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Thu Apr 25, 2019, 06:54 AM

Hidden In Plain Sight: Oldest Known Cookbook Authored By An African-American

Published in 1866, Malinda Russellís cookbook is the oldest known cookbook authored by an African-American. University of Michigan Special Collections Curator Juli McLoone gently flips through the 39 pages of the only original copy that remains today. It contains 265 recipes.

"Thereís an allspice cake, a coconut sponge cake, a couple of different lemon cakes. Interestingly, we think of vanilla as the standard cake flavor today, but in the 19th century, lemon cake would have filled that rule. A lot of times rose water was also used for flavoring cakes and pastries. She has a charlotte russe recipe, a baked peach cobbler, she has few savory recipes like a chicken pie, chow chow, catfish, also a number of custards. Also a lot of jams and preserves, so cranberry jam, a couple of different quince jams," said McLoone.

*Snip*

Longone recalls when the seller called her to see if she was interested in purchasing the book. It was part of the collection of California cookbook author and food writer Helen Evans Brown. Longone says, thankfully, Malinda Russell wrote a short biography of herself in the book because not much is known about her life. Longone reads part of the bio on why Russell left her home state of Tennessee.

"On January 16th 1864, her money was stolen from her, probably by the KKK, by a gorilla party who threatened her life if she revealed who they were. Quote, under these circumstances, we were obliged to leave home following a flag of truce out of the southern borders, being attacked several times by the enemy. After hearing that Michigan was the garden of west, she moved to the Paw Paw area end quote," added Longone.

It was in Michigan that Russell published her cookbook. In it, we also learn that Russell was a free black woman who owned a pastry shop for six years. Most of the recipes in the book are pastry delicacies. And to bring back to life, a few of the over 150 year old recipes, I put on a hair net and met up with two chefs from the University of Michiganís Dining Services.

"So I prepared the Rusk, thatís a yeast dough."

Thatís Chef John Merucci. Over a commercial kitchen table at the South Quadís dining hall, he forms poker chip-size pieces of dough with a hole in the middle for a recipe simply called ďRusk.Ē

Chef Merucci explains Russellís recipe a bit more.

"Compare to modern day recipes, the amount of yeast in this is quite a lot. Itís not overly sweet, so there is some sweetness in there but itís nice and warm right out of the fryerÖthatís kind of nice," added Merucci.

As I sneak another bite of the Rusk, I walk over to Chef Jeremy Moser. He uses a mixer machine to whip up an egg and sugar mixture for a Sweet Potato Baked Pudding. Chef Moser explains what he found interesting about Russellís cookbook.

Moser: I had to do research of what a drop was and what a gill was and different measurements that they used back then.

Jorge: What are some of those recipes, if you remember, that you weíre just kind of like, I have no clue what that is?

Jeremy: There is one that uses, itís actually equivalent of an opioid drug, thatís used as a flavoring. Obviously, we canít procure that. Alum was used a lot and thatís kind of hard to get and cook with. It was a challenge but it was very interesting as well.


Chef Merucci had another surprise up his sleeve. He decided to make Russellís Rose Cake ahead of time. He describes it as an airy, light sponge cake with icing.


"Basically, a nice caramel. The icing is really what we would call a Swiss fondant. Its egg whites again that are beaten, and then you cook sugar to the soft cracked stage and you would slowly add that into the egg whites, and you beat it, and the heat from the sugar cooks the egg white and gives you a nice glossy shine. Kind of almost like a marshmallow texture to that icing," said Merucci.


Jorge: What do you think Malinda would say, knowing that weíre doing all this today?

Jan: I think she would be thrilled.

While Longone has cooked with Russellís recipes over the years, she says something else makes her even happier.


"Wasnít so interested in making them sort of speak, because what I wanted to do was get people to make them," said Longone.

University of Michigan Marketing Manager Kelly Guralewski also joined us in this adventure, and was quickly inspired by Russellís story.

"Just imagining her making these items and selling them in her shop. Making a living off of that, and this was her pride," said Guralewski.

University of Michigan student Elise Ellsworth had never heard of Malinda Russell or about her cookbook. But once we told her about it, she wants to stop by the Special Collections Library to see the book in person.

"Almost every week that Iím here, I find out about something else that we have that just doesnít make any sense. Itís kind of cool because itís old. Itís cool being part of that and knowing that your university has that kind of information and that we keep those records, thatís something thatís important to them," said Ellsworth.

University of Michigan Special Collections Curator Juli McLoone says food recipes arenít the only thing you will find in the cookbook.

Juli: Thereís a whole section on household hints and recipes. So, barbers shampooing mixture, cologne, cures for corns, treatment for restoring hair to its original color, something she calls magnetic oil, a cure for rheumatism, and treatment for tooth ache.

