The Farmer’s Wife Cookbook by Martha Engstrom – review

cookbook reviews The Farmer’s Wife Cookbook No, dear reader, you don’t have to run off with a farmer to be able to enjoy this book. You won’t need to have furtive visits to your local library proclaiming in a loud voice that you truly are a farmer’s wife to be eligible for a peek between these covers. The farmers’ wives in question are truly the authors of this book, as they submitted their blue-ribbon family recipes to be shared.

The Farmer’s Wife was a monthly magazine which was published from 1893 to 1939. The Farmer’s Wife Cookbook is a product of the magazine and offers the modern cookbook collector a rare opportunity to learn more about the eating habits of rural communities in the USA. Seems they ate quite well if these recipes are anything to go by.

The Farmer’s Wife Cookbook has a wealth of recipes that are mostly valid for the modern cook. The ingredients are simple and inexpensive and that should be enough to entice any credit-crunched foodie to take a look at this volume. There are dishes here that will seem rather retro but that is the charm of this book. There will be things that you’ll remember from your grandmother’s kitchen (assuming your grandmother lived in America, that is), or will be totally new to you.

The Quick Breads chapter offers Biscuits. These are delicious but a minefield of intercontinental misunderstanding. A biscuit, in this case, is like a scone if you are English. A scone is like an American biscuit. A biscuit, for the English, is the same as an American cookie. A cookie is what the English assume is the ritual accompaniment to a glass of American milk. A glass of milk to the English is…a glass of milk.

The Chicken section of Meats has some classic delights that are seldom seen these days apart from gracing the tables of a traditional diner. Creamed Chicken is rich and sustaining and a great way to use up left-over poultry. The Ground (minced) Meat section has Swedish Meatballs and Swedish Kol Dolma and probably reflects the Scandinavian heritage of the magazine’s readers and contributors.

The Fish chapter isn’t huge but that’s not surprising when you consider that most farms in the US were/are a long way from the coast. Good use is therefore made of canned fish, so these recipes are excellent store-cupboard meals for the modern home cook. Salmon Loaf is simple to prepare and an economic way of spinning out a 418-gram tin of fish to feed 4-6 people.

There is a gem of a recipe here that I remember from holidays in Dubuque, Iowa. It’s a Moulded Salad and I had never come across such a thing. It’s a cold gelatine dish of cottage cheese and pineapple set in a lemon jelly. This might not sound appealing but it’s an unsophisticated winner.

The Farmer’s Wife Cookbook isn’t a glossy, picture-packed, celebrity-promoting extravaganza. This is simple home cooking that won’t break the bank. It’s both a memory archive and also a working recipe book that will be enjoyed by food historians and food enthusiasts.

Cookbook review: The Farmer’s Wife Cookbook
Authors: Martha Engstrom
Published by: Voyageur Press
Price: $14.95US £9.99
ISBN 978-0-7603-3489-8


Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018