Sunday, May 24, 2009

Good Things To Eat


The 1880’s in America were a time of fabulous fortunes won and lost in minutes, by men like Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford, Bet-a-Million Gates, Diamond Jim Brady and others with appetites to match their riches. Some of the best cooking in the country was found not in homes or restaurants, but in the private railroad cars owned by the millionaire magnates history has dubbed the robber barons. The kitchens on these cars made their reputations with staff that was always male and almost exclusively African-American.

One of these cooks was Rufus Estes, born a slave in Tennessee in 1857. After the Civil War Estes managed to attend school for a term, but soon had to quit and find work to support his family. When he was fifteen a Nashville restaurant owner offered him a job, and he began to learn the trade that was to make him famous.


In 1883 he was hired by the Pullman Car Company and spent the next fifteen years cooking for tycoons, Presidents, and celebrities like Adelina Patti and Ignace Paderewski. Estes traveled to the Far East as chef aboard a private yacht and later went to work for the president of the KC, Pittsburgh & Gould Railroad. When that company went into receivership in 1907, U.S. Steel Corporation hired him to run their corporate dining room in Chicago.

In 1911, he published his own cookbook, Good Things To Eat as Suggested by Rufus. This was the period when American kitchens were coming under siege from Miss Fanny Farmer and her Boston Cooking School cohorts, who were trying to win us over to a style of cuisine best categorized as “dainty” and exemplified by horrors like the banana-as-candle salad. By contrast, Estes’ cooking represents the best of turn of the century American food, drawn from his Southern roots and taking advantage of the bounties of farm and field. His recipes were written in a straightforward, business-like style and were meant for a cook who already knew her way around a stove. Here are a few of them (you can read the entire book on Michigan State University’s Feeding America website).

HINTS TO KITCHEN MAIDS. It is always necessary to keep your kitchen in the best condition.

Breakfast—If a percolator is used it should first be put into operation. If the breakfast consists of grapefruit, cereals, etc., your cereal should be the next article prepared. If there is no diningroom maid, you can then put your diningroom in order. If hot bread is to be served (including cakes) that is the next thing to be prepared. Your gas range is of course lighted, and your oven heated. Perhaps you have for breakfast poached eggs on toast, Deerfoot sausage or boiled ham. One of the above, with your other dishes, is enough for a person employed indoors.

When your breakfast gong is sounded put your biscuits, eggs, bread, etc., in the oven so that they may be ready to serve when the family have eaten their grapefruit and cereal.

Luncheon—This is the easiest meal of the three to prepare. Yesterday's dinner perhaps consisted of roast turkey, beef or lamb, and there is some meat left over; then pick out one of my receipts calling for minced or creamed meats; baked or stuffed potatoes are always nice, or there may be cold potatoes left over that can be mashed, made into cakes and fried.

Dinner—For a roast beef dinner serve vegetable soup as the first course, with a relish of vegetables in season and horseradish or chow-chow pickle, unless you serve salad. If quail or ducks are to be served for dinner, an old Indian dish, wild rice, is very desirable. Prepare this rice as follows: Place in a double boiler a cupful of milk or cream to each cupful of rice and add salt and pepper to taste. It requires a little longer to cook than the ordinary rice, but must not be stirred. If it becomes dry add a little milk from time to time.

Do not serve dishes at the same meal that conflict. For instance, if you have sliced tomatoes, do not serve tomato soup. If, however, you have potato soup, it would not be out of place to serve potatoes with your dinner.

Fish should never be served without a salad of some kind.

The above are merely suggestions that have been of material assistance to me.”


CHICKEN GUMBO, CREOLE STYLE. For about twelve or fifteen, one young hen chicken, half pound ham, quart fresh okra, three large tomatoes, two onions, one kernel garlic, one small red pepper, two tablespoons flour, three quarts boiling water, half pound butter, one bay leaf, pinch salt and cayenne pepper. To mix, mince your ham, put in the bottom of an iron kettle if preferred with the above ingredients except the chicken. Clean and cut your chicken up and put in separate saucepan with about a quart or more of water and teaspoonful of salt; set to the side of the fire for about an hour; skim when necessary. When the chicken is thoroughly done strip the meat from the bone and mix both together; just before serving add a quart of shrimps.

