Juliet Corson teaches the poor to cook, 1877

Juliet Corson, cooking teacher and writer and founder of the New York Cooking School, was born this date in 1841. Amid the excess and middle-class striving of the Gilded Age, Corson saw the hardships of working families — perhaps because a bad family situation had forced her out on her own at the age of 18 — and she made it a personal crusade to teach working-class women to cook as a way of improving their lives. Well-off women paid her bills, but she used the proceeds to offer inexpensive and free classes to the wives and daughters of working men. Some of those classes focused on helping women find work as professional cooks to the wealthy, but Corson was equally committed to improving their home cooking.

In 1877, after four years of double-digit unemployment and a nationwide railroad strike violently suppressed by federal troops, Corson printed a pamphlet called “Fifteen Cent Dinners for Working-Men’s Families” and distributed fifty thousand copies at her own expense. The pamphlet offered simple, balanced meals to feed a family of six at a cost of three dollars a week (about $65 today). This was not exciting food; a typical day’s meals in Corson’s book included breakfast of broth and bread, a dinner of mutton and turnips, and a supper of macaroni and cheese, or perhaps lentils. Corson’s advice was unflinchingly, and sometimes unpleasantly, practical, as in these instructions on buying second-quality meats: Continue reading “Juliet Corson teaches the poor to cook, 1877”

Abundance and want: A thought for St. Stephen’s Day

The beef has been roasted, the cookies devoured, the wine and the eggnog drunk. Bits of ribbon still litter the floor. But there are leftovers, glorious leftovers, and it’s nearly lunchtime on the east coast. Huzzah, indeed.

In between shopping for bigger pants, though, let’s give a thought to those who had too little, or nothing at all, to eat yesterday, and today, and the day after. Better yet, let’s actually do something. Giving money isn’t all that needs to be done, but it is one thing, and thanks to the internet we can do that one thing without even getting off our holiday-sized behinds. (As a dozen emails a day remind me, not nearly all of them charitably.) Continue reading “Abundance and want: A thought for St. Stephen’s Day”