Historically speaking, the kitchen is a woman’s domain. Women were chained to their stoves for hours on end. Cooking skills were right up there with other desirable traits, such as purity, appearance, and obedience to men. As Laura Schenone puts it in her book, A thousand years over a hot stove, “cooking reveals itself as a source of power and magic, and, at the same time, a source of oppression in women’s lives.”
To paraphrase Schenone, what women learned and what they knew wouldn’t be found in a book. It was passed down in the oral tradition, shared with daughters and friends. Women shared information and found support for more than just cooking. They relied on each other to learn healing remedies, to craft utensils and containers, to secure moral support, and to learn survival skills.
When times made life difficult and challenged even the most experienced cook, women found ways to feed their families with what little food was available. They would pool their resources or come to the aid of a hungry family. Women created new recipes to stretch the limited types and quantities of food.
Not unlike other American households, during World War II, Eleanor Roosevelt’s housekeeper, Ms. Henrietta Nesbitt found ways to deal with meat rationing and developed “meat-stretcher” recipes. There is one such recipe in The Husbandman, an agricultural newspaper. This newspaper was published during America’s Gilded Age, a period when the women’s suffrage movement was strengthening in the United States.
The original recipe for scrap pie is below. My adaptation follows the image.
Scrap Pie – 1886
The husbandman, v. XIII, no. 640, Wednesday, November 24, 1886
Scrap Pie – 2015
1 lb. ground beef
1 lb. white or red potatoes, peeled and chopped into large chunks
½ large onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp. chicken, beef, or vegetable broth
1 egg, beaten
4 tbsp. butter
¼ tsp. pepper
½ tsp. salt
Preheat oven to 375°. Prepare and assemble all ingredients.
Brown the ground beef in a skillet. Drain and set aside. Sauté onion and set aside. Use 1 tbsp. butter to coat the inside of a 9” pie plate. Cover the inside bottom of the pie plate with ground beef. Drizzle broth over beef. Layer the sautéed onion over the beef. Boil chopped potatoes in large pot of water until potatoes are tender. Turn off burner, drain and return potatoes to pot. Mash potatoes until smooth. Add the beaten egg, 1 tbsp. butter, salt, and pepper to the mashed potatoes. Whisk by hand or use an electric hand mixer until smooth. Cover the beef with the mashed potato mixture. Use a dinner fork to create a design on the potatoes. Use remaining 2 tbsp. of butter to dot the top of the potatoes.
Bake at 375° until top is browned, about 30 – 35 minutes.
Makes 4-6 servings. Serve with salad or cooked vegetables.
Below are links to books, articles and blogs for your reading, watching and listening pleasure.
A thousand years over a hot stove can be requested through E-ZBorrow or Interlibrary Loan.
What we lose in losing Ladies’ Home Journal (Thanks to Laura Bang, Special Collections, for the link.)
The First Kitchen
Women’s History and Food History: New Ways of Seeing American Life
#FoodieFriday: 5 Kitchen Appliances and Food Creations that Transformed Women’s Lives in the 20th Century
Women’s History Month – Audio and Video
My thanks to Michael Foight, Special Collections, for sending me the link to our digitized copy of The Husbandman.
Monthly food blog feature by Luisa Cywinski, writer, Communication & Service Promotion, and team leader, Access Services.