BRUNSWICK STEW. Cut up one chicken, preferably a good fat hen, cover with cold water, season with salt and pepper, and cook slowly until about half done. Add six ears of green corn, splitting through the kernels, one pint butter beans and six large tomatoes chopped fine. A little onion may be added if desired. Cook until the vegetables are thoroughly done, but very slowly, so as to avoid burning. Add strips of pastry for dumplings and cook five minutes. Fresh pork can be used in place of the chicken and canned vegetables instead of the fresh.

HAM CROQUETTES. Chop very fine one-fourth of a pound of ham; mix with it an equal quantity of boiled and mashed potatoes, two hard boiled eggs chopped, one tablespoonful chopped parsley. Season to taste. Then stir in the yolk of an egg. Flour the hands and shape the mixture into small balls. Fry in deep fat. Place on a dish, garnish with parsley and serve.

VIRGINIA STEW. A half grown chicken or two squirrels, one slice of salt pork, twelve large tomatoes, three cups of lima beans, one large onion, two large Irish potatoes, twelve ears of corn, one-fourth pound of butter, one-fourth pound of lard, one gallon of boiling water, two tablespoonfuls salt and pepper; mix as any ordinary soup and let it cook for a couple of hours or more, then serve.

CREAM DRESSING. Mix one-half level tablespoon each of salt and mustard, three-quarters level tablespoon of sugar, one egg slightly beaten, two and one-half tablespoons of melted butter, three-quarters cup of cream, and heat in a double boiler. When hot add very slowly one-quarter cup of hot vinegar, stirring all the time. When thickened strain and cool.

SALAD DRESSING. When making salad for a large family take quart bottle with a rather wide mouth, put in one-half cup of vinegar, one and one-half cups of olive oil, two level teaspoons of salt and one-half level teaspoon of pepper; cork the bottle tightly and shake vigorously until an emulsion is made. The proportion of vinegar may be larger if not very strong and more salt and pepper used if liked. Use from the bottle and shake well each time any is used.

KEDGEREE. For this take equal quantities of boiled fish and boiled rice. For a cupful each use two hard boiled eggs, a teaspoonful curry powder, two tablespoonfuls butter, a half tablespoonful cream, and salt, white pepper and cayenne to season. Take all the skin and bone from the fish and put in a saucepan with the butter. Add the rice and whites of the boiled eggs cut fine, the cream, curry powder and cayenne. Toss over the fire until very hot, then take up and pile on a hot dish. Rub the yolks of the boiled eggs through a sieve on top of the curry, and serve.

CHEESE RAMEKINS. Use two rounding tablespoons of grated cheese, a rounding tablespoon of butter, one-quarter cup of fine breadcrumbs, the same of milk, and a saltspoon each of mustard and salt, the yolk of one egg. Cook the crumbs in the milk until soft, add the stiffly beaten white of the egg. Fill china ramekins two-thirds full and bake five minutes. Serve immediately.

BEAUREGARD EGGS. Two level tablespoons butter, two level tablespoons flour, one-half level teaspoon salt, one cup milk, four hard-boiled eggs. Make a white sauce of the butter, flour, salt and milk, and add the whites of the eggs chopped fine. Cut buttered toast in pointed pieces and arrange on a hot plate to form daisy petals. Cover with the sauce and put the egg yolks through a ricer into the center.


CORN FRITTERS. Prepare four ears of fresh corn by removing the outer husks and silks; boil and then drain well. Cut the grains from the cobs and place in a bowl, season with salt and pepper, add one-fourth pound of sifted flour, two eggs and a half pint of cold milk. Stir vigorously, but do not beat, with a wooden spoon for five minutes, when it will be sufficiently firm; butter a frying-pan, place it on a fire, and with a ladle holding one gill put the mixture on the pan in twelve parts, being careful that they do not touch one another, and fry till of a good golden color, cooking for four or five minutes on each side. Dress them on a folded napkin, and serve.

CRISP WHITE CORNCAKE. Two cups scalded milk, one cup white cornmeal, two level teaspoons salt. Mix the salt and cornmeal and add gradually the hot milk. When well mixed, pour into a buttered dripping pan and bake in a moderate oven until crisp. Serve cut in squares. The mixture should not be more than one-fourth inch deep when poured into pan.

