A year ago (June 22nd, to be exact) I gave a presentation at the 2015
National ALHFAM* Conference. Held at the College of William and Mary,
down in Williamsburg, Virginia, it featured five days of sessions, tours,
professional-development workshops, time spent traipsing all ’round
Colonial Williamsburg, Yorktown, and Jamestown, and more.
During my session, I offered the paper below. It deals with my research
and findings surrounding various supposedly-historic cookbooks, starting
with the two published by the Montclair Historical Society, which oversees
the operation of The Israel Crane House. As you’ll see, it was what I like
to call “a straight talk,” in that there was no power-point slideshow or
shoot-from-the-hip ramblings. It was just me, speaking for about 35
to 40 minutes, followed by a brief Q & A. Oh, and I also took down
a boat-load of books for “show ‘n tell” and two batches of small cakes
(aka cookies), for an audience taste-test. My session was held in what
was probably the smallest room in the building, but a good-sized crowd
filled the space. Overall, I think it went well, and I had great fun
conducting it. HUZZAH!
Now, the material given here is as I presented it. And yes, it’s quite
long, as there’s alot of information. So I’ll be sharing it in several
separate sections. In addition, this is the ONLY place where you’ll
be able to read the entire paper, word for word, as I wrote it. Most
papers, you see, (but not all, as not every presenter participates)
are compiled each year in a bound volume entitled “Conference
Proceedings.” However, when I submitted mine, I was promptly
told that it wouldn’t be published. And then I was given a laundry
list of reasons why. It was too long, it was too critical, I’d pointed
fingers, I’d named names. I’d even dared to suggest that too many
book authors, as well as museum staff, are not as historically-accurate
as they could, or should, be. They even found fault with the length
of both the job title I use and that of my bio (apparently, the former
was limited to just two words and the latter to two sentences). Oh,
and BTW, the photos I sent were useless. And so on and so forth.
I was simply dumbfounded! The Proceedings’ editors told me, if I
wanted my presentation published, I must re-write it, removing all
that they deemed “offensive.” Then we went back and forth, ’round
and ’round, and back again. I’d ask, “What objections, specifically,
do you have?” and receive no definitive answers in return. Well,
other than being told that a single paragraph at the bottom of page
such ‘n such was fine.
The whole thing was downright bizarre.
Finally, I gave up trying to understand their issues. Besides, I had
absolutely no interest in re-writing what I’d spent years researching
and compiling. I had no intention, either, of re-doing it just to appease
the odd sensibilities of a couple people. I mean, come on. If you’re
afraid of being sued, print a disclaimer that states something along
the lines of, “Opinions expressed herein are solely those of individual
authors and not of the organization as a whole.” Golly, doesn’t that
already exist? If not, it should! In any event, eventually I made peace
with the fact that my small contribution to the 2015 National ALHFAM
Conference was vanishing into thin air. It was to be as if it’d never
been presented. Ahh, well…such is life.
But, wait. Someone had second thoughts. Or something. This past
winter I was contacted and told to review the edited version of my
paper “as it will appear in the Proceedings.” Huh?!? I didn’t know
what was going on or what to think. What games were these? First,
you won’t, then you will? What’s up with that?! And more importantly,
WHY?!? What happened to the whole “it’s not being published?” stance?
In any event, I couldn’t bare to read it, to see what white-washing had
been done to my years of hard work. And I don’t know what the final
decision was. I gave up trying to figure it out. And, at this point,
I don’t really care.
You know, this nonsense reminded me of when, at Conner Prairie,
I was given the task of fleshing out more fully the bio (fictional,
of course) of a particular Prairietown family. I remember putting
alot of time and effort into it, but, dagnabit, it seems that it wasn’t
what those in charge expected or wanted! So a committee (!)
was formed, and its members completely re-did it. Too bad
for me! And then there’s the more recent “Savoring Gotham”
debacle…but that’s a tale for another day.
Nevertheless, I’m posting my paper here, in its entirety, warts and
all. Like it or don’t like it. Your choice. But it’s MY choice to publish
it. I’m proud of what I wrote. And I’m pleased to be able to offer
up here, in this forum, what I had to say a year ago. As opposed
to what someone else thinks I should’ve said.
So, let’s get to it…
[NOTE: Details on all books and other materials mentioned herein
can be found under “Sources” at the end of each section.]
FAKE FANNY RECEIPTS AND OTHER TRAVESTIES…Part I
This session is dedicated to long-time librarian Lynne M. Olver, who
passed away this spring [April 2015]. Her passion for food history
led to her creation of the well-known and highly-valued site,
http://www.foodtimeline.org. Lynne was always supportive
of my on-going research for this project.
Several precepts have stuck with me since my initial foray
into hearth cooking nearly 25 years ago. It was then that
I worked at Conner Prairie in my home state of Indiana.
