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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Eliza Leslie: of cookbooks & collectors

When I first started compiling information for Months of Edible Celebrations, one of my goals was to include as much information about early cookbook authors as I could find. Resources were limited on the great world wide web at that time so I turned to the few books I had on collecting cookbooks in my library. One of those books was A Guide to Collecting Cookbooks by Colonel Bob Allen published in 1990. It is one of my most treasured as it is #22 and inscribed to me by the Colonel himself. Another resourceful book by Mary Anna DuSablon titled America's Collectible Cookbooks is an expanded literary view into the history, the politics and the recipes and their evolution spanning 200 years. In this book, the authors receive their recognition not only as "recipe peddlers" but also as shapers of American culture. The book describes how government and industry joined forces to gather women back into the kitchen especially after the world wars. If you enjoy "reading" cookbooks, pick up a copy of this book or buy one for a friend. It makes a cool evening read especially next to the cookstove. I make mention of these two books as the inspiration to celebrate the birthdate of Eliza Leslie often noted for her first book Seventy-five Receipts For Pastry, Cakes and Sweetmeats anonymously introduced in 1828.

Eliza Leslie was born almost 220 years ago (2007) in Philadelphia on November 15, 1787. She was the eldest of five children and even at an early age she loved to write. When she was young, she was privately tutored. Her father was then a prosperous watchmaker and a self-taught mathematician. He was a friend of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Her family was in London for six years while her father set up an export business. There, she was groomed in needlework classes. On their return from abroad, the family finances had been changed because of the mismanagement that had gone on while they were abroad. When her father died in 1803, it was necessary for her mother to take in boarders while Eliza went to cooking school at Mrs. Goodfellow in Philadelphia. She also taught drawing, wrote poems and sold copies of previously published masterpieces. In the mid 1820's she and her mother moved to West Point with her brother, Thomas Jefferson Leslie. It should be noted that while Miss Leslie was attending Mrs. Goodfellow's school in Philadelphia, she was recording the recipes she was learning to share with her friends. On the suggestion of her brother, she eventually published those recipes in her first book Seventy-five Receipts For Pastry, Cakes and Sweetmeats

The following Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats, are original, and have been used by the author and many of her friends with uniform success. They are drawn up in a style so plain and minute, as to be perfectly intelligible to servants, and persons of the most moderate capacity. All the ingredients, with their proper quantities, are enumerated in a list at the head of each receipt, a plan which will greatly facilitate the business of procuring and preparing the requisite articles.
Preface from 1832 ed. @ gutenberg.org
Note from Cookbooks Worth Collecting by Mary Barille
"Cookbooks underwent an important change when the popular novelist Eliza Leslie turned her hand to writing about food. In 1828 her slim volume, Seventy-five Receipts For Pastry, Cakes and Sweetmeats by a Lady of Philadelphia, appeared for sale in printer's shops. Leslie's work was an easy to follow, clear in its directions and distinctly American, an important attribute in the ambitious and proud young republic (only 11 yrs)...Whether Leslie was the first cookbook writer to organize her recipes in this manner is uncertain; but she was one of the earliest American writers to do so, and to recognize the importance of making a cookbook easy to use for all levels of cooks. Her method of recipe writing was not to become an accepted standard for nearly a century.

There are other noted "firsts" in the career of Eliza Leslie.

The first cookbook to include contributions from African Americans was Eliza Leslie's New Receipts for Cooking (Philadelphia 1854). In her preface, Leslie notes that "a large number [of the recipes] have been obtained from the South, and from ladies noted for their skill in housewifery. Many were dictated by colored cooks, of high reputation in the art, for which nature seems to have gifted that race with a peculiar capability...." source

In 1843 she edited Miss Leslie's Magazine containing literary writings, articles on domestic economy, and many illustrations. The magazine was very progressive in its content and the nature of its illustrations, but it still only lasted one year. It would include contributions by Lydia Huntley Sigourney, Park Benjamin, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The name was changed to the Ladies' Magazine (1844) and Arthur's Ladies' Magazine (1845) before the magazine merged with Godey's Lady's Book (1846). (source) As editor of Godey's Lady's Book, Eliza Leslie, also published Poe pieces. She edited an annual publication called The Gift for Lea and Carey and encouraged Poe by buying several stories including "The Pit and the Pendulum" and the "Purloined Letter" from him. source

Eliza Leslie lived out the last decade of her life at the United States Hotel in Philadelphia where she was treated as a celebrity. Although she was sometimes regarded as sarcastic and opinionated, she was warmly affectionate to relatives and friends and so generous to the needy that at the end of her life she had to lean on assistance from others. She was 70 years old when she died and is buried in St. Peter's Churchyard in Philadelphia.

Resources:
1. Thanksgiving Dinner, Civil War Style

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