Free recipes were given to children in the Washington, D.C., public schools during the late 19th century. Teaching kids to cook was a brand new idea, the beginning of the vocational education movement.
Many of the children’s parents moved to the capital after they’d been freed from slavery. Helping them get jobs as servants was the high-minded goal of a woman from the prominent Lowell family in Cambridge, Mass., Anna Lowell Woodbury.
Her marriage to a wealthy physician had quickly fallen apart. Mrs. Woodbury decided to start a free cooking school for the children of emancipated slaves. The school was so successful that her methods — and her recipes — were taught to hundreds if not thousands of children.
Here are some of the free recipes that Mrs. Woodbury wrote to help poor children find work as servants. Though Washington is a southern city and many of the students came from the South, her recipes have a distinctly New England flavor.
Cream thoroughly one large tablespoonful of butter, and work into it one heaping cup of fine brown sugar. Add to this three or four eggs and beat them all together with two teaspoonfuls of ground cinnamon, and one teaspoonful of nutmeg. Then add one cupful of sour milk with one teaspoonful of soda in it (or enough to sweeten it.) Lastly sift in about two pints and a half of flour. Make a soft dough, and roll it on the bread-board about half an inch thick. Cut into cakes with a hole in the centre, and fry in a kettle of boiling lard. Take them out with a skimmer, and put them in a colander to drain. A little powdered sugar should be sifted over them.
They can be made with one cup of sweet milk, and two teaspoonfuls of baking powder sifted in with the flour.
Sift one quart of flour. Add two full teaspoonfuls of baking powder, and one teaspoonful of salt, and sift it again. Rub one large tablespoonful of butter through the flour, and then stir in slowly with a spoon, one cup of sweet milk, or enough to make a soft dough. Flour the bread board, and turn the dough onto it with the spoon. Toss it lightly from side to side a few times with a knife, and then roll it out about one-half of an inch thick, and cut into very small round biscuit. Place one-half of these in the pan, and rub the top of each with a little milk; then place the others on top of them, and bake in a quick oven for twenty minutes. These biscuits should not be larger than a half-dollar, and can be cut with the cover of a small tin box. They can also be made richer with a little more butter, and baked as single biscuit. In this case, make of the usual size.
Mix together one pint of cornmeal, one teaspoonful of butter, on teaspoonful of sugar, ad one teaspoonful of salt. Pour into the mixture enough boiling water to wet the meal. Let it cool, and add two well beaten eggs, and cold milk enough to make a thin batter. Bake in small thin cakes on a griddle.
Boil three large parsnips in salted water for an hour and a half (or longer if they are not tender); and mash them fine with half a tablespoon of butter. Beat two eggs well, and add a third of a cup of milk, half a teaspoonful of salt, one saltspoonful of pepper, and two even tablespoonfuls of flour; mixing them until smooth. then stir thoroughly into the parsnips and drop by the spoonful into a little hot butter in a frying pan; browning each fritter well on both sides.
Egg plant and oyster plant fritters are made the same way.
Pare and wash two or three potatoes and cut out the black specks. Then slice them as thin as wafers with a sharp knife and lay them in very cold water over night. In the morning dry them thoroughly with a towel, and drop a few slices at a time into a kettle of boiling lard. Fry them to a light golden brown, and then take them out with a skimmer and lay them on brown paper in a pan. Sprinkle them with a little salt, and set them in the oven a minute to dry. They can be served either hot or cold.
Half a cupful of butter packed tightly; half a cupful of brown sugar; half a pint of molasses (either New Orleans or Porto Rico); one teaspoonful of ginger, half a teaspoonful of cinnamon; half a teaspoonful of soda dissolved in a teaspoonful of boiling water, and one scant quart of unsifted flour.
Cream the butter in a bowl with a wooden spoon; add the sugar, then the molasses, cinnamon and ginger, and the soda in the teaspoonful of boiling water. Sift the flour in gradually, and when it becomes stiff, work the balance in with the hand. Turn one a well floured bread board; roll very thing, and cut into round cakes with a cutter. Bake a dark brown in a quick oven.
Drain one quart of oysters thoroughly through a colander, and then take each one out singly and lay it on a clean towel to dry. Beat one egg with half a teaspoonful of salt and a saltspoonful of pepper. Dip the oysters first in cracker crumbs, or bread crumbs, then in the egg, and then in the crumbs again. Drop them gently into the boiling lard with a skimmer , and fry to a light brown; then take them out with a skimmer, lay them on brown paper for a moment, and serve on a hot dish.
New Bedford Pudding
Four tablespoonfuls of flour four tablespoonfuls of yellow cornmeal, four eggs, one quart of boiling milk, one cupful of molasses, and one even teaspoonful of salt.
Scald the corn meal with some of the boiling milk, and stir into it the flour, salt, molasses, and the well beaten eggs. Then slowly add the rest of the milk (which should have been cooled a little) and bake in a well buttered pudding dish, from two to three hours, in a moderate oven. Serve with cold butter, or with sauce.
One pint of mlk, half a cupful of sugar, and the yolks of four eggs. Mix the eggs into the sugar without beating them and add the milk. Set on the fire in a double boiler, and stir until it thickens.
A sponge cake which is not quite fresh can be steamed until very hot; then break it into large pieces, and serve in a dish with this sauce poured over it.