And it seemed, at least to me, that certain directives were
drummed into interpreters’ heads on a daily basis. Naturally,
I often wondered if perhaps they were just messing with us.
You know, setting up impossible standards for us to follow,
just for sport, and then laughing, as they watched everyone
fail miserably? Of course, since leaving the Prairie, I’ve
discovered that it indeed often tended to be a case of “do
as I say, not as I do,” so…but more on that later.
Nevertheless, I took them at their word, took it seriously
and took it all to heart. I did my darnedest at the time
to adhere to the rules that were given me. In fact, the
overall philosophy that governed my time there was, and
has become, the very foundation of everything I did while
there, and that I still do, even today.
So, what were those mandates? They were:
1.) always be as historically-accurate as possible; and
2.) the three most important things are research,
research, and research.
Now, six years ago, when I began cooking over the open
hearth at The Israel Crane House in Montclair, New Jersey,
which is a property owned and operated by the Montclair
Historical Society (MHS), the powers-that-be requested
that I use receipts from the two cookbooks that’d been
published by the Society, especially the first one:
1.) Fanny Pierson Crane, Her Receipts, 1796; and
2.) The Thirteen Colonies Cookbook.
I promptly, but politely, replied, “No, thanks!” And I said
this because of what was instilled in me at Conner Prairie
all those years ago. I then explained that when doing any
hearth cooking, I use only receipts from original historic
cookbooks. This means works by Hannah Glasse, Amelia
Simmons, Mary Randolph or any other author appropriate
for the time period at hand (the 1830s at the Crane’s).
Of course, I’d previously read both of the Montclair Society’s
cookbooks from cover to cover, so I knew that neither
contained original historic receipts. In fact, for me, those
two volumes have more in common with Joy of Cooking
than with Glasse’s The Art of Cookery, Mrs. Bryan’s The
Kentucky Housewife or any other historic cookbook. Nearly
every recipe in the MHS books is a modern adaptation. They’ve
been re-worked and/or re-written and thus bear little or no
resemblance to any originals. It’s not difficult to determine,
as there’s everything from the use of baking powder and
cornstarch to cans of “frozen lemonade concentrate.” Even
the format is modern, with lists of ingredients given first,
followed by instructions on what to do with them. In addition,
my years of experience working with historical receipts,
together with my knowledge of culinary history, enables
me to ascertain that some ingredients and cooking methods
scream “MODERN!” as they either didn’t exist or they couldn’t
be done during this or that time period. It ranges from the
afore-mentioned baking powder (not until 1859) to the use
of chocolate as a candy coating (not until the late 1840s).
The bottom line is, as anyone who knows me well can
attest, I prefer to use ONLY those receipts that’ve been
taken from original historic cookbooks. I don’t care one
iota for any that’re adapted or modernized. Just blame it
on those principles I learned, and the training I received,
while at Conner Prairie!
However, I told the Montclair Society officials that if they
could provide me with the actual original manuscript book,
the one written in Fanny Pierson Crane’s (Israel’s wife) own
hand, I’d be more than happy to cook from it. In fact, it’d be
a tremendous thrill to do so! I’d simply love the opportunity.
Problem was, no one knew anything about the book or where
it was or might be. Was it somewhere in the Crane House?
Or in the MHS offices? Was it hidden on a shelf? Or maybe
buried under a pile of books in a rarely-used room? Had
anyone ever seen it? Or heard of it? Alas, no one knew
anything, but everyone vowed to hunt for it.
And thus, the Great Search for Fanny’s personal collection
of household receipts began. As months went by, I’d inquire
every now and then, “Has anyone found Fanny’s book, yet?”
Sadly, no one had. At least, not yet. And before long, as no
manuscript materialized, I began to have my doubts. I even
jokingly said once or twice, “Maybe this book doesn’t exist?!”
Of course, I hoped that wasn’t true, but…you never know!
Eventually, toward the end of that first year’s season, one
of the two books’ five authors visited the Crane House. The
Museum Director brought her into the kitchen where I was
cooking, they both sat down and a conversation about Fanny’s
receipt book began. The woman rambled on about this and
that, these things here and over there, all nothing of any
real consequence, until finally the Director asked her, point
blank, “Is there an original manuscript upon which the Fanny
cookbook is based?” The author’s reply was, “Oh no, dear!”
in a tone that sounded as if she meant, “Oh no, dear. Where’d
you get a crazy idea like that? What a silly thing to think!”
Wow. So my earlier suspicions were correct. There is NO
manuscript! Unbelievable. So, it really IS a fake. A phony.
Wow. Guess the title should be “Fanny Pierson Crane, Her
FAKE Receipts.” And this, from an historical society, no less.
