One of the volumes to cross my workbench recently is The Woman’s Suffrage Cook Book (1890 imprint; copyright 1886), published in Boston, with contributors from all over the United States, which, in 1886, was comprised of just 38 states.  According to its compiler, Mrs. Hattie A. Burr, this slender volume of recipes and cleaning tips bore a lofty mission: to “go forth a blessing to housekeepers and an advocate for the elevation and enfranchisement of woman.”

Unfortunately, like many late nineteenth century volumes in ISU’s collections, the cook book has been oversewn and library bound in buckram.  The volume is one of several historic cook books being digitized for ISU’s Library Digital Collections.

Opening, or lack thereof

As a rule, I do not advocate the disbinding of materials for digitization.  However, The Woman Suffrage Cook Book, in its present binding, will not lay open enough to read even in a book cradle, let alone open enough to be digitized clearly.  Therefore, we decided to disbind the volume, digitize the loose pages, and then rebind in a more conservationally sound format.  So often, conservation decisions come down to the “lesser evil” — and, in this case, since the book’s artifactual value has already been compromised, and our top priority is to allow access to the intellectual content of the book, disbinding is the best possible choice.

One of the recipe contributors to the cook book is a Mrs. Emma P. Ewing from our own Ames, IA.  Her recipe for “Iowa Brown Bread” caught my eye, and a quick skim-through revealed a description that sounded a lot like what I grew up calling Steamed Boston Brown Bread, a typical New England accompaniment to Boston baked beans.  (I don’t know what Iowans traditionally eat alongside their steamed brown bread.)  So, naturally, I could not resist giving the recipe a try (at home, of course — our ban on food in the lab also extends to cooking!)

Lacking a “pudding-boiler,” I halved the recipe so it would fit into a 1 lb coffee can.  After filling the can with batter (studded, in layers, with golden raisins), I folded a double layer of aluminum foil over the open end, and tied it tightly with butcher’s twine.

The bread mould (1 lb coffee can)

Actually, I didn’t have any butcher’s twine on hand, so I used 18/3 linen book thread instead.  It seemed appropriate, somehow.

Bread mould set to steam in a canning pot

I steamed the bread mould in a canning pot (or lobster pot, depending on what region of the country you hail from) full of boiling water for 3 hours.

Steamed brown bread, just removed from mould

The result was a moist, dense, cylindrical loaf with a texture reminiscent of gingerbread.  I like it best spread with cream cheese (alongside a bowl of baked beans, of course), but it’s also yummy topped off with yogurt and honey.

"Iowa Brown Bread" with yogurt & honey

Thanks, Mrs. Emma P. Ewing, wherever you are.