The Virginia Housewife was one of a number of cookbooks published in the nineteenth century. Some writers seem to have seen the works as a way to foster social change: Lydia Maria Child’s The American Frugal Housewife (1833) is filled with advice on living within one’s means instead of pursuing “fashionableness” into bankruptcy. The books also collected advice on housekeeping—especially useful to someone unable to consult family or friends. Mary Randolph created the latter type of cookbook: chatty and filled with recipes for basic dishes—and for less basic foods, like oyster ice cream.
Some recipes from The Virginia Housewife: or, Methodical Cook, by Mrs. Mary Randolph. Philadelphia: E. H. Butler & Co., 1860 (reproduced Np: Avenel Books, Crown Publishers, n. d.)

[Transcriber’s note: Randolph spells “yolk” as “yelk” throughout.]


The difficulties I encountered when I first entered on the duties of a housekeeping life, from the want of books sufficiently clear and concise to impart knowledge to a Tyro, compelled me to study the subject, and by actual experiment to reduce every thing in the culinary line, to proper weights and measures. This method I found not only to diminish the necessary attention and labour, but to be also economical: for, when the ingredients employed were given in just proportions, the article made was always equally good. The government of a family, bears a Lilliputian resemblance to the government of a nation. The contents of the Treasury must be known, and great care taken to keep the expenditures from being equal to the receipts. A regular system must be introduced into each department, which may be modified until matured, and should then pass into an inviolable law. The grand arcanum of management lies in three simple rules:—“Let every thing be done at a proper time, keep every thing in its proper place, and put every thing to its proper use.” If the mistress of a family, will every morning examine minutely the different departments of her house-

p. iv

hold, she must detect errors in their infant state, when they can be corrected with ease; but a few days’ growth gives them gigantic strength: and disorder, with all her attendant evils, are introduced. Early rising is also essential to the good government of a family. A late breakfast deranges the whole business of the day and throws a portion of it on the next, which opens the door for confusion to enter. The greater part of the following receipts have been written from memory, where they were impressed by long continued practice. Should they prove serviceable to the young inexperienced housekeeper, it will add greatly to that gratification which an extensive circulation of the work will be likely to confer.


Washington, January, 1831.

p. v


Management is an art that may be acquired by every woman of good sense and tolerable memory. If, unfortunately, she has been bred in a family where domestic business is the work of chance, she will have many difficulties to encounter; but a determined resolution to obtain this valuable knowledge, will enable her to surmount all obstacles. She must begin the day with an early breakfast, requiring each person to be in readiness to take their seats when the muffins, buckwheat cakes, &c. are placed on the table. This looks social and comfortable. When the family breakfast by detachments, the table remains a tedious time; the servants are kept from their morning’s meal, and a complete derangement takes place in the whole business of the day. No work can be done till breakfast is finished. The Virginia ladies, who are proverbially good managers, employ themselves, while their servants are eating, in washing the cups, glasses, &c.; arranging the cruets, the mustard, salt-sellers, pickle vases, and all the apparatus for the dinner table. This occupies but a short time, and the lady has the satisfaction of knowing that they are in much better order than they would be if left to the servants. It also relieves her from the trouble of seeing the dinner table prepared, which should be done every day with the same scrupulous regard to exact neatness and method, as if a grand company was expected. When the servant is required to do this daily, he soon gets into the habit of doing it well; and his mistress having made arrangements for him in the morning, there is no fear of bustle and vonfusion in running after things that may be called for during the hour of dinner. When the kitchen breakfast is over, and the cook has put all things in their proper places, the mistress should go in to give her orders. Let all the articles intended for the dinner, pass in review before her; have the butter, sugar, flour, meal, lard, given out in proper quantities; the catsup, spice, wine, whatever may be wanted

p. vi

for each dish, measured to the cook. The mistress must tax her own memory with all this: we have no right to expect slaves or hired servants to be more attentive to our interest than we ourselves are: they will never recollect these little articles until they are going to use them; the mistress must then be called out, and thus have the horrible drudgery of keeping house all day, when one hour devoted to it in the morning, would release her from trouble until the next day. There is economy as well as comfort in a regular mode of doing business. When the mistress gives out every thing, there is no waste; but if temptation be thrown in the way of subordinates, not many will have power to resist it; besides, it is an immoral act to place them in a situation which we pray to be exempt from ourselves.

The prosperity and happiness of a family depend greatly on the order and regularity established in it. The husband, who can ask a friend to partake of his dinner in full confidence of finding his wife unruffled by the petty vexations attendant on the neglect of household duties—who can usher his guest into the dining-room assured of seeing that methodical nicety which is the essence of true elegance,—will feel pride and exultation in the possession of a companion, who gives to his home charms that gratify every wish of his soul, and render the haunts of dissipation hateful to him. The sons bred in such a family will be moral men, of steady habits; and the daughters, if the mother shall have performed the duties of a parent in the superintendence of their education, as faithfully as she has done those of a wife, will each be a treasure to her husband; and being formed on the model of an exemplary mother, will use the same means for securing the happiness of her own family, which she has seen successfully practised under the paternal roof.

p. 16


Wash and drain two quarts of oysters, put them on with three quarts of water, three onions chopped up, two or three slices of lean ham, pepper and salt; boil it till reduced one-half, strain it through a sieve, return the liquid into the pot, put in one quart of fresh oysters, boil it till they are sufficiently done, and thicken the soup with four spoonsful of flour, two gills of rich cream, and the yelks of six new laid eggs beaten well; boil it a few minutes after the thickening is put in. Take care it does not curdle, and that the flour is not in lumps; serve it up with the last oysters that were put in. If the flavour of thyme be agreeable, you may put in a little, but take care that it does not boil in it long enough to discolour the soup.

p. 19

An excellent dish for those who have not imbibed a needless prejudice against those delicious fish.