Naturally, this raised all sorts of questions, including:
Where’d all the recipes in this little booklet come from?
Are they adapted from original historic ones? Are they
at least based, even in the slightest, on any? Or are
they, indeed, made up, crafted out of thin air? Are they
what I hate to see, modern recipes masquerading
as historic ones?
So I set out to answer as many of the above questions
as I could. I began my investigation by spending much
of that summer looking through historic cookbooks in my
own personal collection (all facsimiles) for any and all
receipts that might possibly match, at least in part,
those in the Fanny book. I compared multiple “reals”
to the “fakes,” line by line. It proved to be a difficult
and tedious task. It was pretty fruitless, as well!
Then one day, I sat down and opened what I’d by then
dubbed “Fake Fanny” at random, and I happened onto
the page with the recipe for “Maids of Honor.” Suddenly,
it hit me: I’ve seen that before! I think it’s in The Williams-
burg Art of Cookery, by Helen Bullock. So I got out my copy,
checked and sure enough, there it was. The same name,
the same ingredients, the same amount of those, even
a few of the exact same words. The only difference was
that Williamsburg’s is in paragraph form (as are most
original historic receipts, up until roughly the late 19th
century), and Fake Fanny’s is not. Then I remembered,
too, what the previously-mentioned author had said
during her ramblings that day in the Crane kitchen,
that she and the other authors had “studied” the work
of Helen Bullock. AH-HA! It was now becoming clearer!
So then I began to carefully compare, in any and every
detail, the Williamsburg book to the Fake Fanny. In
short, there are at least ten recipes in Fanny that’ve
been lifted from it. All are much like the “Maids of Honor,”
above, in that they have the same title, the same
ingredients, the same amounts, etc., with the only
difference being, again, that Fake Fanny’s are not
in paragraph form. Many are similar, yet slightly
different, such as Williamsburg’s “Orange Cake” and
Fanny’s “Glazed Orange Cake,” while others are nearly
direct lifts, such as Fanny’s “Greengage Plum Ice Cream,”
which is a poorly-disguised “King’s Arms Green-gage
Plum Ice Cream.”
Of course, this stealing, er, I mean, “borrowing” of receipts
is nothing new. It’s been done for centuries. Glasse stole,
er, borrowed from E. Smith and Raffald, Farley borrowed
from both of them. Emerson stole from Glasse and Simmons
(in fact, according to the late food historian, Karen Hess,
Emerson copied everything in Simmons, including the
mistakes!). Nowadays, though, there are more and
supposedly stricter laws against plagiarism, although
they can be complicated. I asked prolific book writer
and fellow food historian Andy F. Smith about all this,
and he told me,
This is all a murky area. Recipes are
considered formula and therefore
cannot be copyrighted. However,
the form of the recipe is considered
intellectual property and therefore
is copyrighted. So you can take
the ingredients and the instructions,
put them in your own form/words,
change the name, and it is now yours.
What professionals do is take a recipe
and change several ingredients/steps
and place ‘Adapted from’ and give
the original source.
Of course, the problem here is, nowhere in Fake Fanny
is the Williamsburg book mentioned, let alone an “adapted
from” credit given. There’s no bibliography of any kind,
Smith went on to say,
However, you can quote sections
directly from published works
without making changes. The
courts have limited this in
a number of ways (can’t take
poetry or songs, for instance)
and to be on the safe side it
must be less than 1-2 percent
of the total work. So if a cookbook
has 200 recipes you could take
2-4 recipes without a problem.
Well, there are 60 recipes in Fake Fanny, so “1-2 percent”
of that is 0.6 to 1.2. And there are, as I stated earlier, at
There’s another problem here. The fact that the Fanny book
is indeed a fake also affects Thirteen Colonies, because its
New Jersey section is comprised of some (but not all) of
the same recipes. Oddly enough, a few are ever-so-slightly
different here and there, which may be the result of some
minor editing. Or perhaps the authors were aiming for that
“change at least one thing, and the recipe is yours” criteria?
At the same time, this all means that they’re guilty of pla-
giarizing themselves. Which, as I understand it, opens up
a whole ‘nother can of worms and causes a new set of
problems (a topic for another time, perhaps).
However, what I was most shocked to discover during my
perusal of all these books is that recipes in Fake Fanny
can be found in different sections of Thirteen Colonies!
