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Early Chinese Food in the U.S.

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Chinese Food in the United States

Winter Volume: 2017 Issue: 24(4) pages: 31 to 32


On an early computerized hunt for early Chinese English-language recipes published in the US, we did turn up an article in The Universal Receipt Book dated 1814, but never the actual article. Years later, actually found a hard copy for sale in someone’s collection. Did get to peruse it but it did not have a single Chinese recipe. One recipe was titled Ginger Drops, but even that was not a Chinese candy. Another was for orange peel, sugar, and ginger powder saying “take some for a ‘cold stomach.” Is that why the index thought it Chinese?

The next earliest Chinese recipe listed is in a 1830 Boston book titled The Practice of Cookery. It was written by Mrs. Dalgairns and includes a recipe for ‘China Chilo’ in a chapter about mutton. Though the recipe title says ‘China’ and its ingredients tilt Asian, it is not for a Chinese dish. We felt it an Indian food. It words were: “chop the meat finely..... also part of the fat of a loin of mutton......season it with a large spoonful of salt and a teaspoonful of ground pepper, two large onions shredded, half a pint of green peas, one lettuce cut small..... and a quarter pound of clarified butter.” It went on saying “serve it in the middle of a pound of rice boiled dry.” The clarified butter is not part of any Chinese food we are familiar with.

An 1832 recipes also has Asian Indian notions even though its title is ‘Couchon, A China Dish.’ And ‘Couchon” is more Indian than Chinese. Its instructions say to “cut into small bits, veal or the meat of fowl, and pickled pork, and with slices of onion, fasten them alternately upon small skewers, three or four inches long.....pound a couple of onions, a small apple, a head of garlic, and a large tablespoonful of currie powder, with some gravy; press it though a sieve.....fry in butter a finely minced onion; dust..... with turmeric.....add the strained liquor, with two bay leaves, a little salt and pepper.....stew till the liquor be neatly wasted, and the flavour be very rich.....before serving, squeeze in the juice of half a lemon, and take out the bay leaves.”

An 1814 book turned up in that same search in Miss. A.S. Provost of New York’s volume titled Choice Collection of Family. That search is for Beer Powder and in an 1815 volume by Philomelia Hardin of Cleveland, Ohio. In a book titled: Everybody’s Cook and Receipt Book. The problem is that its recipe is titled ‘Ginger Nuts’ and maybe Asian, but not Chinese. Maybe the word ‘ginger’ triggered the computer search to pick it out.

A New York 1846 book titled Manual of Homeopathic Cooking does have an interesting sentence, but not a Chinese recipe. It says: “No people in the world eat so little meat and so much fish and vegetables as the Chinese.” Clearly the last word could be why the search brought it to our attention.

On the shelf next to it, we spot an 1845 item by John R. Peters whose cover says the ‘Chinese Museum in the Marlboro Chapel in Massachusetts....’ Within it is Case 41 with ‘a description of melon seeds used by a Chinese.....of lien-fan water lily from Fokien.....(a) root sliced and eaten as fruit....white and black sesamum cultivated..... for .oil.....sometimes boiled and eat(en) like rice “ Here again, no Chinese recipe, but at least words about actual Chinese foods. See its cover to the left.

We also found a book titled: Midshipman in China: A Recollection of the Chinese. This was published in London by the ‘Religious Tract Society and also in Philadelphia by their American Sunday-School Union. In it are thirteen chapters, a few sentences in this book about ‘bird’s nests,’ ‘tea,’ ‘catching chickens and fish,’ and one sentence about ‘Chinese people’s lack of religion.’ It, too, has no Chinese recipes.

We are amazed at what the above computer searches turned up including a New York book titled: Breakfast, Dinner, and Tea. Its three hundred pages have‘receipts’ in a five-page section titled ‘Chinese Dishes.’ These recipes have no amounts and not every one lists all ingredients mentioned in its text. One for soup says the “the natives call it chou-chou. It is a composition of pork, fowls, yams, sweet potatoes, ducks, fish, onions, garlic, mint, pepper, salt, and cloves; and bird’s nests all with no amounts. Another lists boiled rice, mango pickles, and balichung; no amount for any of those three items, either. There were some paragraphs about sea slugs, live crabs, rat soup, rice wine, seaweed, fish maw, sea cucumbers, shark’s fins, antelope leg, preserved fruits and vegetables, seeds, dried fruits, bamboo, and water lilies; and none of these ingredients has an amount for any of them.

An 1886 book by Mrs. S. M. Scott called Everyday Cookery for Every Family, includes sentences about making tea, boiling rice, and making ginger-brandy. Some have amounts, but not all of them. In 1870 and thereafter, many books tell how to cook rice, purchase tea, and cook foods one might recognize as Chinese today. One page of an 1871 volume of The Household Treasure we found reprinted as The Young Housewife’s Companion that was published in Philadelphia by J. Thomas Huey & Co. does advertise Chinese ingredients; but this book does not have a single Chinese recipe, either.

Finally in 1899, the United States government publishes a forty-eight page stapled pamphlet by Walter C. Blasdale titled: A Description of Some Chinese Food Materials. It has no recipes but does tell how to use many Chinese vegetables, seeds, grains, fruits, flowers, fungi, and algae; and it has a few b/w photographs or line drawings, and the nutritive and economic value of many Chinese ingredients.

The earliest cookbook published in the US with all Chinese recipes was published in Detroit in 1911. It was written by Jesse Louise Nolton, and has thirty-six recipes. It also discusses thirteen ingredients, and does have a few suggested Chinese menus. The recipes are for Chop Sooy, Egg Fo Yong, and several Chinese rice and noodle dishes.

In 1914, two Chinese cookbooks were published, one with sixty-two Chinese recipes and a few Japanese ones. It is by Sara Bosse and Onoto Watannabe. Ms. Watanabe is not Japanese but is an American assuming a Japanese name. The other book includes ten Chinese recipes, is by William Edward Garner, and it titled Reliable Recipes for Many Chinese Dishes. It includes recipes for chop suey, noodle, rice, and other Chinese dishes.

Two other Chinese recipe books were published in 1917, one an eight-page pamphlet with an illustration on its cover and twenty-seven recipes within. Some of them are titled chop suey, chow mein, fo young, and variations thereof. There are also rice and noodle dishes and variations of the other recipes. The other book, a hardbound, has one hundred fiftyone recipes and includes Chinese food history, mail order sources, noodles shops, prices and names of sixty-two foods, and the needed calories and hours to digest them. Two have b/w photographs, another is of most common Chinese ingredients. The others are for Chinese dishes.

The following decade, the 1920s, have ten more Chinese cookbooks published. There are also Chinese recipes in books of several other cultures. In the years thereafter, two extensive Chinese cookbooks are published. Each has a thousand recipes, one with more than nine hundred pages. Completed in 1966, it is authored by Glorai Bley Miller. The other one has more than five hundred pages and written by Wonona Chang, Irving Beilin Chang, and the Kutschers. That book was published in 1970; and both are hard bound.

Many, many more Chinese cookbooks have been published in English since. There are more than five thousand Chinese cookbooks published in English or in English and another language; not all published in the US. Copies of every one of them donated to Stony Brook University can be found and looked at in that Long Island town at the State University there. They are in their Special Collections area in the Jacqueline M. Newman Chinese Cookbook Collection at Stony Brook University. Citations and annotations of each one can also be found and accessed in their Special Collections and the “Stars University’s Computer Catalogue on their web site.

For additional information about them and how to access this site, do contact Kristan Knytray, the Special Collections librarian by phone at (631) 632-7119.

                                                                                                                                                       
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