About Lisa

About three years ago, my sister-in-law, Merry Lutts sent us some old books that belonged to Dan’s family on the Lutts side. Among them was a small, battered notebook belonging to Dan’s Great Aunt Lillian Lutts. It contained her handwritten recipes, which I have since determined date from her marriage to Great Uncle Charles in 1901 up through her death in 1945.

I will never forget opening the recipe book and leafing through it. I’ve always had a deep interest in historic cooking, especially 18th century American cooking. As the former director of The Bidwell House in Monterey, MA, and the Director of External Affairs at Fort Ticonderoga in New York, I dabbled in cooking and gardening from our Colonial past as a way of interpreting the lives of the women at these sites. (Yes, there were women at Fort Ticonderoga – soldiers wives – and they were cooking!).

But it wasn’t until I received Great Aunt Lil’s cook book that I became serious about historic cooking. Maybe it was that she was “family” or that we had a deeper connection. After all, I wear her Shreve Crump & Low engagement ring! Here’s the story.

When Dan and I had been dating for a few weeks, he pulled out some family photos to show me. In the box of old photos was a smaller box which, I opened to find a lovely engagement ring. He told me it had belonged to his Great Aunt Lillian from Kitterey Point, Maine and that he’d inherited it through his Aunt Faye, who sadly never married.

I of course popped it on my finger (at this point I already knew in my heart that Dan was the man for me!) and it fit! Let me point out that I have the world’s tiniest fingers. I was stunned and told Dan how hard it is to find a ring that fits me, and looked up to find beads of sweat on his brow. Well, that’s another story. Suffice to say, several years later I was finally given Great Aunt Lil’s ring which I proudly wear today despite the diamond’s chip from age. I love it for its family history!

And so my project began. I decided to try and cook the recipes from Aunt Lillian’s book. I immediately ran into a problem. First of all Aunt Lillian cooked on a wood stove until the day she died. And like many early cooks, she did not write down her directions. Just the ingredients. So, I was left with the problem of how to take the recipe and cook it in a modern stove with some semblance of order!

I had a few early 20th century cookbooks in my collection and I looked for similar recipes in them. And I have found a number of excellent websites that not only have the recipes from cookbooks, but give the date and citation. To augment these sources I have begun purchasing cook books that date from 1900 – 1950. Now when I come to a recipe for Boston Brown Bread, I can find a slew of recipes. I try and find the one(s) that are closest to Lillian’s and use them for the directions. Does it work? Not always. There have been some spectacular flops.

Which brings me to the question – did Aunt Lillian cook all these recipes? Probably not. Like most of us, she probably had the best of intentions and wrote down recipes she wanted to try, but never got around to. Some of her pages are soiled and stained even to the point where they are hard to read. Others are pristine. But either way, it’s  been fun trying the recipes and, more importantly, learning the history of the food.

There are quite a few blogs out there that write out 20th century recipes for viewers, but there are very few where the blogger cooks the recipes, writes about the results, and researches the history of the recipe and food. I hope that my readers will enjoy and learn from my exploration into our early 2oth century food history.

For me, and my husband, Dan, its been fun, interesting, and often very rewarding to eat our way through the early 20th century. I hope you come along for the journey!