Southern Cooking with Mrs. Hill

Southern Cooking with Mrs. Hill

By Glenda Major
LaGrange Daily News, Dec. 19, 1987

Troup County abounds these days with locally published cookbooks on the market. Many cookbooks have been assembled through the years by local churches, civic organizations, and individuals. It will not be surprising then to learn that in the mid 19th Century, Mrs. Arabella Dawson Hill of LaGrange, published a volume entitled Mrs. Hill's Cook-Book. It was written especially for Southern women, in town and country, giving them instructions for "carving and arranging the table for dinners, parties, etc., together with many medical and miscellaneous receipts extremely useful in families." In 1870 she wrote Mrs. Hill's New Cook-Book, an updated and enlarged edition.

In time for the holidays, Mrs. Hill told the housewife how to "boil" a turkey, which was much quicker than roasting and left the oven free for the baking of cakes, pies, and breads. She first gave detailed instructions for slaughtering the holiday bird. A chicken or hen could have its neck wrung by the industrious little lady, but a turkey needed the chopping block, and probably a man's touch.

"After cleaning it well" she said, "if young and the weather is cold, sprinkle a little salt on the inside, and either put it in a bag and suspend it, or wrap it carefully in a clean cloth and turn it over, after it has lain four or five hours; neither poultry nor fresh meat for boiling can be kept so long as for roasting; the meat will not look white."

When the hour came for putting the turkey in the pot, it was to be stuffed with a rich stuffing made of half a pound of bread crumbs a large heaped tablespoonful of butter, the soft part of twenty or thirty oysters, and salt and pepper to taste. The prepared bird was expected to take about two to three hours to boil.

In her medical receipts section, Mrs. Hill kept the housewife well informed on the latest treatment for common injuries and illnesses, telling her not only what to do, but which remedies were no longer in use.

Specific for coughs the housewife needed to have on hand a syrup made from "equal quantities of camomile flowers, clecampane, life everlasting, mullen, a few races of ginger and as much fat lightwood splinters as camomile. Boil to a strong tea; strain it, and add enough good apple vinegar to give a pleasant acid taste. ' Mrs. Hill said that this was a "simple" remedy to prepare, and included others that were quite complicated. Pills made from fresh tar, brown sugar, and the yolk of an egg were also good for a cough.

People often talk about how much simpler life was "back then." One might ask simpler in what way? Mrs. Hill's cookbook met the wants of the time and deserved a place in every 1870s household. Today, however, it needs to be right where it is -- carefully stored away at the Troup County Archives.