Collecting Delaware Books

Delaware Cookbooks - Four Articles


Delaware Dines
by Peggy Creswell

Peggy wrote this article in 1992. She has long been active in book affairs and has an extensive collection of cookbooks, both local and general. — JPR

Cookbooks, cookbooks, cookbooks! Just about everybody from just about everywhere has written a cookbook. From Craig Claiborne to the Barbie Doll, from Julia Child to the Wizard of Oz, from Mrs. Beeton to Nancy Drew, it is almost easier to say who has not written one than who has.

Delaware has its share of cookbook authors, local foods, native recipes, and organizations that are prolific in their output. Delaware realtors, radio stations, women's clubs, churches, athletic groups, charities, and schools you name it and they have most likely put out a cookbook. These are avidly sought as collectibles. The recipes are as intriguing and varied as they are tasty.

In going over the endless possibilities and my own collection, I have selected a few highlights among those that originated in or mention Delaware.

cookbook title page
Title Page
Cookbook decoration
Decoration from
Trinity Parish Cook Book

The prize in my collection is a pair of cookbooks written by Mrs. R. G. T. Bush, an unknown lady. Much research has failed to turn up a single clue as to her background. [Answer revealed.] She wrote What and How, A Practical Cook Book for Ever Day Living. In 1910, it was published by Miss Edna N. Taylor and printed by the New Amstel Magazine Company of Wilmington. It is not illustrated, but the local ads in the back are nostalgic.

Now comes the mystery: the following year, 1911, What to Have and How to Cook It came out by the same author, publisher, and printing company with the same format, recipes, and ads. The only thing different is the wording on the boards and the title page. I can only surmise that when What and How came out it did not sell too well, since the title gave no clue whatsoever as to what the book was about.

The recipes include Banana Fritters, Beans Baked in a Fireless Cooker, Beef Tea, Berry Surprise, Buttered Crumbs, Ginger Gems, White Mountain Filling, Bryn Mawr Penutchie, Green Gooseberry Jam, Green Gage Marmalade, Boiled Mutton, Oyster Bisque, Rockford Rolls, Glover Rusk, Stewed Rabbit, and Pickled Watermelon Rind.

The recipes are the usual for a cookbook of the times, but she does not seem to include any native Delaware recipes. But since old hardback Delaware cookbooks are scarce, the lady of two titles for the same cookbook has to be included.

A 19th century collectible is Trinity Parish Cook Book, Choice and Tested Recipes Contributed by the Ladies of Trinity Church, Wilmington, 1892. A good cookbook for its time, it has the printed signature of each contributor under the recipe. This innovation, photoengraving, had just been introduced to the printing world. Again, there seems to be no effort to include native recipes, just those the ladies liked and preferred for the table.

Recipes include Yorkshire Muffins, Flannel Cakes, Squash Cakes, Rusks, Corn Soup, Green Tomato Pickles, Mangoes (This one says, "Bruise the mustard and celery seed in a mortar." How quaint and how laborious!), Gelatine Custard, Fish Croquettes, Ginger Peaches, Crystallized Popcorn, Everton Taffy, Hermits, Plain Jumbles, Minnehaha Cake, Doughnuts, Coffee Jelly, Bird's Nest Pudding, Mustard Tomatoes, Cucumber Catsup, Cabbage Dressing, Pickled Oysters, Scalloped Halibut, Beef Riseroles, Turbot, and New Orleans Court Bouillon.

As with Mrs. Bush, the ladies gave no indication as to time and temperature. This must have been a sore trial for brides learning to cook. Bernarr Macfadden, in his first edition of Physical Culture Cook Book, 1924, gave appalling advice as to oven heat: you put your arm in the oven and if you could not stand it after several seconds, the oven was ready for use. I imagine cooks must have used more butter on scorched arms than they did on their recipes. As to time, you took your concoction out of the oven when it was done.

Most all cookbooks before the early part of this century added home remedies and household hints in the back, and these two were no exception. Do you know how to wash flannels, remove onion odors, use camphor to discourage mice, prevent flour from lumping, freshen stale crackers, clean soot from oil lamps, and starch petticoats? Nowadays milady pushes a few buttons and leaves for luncheon at the Ritz.

The Trinity Parish Cook Book is even more interesting since it has a history of the church from its beginning in 1692 through 1892. A timber church was built on the south side of the Christina Creek. Subsequent sites and pastors are mentioned.

