Hoppin Family Recipes, 1838-1841

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[Library Title: Early 19th century American cookbooks, circa 1800-1843]

Manuscript Location
New York Public Library, Schwarzman Building - Manuscripts & Archives Division
Holding Library Call No.
MssCol 655 Cookbook – American 19th Cent.
Manuscript Cookbooks Survey Database ID#
Place of Origin
United States
Date of Composition

This highly interesting cookbook contains 32 pages of culinary recipes at the front of the notebook, 5 pages of culinary material and remedies at the back, and 60 blank pages in between. The date 1841 is written at the top of the first page of the book and at the head of remarks on “the best way to make delicate cake in loaves.” The date 1838 follows the author's thoughts on setting out a dessert, which are written at the back of the notebook. A number of recipes are attributed to persons named Hoppin: Mrs. B. Hoppin contributed the recipe for Dough Cake, E. T. Hoppin contributed the recipe for the best way to make delicate cake, N. P. Hoppin gave an unnamed recipe for a fruited cake, and she may be the Nancy Hoppin who provided a recipe for sixty pounds of sausage meat, seasoned with six ounces of sage, four of black pepper, and one of cayenne. In the front section of the cookbook, a few of the recipes are marked “not yet tried,” while a number of other recipes must have been tried, for they contain corrections or comments. All of the culinary recipes in the back five pages seem to be based on the compiler’s own experience.

The compiler is particularly interested in the desserts, sweet cakes, and “warm cakes” (which we today might call tea breads) served at company entertainments in the mid-nineteenth century: rich potato, orange, apple, and coconut puddings; lemon cream, lemon jelly, calves’ foot jelly, floating island, “the best ice cream,” and stirred custards; rich fruited cakes; and muffins and waffles suitable for company teas. While desserts and cakes predominate, the manuscript does cover the standard company main dishes of the day: roast stuffed turkey with gravy, roast ham, and roast mutton. In addition, it outlines a number of fish dishes, including fish chowder, clam chowder, stewed blackfish, and stewed haddock. The author describes scups as suitable fish for the "common chowder . . . made at fishing parties" when better fish such as blackfish is not to be had. 

The writer's notes to herself, some incorporated in recipes and others broken out as stand-alone paragraphs, are highly revealing of the culinary practices and thinking of the times. She details the making of caramel coloring for gravies; she records a quick and easy method for making flaky pie crust in quantity when batch-baking pies; she wonders if she could improve the taste of cheese by soaking the rennet in brandy instead of the usual wine; and she debates whether or not fine cakes should be chemically leavened (on balance, she thinks not). Especially interesting are the writer's notes on how to lay out an attractive company dessert of white and yellow stirred custards (quoted here). Also of interest are the writer's notes detailing her struggle to make delicate cake that is very white in color, a peculiar obsession of the time. The writer titles a recipe for cheesecakes "Chest cakes or pudding," which suggests that the word "chess," as in "chess pie," was current not only in the antebellum South but also in the North (where this book was likely written).