This leather bound book published in Philadelphia in 1827covers a broad spectrum of subjects, from metallurgy to husbandry. Mackenzie’s Receipts or Five Thousand Receipts in All the Useful and Domestic Arts constituting a complete and universal practical library and operative Encyclopedia, which is its full title, also covers the subject of the culinary arts. Several recipes and directions are under the subject of cookery, which is sub-divided into the sections of soups, pastry, confectionary, pickling, and preserving. Mrs. Randolph might have consulted the pages of a book such as this one when planning her meals and advise the slaves how to cook dishes on the plantation.
A cook on a plantation, such as Wilton, faced hours of preparation for the afternoon meal as well as ensuring the fire was stoked. The kitchen, which was a separate building at most plantation homes, was where all of this hard work took place. On a plantation the size of Wilton, the kitchen would need to be supplied with a variety of foods. Mrs. Randolph likely spent a lot of time supervising and directing the meal preparation. It was the duty of the housewife to make sure that there was a well supplied cellar of meats, vegetables, and preserved fruits to supply her dinner table for guests. Dinner would have been, as one historian attests, “one of the most visible symbols of the success of a lady as a housekeeper.” In wintertime, dinners included a large assortment of vegetables to compliment the roasted or broiled meats served. Many delectable sweets would have been served for dessert, which may have included jellies, cakes, cookies, and puddings.
Walking into a kitchen during the eighteenth century, one would meet a series of aromas and odors, cooking tools and gadgets, and intense heat. A huge brick fireplace with an iron crane attached to the walls of the chimney which would support pot hangers holding large pots and kettles over the roaring fire. The pot hangers could be raised or lowered to adjust the temperature. A swinging crane was used to move the pots and pans out from the fire. A metal shield may have conveniently been placed next to the fire for use by the cook to “hasten” or keep the heat which made the food cook faster. Boiling and roasting were the most common means of cooking meat. Roasting was done on a spit turned, in wealthy households, by a jack driven by clockwork weights, smoke, and the winding and unwinding of cords. A long metal pan would lay under the roasting meat to catch any drippings, which would be used in the gravies. Potatoes and pieces of cut up meat were also put in this pan to be cooked. One historian points out, “scarcely a main dish was served without [sauce]” whose main ingredient was gravy. (see above recipe from Mackenzie's Receipts)
Brick ovens, which were used exclusively for bread, cake, and pastry, were also common by the 1770s in larger plantation kitchens of Virginia. The oven door was left open a crack to allow smoke to escape and oxygen to enter the oven to keep the fire going. One historian points out that, “Baking was a highly organized, efficient operation in which none of the precious heat of the oven was allowed to go to waste.” A peel, a long handled wooden shovel, was used to take baked goods in and out of the oven without the cook being burned.
Cakes were “one of the staples of the well fed household” which took a lot of preparation as the cook would have to “pulverize, sugar [from loaves or cones], grind the spices, free the flour from possible bugs, [and] beat egg yolks with rods.” The cake is one example of a popular dessert whose preparation shows how much work was needed to prepare each course of a dinner served in the 18th and 19th century.
The culinary arts, in Mackenzie’s, opinion was one of the subjects he wanted to preserve in his book. In the preface of this 1827 edition, he states, “In a truth, the present volume has been compiled under the feeling, that if all other books of sciences in the world were destroyed, this single volume would be found to embody the results of the useful experience, observations, and discoveries of mankind during the past ages of the world.” Food, how it is cooked and served, continues to be important today as it was in the time the Randolphs lived. Around mid-December, Mrs. Randolph might have started planning the Twelfth night meal and consulted the pages of books similar to this one to pick out the perfect dishes to impress the palates of her visitors.
Carson, Jane. Colonial Virginia Cookery. Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Williamsburg:
Caruba, Rebecca. Colonial Cooking. Hammond Inc. Maplewood: 1975.
Crump, Nancy Carter. Hearthside Cooking. EPM Publications, Inc. Mclean: 1986.
Dosier, Susan. Colonial Cooking. Capstone Press. Minnesota: 2000.
Garrett, Elizabeth Donaghy. At Home: The American Family 1750-1870. Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
New York: 1990.
Schmidt, Patricia Brady, ed. Nelly Custis Lewis’s Housekeeping Book. Historic New Orleans
Collection, New Orleans: 1997.