Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Midnight Feasts

May Southworth  wrote a series of cookbooks at the turn of the last century for a small publishing house in San Francisco called Paul Elder.  Most of the tall, thin cookbooks have titles like 101 whatever, like cake or Mexican dishes or sandwiches.  The 1914 Midnight Feasts broke that mold, featuring a collection of different types of recipes in a larger selection of 202 recipes.

In her introduction Southworth writes:
" There are few social relaxations that are pleasanter than midnight suppers, and they have always had a certain secret fascination, as of forbidden temptations."
Now days, a midnight feast might be cold pizza or peanut butter, but May Southworth had other ideas. She was looking for recipes that would be easy, mostly salads and lightly cooked fare from that miracle of culinary devices, the chafing-dish.

The recipes are rather cryptic with simple titles that bear no resemblance to the dish that they describe.  Salads are called Devonshire, Daisy, Old Virginia, Grotto, and Sing Lee. 
Just as the titles give little idea what we will be making, the directions, too, carry that vague quality of early 20th century cookbooks.  Here is one salad option:


Wash shell-mussels clean, using a brush.  Place them in a wire basket, and set in boiling water.  When the shells open, lift the basket, remove from the shells and drop them into hot melted butter, seasoned with salt, pepper and lemon-juice. Set on the ice, and when ready to serve mix with shredded lettuce and French dressing.  With it serve thin buttered sandwiches of Boston brown bread.

While these recipes don't offer a lot of direction, on can see that a salad of cold mussels and bit of bread would make a fine midnight snack.  Like many an early cookbook, these little gems are a fine place to glean ideas if not actual recipes.