Cooking Up History: A Library Baking Adventure

This is a guest post by Lauren Windham Roszak, Manager of Youth & Family Programs in the Library’s Informal Learning Office. 

Greetings from the Library of Congress, where we are in the middle of a cold and snowy winter. When it gets chilly outside, I enjoy baking in my kitchen and finding new recipes online to make and share with my loved ones. You may have a few favorite sites you visit for recipes. Have you ever checked the Library’s website? I decided to bring two of my favorite things together for this blog: baking and the Library. I started with a few simple questions: Is there an easy, historic cookie recipe in the Library of Congress collections? Can I successfully replicate a vintage cookie recipe with my family?

Say hello to Miss Hattie Burton and her sugar cookie!

recipe that reads "once cup of butter, two of sugar, four eggs, one teaspoon of soda dissolved in a tablespoonful of milk; flour to roll out thin.

Recipe from page 291 The Home Cook Book; Tried and True Recipes, 1876.

The Library’s collection of cookbooks offers a culinary tour of the world – there are thousands! I was on the hunt for a special kind of recipe. I wanted a very old recipe that had ingredients I recognized and had on-hand in my 2022 kitchen. (We won’t be making the Lard Tarts on page 232 today.) I landed on The Home Cook Book; Tried and True Recipes. This cookbook from 1876 features recipes collected from people all over the United States. I decided to make Miss Hattie Burton’s sugar cookies. This book had just what I was looking for, plenty of easy cookie recipes…or so I thought.

Oven Guessing Game

A nineteenth century oven range within a cut-out shaped like an acorn

Advertisement for Acorn Stoves and Ranges; Hiram Ferguson, engraver, 1886; Prints & Photographs Division

I was confused. Where were the oven temperature and baking time notes? Neither were listed in this recipe. I searched the digitized version of the cook book on our website, looking for baking tips in the foreword, but there were no hints on temperature for the recipes in the book. I decided I needed to do more research before firing up my oven. I went back to the Library’s search function on the website and started hunting for pictures and descriptions of stoves and ranges from the late 1800s, to see if I could find some clues that would help me pick a baking temperature for the cookies.

As I scrolled through advertisements for stoves in the Prints and Photographs Division, like the Imperial Acorn Range from 1886 (right) and the related illustration, it became clear that bakers using ovens from that era needed to be intuitive, vigilant, and adept fire-builders. The baker reading this cookbook in 1876 would likely have been using a coal or wood-fired stove and would have no temperature control dial to manipulate. They might test how hot the oven was by throwing a coating of flour on the bottom to see how fast it blackened. If it burned quickly, it was a “hot” or “fast” oven. If they could hold their arm near the heat in the door of the oven for about 30 seconds, that was a “cool” or “slow” oven (don’t try these methods at home). To replicate a wood-fired “moderate heat,” a designation I saw noted in 19th century cook books, I decided to try a temperature of 350 degrees Fahrenheit (350-375 degrees in a modern oven is a close approximation to a coal or wood-fired “moderate heat”). I also watched my oven window closely, since no bake time was listed.

Take a moment to explore the image of the range here with your young baker at home. How is this different from the one in your kitchen? How is it similar? Ask your child what it might have been like to make a whole meal for a family on a range like that, which needed wood or coal added to the inside of the stove to keep it hot. Then, share how your modern stove and oven work while making this recipe with your child. (I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to draw your attention to that adorable puppy in the stove advertisement. Is that an 1886 pug? I’ll research pugs after I bake these cookies.) In my kitchen, Miss Hattie’s cookies looked slightly golden and delicious at 19 minutes.

Bake a Vintage Cookie

I was able to find and make a historic cookie recipe in the Library’s collections. Give this recipe a try and let us know how your cookies turned out. Did you enjoy making this blast from the past with your family? My tips are below; I hope they help fill in the missing instructions, leading to an easy and delicious project. I rate this recipe 3 out of 5 cook books emojis because of the research it took to finish it correctly and the measurements I had to figure out as I prepared the dough. Bake your own and rank this recipe in the comments. It was a fun adventure in the kitchen for a person who loves baking and the Library!

Tips:

  • A plate of sugar cookies shaped like daisies

    The author’s cookies, made using “Miss Hattie Burton’s Sugar Cookies” recipe from The Home Cook Book; Tried and True Recipes, 1876

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • Modern baking soda works where the recipes says soda.
  • I used a kitchen stand mixer with a flat paddle attachment to blend all of the ingredients in the recipe. I used a low speed the whole time.
  • You need to add 4 cups of flour to the mixing bowl to turn this into dough, not just flour to dust the counter surface and your rolling pin, like the recipe makes it sound. I added in flour a ½ cup at a time until it started to look like dough instead of wet ingredients.
  • Have another two cups of flour on hand for your counter rolling and cutting.
  • Empty dough onto floured counter and knead into a ball, until it isn’t very sticky, before starting to roll it out.
  • Try to roll dough ¼ inch thick for crisper cookies. (Mine were a little too thick at ½ inch.)
  • Use cookie cutters to create the shape of your choice. A round glass rim will also work.
  • Place on parchment-lined cookie sheet, 2 inches apart.
  • Bake 15-19 minutes, depending on how thick you rolled out your cookies.
  • Let cookies cool on cooling rack for a few minutes before eating.

Non-baking note: After researching the collection for pugs, I can confirm that there were plenty of pugs in the USA by 1886 when the Imperial Acorn Range was advertised. Please enjoy this photograph from 1886 of a proud mother pug and her four puppies in Portland, Maine.

If you’d like more information about baking, activities, and related objects in the Library collections, please explore  our family activity kit, Cooking Up History, or these blog posts from around the Library:

2 Comments

  1. JJ
    March 4, 2022 at 1:37 pm

    I love cookies too! I would add that another good tip is to talk with a librarian/subject specialist who can help navigate the Library’s collections. After all, librarians are the original search engines :) There are over 45,000 cookbooks at LC which include specific cookie cookbooks. One of my favorite cookie cookbooks is the Farm Journals Homemade Cookies (1971)- over 300 pages of cookie recipes and tips!

  2. Joanna
    March 5, 2022 at 10:00 am

    How fun! Love the pugs, too!

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