These vintage recipes are magical. There are so many things you can think about while making one that will have you transported to a different time.
The recipe we are doing today is “Plain Macaroni Pudding” which is found in Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book published in 1846. The book is written by Catharine Beecher (1800-1878). She was born 219 years ago. TWO HUNDRED AND NINETEEN YEARS AGO! Think about it-when she was born:
- John Adams was President of the United States and moved into an unfurnished White House,
- Abraham Lincoln had not yet been born
- The United States was still 60 years from having the Civil War
- There were only 16 states
- The average life expectancy was 37 years
- The largest urban area in the United States was New York City with a population of 60,515 (the US Census now estimates it at approximately 8.4 million as of July 2018)
- My own state of Georgia looked like this until 1802:
Catharine Beecher was the sister of Harriet Beecher Stowe, the well-known abolitionist who published Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Miss Beecher herself was no slacker. She was an advocate of education for women and kindergarten for children. She believed that a woman was best suited in the home in a domestic role and many of her works revolve around domestic and home life. Interestingly, she was not a suffragist (though her sister was) because although she saw men and women as equal, she believed that the two sexes had different roles in society and that women were most influential in the home and not in politics.
Miss Beecher spent a large part of her life writing and in 1846 published this book that contains our recipe for today.
I wondered how a woman would obtain Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book for use in the home. The Saturday Evening Post has an interesting piece on the rise of cookbooks in America, saying that they really rose to prominence as Americans became more mobile in the 19th-century and realized that recipes could be lost if not written. That, plus the rising literacy rates in the United States, gave rose to a number of cookbooks at this time. Some, like Miss Beecher’s book, also provided household tips. So, there were an increasing number of helpful cookbooks, but how did the women know about them? Word of mouth? Advertising in newspapers? I assume there were very few libraries, and rural Americans would have little access to bookstores, so how would a woman obtain such things? How costly were they? Did many women have them? So many questions!
I thought about these things as I started my preparations.
The recipe is as follows:
Let’s imagine we are in 1846 or thereabouts and attempting to make this recipe. How would we have obtained the ingredients? I would assume we would have most of the items from our own farm (the eggs, milk, perhaps even making the pasta or the wine) or have purchased the ingredients from several small stores (a dry goods store, a general store, a market, a grocery store). Storing the ingredients would have been challenging, so the dish would have been prepared soon after purchasing or obtaining the ingredients.
The first step is to place 2 ounces of macaroni or vermicelli into a pint of simmering milk. I was unsure if I should make macaroni or vermicelli but read that historically in the United States macaroni came in “long, straight lengths instead of cut elbow shapes” (per Cook’s Info’s page on macaroni pudding). I thought perhaps the vermicelli might be more “authentic” and went with it.
The recipe calls for 2 ounces of vermicelli. My box was 16 ounces. I guestimated that this was about 1/8th of the box:
Next, I measured 1 pint (which is actually 2 cups) of milk and placed the vermicelli in it on the stove. I broke the vermicelli in half before doing so. The recipe calls for the addition of a cinnamon stick as the pasta simmers.
My husband said that my recipe looked like spaghetti swimming in milk with a hot dog thrown in. Thanks.
As I let the food simmer, I thought about how a woman would have cooked this in 1846. What did her pots look like? Her spoons? What kind of stove did she have? Was cooking something like this an all-day ordeal? Did a woman spend most of her day cooking?
The next step is to beat 3 eggs and add to that an ounce of sugar (approximately 2 and 1/4 tablespoons), one pint of milk (2 cups) and a glass of wine. I did not know if I should use red wine or white wine. I looked online (cheating) and saw that most of the recipes for macaroni pudding used red wine. I was also unsure of what a “glass” was as far as volume so I got a standard wine glass and poured some red Barefoot Cabernet Sauvignon into the glass to measure.
This looked a bit…gray…but I went with it.
The final step is to combine all of the ingredients and bake in a “slow” oven. I did not know what that was but discovered that it typically means an oven that does not get above 300 degrees Fahrenheit in modern terms.
After about an hour we checked the dish.
My husband shook it at said that it seemed “puddified” so we took it out and let it cool.
I feel like I should put some kind of warning on these next pictures. These are not for the faint of heart.
This looked like a bad Halloween prop, like wormy brains or rotten meat.
It’s almost more horrifying sliced!
I am pretty open about my inability to cook and acknowledge that I am trying to learn as I go along. This is the first time I have been embarrassed to post my finished results, and I have had some bad ones (Broken Glass Window Cake, Baked Salsify).
Don’t judge! I followed the recipe!
We tasted it and it tastes like rice pudding (which is a cousin to the macaroni pudding). It was bland and eggy. I think that there is a reason that the rice pudding succeeded but no one eats this anymore. My husband suggested letting it cool and adding some powdered sugar and some additional spices but I do not know that even that will save this.
I can’t help thinking that Miss Beecher is looking down on me, shaking her head, ashamed of my failure in the kitchen.
Time Travel Experience: It was so much fun imagining how this would have been made in the Victorian Era. I thought about what life was like when the author of the cook book was born and how a woman would have obtained the book and the ingredients for the recipe. This is why I do this site-it lets me think about all of these things and I learn so much as I cook!
Overall Experience: 3/10 (me), 4/10 (husband). This was just horrifyingly bad. I must have done something terrifyingly wrong for this to look and taste like this.
I wonder if anyone else that does vintage cooking has the same thoughts that I do as I cook. Does anyone else think about how this was made historically and who created the recipe? I think it is so cool and I realize there are so many parts of domestic history that I know very little about. I am sure there are those out there that can answer the questions I had today, so if you stumble upon my post and have an answer to one of the many questions I had today feel free to comment!