The inmates of the Maryland Insane Hospital, we’re told, were exceedingly well-housed, well -clothed and well-fed. The hospital’s menu was lauded as an example of dietary excellence. According to a 1918 issue of Dietotherapy, inmates enjoyed such gustatory delights as beef tea, lemonade and, when cost did not prohibit it, fish on Fridays.
Such wholesome comestibles were rare in a time that saw egregious abuse of the mentally ill. But Maryland Insane Hospital was one of the most modern institutions of its kind. Now known as the Spring Grove Hospital Center, the hospital was established chiefly as a result of the lifelong individual efforts of Richard Spring Steuart, a Maryland physician and early pioneer in the treatment of mental illness. From its inception the asylum was the very picture of the well-managed institution. In 1884 the chairman of Maryland’s Joint Committee on Public Institutions found the asylum “in excellent condition,” a state which, he wrote, “reflects great credit upon its officers.”
Life magazine’s 1958 Picture Cook Book presents the reader with a vast array of nourishing traditional dishes. One chapter, entitled “Ancient Fare,” contains dozens of simple, yet delicious, recipes for legumes and grains. “All of these foods are best in simple recipes,” states the introduction to the chapter. “Their flavor is brought out by straightforward butter and herb sauces,” it continues, “but it can be enhanced by the addition of mushrooms, sour cream, almonds or pungent sweet and sour sauce. Cracked wheat, buckwheat groats and pearl barley are coarser than the usual breakfast cereals and consequently have more flavor and texture. The nutty taste of wheat and buckwheat makes them excellent side dishes with hearty beef roasts, and delicately flavored barley does particularly well with ham. These foods are often as good cold as they are hot.”
Below is a recipe from the Picture Cook Book for pinto bean cakes with cracked wheat in sour cream. Both dishes are economical and filling.
Pinto Bean Cakes
2 cups dried pinto beans
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper or 1 chili pepper, minced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 cup butter
1 teaspoon salt
Soak beans overnight in water to cover. Simmer them in the soaking water with salt for 2 hours. Drain beans and chop them coarsely or put them through a food grinder using a coarse blade. Add red pepper and garlic. Shape into 12 cakes and saute in butter for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Lima, navy or Great Northern beans may be substituted for pinto beans.
Cracked Wheat with Sour Cream
2 cups cracked wheat
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup olive oil
3 cups chicken bouillon [can substitute vegetable bouillon]
Saute mushrooms and onion in butter for five minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Add cracked wheat and cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add bouillon, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serves 6.
The following recipe for pork and beans comes from Lydia Maria Francis Child’s 1841 cookbook The American Frugal Housewife: Dedicated to Those Who Are Not Ashamed of Economy. In this fascinating tome she offers the reader helpful advice and recipes for coping with privation. She cheerfully writes that “the true economy of housekeeping is simply the art of gathering up all the fragments, so that nothing be lost.” She goes on to stress that she means “fragments of time, as well as materials.” For Child, nothing should be thrown away, and all members of the family “should be employed either in earning or saving money.” Children can engage in patchwork or the braiding of straw hats and bonnets, she suggests. Above all, careful household accounts must be kept and the virtue of economy practiced at all times, for only then can one have “the permanent power of being useful and generous.”
Child’s book is indeed part cookbook, part instruction manual on household economy. She offers cures for various ailments (those who wish to preserve their health, she cautions, should never “drink strong green tea, eat pickles, preserves and rich pastry”) and hints on how to endure poverty (avoid “indolent and extravagant habits”).
The following recipe for pork and beans is a simple dish, enough to feed a large family on a cold winter’s night. Serve it with a hearty cornbread doused in fresh butter.
Frugal Pork and Beans
Baked beans are a very simple dish, yet few cook them well. They should be put in cold water and hung over fire the night before they are baked. In the morning they should be put in a colander and rinsed two or times; then again placed in a kettle with the pork you intend to bake, covered with water, and kept scalding hot, an hour or more. A pound of pork is quite enough for a quart of beans, and that is a large dinner for a common family. The rind of the pork should be slashed. Pieces of pork, alternately fat and lean, are the most suitable–cheeks are the best. A little pepper sprinkled among the beans when they are placed in the bean pot will render them less unhealthy. They should be just covered with water when put into the oven and the pork should sink a little below the surface of the beans. Bake for four hours.