It may surprise you to know there have been published books about rhymed recipes or food poems. A copy of one sent to me is titled “The Food Poems of Phillipe Mignon/Translated by Darrell Gray”. Another that I found somewhere along the way is “The Rhyming Irish Cookbook: by Gordon Snell (who is married to Maeve Binchy). A third that I found is called “RECIPES IN RHYME” published by Creative Book Company. Then there is the elusive “RHYMED RECEIPTS” by Imogen Clark for which I have only seen a copy of the front page, on an internet site. That one, I know, was published in the early 1900s. More baffling is “The Book of Kitchen Jingles” published also in the early 1900s by the Kalamazoo Stove Company. Also puzzling is a copy of a front page to something called “RECIPES IN RHYME” that friend Becky Mercuri sent to me years ago – are “Kitchen Jingles” and “Recipes in Rhyme” one and the same book? I don’t know, and I haven’t been able to contact Becky Mercuri.
If there are other published collections of rhymed recipes or food related poems, I haven’t yet discovered them. Meantime, I still have a stack of kitchen poetry to share with you.
John Godfrey Saxe wrote “Sonnet to a Clam” which goes like this;
Inglorious friend! Most confident I am
Thy life is one of very little ease;
Albeit men mock thee with their smiles
And prate of being ‘happy as a clam!’
What though thy shell protects thy fragile head
From the sharp bailiffs of the briny sea?
Thy valves are, sure, no safety-valves to thee,
While rakes are free to desecrate thy bed,
And bear thee off-as foemen take their spoil—
Far from thy friends and family to roam;
Forced, like a Hessian, from thy native home,
To meet destruction in a foreign broil!
Though thou art tender yet thy humble bard
Declares, O clam! Thy case is shocking hard!
And Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote:
The pleasure of eating
Is the only one which,
Indulged in moderately,
Is not followed by regret.
While someone named Hilaine Belloc wrote:
The whale that wanders round the pole
Is not a table fish.
You cannot bake or broil him whole
Nor serve him in a dish.
Commenting on Pasta and rice, Lorraine Wood wrote:
A plate of spaghetti
Or pilaf with spice,
Oodles of noodles, potatoes and rice;
These are the dishes
I long for the most
As I sit with my carrot sticks, yogurt and toast.
(I know the feeling, Lorraine).
Copied from an old cookbook are the following two short verses.
The cosy fire is bright and gay,
The merry kettle boils away
And hums a cheerful song.
I bring the saucer and the cup;
Pray, Mary, fill the teapot up,
And do not make it strong.
The second was written by poet Edward Lear:
There was an old person of Dean
Who dined on one pea and one bean;
For he said “More than that,
Would make me too fat,”
That cautious old person of Dean.
From “The Book of Kitchen Jingles” comes this bread-making recipe:
Bread Twice Raised
Measure four quarts of sifted flour,
But in the center, please,
Just make a hole they call a “well”
And in it, put in these—
One large spoon sugar, salt and lard,
And one full cup of yeast,
One pint hot water, one of milk,
Beat it ten minutes, at least.
Let rise all night—then knead again;
Make loaves of moderate size:
Butter them well—a second time
One hour let them rise.
Not quite an hour, in moderate oven,
If you will let them bake,
‘Tis sure your bread will be as good
“As mother used to make.”
Another from “The Book of Kitchen Jingles” is reminiscent of a time when it wasn’t unusual for the mother of the bride to make the wedding cake (my mother made mine in 1958):
THE WEDDING CAKE
“What did she wear? How did she look?
And oh, for pity’s sake,
Do tell us how her mother made
That lovely wedding cake.”
One cup of butter, three of sugar
Creamed with one cup sweet milk:
Then beat the whites of twelve
As light and soft as silk.
Three spoons of baking powder,
With a cup of corn starch stirred,
Add three full cups of flour, and
Then flavor as preferred.
Into the batter slip a ring—
A simple hoop of gold—
And she who finds it soon will hear
The “Sweetest story” told.
White icing, trimmed with orange buds,
Will make a brave outside.
Now everybody take a slice
And kiss the beauteous bride.
A BOILED DINNER is also from “The Book of Kitchen Jingles”:
You may talk about your menus,
A la carte and table-d’hote:
But they don’t go down with me,
As I’m a sinner;
Now I’ll tell you just what does “go
Down” and tickle all my throat,
A plain old-fashioned, boiled
New England dinner.
The corned beef warms my very soul,
If boiled till rich and tender.
Take cabbage next—perhaps a
Whole, chopped fine.
Put vegetables next—all you can
Purchase from the vendor:
(I like carrots, turnips, parsnips,
When nearly done, add all the
Peeled potatoes, that you want,
(The grease delicious flavor will impart.)
this served on your home table
beats the swellest* restaurant
where they serve you table-d’hote
or a la carte.