A not too old nor yet new book featuring Delaware foods is the American Guide Series The Ocean Highway, New Brunswick, N.J. to Jacksonville, Fla. by the Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration. The book was sponsored by Charles L. Terry, Jr., Secretary of State of Delaware and published by Modern Age Books, New York, in 1938. Listed as Delaware foods are Crab Sandwich, Potato Roll, Delaware Biscuit, Terrapin, Hog Jowl and Turnip Greens, Peninsula Succotash (south of Dover), Brandywine Punch, Peach Cordial, and Winter Supper Dish.

Getting on to later days, lively, amusing, knowledgeable Virginia Tanzer has written Call It Delmarvalous, EPM Publications, 1983, a softback book filled with breezy tips on how to cook, talk, and live in the Delmarva Peninsula. The recipes, spelled as written in the book, include Mussrat Stew, Arsh Pertater Pah, Griyuts, Crab and Onion Pie, Delmarva Crab Cakes, Herring Creek Crab Imperial, Delmarvelous Fried Chicken, Slippery Dumplings, Church Builder "Chicken" Salad for large groups, Chicken Korma, Eastern Shore Sauerkraut Baked with Apples, Hopping John, Fried Parsnips, Pickled Carrots, Bishopville Church Supper Corn Pone, Delwur Beaten Biscuit, Syllabub, Wyetown Strawberry Meringue, Barbecued Ox, Dandelion Wine, and Baked Scrapple with Pineapple.

Not a native Delawarean, Mrs. Tanzer has adapted well to Delaware and especially Sussex County which she describes with loving words in her Seagulls Hate Parsnips, Lake Shore Press, Rehoboth Beach, Del., 1978.

Another recent cookbook is The First State, First Lady's Recipe Book, Charles Printing Co., Wilmington, 1975. This softback was published for the bicentennial. There are native Delaware recipes along with those that different ladies felt were succulent enough to include: Iced Spiced Tea, Coffee Can Bread, Cranberry Nut Bread, Lewes Overnight Pone, Bishop's Bread, Country Fair Carrot Cake, Delaware Cake, Dover Pound Cake, World War I Cake, Grandmother's Blackberry Flummery, Baltimore Mustard Crab Cakes, Tuna Crunch Casserole, Broccoli Dip, Bicentennial Barbecue Beef, Golfer's Stew, Baked Muskrat, Canadian Goose, Wild Dove in Cherry Sauce, Sausage Strada, Colonial Christmas Mince Meat, Grasshopper Pie, Whoopie Pies, Sussex County Old-Fashioned Chicken Pot Pie, Moonshine Pudding, Grandmom Hudson's India Relish, North Beach Tossed Salad, Nasturtium Sandwiches, Grandmother's Lemon Butter, Winterthur Salad Dressing, Cheese Dumplings in Tomato Soup, Country Creamed Corn, and B. J.'s Tomatoes.

There is a brief history of the governor's house, Woodburn, in the front. In addition to the recipes from local ladies, there are ones from the wives of the governors of the original 13 states, listed in order of their admission to the Union. Mrs. Tribbitt, our then first lady of Delaware, leads the roster with her family recipe for Seafood Newburg.

Cookbook collecting not only shows us the foods of early times and how they were prepared, it gives a history and geography lesson as well, how and where we lived, the furniture, clothing, utensils, and manners and mores of the times. There is nothing more endearing than seeing children in high-button shoes and little boys in long dresses. Papa has a mustaches, mama a pompadour, and the maid enters the dining room in sweeping skirts and mob cap.

Ruskin waxed eloquent when he wrote, "Cookery means the knowledge of Medea and of Circe and of Helen and the Queen of Sheeba. It means the knowledge of all herbs and fruits and balms and spices, and all that is healing and sweet in the fields and groves and in meats. It means carefulness and inventiveness and willingness and readiness of appliances. It means the economy of your grandmothers and the science of the modern chemist it means much testing and no wasting it means English thoroughness and French art and Arabian hospitality and, in fine, it means that you are to be perfectly and always ladies … loaf givers."

Cookbook Author Revealed

A letter to the editor, 1992

Dear John,
Just received, read and enjoyed the fifth number of CDB, and had only gotten a few paragraphs into the lead article by Peggy Creswell when I read the following passage: "The prize in my collection is a pair of cookbooks by Mrs. R. G. T. Bush, an unknown lady. Much research has failed to turn up a single clue as to her background " As it happens, I can supply some help.

The mysterious Mrs. Bush was Rebecca Gibbons Tatnall Bush, widow of Walter Danforth Bush, the "Son" in the prominent Wilmington shipping firm of George W. Bush and Son, Inc. She was also Christopher Ward's cousin by marriage and his mother-in-law, which is why I know something about her.

