The staff here at Thomas J. Watson Library want your holiday parties to be a success. We have already given you some ideas for "artistic" cocktails in a previous post, "How to Drink like an Artist," and now we are here to help you with food ideas as well, showcasing two cookbooks published by The Met.
Ices, Plain and Fancy, published by The Met in 1976, is an annotated reprint of The Book of Ices, which sounds like the name of a book of spells but is actually a Victorian recipe book by Agnes B. Marshall, an early cooking entrepreneur. (The Museum actually has an original edition in its collection of illustrated trade catalogues.) Watson's reprint does not include all of the original illustrations, but we can see some of the ornate molds in the photographs below taken by one of our book conservators, Sophia Kramer.
As explained in Barbara Ketchum Wheaton's introduction, Marshall ran a school of cookery and a shop that sold a variety of cookware alongside her patented ice cream machine, all branded with her name. The Book of Ices—which contains 117 recipes for a wide variety of frozen custards, cream ices, and sorbets—often called for the use of the molds and devices sold in her store and catalogue. Marshall would fit right in with the Food Network stars of today!
The vast majority of recipes are similar to the one below using fruit, jam, or liqueur as a flavor base. However, there are some savory oddities such as the "Iced Spinach à la Crème" and the onion-heavy frozen "Aspic Jelly for No. 117."
Published in 1981, Lorna J. Sass's Christmas Feasts is a fascinating collection of historic recipes covering holiday feasts from the Roman Saturnalia of the first century B.C. to the Victorian Christmas feasts of the late 19th century. Sass provides both the historical recipe and a modern translation, illustrated here with the medieval "Lombardy Custard," sure to be a hit at your holiday feast.
Many of the recipes that feel the most familiar (and friendly to a modern chef) come from the "Roman Saturnalia Banquet" section. "Cabbage Salad with Coriander," "Lentils with Chestnuts," "Pork Fricasse with Apricots," and "Honey-Fried Stuffed Dates" are all dishes one could imagine attempting to cook at home or ordering at a restaurant.
It might be easiest to recreate a Saturnalia rather than an authentic medieval or Victorian feast, though I dare a courageous cook to try the Salmagundy recipe included in "Christmas in the Pudding Age." The hip mixologists among us might also want to try the "Victorian Shrub" or a rich "Brandy Posset."
While both of these books are out of print, all hope is not lost for those of us who want to try something historic this holiday season. Christmas Feasts is available online in its entirety as part of Watson Library's Digital Collections.
While some of the contents of the original Book of Ices are available from a variety of places online, including the Internet Archive, our edition is especially useful due to its annotations and contextual information. If you are in New York, both books can be viewed in Nolen Library.
In Circulation: William Blueher, "How to Drink like an Artist" (October 19, 2016)
In Circulation: Dan Lipcan, "O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum, Your Branches Green Delight Us!" (December 24, 2014)