This was our second season of vegan homesteading and our garden pumped out A LOT of food. Our perennials haven’t even started producing yet, so at some point soon I’m really going to have to start figuring out what to do with all these vegetables!
One of the things that I’ve immediately noticed is that pretty much all of my go-to recipes include combinations of ingredients that would never be available in the garden at the same time. Looking at any modern cookbook, you see this same issue. As new chefs try to out-do each other, you end up with situations where people are endlessly trying to re-invent the wheel and create recipes with long lists of ingredients and complicated instructions.
It seemed that good simple food made from your garden was not really a thing anymore. Then in a burst of inspiration I remembered the Victory Gardens of the 1940s and began a search for WWII and Depression Era recipes. Unfortunately this turned out to be a dead end. Maybe others will have better luck, but everything I found was not food anyone would ever want to eat. Think Spam as opposed to fresh vegetables from the garden.
“Survival gardening” was not the answer. What I was looking for was more like old-timey “peasant cooking”. In Italian they call this “cucina povero”. The name translates to literally “poor kitchen”. Despite the name, this is sought after food that is considered to be more “pure” and “authentic”. It is basically your old-world Grandmother’s cooking. This is what I was after, but it didn’t seem like these recipes were written down. Then I remembered the Shakers.
I bought a lot of three vintage Shaker cookbooks off of ebay for $7.99, not knowing if this was going to be another bust or not. Fortunately these books turned out to be exactly what I was looking for. The books are nothing but seasonal recipes, mostly vegetarian. I can easily veganize or take inspiration from just about everything in these books and plan to post the updated recipes to the blog once gardening season begins again.
You’ll see from the picture above that these recipes date back to the 1880s. There are zero instructions for oven temperature or bake times. It just says “Put in the oven and bake until done”. There are also no pictures of what the finished product is supposed to look like. It is basically the “technical challenge” from Great British Bake Off. So, you do need to know how to cook in order to use these old cookbooks.
The other thing I quickly noticed about these recipes is that they use some ingredients I have never heard of before. Researching these ingredients revealed a lot of interesting information about the way people used to cook in Victorian Era America. We think of cooking with gluten-free flours as a new thing, but apparently it was very common back then. A large portion of the baked goods in these books are gluten-free.
I also learned that it used to be very common to use ingredients that you had foraged from the woods. Many of these foraged roots and what-nots had flavors similar to more exotic ingredients like ginger or mango. They also had mild psychoactive effects that latter led to them being banned by the US government.
Currently there are “Right to Garden” and “Decriminalize Nature” bills being proposed and passed in some states. However I do plan on updating recipes to include legal and more easily found ingredients.
If you’d like to do something similar, you can find LOTS of vintage cookbooks on ebay for CHEAP. Also be sure to check out your local library. Unfortunately my library only had new books, but even those could be good for generating ideas and inspiration.
Can you tell I’m already looking forward to getting out into the garden again come Spring?