[Ward was a Wilmington lawyer and prolific writer of both fiction and history. — JPR]

Ward's mother was the daughter of Dr. Lewis Porter Bush, a prosperous physician who served a term as head of the Delaware Medical Society and, briefly, as president of the University of Delaware. The family fortune was largely in shipping, stemming from Capt. Samuel Bush who, in 1774, had begun the first regular shipping line between Wilmington and Philadelphia and expanded it after being active in the patriot cause during the American Revolution.

Christopher was raised in Dr. Bush's household at 606 French St. after his father, Henry, shot a man during a fight and went to jail in Pennsylvania. His mother, Martha, brought her young children back to Wilmington to live, so that Christopher and his siblings, while their name was Ward, were raised as Bushes.

Dr. Bush's next-door neighbor was George W. Bush of the shipping enterprise. Christopher's "Uncle George" had several children, the youngest of whom was Joshua Danforth Bush, "Cousin Dan," who was Christopher's most frequent playmate and best friend.

Dan's older brother, Walter Danforth Bush, had married Rebecca Gibbons Tatnall and built a large house on the west side of Clayton St. and south of Maple, which, according to my map, would place it across from the present Clayton Middle School and not far from Canby Park. I don't know if it's still standing.

Walter and Rebecca had a daughter, Caroline Tatnall Bush, whom Christopher had known as "a negligible little girl cousin," but when he returned to Wilmington after graduating Harvard Law School, he gave his 18-year-old "Cousin Carrie" another look and fell madly in love. Apparently, she was quite attractive, and Howard pyle employed her as a model for several book illustrations. She and Ward were married in 1897.

Walter D. Bush died in 1903, and his widow, always "Cousin Ebbie" to Christopher, even after she became his mother-in-law, apparently began working on her cookbook, What and How, probably to help her pass the time after her husband's death. She clearly did not need the money. Ebbie Bush lived alone in the big house on Clayton St., where, over the years between 1903 and its publication in 1910, she worked on her cookbook. I've found no evidence that Ward had any hand in its making or publication, but I imagine he was pleased that Ebbie had found a way to put her time and talents to good use.
— Jerry Shields, Dover

Searching for the Delaware Crab Cake

Published in 1996

Collecting local cookbooks is a popular and relatively inexpensive hobby. Oh sure, Trinity Parish Cook Book, published by the ladies of Wilmington's Old Swedes Church in 1892 (Collecting Delaware Books vol. 1 no. 5), may bring a three-figure price, but many Delaware cookbooks can be found at yard sales and flea markets.

Cookbooks are published by churches, clubs, and businesses to make money. The compilers often stress novelty to make their cookbook different from all others. Though collectors have varied interests, some are looking for authentic regional dishes. These are hard to find.

Cookbooks have been around for centuries, but the real boom started in the 1890s. Cooking schools and experts that brought scientific principles to homemaking sprang up around the country. The Boston Cooking School and Fannie Farmer are the best known. Each school published its own cookbook. These institutions were commercial operations, and their influence is still found in American eating habits and education. (See the book Perfection Salad, 1986, by Laura Shapiro for a more detailed history.)

By the 1930s, it became common for local groups to publish cookbooks as fundraisers. After World War II, companies that specialized in printing cookbooks for small groups were formed. Other companies undertook marketing local cookbooks on a national basis through mail order catalogs and cookbook clubs. This mass production and marketing made cookbook publication easier and more profitable, but some of the local touch was lost.

Delaware Cookbooks

It is interesting to look for local cooking in Delaware cookbooks. But what is local cooking? Very few muskrat recipes find their way into cookbooks from Delaware marshland communities. Besides, muskrat eating first became popular in Baltimore.

Chicken and dumplings is a local favorite, but it is usually called Delmarva chicken and dumplings. Further, chicken with the same slippery dumplings is called chicken pot pie in the southern counties of New Jersey. It is chicken and noodles in Georgia. The name changes, but the dumpling dough, rolled out, cut, and cooked in the chicken broth, remains the same.

It is interesting to note that Frederick Philip Stieff's landmark 1932 book Eat, Drink, and Be Merry in Maryland never mentions slippery dumplings. Maybe they are more of a Delaware delicacy than we know and the Delmarva designation is wrong.

Crab cakes are another local favorite that we share with the rest of the East Coast. There are so many variations on the crab cake that it should be possible to pinpoint a recipe's origin. In the deep south, they use lots of mustard. Prepared rather than dry mustard is used in South Carolina. Worcestershire sauce is the primary seasoning in some northern states. Chopped fresh parsley is a common ingredient on mainland Maryland. Alas for the researcher, Delaware crab cake recipes can have any of these three ingredients in any proportion.

