Marion Harris Neil, one of the most prolific of early 20th century food writers, is pretty much of a mystery. She identifies herself in some of her books as “Former Cookery Editor, The Ladies’ Home Journal,” but beyond that little is known. She appears to have been born in the British Isles, studied cooking in Glasgow, and came to Philadelphia in 1902 or 1903, where, according to one researcher, she may have opened a cooking school with her sister. Among her dozens of works are many pamphlets and small volumes written for a variety of food producers, the best-known of which is a cookbook entitled The Story of Crisco (1913), which was instrumental in launching that product to its dominant position in the world market.
The book offered here is a luncheon-oriented selection of recipes, presented almost as three separate treatises, each with its own introduction, including historical notes. The range of ideas is broad, from ordinary everyday dishes to those more intended for entertaining. We see salads from a simple coleslaw to a showy fruit salad a la Russe; sandwiches from meatloaf on buttered wheat bread to oyster canapes garnished with caviar; chafing dish recipes from a simple browned fish hash to lobsters bordelaise. It might be noted that although the chafing dish came in time to signify a certain pretentiousness, more associated with restaurants, it was, at this time, a more commonly seen piece of equipment and represented simply a style of cooking, alongside such as roasting, broiling, baking, or frying.
The recipes are straightforward, aiming for simplicity and economy of activity, even in some of the most imaginative dishes. The formatting is in the modern, home-economics-oriented style, with ingredient lists first, followed by directions that assume basic knowledge of technique. While there are a few recognizably Victorian dishes, most of the recipes are of the type that would dominate middle-class home cooking through the 1930s.
Published in 1916 by David McKay, the book is nicely made for use by the homemaker or for a household cook. It is bound in gray fabric and attractively imprinted with a chafing dish and some common kitchen ingredients. Our copy is better than most we have seen. The seldom-seen dust jacket is missing, but the attractive case is very nicely preserved. The binding is strong, the pages, with the exception of three or four, are totally clean and unmarked. The only defect is that at some point the frontispiece—a black and white photograph of the making of a fruit salad—was removed. The price is therefore somewhat lower than might be asked for a copy as good looking as this.