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OP: Young House-Keeper, The

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by William A. Alcott

The American physician and social reformer William Alcott (1798-1859) was one of the most prolific writers of his time, and although he dealt with subjects ranging from education to the role of women in the family, he was most focused on the importance of a proper diet, which he held should be basically vegetarian. Although he devoted several books to that subject, The Young House-Keeper, published in 1838 was his major statement on the subject—and a huge success. By 1851 it had gone through some 20 printings.

In 424 pages Alcott examines nearly three dozen classes of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains, evaluating their nutritional and health-supporting properties. His chapter on cucumbers, for example, covers such topics as “Evils of the Cucumber Overrated,” allowing, however, that they are “not very nutritious.” On the subject of cherries, he cautions, “no cooking into pies, puddings &c. admissible” and opines that they “should be eaten in the morning.” 

Animal foods are included—reluctantly and quite briefly. He regrets, notes Alcott, ‘‘to be obliged to recognize animal food as a primary aliment; for I consider the resort to it as proper only in the case of infants, diseased persons, and the people of those regions…where better food cannot be obtained.” Clearly vegan in his leanings, he admits grudgingly that, “a little fresh butter, spread on stale bread, and the latter well masticated, cannot be very hurtful.”

A significant book for any major American collection this is fascinating reading with many side discussions on broader social issues and such subjects as the efficient use of time by the women of the household. There is, in addition, a section of just over thirty pages of “Recipes for Plain Cooking.”

The Young House-Keeper was published in 1838. We are offering a Very Good-plus copy of the stated fifth edition, listed in Lowenstein as 1842, although the title page of ours states clearly 1840. The volume is firmly bound with no openings in the hinges. The case is brown cloth, blind stamped on front and back, gold-stamped on the spine. Some edgewear and three not-large stains on the front; skillful repair at the head and foot of the spine, which had softened. The interior shows scattered light foxing on the endpapers and perhaps ten percent of the pages, but most of the book is clean, clear, and even quite fresh looking. Some uncut pages, indicating minimal use. An early owner’s name penciled in and erased on the ffep, and the front pastedown has small bookseller label of G&C Merriam, Springfeld. This firm, ultimately the proprietor of the Merriam-Webster dictionaries, had been established in 1831.

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