Cooking with Rare Books: April Fool's Day Special

KENNESAW, Ga. | Mar 29, 2022

KSU Honors student Camilla Stegall explores a few of the most unexpected recipes found in rare cookbooks across the Bentley's collections.

Welcome back to the Cookery Corner! For April Fool’s Day, we’re going to have some fun! During the research process for the Cookery Corner, I’ve had several interesting recipes catch my eye. In this post, I’ll be sharing some of the oddly titled, surprising, and slightly questionable recipes (from our current perspective) from cookbooks in the Bentley’s collection: 
The English Housewife by Gervase Markham (1631).

Title page to the English Housewife.
Almost all the recipes contained in The English Housewife have some element that is vastly different than in modern cookery. This ranges from choice of ingredients to the interesting spellings within the recipes. To showcase both fun spellings and ingredient choices in The English Housewife, here is a “Spinage tart.” 

A Spinage Tart 
Take good store of Spinage, and boyle it in a Pipkin with White wine till it be very soft as pap: then take it and straine it well into a pewter dish, not leaving any part unstrained: then put to it Rosewater, great store of sugar and cynamon, and boyle it till it be as thicke as Marmalad, then let it coole, and after fill your coffin, and adorn it, and serve it in all points as you did your pruen tart, and this carrieth the color greene. 

I’m sorry if you were expecting a quiche or something cheesy. I was, too. They just really loved their sugar and “cynamon” in Markham’s day. (And as we remember: the “coffin” is actually the crust.) The reference to the “pruen tart” is most likely for the instructions in the “pruen tart” recipe of how to create designs out of pastry and lay them on top of the tart. This would be a nice way to entertain your unsuspecting victim(s) before their first bite. 

Now we’ll jump forward about three centuries and to the delicious delights of living on a ration (or with suggested food substitutions) during the World Wars in America. Let's dive into Foods That Will Win the War and How to Cook Them by C. Houston Goudiss and Alberta M. Goudiss (1918).


Title page to Foods That Will Win the War and How to Cook Them
Unfortunately, the entirety of this post could have been dedicated to recipes from World War I’s Foods That Will Win the War and How to Cook Them. The focus on substitution led to interesting recipes as the U.S Food Administration encouraged citizens to eat less sugar and meat. 

Apple Porcupines 
Core 6 apples. Cut line around apple just through skin. Fill center with mixture of one-quarter cup each of dates, nuts and figs or marmalade, to which has been added one-quarter cup corn syrup or honey. Bake 30 minutes with one-quarter inch water in baking pan. Stick outside of apple with blanched almonds to make porcupine quills. April fool! It’s not actually a porcupine, but an apple! 

Cocoanut Surprise 
6 slices of bread cut in half 
½ cup of milk 
1 egg yolk 
1 tablespoon corn syrup 
2 tablespoons fresh grated cocoanut 
Tart jelly 
Mix milk, egg yolk and corn syrup. Dip bread in this mixture and brown in frying pan, with small amount of fat. Spread with currant or other tart jelly, preserve or marmalade. Sprinkle with cocoanut and serve as cakes.  
This recipe sounds quite delicious. But, if I was served this fancy French toast dish and told it was cake, it would definitely be a cocoanut surprise.  
Boston Roast 
1 teaspoon onion juice 
1 cup grated cheese 
1 teaspoon salt 
1/8 teaspoon cayenne 
1 cup beans (kidney) 
About 1 cup breadcrumbs 
Soak and cook beans. Mix all ingredients into loaf. Baste with fat and water. Bake 30 minutes. Serve with tomato sauce. 

This recipe takes you on a culinary rollercoaster. Starting with the belief you’re making a nice pork roast, you soon realize it’s a meatloaf…with no meat…just beans.

Americans in World War II faced stricter rationing requirements.

Title page to Coupon Cookery
Cookbooks came out to help Americans navigate food changes, but sometimes, they might have gone too far, like in Coupon Cookery by Prudence Penny (1943). 

Lime Relish Salad 
1 package lime-flavored gelatin 
1 cup boiling water 
½ cup relish 
¾ cup mayonnaise 
Dissolve gelatin in hot water; when slightly thickened, mix the mayonnaise and relish. 
Pour into individual molds, or ring molds, chill thoroughly, then serve in crisp lettuce cups. 
PENNY TIP: This is our favorite “quickie!” Nippy, pretty, and appropriate to many uses. 
It is concerning to see the phrase “appropriate to many uses” appearing with this recipe for tartar sauce in lime Jell-O.  

1 pound round steak, or lean beef 
½ pound of salt pork 
2 tablespoons shortening, bacon fat or butter 
1 large onion 
1 clove garlic 
1 ½ cups of uncooked spaghetti, broken in small pieces 
3 cups cooked tomatoes or 1 small can tomato paste and 2 cans water 
1 cup cooked peas or corn 
1 small can of pimiento, finely chopped 
1 small can of ripe olives 
½ pound of American cheese 
Grind meats together, brown the onion in the shortening, add meat and garlic, cook until done, stirring frequently. 
Cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water, drain and rinse in cold water, add to the meat with tomatoes, vegetable, half of pimiento and half of grated cheese, also half of olives. Mix ingredients with a fork, then pour into oiled baking dish, put balance of pimiento, olives and cheese over top and bake in a moderate oven, or 350 degrees, for 30 to 45 minutes. 
PENNY TIP: Experiment with this recipe! You won’t go far wrong. 

During rationing, it was important to use what was available and this recipe would be well rounded for home front workers. However, it’s hard to see how much more wrong this recipe could go.  

As this crazy post comes to an end, we include a disclaimer that it is quite possible that some of these recipes are perfectly delicious once they’re cooked and suspect ingredients are concealed. But, here at the Bentley, we have our suspicions about that Lime Relish Salad.  
Happy April Fool’s Day! 

For more about the context of these recipes, check out the prior Cookery Corner blog posts! 
For additional information also see: Michael R. Best’s The English Housewife.  

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