August 08, 2013


The Frugal Housewife. By Lydia Maria Child. Andrews McMeel. $22.99.

Charlie the Ranch Dog: Where’s the Bacon? Based on the Charlie the Ranch Dog books by Ree Drummond and Diane deGroat. Harper. $16.99.

     Charms old-fashioned and newfangled, some for adults and some for children, are the attractions of these books. The Frugal Housewife is a new entry in Andrews McMeel’s “American Antiquarian Cookbook Collection,” and “antiquarian” it certainly is: originally published in 1829, it was the first thrift-oriented cookbook and became an instant and enduring success – going through three dozen printings. It would be nice to report that the specifics of its frugality are as valid today as they were in the 19th century, but unfortunately, the cookbook is more an interesting historical document than a timeless classic. It happens to be a lot of fun to read for those so inclined, but most modern cooks will have some difficulty following or even understanding many of the recipes and homespun recommendations. “A few drops of the oil of Cajput on cotton wool is said to be a great relief to the tooth ache.” “A spoonful of ashes stirred in cider is good to prevent sickness at the stomach.” For arrow-root jelly, “Put rather more than a pint of water over the fire, with some white sugar, grated nutmeg, and two spoonfuls of brandy. Stir up a large spoonful of arrow-root powder in a cup of water, pour it in when the water boils, stir it well and let it boil three or four minutes. This is considered nice food in bowel complaints.” There are even some typos that have stood the test of time: “Neat’s tongue should be boiled full thee [sic] hours.” It is fascinating to find out, for those interested in history, that “some people prefer pickled nasturtion seed to capers” and to learn a bit about prices at the time when the book was written: “It is cheaper to buy one large mackerel for ninepence, than two for fourpence half-penny.” A trip to the dictionary or to online history and financial-conversion sites will be necessary to clarify much of what readers will find in The Frugal Housewife, and even the book’s index takes some getting used to: it includes entries for Alamode Beef, Britannia Ware, Cholera-morbus, Elixir Proprietatis and Rusty black crape – plus, rather charmingly, “Horse-Radish, kept all winter,” “Bits of meat and vegetables,” and “Rhubarb, or Persian apple pies.” The modern cook is not likely to find much to emulate here beyond the overall philosophy of frugal living – which is timeless. But a cook, homemaker or any reader with an interest in what people were reading and using to guide their home lives through much of the 19th century in the United States will find much to enjoy in Child’s book.

     A new Charlie the Ranch Dog book is child’s play – for the modern family. Where’s the Bacon? is a Level 1 book in the “I Can Read!” series, offering “simple sentences for eager new readers.” The cooking element – well, the food element, anyway – is central here as good-natured, self-important and lazy Charlie greets a dog named Rowdy from a nearby ranch. Rowdy is staying at Charlie’s place for a few days while his family is away, and that would be fine with Charlie – except that it turns out that Rowdy has eaten Charlie’s breakfast (which includes bacon); and then Rowdy gets in Charlie’s way; and then he gets a belly rub that Charlie thinks he should be getting; and eventually, unforgivably, Rowdy takes a nap in Charlie’s bed. By then, Charlie has had more than enough of this unruly guest, and he howls so loudly that Rowdy is frightened and runs outside, where he cowers in the outdoor doghouse. Now Charlie feels bad – but he finds a way to make up with Rowdy, thanks to, yes, food. The story is simple and amusing, with editorial and artistic contributions from Amanda Glickman and Rick Whipple being pleasantly layered onto the original writing and art of Ree Drummond and Diane deGroat. Beginning readers with a fondness for dogs and pleasantly underplayed adventures will enjoy Where’s the Bacon? and will likely come back for seconds by re-reading the book and having fun with it yet again.

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