Tara O’Brien, Director of Preservation and Conservation Services at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, recently made a startling discovery. Tucked away in a box deep in the Society’s stacks, she found loose leaf pages scattered with recipes from the Civil War era. Further digging turned up a nearly complete manuscript, with more than 200 recipes, covering 13 categories, all penned by Ellen Emlen, a Philadelphia housewife who cooked and wrote the tome between 1860 and 1865. A curious home cook, O’Brien said she couldn’t put it down. When an HSP volunteer, who is also a Civil War reenactor, was granted a peek, she was blown away by the prospects of peering into a kitchen of that era. So they made a push to have a facsimile made, and after months of careful restoration work, it’s now available. “It’s a wonderful book full of these amazing, authentic recipes,” O’Brien told Grub Street. “Most are still pretty do-able today.”
Those recipes, which cover everything from beef and stewed mutton to meatballs and terrapin have all been cleaned up, compiled and reprinted in a limited edition, simply titled The Cookbook of Ellen M. Emlen.
“What’s interesting about looking at cookbooks form this era is they provide window to what life might have been like in Philadelphia in the 19th century,” O’Brien said. “For instance, there are a lot of recipes for oysters, because back then the Delaware River was full of fresh water oysters.”
Tonight, O’Brien and HSP will celebrate the release of the book with local food writer and cookbook author Jennifer Lindner McGlinn, who will also serve dishes she made using recipes from the book. It gets underway at 6 p.m. and the $30 admission includes a copy of the book.