Another variation that gives no clue to locale is filler. Some Delaware crab cakes have no filler, some use cracker crumbs or stale bread, and some use fresh bread soaked in oil.

Beaten biscuits are frequently credited to southern Delaware, but cookbooks often call them "Maryland biscuits," perhaps in the belief that exotic is better. Actually, beaten biscuits are folk cookery everywhere the Scotch-Irish spread in the 19th century, west to Missouri and south to the southern uplands.

So it can be difficult to decide if a recipe is authentically local. You must rely on your own eating and cooking experiences and an understanding of Delaware's complex ethnic makeup.


An example of ethnic connection is found in Culinary Gems from the Diamond State by the Delaware Division of the American Cancer Society. (Like so many cookbooks, it is undated.) The recipe for Tailgate Stew starts with 8 to 10 pounds of sweet Italian sausage and continues in that genre. The dish is to be served in the parking lot before a University of Delaware football game. What could be more Delaware than a tailgate party? Unfortunately, this is as close to local cooking as this book gets.

Recipes Retold by the women of Christ Church, Dover, 1965, does better. There is a good recipe for Sussex County Slippery Dumplings and a typical crab cake recipe. These are buried among Soft-Shelled Crab New Orleans, Louisville Rolled oysters, and Virginia Batter Bread. This book has ten attractive pen and wash drawings of local scenes.

The Hagley Cookbook, 1983, calls itself "recipes with a Brandywine tradition." It is best for northern Delaware urban and immigrant food, but there are authentic looking recipes for baked shad and shad roe.

The First State, First Lady's Cookbook, 1975, by Frances O. Allmond has become a favorite collectible. There are a number of traditional recipes contributed by well-known Delawareans. Many recipes are tied to historic buildings. There is peach butter from Sudler House in Bridgeville, ice spiced tea from the Parson Thorne Mansion in North Milford, and five colonial recipes recreated for Amstel House in New Castle.

This book has four different crab cake recipes. Perhaps the most authentic looking is the one contributed by Mrs. Edward W. Cooch, Jr. of Cooch's Bridge. There are also instructions for preparing shad, shad roe, and beaten biscuits.

Dishes Delicious was published by the Sisterhood of Temple Beth Emeth, Wilmington, probably in the 1950s. It includes many good Jewish recipes and no shellfish. However, there is a recipe for Sussex County Old-fashioned Chicken Pot Pie, complete with slippery dumplings.

The Wilmington chapter of Hadassah issued Best of the Rest Cookbook in 1979. It includes a very worthy pecan pie.

Choice Recipes published by the Newport M.E. Church in 1939 would seem like good hunting ground, but the ladies were in the grasp of the goldenrod eggs school of home economics. What gives this book its local color is hundreds of ads from small businesses in Newport, Stanton, Marshallton, Elsmere, and Richardson Park.

Cookbook from McCabe Memorial Methodist Church has similar recipes and ads from a few Wilmington businesses.

About the same era, the Houston New Century Club offered Kitchenology. Again, it is modern cooking there is even a recipe for Perfection Salad. Instructions for Delaware Fried Chicken are so straight-forward it is hard to say whether the dish is local or not.

Prize Recipes of Georgetown by the County Seat Seniors is also disappointing to one searching for local recipes. Del-Mar-Va Chicken is rolled in rice krispies! The book does have two full-page ads, one from the Women's Club Publishing Co. offering to publish cookbooks and the other from the company's Cook Book Grab Bag selling assorted cookbooks in quantity.

Another that is weak on local cuisine but rich on ads is an untitled and undated cookbook by the Blue Hen Auxiliary of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 6483 in Milford.

A cookbook that is interesting for its local business connections is Especially Berries from Ryan's Berry Farm & Orchard in Frankford. It was compiled and edited by Tyra Clough in 1989. It contains hundreds of recipe, many ascribed to local cooks, for dishes using blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries.

So the searcher for local recipes finds slim pickings in most cookbooks. However, the occasional gem is worth the search. Collecting Delaware Books would be interested in hearing of cookbooks with local recipes. — JPR

The Blue Hen's Chicken's Cook Book
by Peggy Creswell

Published in 1997

This charming collectible has at last come into my collection of old Delaware cookbooks, I am so pleased. It is a very good copy, tight, clean, and the blue hen and her fluttering blue chicks are clear and prominent against the bright yellow cover, as is the lettering.

