The Farmer’s wife in question is not actually a farmer’s wife, or should I say she is hundreds of farmers’ wives. Confused? Then I’ll explain. The Farmer’s Wife was a monthly magazine published in Minnesota between 1893 and 1939. I dare say farmers and their families felt often quite isolated in the days before rapid transport, telephone, TV and the internet. This magazine gave the lady of the house a forum for pastimes such as household management, dressmaking, gardening, slaughtering (animals, that is) and cooking.
If you are a lover of historic cookbooks you will be enchanted by this volume. The recipes are family recipes which often give an indication of the roots of those farmers or their interest in faraway places. There are Cornish pasties, Guernsey Gash, Sally Lunn, Southern Apple Dumplings and Raleigh Cake. The farmer’s wife took great pride in her baked goods which were appreciated by husbands and children who all worked hard to make a success of the farm.
Lela Nargi, the editor of The Farmer’s Wife Baking Cookbook, has tampered with the original recipes as little as possible. She has done some helpful conversions from archaic measurements such as gills to ounces but the words of these ladies have been preserved.
The most marvellous illustration of rich and colourful language can be found in the Quick Breads chapter. A contributor from Wisconsin writes “Make a stiffish paste with flour and lard and a pinch of salt, not no baking powder. Wet it up with milk if you got it, water if you ab’n got it….The children so dearly like it, and they say currans be full of the new fangled “vitamines” the Doctors be always ordering, they ought to be good for ‘em. If you get tired of currans you can make a “Figgy” wan fer a change. Figs is just Cornish for raisins”.
The Farmer’s Wife Baking Cookbook isn’t an out-moded recipes book. The cakes and pastries here are good solid fare that will be enjoyed by you and your family in the 21st century just as much as those folks back at the start of the 20th.
There are lots of recipes here that will be familiar to those who have been fortunate enough to find an authentic American diner. Cream Pies are a simple, cheap and delicious dessert and there are several in this book. Favourite Pie dates from 1913 and is a rich apple tart topped with meringue. These might not be exotic but they are authentically American and still worth making.
The Farmer’s Wife Baking Cookbook is probably a book for the more confident cook who already has a feel for baking. It has 300 or so recipes so there are plenty to get your culinary teeth into. I think it’s a winner and a volume that I’ll be using often.
The Farmer’s Wife Baking Cookbook
Editor: Lela Nargi
Published by: Voyageur Press
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018