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OP: Imperial Cook Book

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by Grace Townsend

L. P. Miller & Co., 1890. Hardcover. Good Plus.

This hefty (527 pages, 7.75” x 10.25” x 1.75”) cookbook and household manual—published in 1890—is aimed, primarily, at the beginner, “who through some misfortune has had this part of her training neglected.”

Indeed, the Imperial Cook Book—also published with the title Dining Room and Kitchen—is more explicit than most of the era, presupposing little experience. The recipes, written in prose form, cover just about anything one might need to successfully manage a household. 

You will find that the usual soups, fish, meat, fruits, vegetables, and salads get substantial coverage, though cakes, doughs, pastries, ice creams, and candies take up a generous portion of the heft. 

The detail-oriented author, Grace Townsend, distinguishes between wild and domesticated duck preparations and covers squirrel, bear, and lark in the section on game and poultry. A chapter on bread begins with two homemade yeast recipes and goes on to tackle several types of waffles and griddle cakes and nine kinds of fritters. 

Beverages—including raspberry shrub, sassafras mead, and milk beer—preserves, pickles, and catsups (with their own chapter!) are also well-covered. A strong section on carving benefits from detailed etchings. Monthly bills of fare, food for invalids, serving instructions, instruction on childcare and how to combat common ailments, perfumes and toiletries, dyes, and laundry needs, round it all out. And, truly, that is not all the book has to offer.

Part of the great charm of this particular copy lies in its provenance. A note taped to the front free endpaper reads “Cookbook given my mother in 1892” signed Amy Gustafson whose obituary we discovered here, published by Nebraska’s The Grand Island Independent. Her mother Julia Peterson (née Ericson) has signed and dated two flyleaf pages at the front, and over two dozen handwritten recipes—including a poultice for pneumonia—can be found on the blank pages bound in for such a purpose. Many of them are attributed to other cooks and are dated in the early 1900s. A clipping from The Nebraska Farmer (founded in 1859) is laid in.

Our copy is an apparent first printing, bearing no date other than 1890 on the copyright page. As with most of this size and age, the clothbound book carries the blemishes of hearty use. It shows a good deal of scuffing and chipping to the case, and we have had the endpapers replaced to reinforce the binding. The papers have been copied to appear as the originals, which we have laid in out of sentimentality to preserve the previously mentioned ownership note. The interior is largely clean, the pages yellowing with age. In most copies we have seen, the pages have become quite brittle, though ours still shows some life yet. A real treat.

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