Four Carew Family Cookbooks, 1837-ca. 1870

View Catalog Record
[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 MS. COOKBOOKS – AMERICAN 1834, 1843, N.D.
Manuscript Cookbooks Survey Database ID#
Place of Origin
United States ➔ New York ➔ New York
Date of Composition
1837-ca. 1870
This collection consists of four manuscript cookbooks. Three of these cookbooks are contained in bound notebooks, one inscribed 1837, another inscribed 1843, and third undated but probably originally compiled at around the same time as the other two. A fourth cookbook is contained in a homemade sewn fascicle of oblong blue leaves; it is undated but likely compiled at roughly the same time as the bound notebooks. These manuscripts appear to have been written by sisters and/or cousins of a single generation of the Carew family and then, somewhat later, annotated by another family descendant (see below). All contain overlapping recipes attributed to Carew family members as well as overlapping recipes attributed to family acquaintances. All four manuscripts also share a number of recipes copied (without attribution), either verbatim or with only minor changes, from printed cookbooks. Some of these cookbooks, such as Maria Rundell's New System of Domestic Cookery, Lydia Maria Child's The American Frugal Housewife, and Eliza Leslie's Directions for Cookery (the 1840 edition and/or a later one was used), are of the first half of the nineteenth century and would be expected sources for manuscript cookbooks compiled in the 1830s or 1840s. But a number of recipes are copied from eighteenth-century English cookbooks and at least one from Amelia Simmons's American Cookery, published in 1796. The inclusion of these older recipes suggests that the four Carew women may have copied parts of their cookbooks from one or more earlier manuscript cookbooks that had been handed down in their family.

Although these cookbooks contain many overlapping recipes, they are distinctive, for they all arrange the recipes in a unique order and they all contain recipes that occur in none of the other books (although the hand-sewn sheaf has very few of these). What makes this collection particularly interesting is that another individual has annotated all four documents in pencil (the originals are in ink), adding corrections, commentary ("good," "a very delicate pudding"), and, in more than a few recipes, an attribution to "Cousin Lucretia" or other family members. This individual would seem to have been the sister of the compiler of the undated bound notebook, for this individual has penciled in "my sister" next to a recipe for Fruit Cake in that notebook. (The same recipe also appears verbatim in the hand-sewn sheaf.) In addition to annotating the original recipes, the pencil-writing individual has added a number of recipes of her own, particularly in the 1843 bound notebook and the undated bound notebook. The annotator must have been a younger or longer-surviving sister, for her added recipes (such as Cream Pie, which she has added to the undated bound notebook) are more modern (as well as less British and more American in feel) than the original inked recipes.

The Carew family was likely of New York City, for the manuscripts share a number of recipes that were especially popular in the city in the first half of the nineteenth century, including recipes of Dutch provenance such as "cold slaw" (made in a distinctively Dutch way), oly cooks (Dutch doughnuts), crullers, and stamped "cookies," as well as an "Astor-house receipt" (a sort of molded custard) and a recipe titled "New York Soft Jumbles." The original compilers of the documents focus largely on warm desserts (particularly puddings), cakes, and warm breads. Judging from the recipes she added, the pencil-writing annotator was somewhat more interested in savory cooking. These cookbooks capture the transition from an eighteenth-century, essentially British style of cooking to a more modern, more naturalized American cuisine. For example, there are recipes for both "hard biscuit" and modern "crackers," as well as recipes for both yeast-raised soft biscuits, which are English in inspiration, and modern American soda biscuits. Also of interest are seven consecutive recipes for Irish and sweet potato puddings in the undated bound notebook. These recipes suggest that potato puddings, the predecessors of today's sweet potato pie, were as popular in the antebellum North as they were in the South.