Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Random Wednesday: THE MARY FRANCES COOKBOOK, Adventures Among the Kitchen People by Jane Eayre Fryer

book cover
Original Publication Date: 1912

Genre: children's, cookbook

Topics: cooking, food, anthropomorphizing


Random Wednesday is where I, in the interest of reading some of the more obscure books on Project Gutenberg, select one at random using a highly scientific method involving, the alphabet, a ruler, and bunnies.

My second foray into randomness was The Mary Frances Cook Book: Adventures Among the Kitchen People, another children's book. After Bunny Rabbit's Diary (review here), you can imagine my expression when I realized this. Is Project Gutenberg full of children's books or is it something about me that attracts them? I don't know. I am happy to report that The Mary Frances Cook Book left me pleasantly surprised, though.

The title itself is a little confusing: the first half makes it sounds like a cookbook, but the second half makes it sound like a story. In fact, it's a "book within a book," as Jane Eayre Fryer herself puts it in the introduction--i.e., a story with recipes.

Mary Frances is a little girl whose mother has to go to a sanatorium for a few weeks because she's sick. Since her aunt is only able to make breakfast and dinner for the family, Mary Frances decides to make lunches for herself and her brother by following the recipes in a cookbook her mom wrote for her. Isn't that sweet??? To help her, Mary has the "Kitchen People"--basically the pots and pans and other tools in the kitchen, that come to life and talk her.

Mary Frances making toast

This book is SO. CUTE. Seriously, I cannot emphasize enough how freaking adorable this book is. The Kitchen People all have their own personalities and are really fun to read about, and they help out Mary Frances when she runs into inevitable kitchen incidents like burning something, scalding her hand, pots boiling over, cakes not turning out, and so on. The illustrations have a Japonisme influence and are generally fun and beautiful to look at (except for the floating heads, those are creepy).

I also liked that Fryer emphasized how cooking can bring families--most especially women--together. Mary Frances is handed down recipes from her mom, and teaches her friend a few of the candy recipes. When her stuffy aunt finds out she's teaching herself how to cook, the aunt offers to help and turns out to be really nice. Mary Frances also makes friends with a hobo, has a tea party, a picnic, and a huge dinner party at the end, all because she learned how to cook! It's so special.

"This hat's crazy!"

As for the recipes, most of them aren't really practical for the 21st century, seeing as how this book was written back in the day when stoves still had to be heated with either coals or firewood; but they are fascinating to read about. The omelet, for instance, is like nothing someone today would recognize as an omelet--it's kind of a combination between a soufflé and a frittata. Here's the recipe:

Ingredients: 2 eggs to each person.

  1. Separate yolks and whites, putting them into different bowls.
  2. Add dash of salt to whites, and dash of salt and white pepper to yolks.
  3. Add cold water to whites, allowing 1 teaspoon to each.
  4. Add cold water to yolks, allowing 1 tablespoon to each.
  5. Beat both very light.
  6. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a smooth frying pan.
  7. Pour in yolks. Let cook a moment.
  8. Spread whites over yolks, making a little hole in the center for steam to escape.
  9. Cook slowly for 5 minutes, or until the puffed up whites look dry.
  10. Fold one half over the other.
  11. Turn out on a warm platter.
  12. Trim with parsley and serve at once.
There are other recipes I'd never even heard of, like Apple Snow, which seems to be some sort of soft meringue. Interestingly, the Supersizers had a snow in their Restoration episode, which they hated ("Basically shaving foam in egg and rose water," was how Sue put it).

Of course, I did start to wonder where Mary Frances was getting all these ingredients she just happened to have on hand for all these recipes, and I probably would not let an 8-year-old broil steak. But beyond that, I kind of loved this book. It's just so freaking adorable and fun, it makes me totally jealous I didn't have a book like it when I was little. If you need some warm cuddly fuzzies in your life, I recommend it.

Find The Mary Frances Cook Book at Project Gutenberg.