*Sandy’s Cooknote: “Swellest” appears to have been acceptable grammar a hundred years ago; I’ve seen it more than once in this collection of rhymed recipes. Spell check does not approve.
Charles Perry is, or was, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times (I have no idea if he still is) – I often clipped his columns “Forklore” . In one he wrote, “It’s a shame that not every nation has a genre of food poetry. Some cultures don’t consider food a sufficiently dignified subject; others just don’t have cuisines that lend themselves to poetizing. A nomad meal of big scorched lumps of meat may not inspire sensitive souls to reach for the old rhyming dictionary…Medieval Arab literature did have such a genre,” he writes, “and some of the poems are pretty good…”
He then goes on to provide a couple of rhymed recipes written by a 9th century Baghdad poet Ibn alRumi. The first describes a skilled maker of flat breads:
As long as I live, I’ll never forget a baker I once passed
Who could roll out flat breads in the twinkling of an eye.
Between seeing the dough as a lump in his hand
And seeing it as a disk like the full moon,
It took no longer than for ripples to spread
In water where a stone has been tossed.
William Makepeace Thackeray, a contemporary of Charles Dickens was, in his time, considered second only to Dickens and much of his writing was satirical—even so, he wrote the lengthy and charming food poem
THE BALLAD OF BOUILLABAISSE
A street there is in Paris famous,
For which no rhyme our language yields,
Rue Neuve de petits Champs its name is —
The New Street of the Little Fields;
And there’s an inn, not rich and splendid,
But still in comfortable case;
The which in youth I oft attended,
To eat a bowl of Bouillabaisse.
This Bouillabaisse a noble dish is —
A sort of soup, or broth, or brew,
Or hotchpotch of all sorts of fishes,
That Greenwich never could outdo;
Green herbs, red peppers, muscles, saffern,
Soles, onions, garlic, roach, and dace;
All these you eat at Terré’s tavern,
In that one dish of Bouillabaisse.
Indeed, a rich and savory stew ’tis;
And true philosophers, methinks,
Who love all sorts of natural beauties,
Should love good victuals and good drinks.
And Cordelier or Benedictine
Might gladly, sure, his lot embrace,
Nor find a fast-day too afflicting,
Which served him up a Bouillabaisse.
I wonder if the house still there is?
Yes, here the lamp is as before;
The smiling, red-cheek’d écaillère is
Still opening oysters at the door.
Is Terré still alive and able?
I recollect his droll grimace;
He’d come and smile before your table,
And hoped you like your Bouillabaisse.
We enter; nothing’s changed or older.
“How’s Monsieur Terré, waiter, pray?”
The waiter stares and shrugs his shoulder —
“Monsieur is dead this many a day.”
“It is the lot of saint and sinner.
So honest Terré’s run his race!”
“What will Monsieur require for dinner?”
“Say, do you still cook Bouillabaisse?”
“Oh, oui, Monsieur,” ‘s the waiter’s answer;
“Quel vin Monsieur désire-t-il ?”
Tell me a good one.” “That I can, sir;
The Chambertin with yellow seal.”
“So Terré’s gone,” I say, and sink in
My old accustom’d corner-place;
“He’s done with feasting and with drinking,
With Burgundy and Bouillabaisse.”
My old accustom’d corner here is–
The table still is in the nook;
Ah! vanished many a busy year is,
This well-known chair since last I took.
When first I saw ye, cari luoghi,
I’d scarce a beard upon my face,
And now a grizzled, grim old fogy,
I sit and wait for Bouillabaisse.
Where are you, old companions trusty
Of early days, here met to dine?
Come, waiter! quick, a flagon crusty —
I’ll pledge them in the good old wine.
The kind old voices and old faces
My memory can quick retrace;
Around the board they take their places,
And share the wine and Bouillabaisse.
There’s Jack has made a wondrous marriage;
There’s laughing Tom is laughing yet;
There’s brave Augustus drives his carriage;
There’s poor old Fred in the Gazette;
On James’s head the grass is growing:
Good Lord! the world has wagged apace
Since here we sat the Claret flowing,
And drank, and ate the Bouillabaisse.
Ah me! how quick the days are flitting!
I mind me of a time that’s gone,
When here I’d sit, as now I’m sitting,
In this same place–but not alone.
A fair young form was nestled near me,
A dear, dear face looked fondly up,
And sweetly spoke and smiled to cheer me.
— There’s no one now to share my cup.
I drink it as the Fates ordain it.
Come, fill it, and have done with rhymes;
Fill up the lonely glass, and drain it
In memory of dear old times.
Welcome the wine, whate’er the seal is;
And sit you down and say your grace
With thankful heart, whate’er the meal is.
Here comes the smoking Bouillabaisse!
