The tastes and smells of the 19th century come alive in a new historical cookbook launching this month.
“Old Southern Cookery: Mary Randolph's Recipes from America’s First Regional Cookbook Adapted for Today’s Kitchen,” has been compiled by Georgia historian Christopher Hendricks and his mother Sue.
The new book is based off the 1824 bestselling book, “The Virginia Housewife,” by seminal American cook Mary Randolph. Randolph’s collection of recipes served as the prototype for the modern cookbook sharing simple, from-scratch dishes spanning English, French, Caribbean and African recipes among others.
“This was basically the first truly American cookbook,” Chris Hendricks shared. “It’s based off an older English book and Mary Randolph added recipes from scratch making use of meats and vegetables from the period.”
The new cookbook will experience a virtual launch Tuesday, May 26, in partnership with the Davenport House Museum and the Historic Savannah Foundation, with several online events throughout the week.
All proceeds from the cookbook’s nationwide sales benefit the Davenport House Museum for a new renovation project to construct a new visitor’s center.
Hendricks said the idea for the historical cookbook began when he was helping his parents move out of their North Carolina home and found a forgotten manuscript in a box in the attic.
The pages were written decades ago as an updated version of Mary Randolph’s famous cook book which his mother loved to cook from, but the Hendricks family never published.
Chris Hendricks delved further into the history of Mary Randolph and her Virginian family, including cousin Thomas Jefferson, and was able to provide additional historical context and secure a publisher.
During a visit to the Davenport House Museum, Hendricks discussed a new addition to the museum with museum director, Jamie Credle, and offered the cookbook as a fundraising opportunity.
“Everything about the book has been a real thrill,” Credle shared. “Chris is a beloved professor here in Savannah; there are other places he could have offered this but he chose us and we’re very humbled and can’t even express how delighted we are.”
The cookbook launch begins with a virtual party on Tuesday, May 26, live from the Davenport House Museum featuring Hendricks and Credle discussing the book and its relationship to historic recipes.
On Wednesday, May 27, Hendricks will host a cooking demonstration online from his home, sharing some of his favorite recipes from the book. On Thursday, May 28, the Davenport House Museum will host the authors virtually for drinks and conversation in the garden to discuss the book, and the week wraps Friday, May 29, with a tour of the Davenport House Museum.
Intriguing recipes abound in this new take on an old classic, many of which have become nearly obsolete – Virginia gumbo, asparagus chicken soup, cinnamon jumbal, creamed cabbage, and the very first macaroni and cheese recipe (later served in the White House by President Jefferson.) There are also instructions for historic condiments like mushroom ketchup.
“I’ve made about 80% of these foods and I have yet to find a bad dish…they’re all amazing,” Hendricks added.
Though events have moved online for now, the Hendricks say they look forward to meeting readers and historians in-person this fall when the Davenport House Museum hosts a proper launch party for the cookbook.
“The book means a great deal to my mother and to me and there is much more we’d like to share about how the project came to be,” Hendricks said.
“The day will come when we can personally meet and thank everyone who has supported us and that is certainly an occasion to look forward to,” he added.
The cookbook costs $26.95 (plus delivery and tax) and can be ordered via the Davenport House Museum’s shop at firstname.lastname@example.org or online. Books can be shipped by mail or picked up curbside at the Davenport House Museum.
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