Country Kitchen: Discovering Old Foodways

Country Kitchen: Discovering Old Foodways

By Mary Emma Allen

Through journals, letters, newspaper accounts, books, and family stories we can discover the foods of yesteryear. We often find these old foodways have influenced the way our mothers cooked and what we do today...when we aren't using packaged convenience and frozen foods.

My grandfather was a writer, too, and for more than 20 years, from 1920 to 1942, penned weekly columns in two New York State weekly newspapers and a farm magazine. In browsing through a collection of his columns, I discovered many interesting references to the food grown and prepared in the 1870s when he was a boy.

Merits of Rye Bread

Among his discourses was one on the merits of rye bread versus wheat bread and the "lost art" of breadmaking. Perhaps that's why my aunt (his daughter) made homemade bread, creating fond memories of my childhood.

"A boy raised on rye bread was thought to be stronger and healthier," Papa Coon (as we called him) maintained. "There is no doubt that it had superior qualities. It was ground in the local mill and contained all the nourishing parts of the grain."

"Rye bread making," he continued, "was a fine art. Some housewives could not seem to learn it to perfection. But when made from a sponge set with wheat flour over night, and mixed and molded with genuine rye the next morning, it became an article fit for a king - the bread that mother used to make."

1800s Vs 1920s' Foods

Papa Coon had firm thoughts of the benefits of food in the latter part of the 1800s versus that served in the 1920s.

"I think the foods of 50 years ago were more nourishing and better adapted to the needs of the body than what we eat today. I reason that each climate is favorable to the production of those kinds of food that are best for the people of that climate.

"And if we would eat the kinds of food that we could raise and content ourselves with we could be better off.

"It is just as irrational to eat summer vegetables in winter as it is to wear a straw hat," he maintained. "Cold weather calls for heat producing foods."

"Don't fill up on lettuce and spinach and green peas and beans in January. Better eat pancakes and sausage. And when summer comes, cut out the heating foods and live out of the garden."

Old Time Recipe

Although Papa Coon didn't publish any recipes with his columns, here is one were made by cooks of that era.

CABBAGE PUDDING - Boil a head of cabbage with some bacon for flavoring. When cooked, drain, chop fine and add 1 large lump of butter, 3 beaten eggs, 1 teacup of milk, 2 teaspoons mustard, salt and pepper to taste.

Pour this into a buttered baking dish; dot with butter and sprinkle over it crushed cracker crumbs or bread crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees F. until light brown on top and bubbly.

For Variation - To vary this recipe, sprinkle shredded cheese over the top. You also can add cubes of ham to the cabbage before baking to make a supper dish.

(C) 2003 Mary Emma Allen

About the Author

Mary Emma Allen has been writing her "Cooking Column" for newspapers and online publications for 30 years and has compiled a family cookbook. SheÂ’s currently compiling a cookbook/story book, "Tales From a Country Kitchen." Visit her web site for more cooking articles. Contact her at

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