November's issue of 1923 is an unusual one: I'd decided early on that I wanted to find material in cook books of the day, and I wanted to try to capture the sort of uncanniness of the dishes available. I was poking through the index to one of the cook books, looking for the right representative recipe, when it hit me that the experience I was having was the one I wanted to share. I decided to print the index of Nine Hundred Successful Recipes , itself a bit of an oddball book, in its entirety.
Beyond that first consideration, though, recipes in the 1920s were very straightforward affairs. More algorithmic than literary, many pages in the cook book I excerpted and the others I browsed were bare bones lists of ingredients and instructions.
In that era, one imagines, a cook book provides real value as a reference text. Without ready access to an unending supply of variations on a recipe, to say nothing of instructional videos, how-to guides, and personal essays from the kitchen, a cook book was a necessary list of facts about the world. What goes into a macaroni salad? This book has your answers.
I must mention, given the nature of this project, that there's a copyright argument for the more verbose introductions and explanations you find in modern cook books and recipe blogs.
The actual make-up of a dish is a fact, and therefore not subject to copyright restrictions at all. A list of ingredients, and the instructions on how to combine them, falls into the same category. Cooking, then, is considered one of copyright's "negative spaces"—alongside stage magic, stand-up comedy, and areas of fashion—where creativity thrives without the control you find in other disciplines. To make a collection of recipes work more like a collection of essays, the author needs to introduce some creative choices. Thus, the value added by an introductory essay is not just context, but a means to claim exclusivity to the page.
But that's today's recipes. For the material at hand, you the reader need to do the creative work. Flip through Lulu Thompson Silvernail's nine hundred successful recipes, and try to imagine what those dainty dumplings, or green tomato relish, or one meal Boston bake tastes like.Download this issue as pdf.