somewhat forgotten except that many of us are old enough to remember the terms and names. Tapioca pudding! My favorite then and my favorite now!  There are Date or Fruit  Torte and Blitz Torte (I think my mother had this recipe and I thought it was a misspelling).

I found an interesting article about a woman who sold fruitcake starting out with making the cakes and taking them to a local grocery store to sell—they didn’t all sell out the first year but the word got around until her cakes were in great demand—mind you, this was in 1936 and the creator, a Mrs. Theresa Fort, continued making and baking her fruitcakes until she and her husband bought a big old fashioned house and opened up a tea room. She served Sunday dinners and parties but continued to make fruitcakes that were a huge success. She didn’t have an electric mixer so all the cakes were mixed by hand in a large bowl with a wooden spoon. The fruitcake recipe that created a cottage business isn’t included in the Farmer’s Wife Cookbook –but I have shared some favorite cookbook recipes with you in the past. What is included is a recipe for a fruit cobbler, another for a Apple Roly-Poly (who knows what that is anymore?) and another for Brown Betty.

There are candy and cake recipes—no cake mix starts out with “1 cake mix” but there are old-time favorite cake recipes such as Applesauce Cake, Tomato Soup Cake with Cream Cheese frosting that does call for a can of condensed tomato soup, Nectar Raisin Cake and Orange Cake, an Angel Food Cake recipe that calls for 1 cup of egg whites (approximately 12 eggs) and Hot Milk Sponge Cake—plus some others you may want to rediscover. The book does contain a fruitcake recipe but no indication is given that it is the same fruitcake that made Mrs. Fort famous back in the 1930s.

There are cookies and pie recipes and homemade doughnuts—and an interesting chapter on Jellies, Conserves and Jams that I will have to explore more, being a jelly-and-jam maker myself. Included is an article published in 1928 in Farmer’s Wife Magazine, titled “Canning For the Fair” which includes an illustration of Sure-Jell pectin mix that was priced at 13 cents.  (I recently priced powdered pectin—the popular brands are over $3.50 for a single box.  There is also a chapter  on making Pickles and Relishes.

This Farmer’s Wife Cookbook originally sold for $9.95. (The price is printed on the back of the cover).

I am finding The Best of the Farmer’s Wife Cookbook by Kari Cornell & Melinda Keefe (published in 2011), The Farmer’s Wife Harvest Cookbook by Lela Norgi, The Farmer’s Wife Canning and Preserving Cookbook, the Farmer’s Wife Cookie Cookbook, also by Lela Norgi and even a Farmer’s Wife Slow Cooker Cookbook although to the best of my knowledge, slow cookers were not in existence back in the days of the Farmer’s Wife magazine!  I’ll leave it to someone else to unravel this plethora of Farmer’s Wife cookbook authors.   **

The second Farmer’s Wife cookbook in my collection does not appear in any of the Amazon.com lists I have consulted. This is a British version of farmer’s wives cookbook which contains a preface written by the foremost cookbook author in Great Britain, Marguerite Patten, about whom I have written for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange and then again for my blog in February, 2011.

This Farmer’s Wife Cook Book was the end result of a competition for country farmers’ wives , for which Marguerite Patten was one of the judges.

She writes, “…All the recipes have been written by farmers’ wives, and selected from over 1000 recipes sent in from all over the country, specially for this promotion.

The excellent recipes came almost literally from John O’Groats to Land’s End and from just about every type of farm and farming land in the country….”

Marguerite says “We judges based our selection on recipes that produced original, practical and delicious dishes, which were also economical and not too difficult to make.  I was one of the judges of this competition and it was a very difficult task to test so many excellent recipes and to select the winners….”

Marguerite notes that “farm cooking in this country has always been exceptionally good, possibly for two main reasons: first, farmers’ wives are usually very busy people; they have little time for shopping, so make use of the ingredients readily available; they need skill and creative ability to turn them into unusual and appetizing meals; secondly, British farmers’ wives have access to some of the best natural produce in the world—high quality milk, cream, eggs, poultry, bacon, etc., so their meals are  nourishing as well as interesting…”

She adds that although the recipes were developed by country women, they are equally suitable for those of us who live in towns and cities.

What follows is a most appetizing mouth-watering collection of recipes with the most unusual twist to the winning dishes – although the names of the winning farmers’ wives are list alongside the recipes—you won’t find a single photograph of these farmers wives – instead, charmingly, delightfully, photographs of their homes is provided. In over 40 years of collecting cookbooks with emphasis on “regional” recipes – whether they are regional to Great Britain or the USA –this is a first for me. It makes me want to pack up and go visit Great Britain, once and for all!

This copy of Farmer’s Wife Cookbook must have been sent to me by my penpal, Betsy, who has been to Great Britain many times. Once when I was visiting her in Michigan, her British penpal came to visit too and we had a delightful time together.

I haven’t been able to find a web listing for the Farmer’s Wife Cook Book, United Kingdom style – but it is such a luscious cookbook, it should be added to your Bucket list as something to search for.   From Farmhouse Pancakes to Bedfordshire Brochettes, from Fluffy Eggs to Cheesy Potato Scones (Be still my heart!) the recipes will tempt and astound you. Readers on the other side of the pond might find the book a little easier to find. I finally found a copyright date of  1973. This is a slim hardcover cookbook subtitled “Country Recipes from Farmers’ Wives”

I know there are other Farmer’s Wife cookbooks “out there” – you may want to search for them to add to your collection!

Happy cooking!

Sandy

 

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