Take two large or four small white catfish that have been caught in deep water, cut off the heads, and skin and clean the bodies; cut each in three parts, put them in a pot, with a pound of lean bacon, a large onion cut up, a handful of parsley chopped small, some pepper and salt, pour in a sufficient quantity of water, and stew them till the fish are quite tender but not broken; beat the yelks of four fresh eggs, add to them a large spoonful of butter, two of flour, and half a pint of rich milk; make all these warm and thicken the soup, take out the bacon, and put some of the fish in your tureen, pour in the soup, and serve it up.

p. 22


Have a large head cleaned nicely without taking off the skin, divide the chop from the front of the head, take out the tongue, (which is best when salted,) put on the head with a gallon of water, the hock of a ham or a piece of nice pork, four or five onions, thyme, parsley, cloves and nutmeg, pepper and salt, boil all these together until the flesh on the head is quite tender, then take it up, cut all into small pieces, take the eyes out carefully, strain the water in which it was boiled, add half a pint of wine and a gill of mushroom catsup, let it boil slowly till reduced to two quarts, thicken it with two spoonsful of browned flour rubbed into four ounces of butter, put the meat in, and after stewing it a short time, serve it up. The eyes are a great delicacy.

p. 125


Put a crust in the bottom of a dish, put on it a layer of ripe apples, pared and sliced thin—then a layer of powdered sugar; do this alternately till the dish is full; put in a few tea-spoonsful of rose water and some cloves—put on a crust and bake it.

p. 134


Have the following articles prepared, before you begin the cake: four pounds of flour dried and sifted, four pounds of butter washed to free it from salt, two pounds of loaf sugar pounded, a quarter of a pound of mace, the same of nutmegs powdered; wash four pounds of currants clean, pick and dry them; blanch one pound of sweet almonds, and cut them in very thin slices; stone two pounds of raisins, cut them in two, and strew a little flour over to prevent their sticking together, and two pounds of citron sliced thin; break thirty eggs, separating the yelks and whites; work the butter to a cream with your hand—

p. 135

put in alternately, flour, sugar, and the froth from both whites and yelks, which must be beaten separately, and only the froth put in. When all are mixed and the cake looks very light, add the spice, with half a pint of brandy, the currants and almonds; butter the mould well, pour in part of the cake, strew over it some raisins and citron—do this until all is in; set it in a well heated oven; when it has risen, and the top is coloured, cover it with paper; it will require three hours baking—it must be iced.

[Transcriber’s note: Randolph doesn’t provide a recipe for “icing”; I’m including here the recipe from The Kentucky Housewife, by Lettice Bryan (1839):

It is a very common way of making icing to allow five or six large tea-spoonfuls of powdered loaf sugar to the white of one egg; but the most correct way of proportioning it is to weigh it …. Beat the whites of the eggs to a stiff froth, so much so that it will not fall from the dish in which it is beaten, when inverted. Powder some loaf sugar, pass it through a fine sieve, and mix it with the froth, allowing four ounces of sugar to one white of egg. Stir it in slowly, and but little at a time, and beat it till it looks quite smooth, adding as you proceed, a few drops of oil of lemon, or extract of roses, or the common lemon juice will answer; and you may also flavor it with orange juice, by adding a little more sugar. Or you may make it with three ounces of sugar, one of starch, and the white of one egg, flavoring it as directed. If your cakes should be scorched, or rather brown, scrape them with a knife, and brush them neatly; then put the icing on the top and sides, making it very smooth and regular with a broad bladed knife, which for this purpose is preferable to any thing else; set them in a warm room to dry, where nothing can disturb them, and when the icing gets about half dry, put on the decoraments in the most adroit manner.]

p. 142


It is the practice with some indolent cooks, to set the freezer containing the cream, in a tub with ice and salt, and put it in the ice house; it will certainly freeze there; but not until the watery particles have subsided, and by the separation destroyed the cream. A freezer should be twelve or fourteen inches deep, and eight or ten wide. This facilitates the operation very much, by giving a larger surface for the ice to form, which it always does on the sides of the vessel; a silver spoon with a long handle should be provided for scraping the ice from the sides as soon as formed;

p. 143

and when the whole is congealed, pack it in moulds (which must be placed with care, lest they should not be upright,) in ice and salt, till sufficiently hard to retain the shape—they should not be turned out till the moment they are to be served. The freezing tub must be wide enough to leave a margin for four or five inches all around the freezer, when placed in the middle—which must be filled up with small lumps of ice mixed with salt—a larger tub would waste the ice. The freezer must be kept constantly in motion during the process, and ought to be made of pewter, which is less liable than tin to be worn in holes, and spoil the cream by admitting the salt water.


When ice creams are not put into shapes, they should always be served in glasses with handles.

p. 144


Make a rich soup, (see directions for oyster soup,) strain it from the oysters, and freeze it.

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