1981: Read Family Cookbooks

In 1980 and 1981, Margaret Janvier Holcomb, a Read family descendant, gave the Society a collection of documents and other materials that included three Read family manuscript recipe books, two of which are of special interest.  Both help us understand a bit more about life in the Read House.

One, small and fragile, was given to Mrs. G. Read in 1813—it says so right on the cover.  But that really isn’t much help, since both Mary Thompson Read, wife of George Read II, and Louisa Dorsey Read, wife of George Read III, were alive in 1813.  Our best guess is that the book was given to Louisa Read, since she had married just a few years earlier and was still in the early stages of  her housekeeping career.  We also don’t know who gave her the book, or the source of the recipes.  The book contains recipes for a variety of foods, including an early tomato recipe.

The other recipe book is even more interesting.  It was found tucked into a 19th century Read family recipe book—and upon examination of the handwriting, it was determined that George Read (1765-1836) had compiled it.  Now that’s a rare find!  Nineteenth-century men just didn’t compile recipe books.  But for some reason George Read did.  Internal dates show that he did it the in 1830s, towards the end of his life.  He clearly liked carbs and sweets—all of the recipes are for baked goods and desserts.  We have tried some of his recipes—some taste good to us today, others not so much.  This blogger has looked at many published cookbooks of the era to try to figure out where he got his recipes, but with very little luck.  So why George Read did this, and where he got his recipes, remains a mystery.

First page of recipe book written by George Read, 1830s
First page of recipe book written by George Read, 1830s

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