Sunday, November 20, 2022

Cookery: Meat Department

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811–1896)
From American Food Writing: An Anthology With Classic Recipes

Trade card for the New American Cook Stove, Perry & Co., Albany, NY, 1874. Lithograph by Weed, Parsons & Co. The back of the card describes the stove’s features including a clinkerless grate, illuminated front, and portable fuel chamber. (Historic New England) “The introduction of cooking-stoves offers to careless domestics facilities for gradually drying-up meats, and despoiling them of all flavor and nutriment,” Stowe writes in “Cookery.”
In January 1864, Christopher Crowfield began publishing in The Atlantic Monthly a series of columns on household matters. “My wife and I were somewhat advanced housekeepers,” he wrote, “and our dwelling was first furnished by her father, in the old-fashioned jog-trot days, when furniture was made with a view to its lasting from generation to generation.” The first installment describes the purchase of an inexpensive, commercially produced carpet from Brussels to replace the heavily worn “old rag” in their parlor. Once it was installed, his daughters worried the sunlight would bleach its bright colors and realized that its novelty made the room’s other furnishings look out of place. Sure enough, within a year the room was freshly appointed “with two lounges in decorous recesses, a fashionable sofa, and six chairs and a looking glass, and a grate always shut up, and a hole in the floor which kept the parlor warm, and great, heavy curtains that kept out all the light that was not already excluded by the green shades.” In the end, the room was so pristine and sterile and dark that nobody ever used it. If the moral of the story wasn’t clear, Crowfield spelled it out in the next month’s column: “There are many women who know how to keep a house, but there are few that know how to keep a home.”

The story proved popular with Atlantic readers, as did Crowfield’s subsequent installments that appeared in all but one issue in 1864. The columns, with a newly written twelfth chapter, were gathered the following year in a book, House and Home Papers, which went through several printings. In the concluding essay, Crowfield declares, “My wife, as you may have seen in these papers, is an old-fashioned woman, something of a conservative.” Yet, as many, and perhaps most, readers knew at the time, there was no Mrs. Crowfield, nor was there even a Christopher Crowfield. Instead, all twelve essays were written by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

In 1863, Stowe’s husband, Calvin Ellis Stowe, resigned from his position at Andover Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, and the couple decided to move to Hartford, Connecticut, with their three grown daughters and their 13-year-old son. Harriet assumed responsibility for the construction and outfitting of their new home and, because her husband was no longer collecting a salary, the family depended upon the income from her writing. “I came here a month ago to hurry on the preparations for our house, in which I am now writing, in the high bow window of Mr. Stowe’s study, overlooking the wood and river,” she wrote to Atlantic editor James T. Field in May 1864. “We are not moved in yet, only our things, and the house presents a scene of the wildest chaos, the furniture having been tumbled in and lying boxed and promiscuous.” Her adventures while building, furnishing, and living in the house gave her the idea for the Crowfield columns. Her son Frederick had been seriously wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg, and the essays provided her (and her readers) with much-needed distractions: “It is not wise that all our literature should run in a rut cut through our hearts and red with our blood—I feel the need of a little gentle household merriment and talk of common things.”

Why Stowe, the most famous living American novelist at the time, chose to write under a pseudonym remains a matter for scholarly debate. “If there were rhetorical advantages to be gained in 1864 by her choice of a male persona to speak on domestic topics, it is hard to discern them,” writes Joan Hedrick in her Pulitzer Prize–winning biography. Hedrick suggests that writing as a man was “the price of admission to the Atlantic club,” yet the magazine advertised Stowe’s authorship in publications ranging from the American Literary Gazette to The Gardener’s Monthly: “MRS. HARRIET BEECHER STOWE begins, in the January number, a series of capital sketches to be continued through several months, with the title of ‘House and Home Papers, by Christopher Crowfield.’” The charade was so widely known that a reviewer in the The Ladies’ Repository complained, “We should rather have had Mrs. Stowe speak in propria persona rather than with the nom de plume of Christopher Crowfield. The veil is no veil, and should therefore not be worn.”

The success of both the essays and the book that resulted from them enabled Stowe to negotiate future pieces at $200 each—double the rate she was paid the first year. The twenty columns that “Christopher Crowfield” published in 1865 and 1866 under a new series rubric, “The Chimney-Corner,” were collected in two volumes as Little Foxes and The Chimney-Corner; the former went through twenty-five printings by the time of Stowe’s death thirty years later and the latter sold 10,000 copies in England alone during its first year of publication.

“Cookery,” the final installment of House and Home Papers in The Atlantic, appeared in the December 1864 issue. Five years later, Stowe excised the fictional trappings, changed the title to “Good Cooking,” and included the essay in The American Woman’s Home; or Principles of Domestic Science, a book she—under her own name—coauthored with her sister Catharine E. Beecher. In both versions, she discusses the “five great departments of cookery”: Bread, Butter, Meat, Vegetables, and Tea & Coffee. In the third section, which we present below, Stowe criticizes both butchers and cooks for the crudeness of meat preparation in America and advises homemakers and chefs alike to look to Europe for guidance.

Note: The figure of John Bull was a popular personification of England, usually representing the common man (unlike, say, Uncle Sam, who is the personification of the American federal government).

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The third head of my discourse is that of Meat, of which America furnishes, in the gross material, enough to spread our tables royally, were it well cared for and served. . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

This selection may be photocopied and distributed for classroom or educational use.