For example, Fake Fanny’s “Abigail’s Soft Molasses Cakes”
are also given as Lydia Watrous Buckingham’s “Soft Molasses
Cakes” in the chapter for Connecticut. And Fake Fanny’s recipe
for “Miss Mary’s Meringues, Kisses for Dessert Pyramid” is
also Elizabeth Matthews Heyward of South Carolina’s “Kisses
for a Slack Oven” (not to mention, who the heck are Abigail
and Miss Mary?!). The “Hospitality Thins” in Fake Fanny
also belong to Sarah Gibbons Telfair of Georgia. Fanny’s
“Crock-Preserved Fruits” are also offered by New York City’s
Samuel Fraunces. And “Rose Geranium Jelly” was supposedly
also part of Catherine Moffatt Whipple of New Hampshire’s
repertoire of dishes. The list goes on and on and on, and
all told, there are 26. Yep, 26 recipes allegedly collected
by Fanny Pierson Crane were apparently also compiled by
some other person in some other colony. From Massachusetts
to Delaware to Georgia, Fanny’s recipes are spread throughout
the East coast. I tell you, I’ve heard of recipe sharing, but
this is ridiculous! And too widely-rampant to be plausible.
At the same time, I had to laugh while reading in Fake Fanny
such statements as “simple enough for the Crane children
to make,” when the same recipe is Magdelena Hoch Keim’s,
in the Pennsylvania section. Gee, don’t they mean the Keim
children?! Or when in Fake Fanny, the copy for “Chocolate
Truffles” mentions Thomas Jefferson’s supposed influence
on the use of chocolate in the early years of this country
(um, yeah, no!), and how it was felt even “in the Crane
household,” despite its presence in the Virginia chapter,
since it purportedly belonged to Betty Washington Lewis.
So, don’t they mean the Lewis household?!
Unfortunately, this stealing, er, I mean “borrowing” doesn’t
end there. A few years ago, I bought a used copy of The First
Ladies Cook Book, Favorite Recipes of All the Presidents of
the United States cheaply at a neighborhood flea market.
I discovered that recipes were taken from it, as well. There
aren’t as many, though, only five. At least that I’ve found
thus-far. There may be more. Of course, as before, this may
also mean there are a few in Thirteen Colonies, seeing as
the two books share quite a bit of material.
Incidentally, when I initially skimmed through First Ladies,
I found a clipping from The New York Times of Helen Bullock’s
obituary tucked inside (she was the book’s Consulting Editor,
and the author of Williamsburg’s pseudo-historic cookbook).
NYT didn’t mince words. It bluntly stated,
Her [Bullock’s] Williamsburg cookbook
became the bible for the preparation
of food in Williamsburg exhibitions,
at least until the 1980’s, when it
was discovered that Mrs. Bullock,
an eminently practical woman, had
taken certain liberties with the
original recipes. Having discovered
that 17-century [sic] cooks, lacking
ingredients like baking powder and
vanilla, has often prepared dishes
no discriminating 20th-century diner
would eat, she sensibly adapted them
to modern tastes and ingredients.
She did WHAT?!? Oh, my! I guess that explains the insertion
of baking powder and confectioner’s sugar (cornstarch), the
use of modern measurements, and more throughout the book.
So, is that it? Sadly, no.
To be continued…stay tuned to see what other travesties are
lurking out there!
*ALHFAM = The Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural
Museums. See my postings about the 2015 National Conference starting
with THIS ONE.
SOURCES mentioned in Part I (only):
Bullock, Helen, Consulting Editor. The First Ladies Cook Book,
Favorite Recipes of All the Presidents of the United States.
Parent’s Magazine Press, NY, NY, 1966.
Bullock, Helen. The Williamsburg Art of Cookery. The Colonial
Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, VA, 1938 and 1966.
Bryan, Mrs. Lettice. The Kentucky Housewife. Cincinnati, OH, 1839.
Donovan, Mary, Amy Hatrak, Frances Mills, and Elizabeth Shull,
written and illustrated by. The Thirteen Colonies Cookbook.
Montclair Historical Society, Montclair, NJ, 1975.
Emerson, Lucy. New-England Cookery. Montpelier, VT, 1808.
Farley, John. The London Art of Cookery. London, England, 1783.
Glasse, Hannah. The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy.
London, England, 1747.
Hatrak, Amy, Frances Mills, Elizabeth Shull, Sally Williams,
compiled and illustrated by. Fanny Pierson Crane, Her
Receipts, 1796. Montclair Historical Society, Montclair,
The New York Times. November 11, 1995. The New York
Times Company, NY, NY.
Raffald, Elizabeth. The Experienced English Housekeeper.
London, England, 1769.
Randolph, Mary. The Virginia Housewife. Washington, D.C., 1824.
Rombauer, Irma S. Joy of Cooking. Scribner (imprint
of Simon & Schuster), eighth edition, 2006 (continuously in print
commercially since 1936; first published by the author in 1931).
Simmons, Amelia. American Cookery. Albany, NY, second
Smith, Andrew Franklin. Author and food historian. Personal
correspondence via e-mail, 2011.
Smith, E. The Compleat Housewife. London, England, 1727.