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Book: Virginia Housewife

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In honor of our holiday exhibit “Stirring Up Memories: Arlington Cookbooks” AHS is offering a reproduction of an historical Virginia cookbook: “The Virginia Housewife or Methodical Cook: A Fascimile of an Authentic Early American Cookbook”

During the Antebellum period in the South, from approximately 1776 to 1861, Southern cooking distinguished itself from that of the rest of the United States largely due to African and plantation culture influence on its cuisine. Large meals that tended to be served on plantations, which required plentiful, often expensive, provisions and extensive human labor from enslaved persons to produce, cook, and serve, came to be associated with “southern hospitality.” This early cookbook no doubt influenced some of the recipes in the Arlington cookbooks the Arlington Historical Museum has on exhibit through January 2022.

Many Southern dishes have survived nearly unchanged for hundreds of years including Virginia recipes thanks to oral traditions, personal cookbooks, and also the efforts of an aristocratic Virginian, Mary Randolph. She was born in 1762 into a Virginia family of high political and social influence. Mary was raised at Tuckahoe Plantation and married a close cousin, David Meade Randolph, who was a prominent politician and cousin to Thomas Jefferson. After her husband’s losses in political influence and business ventures, to supplement her income, Mary opened a Richmond boarding house in 1808, in a move quite unconventional for a woman of her social standing and social class. In keeping with her celebrated reputation as a fine hostess, Mary authored The Virginia Housewife, in 1825, which is generally considered America’s first regional cookbook, and has had a lasting influence on Southern fare. The book reflects cooking from the late 1700’s through the 1820’s. AHS has a copy in its collection that was published in 1839. Remarkably and as a testament to its timelessness, it has never gone out of print.

  • Softcover: 179 pages
  • Publisher: Dover Publications, 1993

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