Why would anyone blow the dust off of a cookbook published during the early years of the last century and reprint it? Perhaps, more to the point, would it even be relevant in today’s fast food world?
Susan Reigler, a former restaurant critic at the Louisville Courier-Journal, has republished “The Blue Ribbon Cook Book” by Jennie Benedict, a collection introduced in 1904, and she is convinced that it just as practical today as it was more than a century ago.
Speaking from her home in Kentucky, Reigler points out the Benedict cook book isn’t just a collection of vintage recipes but also features shortcuts, kitchen tricks, and tips on cooking technique, all which have withstood the test of time. For example, one of the tips in the book claims that by crushing parsley in the fingers, the odor of onions can be removed from the hands.
According to Reigler, Jennie Benedict was born in Kentucky just before the Civil War and she began working out of her house, mostly making holiday fruit cakes. She studied with Fannie Farmer in Boston during the 1890s, and after returning to Louisville, become the most famous caterer in the city.
“In addition to catering the parties and weddings of some of the city’s most prominent families, she opened a tearoom downtown and, of course, published her famous cook book” Reigler said.
When asked about the popularity of the cookbook, Reigler paused for a brief moment and explained that Benedict’s recipes have been so instrumental in shaping the culinary tastes of the region, the cook book has become almost legendary.
“The early editions of the Blue Ribbon Cookbook have been so impossible to find, copies have vanished from local libraries and ones loaned to friends rarely, if ever, find their way home again,” Reigler said and added that during the years she worked at the Louisville Courier-Journal, readers contacted her frequently in search of the book.
“The cook book went through several different editions but the one I thought was best for republication is the one from 1922,” Reiger said.
Even though the recipes are the original ones, certain adjustments are always required.
Riegler cites the use of ammonia powder and zephyrette crackers as examples.
“Ammonia powder, or ammonium bicarbonate, was once used as a leavening agent, and to stay true to the recipe you would have to purchase the ingredient from a pharmacy and then grind it into a powder,” she explained. She adds that it’s easier to simply use baking soda instead. As for the mysterious zephyrette crackers, substitute saltines.
Ironically, Jennie Benedict’s most famous recipe was not included in any of the editions of her book. Benedictine has been popular in Louisville for generations and it is spread between pieces of soft white bread with the crusts trimmed, then cut in diagonal fourths and served on a doily-covered platter. The traditional recipe uses just the juice of the cucumber and onion to produce a smooth spread. (see recipe for Benedictine below)
There are sections in the back of the book featuring menus for formal dinners, informal dinners, and simple luncheons. One of the most intriguing is “Dainty Menus for Convalescent Patients” which features such cure-or-kill dishes as creamed calf brains and peptonized oysters (don’t ask!).
This is a wonderful collection and Reiger hopes that it will make Jennie Benedict’s recipes accessible to a new generation of readers and cooks. Whether it’s a recipe for Benedict’s Chicken Salad, which she sold from a pushcart, or advice on how to make a perfect cup of coffee, The Blue Ribbon Cook Book” is a timely collection that is certain to bring more than just a bit of Kentucky flavor to the family dinner table.
8 oz cream cheese, softened
3 Tbs cucumber juice
1 Tbs onion juice
1 tsp salt
A few grains cayenne pepper
2 drops green food coloring
To get the juice, peel and grate a cucumber, then wrap in a clean dish towel and squeeze juice into a dish. Discard pulp. Do the same for the onion. Mix all ingredients with a fork until well blended. Using a blender will make the spread too runny.