I have read about the French practice of keeping a pot simmering on the stove so that the cook could add unused bits of meat and vegetables to it – kind of like a perpetual pot of soup. This recipe for Pot Au Feu is from The Kitchen Book of Jingles:
THE POT AU FEU
Give praties to Paddies
Oatmeal to Scotch ladies,
The Yankee his pork and pie too,
But to fields pure elysian,
Belongs the Parisian,
Who mixes the soup, “pot au feu”.
Scraps of roast or ox-tail,
Bones of chicken or quail,
Almost any meat one could wish,
The olive of Aragon,
Dashes of Tarragon,
Meet in this wonderful dish.
‘Tis for all sorts of scraps,
Onions, Carrots, perhaps,
Any left-over—throw it in too,
Of all economical
Commend me to this “pot au feu”.
HOMELY HASH is also from The Book of Kitchen Jingles:
One quart of scraps—
Beef, veal, perhaps
Or pork, or lamb will do.
Pour water over
To barely cover;
Add salt and pepper, too.
When this boils down
And gets quite brown,
Add two large spoons of flour,
Then let it cook
(So runs the book)
A quarter of an hour.
Now toast some bread,
And on it spread
The hash—a dainty brown;
Then eat away!
You’ll surely say
It’s the best meat in town.
One of my very, very favorite food related poems was written by “an anonymous bard” and quoted in The Pleasures of the Table by George H. Ellwanger:
We all look on with anxious eyes
When father carves the duck,
And mother almost always sighs,
When father carves the duck
Then all of us prepare to rise
And hold our bibs before our eyes
And be prepared for some surprise,
When father carves the duck.
He braces up and grabs a fork
When’er he carves a duck,
And won’t allow a soul to talk
Until he’s carved the duck.
The fork is jabbed into the sides,
Across the breast the knife he slides,
And every careful person hides
From flying chips of duck.
The platter always seems to skip
When father carves a duck,
And how it makes the dishes skip.
Potatoes fly amuck—
The squash and cabbage leap in space,
We get some gravy on our face,
And father mutters Hindu grace
When’er he carves a duck.
We thus have learned to walk around
The dining-room and pluck
From off the window-sills and walls
Our share of father’s duck:
While father growls and blows and jaws,
And swears the knife was full of flaws,
And mother jaws at him because
He couldn’t carve a duck.
And someone named Denise, back in 1998, sent my friend Becky Mercuri a kitchen poem about Schnitz Un Knepp—which some of my Amish and Mennonite cookbooks describe as an apple and dumpling dish, while William Woys Weaver, author of “Sauerkraut Yankee” describes as a German dish of dried apples, smoked ham and dumplings. Weaver, in turn, traced Schnitz Un Knepp to areas in Germany from which most of the Pennsylvanian Germans immigrated. It was not, as many thought, a dish created in this country. “On a peasant level,” Weaver wrote, “a dish like Schnitz un Gnepp combined all the basic elements of a meal. The dried apples provided acidic contrast to the meat, the dumplings provided a form of cereal starch…and the liquid provided the basic sweet and salty gravy…”
Which brings us to “Schnitz Un Knepp” by Kitchen Poet H. Luther Frees:
I am a man well up in years with simple tastes and few,
But I would like to eat again a dish my boyhood knew.
A rare old dish that mother made that filled us all with pep,
This generation knows it not—we called it Schnitz And Knepp.
I patronize all restaurants where grub is kept for sale,
But my search up to the present has been without avail.
They say they never herd of it, and I vainly wonder why,
For that glorious concoction was better far than pie.
Dried apple scnitz, a slab of ham and mammoth balls of dough,
Were the appetizing units that filled us with a glow.
When mother placed the smoking dish upon the dinner table,
And we partook of its delight as long as we were able.
My longing for that boyhood dish I simply will not shelf;
If I cannot find it anywhere, I’ll make the thing myself.
And now you know the rest of the story. Actually, when you think about it, many of our beloved favorite family dishes weren’t usually found in restaurants. My favorite dish that my mother made was string beans, ham, potatoes and carrots, all cooked in one pot. My sister Becky called it string bean soup. I just call it string beans & ham—and it’s something we often have when there’s some left over baked ham to use up.
Another kitchen poem titled “Ode to Cooking” came to me in a round-about way. A woman named Margaret Gunn wrote that her mother saved recipes for years, and recently (recently being 12 years ago), she had been trying to sort through them. Buried among the many treasures she found this poem on one of her mother’s recipe cards:
ODE TO COOKING
Henceforth, dear friends, in leisure hours
I’ll dig around among the flours,
And who can tell what wondrous things
Will rise on baking powder and wings.
Beneath the magic of my hand
When I shall come to understand
The use of all, and nothing waste
A pinch of salt and ‘spice to taste’,
Then, I shall give my friends a feast
With heart as light as compressed yeast.
