Taste of history

Crunchy kernals make tasty pudding

By Merry Post

Special to The Ellsworth American 

Charity cookbooks published in the last quarter of the 19th century are great fun for those interested in social history. Organizations publishing cookbooks as fundraisers in this period sold advertising space to local businesses to cover their printing costs. These advertisements document changes in material culture, popular pastimes, fashion and social concerns.  

The Unitarian Church of Waterville’s ladies put out a cookbook in 1898 with advertisements that record fashions of the times. Two ads each for sewing machines and ladies’ bicycles show the increasing popularity of these consumer products. Waterville Stationers advertised playing cards for whist parties, a game that predated bridge and poker. There were four ads for hats, which were a fashion necessity for both sexes. Another ad for a “hair store” that sold “hair ornaments, side combs, pompadour and empire combs, hairpins and all the latest novelties” confirms the fact that women still wore their hair long but pinned it up.

One of the social anxieties of the period was a concern about adulterated foods, which is reflected in the advertising copy. Lightbody’s pharmacy stated that they sold pure drugs; Wheeler Bros. assured the public that they sold pure ice cream. Stickney and Poor’s advertised spices and extracts of unequalled purity. Both Grain-O, a caffeine-free coffee substitute, and Walter Baker & Co. Chocolate referred to their products as “pure foods.” Baker’s went further and included an endorsement by Baron Liebig, who assured the reader that their pure cocoa would “repair wasted strength, preserve health, and prolong life.” Justus Baron von Liebig was a famous German scientist who made major contributions in the fields of agricultural chemistry and organic chemistry. Since he had died 25 years before this cookbook came out and the ad did not use his first name, it is quite possible that Baker’s found another Baron Liebig to quote.  

Then there is a curious ad that offers a very specific service: “Ladies’ jacket sleeves cut over by Tailor Ed.” Why was there a market for recutting sleeves? According to “The Dictionary of Fashion History” (2017), puffy sleeves were popular in the 1820s and early 1830s and then enjoyed a brief resurgence in women’s fashion in the early 1890s. Called leg of mutton sleeves for their shape, they were fitted from the wrist to the elbow, then expanded hugely to the shoulder. They reached their peak of popularity in 1895 and became abruptly unfashionable in 1897. 

Day dresses and suits made in 1895 or 1896 might have 2½ yards of fabric in each sleeve. Suddenly these garments looked passé when fashionable women were wearing narrow sleeves. What to do with your outmoded wardrobe? Go see Tailor Ed.

The following recipe for a savory corn pudding is from “A Collection of Delectable Recipes, Tried and True,” in the Unitarian Church of Waterville cookbook. The pudding is traditionally served hot, but I enjoy leftover corn pudding for breakfast. 

Savory Corn Pudding

1/3 cup heavy cream

½ tsp. sea salt

¼ tsp. black pepper

¼ cup melted butter

2 cups whole milk, lukewarm

4 eggs

3 cups fresh corn kernels (cut from about 3 ears of corn)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and butter a 2-quart casserole. Mix the heavy cream, salt and pepper in a large bowl; stir in the butter. Add the milk; then add the eggs and mix well. Slice the kernels off the ears of corn and stir into the batter. Pour the batter into the casserole and place the dish in a roasting pan with about 1½ inches of hot water around the casserole. Bake for 1 hour or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

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