Historical Albion Michigan
By Frank Passic

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Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.

THE MIRIAM COOKBOOK

Morning Star, December 21, 2003, Pg. 16

I’d like to take the time to wish my readers of this column a very Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year. If you need a last-minute Christmas gift for someone, I encourage you to drop by the Albion Chamber of Commerce on Monday or Tuesday and obtain my book “Albion in the 20th Century.” We’re down to the final box of these and they are going fast. Pick up one of my Riverside Cemetery tour booklets, too for a “stocking stuffer” which is sure to solicit conversation in your house. I also carry my books with me and will have them at home if you need one at the last minute. Be sure and let your visiting relatives know about the www.albionmich.com website where my previous articles from this column have been published. Make it an Albion Christmas this year!

Christmas is a time for cooking scrumptious meals and making delicious desserts. There have been numerous cookbooks published here in Albion by churches and clubs. One especially has caught this writer’s attention. It is “The Miriam Cook Book,” published by the Miriam Circle Ladies’ Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Although undated, an advertisement by the Commerical & Savings Bank states that it was “ten years old.” That would date the book at 1903--exactly 100 years ago!

The cookbook is brown, soft cover with a woven cloth binding. It measures approximately 5½ x 8½ inches in size, and is 173 pages long. The beginning and ends of the book are filled with advertisements of local Albion businesses which are very interesting to read. The names of the ladies who provided the recipes are printed using their husbands names. For example, on the title page we find the names of: “Mrs. Palmer Dearing, Mrs. George Bortles, Mrs. Flora Gale, Mrs. Harry Parker.” Flora was widowed and so she got to use her real first name. Such was the format of the book.

One observation I’ve made is that there are no temperatures given. Apparently with a coal stove it was supposed to be either “hot” or else it was “cold” and you couldn’t bake. For example, the recipe for “Deviled Beef” on page 65 instructs the cook to “Take thin slices of cold roast beef; lay over hot coals, and broil.” The recipes encouraged the housewife to use the brand-name Albion Patent Flour when baking. This flour was made by the Albion Milling Company on S. Superior St., i.e., the Citizen’s Bank and Albion Elevator buildings.

Let’s quickly go through the book and survey some of the recipes. I really found interesting the recipe for Tomato Catsup (notice they spell it the correct way) on page 94. In addition to the two gallons of cooked tomatoes and other ingredients, you’re supposed to add “one dozen peach leaves tied and washed.” Tied and washed with what? Who sells peach leaves?

Among the meat recipes are some real dillies. Lena Pahl’s recipe of “Fried Frogs’ Legs” on page 70 encourages you to “wash and wipe in [a] dry towel.” Just below that, Mrs. Melissa Young’s recipe of “Potted Tongue” says to “boil a tongue with one pound of nice veal.” It doesn’t say, however what kind of tongue. Don’t talk too much around the cook.

We’ve all heard of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Well, how about “Chicken Fried a la Maryland?” Mrs. A. F. Denismore submitted a recipe for that on page 69 which includes some practical advice along the way. She states: “First procure your chicken. Such as are obtained at the market are sometimes good, sometimes bad, and sometimes indifferent. The killing of it is a very important part, as a live chicken does not set well on a hot frying pan.”

There are several “ethnic titled” recipes scattered throughout the cookbook, such as “”New England Baked Indian Pudding” by Mrs. Washington Gardner on page 121, “Welsh Rarebit” on page 154, “Scotch Barley Soup” by Mrs. Belle Gale on page 49, “German Frying Steak” and “Irish Stew” on page 65, “English Breaded Veal” on page 67, and “Spanish Buns” by Mrs. G. E. Clark on page 43. There’s even a recipe for a “Japanese Salad” by Mrs. Charles E. Barr on page 84, and “East India Sauce” by Mrs. G. S. Kimball on page 100. “English Plum Pudding” by Mrs. Kimball is found on page 117, but I’ll pass on the recipe for the “Bird’s Nest Pudding” on the previous page.

There’s a recipe for “Pieplant Pie” by Mrs. John Brown on page 106, and one opposite it on page 107 by Mrs. George P. Griffin with meringue added. It says to add one cup stewed pieplant. I didn’t know that you could grow pies in a vegetable garden. I have since learned that pieplant was the name for rhubarb.

The book ends with some “helpful hints” on pages 160 and 161, such as: “To keep ink from getting thick, put two or three whole cloves in the bottle.” How about this uniquely-worded tip? “Save paraffin paper from cracker boxes to rub the flat-iron on ironing day.”

It would be interesting if there could be a reprint of this cookbook. Perhaps at least some of these recipes could be “resurrected” for “Men Who Cook.” From our Historical Notebook this week we present the title page of “The Miriam Cook Book.” Notice the typographical error in the last word when it states, “A Collection of Tested Receipts.” Merry Christmas, everyone!


The Miriam Cookbook cover

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