And if, with joy, my stuff is eaten
I’ll not regret the eggs I’ve beaten
And to you, cookbook, shall be due
All praise and many thanks to you.
Beneath the typewritten poem is a notation, Victoria Magazine, September, 1998 –
Which I am guessing is where this poem was published, perhaps submitted by Margaret Gunn. As often as not, the original sources for many of these rhymed recipes and kitchen poems are elusive—authors or origins unknown. I think this one was sent to me by Pat Stuart, an email penpal I originally met when we were both on Prodigy food boards.
A poem (or parts of it) that has appeared in hundreds, if not thousands, of cookbooks was written by Owen Meredith, the Earl of Lytton (England, 1831-1891):
We may live without poetry, music and art;
We may live without conscience and live without heart;
We may live without friends; we may live without books;
But civilized man can not live without cooks.
He may live without books, what is knowledge but grieving?
He may live without hope-what is hope but deceiving?
He may live without love-what is passion but pining?
But where is the man that can live without dining?
And in 1813, a young New York woman named Sarah Bella Dunlop began copying her mother’s favorite recipes, writing them out in flowery script preparing for marriage and her own kitchen. The first entry on the inside cover of the little notebook was her rhymed testimony to her mother’s food:
From cookery’s art with nicest care
Mama has cul’d whats good and rare
The mango’d apples, puddings, pies,
Roast meats and boiled. Both stews and fries
Ice creams, preserves and nicest jellies
With turtle soup to stuff your bellies.
Pineapple ice, raspberry jam,
Barbecued fowls, and cold sliced ham
Puff paste, nut sets and gingerbread
Pickled walnuts, hashed calfs head
Boil’d onion sauces for ducks or geese
French bean pudding and even cheese.
“Mango’d apples?” you may ask. Good question! And I didn’t really understand until a few years ago that in the 19th century, any fruit or vegetable stuffed with cabbage and seasonings and then pickled in vinegar—was called a mango. When I was a child growing up, bell peppers were called “mangoes”. It wasn’t until I moved to California and was trying to explain to a new friend how I made “stuffed mangoes” that I was finally able to get across that the mango I was talking about was not the California mango fruit – but a bell pepper, stuffed with ground meat and rice and cooked in a tomato sauce.
Growing up in Cincinnati in the 40s and 50s, “a mango” to most of the natives was a bell pepper. I quickly learned to call the recipe stuffed bell peppers after that.
It’s quite likely that the mango’d apples Sarah Bella Dunlop was referring to was a pickled apple.
Many church and club cookbooks often included, along with recipes for everything under the sun in the way of bread, cookie, cake, pie, meat, poultry, and all sorts of fruit and vegetable dishes – something like a Recipe for a Day or a Recipe for Happiness. Here is an example of a Recipe for a Day:
Take a little dash of water cold, and a little leaven of prayer,
And a little bit of morning gold dissolved in morning air,
Add to your meal some merriment, and a thought of kith and kin;
And then, as your prime ingredients a plenty of work thrown in,
But sp ice it all with the essence of love, and a little whiff of play,
Let a wise old book and a look above, complete the well made day.
Lastly, for now, is a “recipe” for cooking a husband—variations of this have appeared in many community cookbooks—what makes the following exceptional is that it’s rhymed.
My friend Pat Stuart found this poem in a 1910 edition of a food magazine called “What to Eat, and included it in her family cookbook.
HOW TO COOK A HUSBAND
In this progressive age of ours, so wise we are all growing,
A hint for cooking I’ll give you, well worth the price of knowing,
Tho’ many a housewife may excel in baking, brewing, frying,
Yet how to cook a husband, well, she never thinks of trying.
But first to maidens let me say, when for a husband looking,
Be careful to select a man that’s worth the cost of cooking,
And as tastes are apt to differ some, depend upon no other,
But choose your husband for yourself, don’t even trust your mother.
And now nine nuances out of ten, you’ll make the common blunder –
You’ll try to mke of him a mess to be a nine days’ wonder,
You’ll either pack him up in ice or put him in a pickle –
Or keep him in hot water, til he isn’t worth a nickel.
Don’t do it! Dress your man with care – no haste, be firm and steady,
In flattery let him soak a while, until the kettle’s ready.
Now make a fire that’s clear and hot, bid hope and thrift to feed it,
With love for fuel, it will last as long as you will need it.
Accept no other woman’s help, however neat and trusty.
Be sure the fire’s not over hot, lest he grow hard and crusty,
He’ll sputter loud, and snap and hiss; don’t mind but turn him gently;
He’ll bounce and scorch you if he can. Just watch the more intently.
Don’t try to make of him a dish too good for mortal eating,
He wasn’t made for angel-food, or else yourself you’re cheating;
So as he fries, just simply add a bit of salt for savor –
A little sugar, not too much, and spice to give him flavor.
END OF PART NINE