The book is not dated, but, since one Walter Pardoe of 27 Walnut Street, Milford, selling furniture, picture frames, and picture mouldings, says he has been in business since 1877 and is still at that address in 1904, I would guess that the book could be circa 1905. There are many other ads, which always make an old cook book fascinating. Cannon's Meat Market wants housewives to phone No. 17 to order his "Cleanliness Our Motto" beef, veal, lamb, and other meats. "Wonderfully Good for Price" say customers of J, W, Truitt & Co,, after the wearing of muslin underwear, hosiery, and corsets. William Viereck, also of Walnut Street, hopes for your patronage in the future as in the past for his bakery, confectionery and ice cream, also advertising in large letters that "Oysters in all Styles in Season." Oysters and ice cream!

Mr. Dougherty has photographs from one cent to ten dollars. His newest thing is making the Views of Milford into Souvenir Postal Cards. The Milford Trust Company wants you to know that they have a capital of $25,000.00 and will take saving deposits of one dollar and upward for interest of 2 1/2 per cent. But the First National Bank of Milford flexes its muscle and puts on the front page of the advertising section that they have a guarantee fund of over two hundred fifty thousand dollars. The Windsor Hotel in South Milford has been thoroughly remodeled into an up-to-date establishment with rates of $2.00 per day. They will also stable your carriage horses. Delaware College of Newark offers seven courses leading to degrees and offers Delaware students free tuition. And the Peninsula News has been in existence for nearly half a century and charges $1.00 a year for subscriptions.

It's wonderful nostalgia, fun reading, and a good example of how far a dollar could go. The Milford New Century Club put out this cook book to help the housewife and to bolster treasury funds to add to such improvements as drinking fountains for man and beast in the town, traveling libraries sent to the rural districts, and for advertising University Extension lectures. There are seventeen chapters on different foods and drinks, each headed by one of the club members.

Club member Virginia Causey Lloyd offers the following poem on the title page:

The Blue Hen's Chickens' Cooking Book
Should be in every household nook -
For you will find on its pages fair
Good, tried receipts, both rich and rare,
The knowledge of which in days to come
Will be fully enjoyed by every one.

Most old cookbooks have odd and rather exotic receipts as we think of them today, although they could be modern fixin's with old titles. Here are some from this one: Mutton Broth, Mexican Bean Soup, Delaware Baked Shad, Celeried Oysters, Mock Duck, Peas in Cases, Macaroni with Oysters, Delaware Biscuits, Steamed Indian Loaf, Hoe Cake, Corn Dodgers (remember John Wayne as a federal marshall offering these to Katharine Hepburn in Rooster Cogburn?), Miser's Sauce, Fricassed Eggs, Baked Apples Stuffed with Figs, Coffee Custard, Moon Shine' Pudding, or Pudding That Never Fails ( I wonder why?), and, Fairy Ice Cream.

The list continues with Frozen Brandy Peaches, Minnehaha Cake, Icing for Pound Cake, Dover Cake, Tutti Frutti Cake, Cry Babies, Wine Snaps, Homemade Horehound, Sweet Pickled Watermelon Rind, Canned Rhubarb (I could never stand this stuff, canned or otherwise and always tried to eat at a friend's house when my mother served it.), Cold Catsup, Barley Water, Beef Tea, Currant Wine, Ginger Beer, Raspberry Vinegar, Unfermented Grape Juice, Blackberry Cordial, and, Wine Whey for the Sick.

Whenever I acquire an old cookbook, I always go to the back of the book first to see what it has in the Miscellaneous or Household Hints section. The housewife of yesterday did not run to the stores for this, that, and the other if she needed something. She did it herself, such as the following: To Cement Broken China, to Clean Old Brass, Removing Iron Rust, Removing Mildew, Care of Frosted Feet, Soap Receipt, Making Cleaning Fluid, How to Have Fair Skin (Another of my old cookbooks has a treatise on "How to be Handsome", but no matter how many times I tried this I have had no success.), Midsummer Comfort, a Little Remedy for the July Pantry Pest, and To Clean Lead Pipes.

This cookbook is one of my favorites. It sure pays to get cookbook catalogues. This one came to me from a dealer in Connecticut for $20.00, postage included. I was not only fortunate enough to spot it amongst her offerings, but the price was a fine bargain, according to auction prices in the last few years.

Collect something, anything. It's a delightful way to waste time and enjoy yourself. And, on vacation, if you collect books, it's a must to visit bookstores. Among other places, Florida, Maine, and Canada are not too much interested in books on Delaware, so many a cook book and other books have been bought cheaply and brought home in triumph. So get a move on and go buy something!

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