Jorge: Is that unusual to find those types of recipes in a cookbook?

Juli: No, household treatments were very common in this time period. And if you think about it, so most people when they became ill would be treated in the home.

Longone says she paid about $600 for Malinda Russellís cookbook. The University of Michigan says, to them, this treasure is priceless because itís the only original copy they know that exists. You can see it for yourself in person by making an appointment with the Special Collections Research Center at the University of Michigan. A Domestic Cook Book is part of the Janice Bluestein Longone Culinary Archive. You can also click here for a digital copy.


imagine being able to test her recipes. damn.

https://www.wemu.org/post/hidden-plain-sight-oldest-known-cookbook-authored-african-american?

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Arrow 15 replies Author Time Post
Reply Hidden In Plain Sight: Oldest Known Cookbook Authored By An African-American (Original post)
JHan Apr 2019 OP
wendyb-NC Apr 2019 #1
Chitown Kev Apr 2019 #2
appalachiablue Apr 2019 #3
lillypaddle Apr 2019 #4
happy feet Apr 2019 #5
Kind of Blue Apr 2019 #6
SunSeeker Apr 2019 #7
CaptainTruth Apr 2019 #8
pansypoo53219 Apr 2019 #9
TNNurse Apr 2019 #10
JHan Apr 2019 #13
dixiegrrrrl Apr 2019 #11
Honeycombe8 Apr 2019 #12
FakeNoose Apr 2019 #14
JHan Apr 2019 #15

Response to JHan (Original post)

Thu Apr 25, 2019, 09:08 AM

1. That is so cool. Thank you for posting.

Amazing, that it has survived. So many interesting recipes. Mostly staple ingredients. What a treasure. Thank you, to Malinda Russell.

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Response to JHan (Original post)

Thu Apr 25, 2019, 12:11 PM

2. The measurements...

or lack thereof are really interesting...great story.

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Response to JHan (Original post)

Thu Apr 25, 2019, 01:41 PM

3. A wonderful gem, thanks for posting. Good the NPR station picked this up.

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Response to JHan (Original post)

Thu Apr 25, 2019, 01:42 PM

4. So cool

but damn those recipes sound complicated and hard!

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Response to JHan (Original post)

Thu Apr 25, 2019, 01:42 PM

5. Cool. Thanks for posting.

I'm sharing with all of my 'cooking' friends.

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Response to JHan (Original post)

Thu Apr 25, 2019, 02:30 PM

6. And household hints, too, wow.

Some of those recipes at the site look really interesting and simple to make. Onion custard, onions baked with rich cream, eggs, cinnamon, sugar. Blanc Mange drink with nutritious Irish moss. Ginger nuts. Fascinating.

Thanks for posting!

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Response to JHan (Original post)

Thu Apr 25, 2019, 03:55 PM

7. Damn. What I wouldn't do for a Malinda Russell's Rose Cake!

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Response to JHan (Original post)

Thu Apr 25, 2019, 03:58 PM

8. Thanks for posting. A couple years ago I found a copy of Mrs Rorer's Cookbook (1886)...

... at a thrift shop, paid less than $3 for it. I see it selling today for $125-$200 depending on condition.

It's fascinating to read & I hope my wife & I have time to try some old recipes ... one day when we're not so busy.

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Response to JHan (Original post)

Thu Apr 25, 2019, 05:13 PM

9. REPRINT!

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Response to pansypoo53219 (Reply #9)

Fri Apr 26, 2019, 07:22 AM

10. My thought as well.

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Response to pansypoo53219 (Reply #9)

Sat Apr 27, 2019, 07:28 PM

13. I agree!

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Response to JHan (Original post)

Fri Apr 26, 2019, 12:10 PM

11. I am totally fascinated by this information.


I know of old cookbooks from England, and that "household hints" are commonly a part of them, esp. medicinal recipes.
Also recipes for getting stains out of clothes and other materials, since clothes were all hand made and valuable.
alum is a frequent ingredient for both cooking and for cleaning mixtures.

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Response to JHan (Original post)

Fri Apr 26, 2019, 03:03 PM

12. So interesting. Thanks. My mouth is watering! nt

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Response to JHan (Original post)

Sun Apr 28, 2019, 08:47 AM

14. This is available as a free download (public domain)

https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/004747129

Click on "Full view" and you can see page-by-page or download the entire PDF. It's quite interesting, but different from the modern cookbook recipes that most of us are used to seeing.

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Response to FakeNoose (Reply #14)

Sun Apr 28, 2019, 09:22 AM

15. omg I love you.!

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