EGG BREAD. One pint of boiling water, half pint white cornmeal to teaspoon salt, two tablespoonfuls of butter, two eggs, one cup milk, bake in a moderate oven.

GREEN TOMATO PIE. Take green tomatoes not yet turned and peel and slice wafer thin. Fill a plate nearly full, add a tablespoonful vinegar and plenty of sugar, dot with bits of butter and flavor with nutmeg or lemon. Bake in one or two crusts as preferred.


APPLE SLUMP. Fill a deep baking dish with apples, pared, cored and sliced. Scatter on a little cinnamon and cover with good paste rolled a little thicker than for pie. Bake in a moderate oven until the apples are done, serve in the same dish, cutting the crust into several sections. Before cutting, the crust may be lifted and the apples seasoned with butter and sugar, or the seasoning may be added after serving. A liquid or a hard sauce may be served with the slump. If the apples are a kind that do not cook easily bake half an hour, then put on the crust and set back in the oven.

COFFEE CUP CUSTARD. One quart milk, one-fourth cup ground coffee, four eggs, one-half cup sugar, one-fourth level teaspoon salt, one-half teaspoon vanilla. Tie the coffee loosely in a piece of cheesecloth and put into double boiler with the milk. Scald until a good coffee color and flavor is obtained, then remove from the fire. Remove the coffee. Beat the eggs and add the sugar, salt and vanilla, then pour on gradually the milk. Strain into cups, place in a pan of hot water, and bake in a moderate oven until firm in the middle. Less vanilla is required when combined with another flavoring.

SUNSHINE CAKE. Cream one cup of butter, add two cups of sugar and beat, add one cup of milk, the yolks of eleven eggs beaten until very light and smooth, and three cups of flour sifted with four teaspoons of baking powder three times to make it very light. Turn into a tube baking pan and bake three-quarters of an hour in a moderate oven.


SOUR MILK DOUGHNUTS. Beat two eggs light, add one cup of sugar and beat, one-half cup of butter and lard mixed, and beat again. Stir one level teaspoon of soda into one pint of sour milk, add to the other ingredients and mix with enough sifted pastry flour to make a dough as soft as can be rolled. Take a part at a time, roll half an inch thick, cut in rings and fry. Use nutmeg, cinnamon, or any flavoring liked. These doughnuts are good for the picnic basket or to carry out to the boys at their camp.

SOFT GINGER COOKIES. Put a level teaspoon of soda in a measuring cup, add three tablespoons of boiling water, one-quarter cup of melted butter or lard, a saltspoon of salt, a level teaspoon of ginger, and enough sifted pastry flour to make a dough as soft as can be handled. Shape small bits of dough, lay in the greased baking pan and press out half an inch thick; bake carefully.”

(copyright-free vintage advertising cuts from Dover Publications).

6 comments:

Andrea R said...

Oh, I *love* these recipes, and I do love using them too. :)

I have 2 copies of a local cookbook that was a housewife's staples here. Tons of one paragraph recipes with things like "butter the size of an egg" and "cook in hot over till done".

Amanda said...

Fabulous post! It is so interesting to see how people cooked in different times. The recipes look great. I might try some of them myself (a little altered of course):)

Amy said...

That's really interesting Shay, I've never tried Creole food, being in NZ we just don't have that type made here, wish we did but I"m glad he made something of himself.

Shay said...

What I enjoyed about this cookbook is the clarity of his instructions. As you know I spend a lot of time prowling around old cookbooks and often it's hard to tell from the way the recipes are written, just how the dish is going to turn out. Just compare last Sunday's "guest cookery writer" and her style, with Estes'. World of difference.

I could walk into my kitchen right now and make every one of his dishes.

Well...except maybe for the one that calls for two squirrels.

Packrat said...

Thank you for posting this. I'll have to come back and reread this, but it sounds so interesting. I could probably do the squirrels (if someone else killed and cleaned them). Ours are well fed! lol

Sisiggy said...

It's pretty impressive, especially when you realize when he calls for a "half-grown chicken," he means pick out a live half-grown chicken that had to be slaughtered, scalded, plucked and dressed before you even started the cooking.

Same with the squirrel.

I think I'll try the coffee cup custard...I love custard and I love coffee. And it's also squirrel-free.