Searching for Prairie Gems
Compiled cookbooks, filled with recipes contributed by local cooks, have long been printed
in Nebraska. These cookbooks present a fascinating look at what people cooked and ate.
Some of the collections even show us what earlier Nebraskans thought was funny.
One such cookbook, entitled "The Prairie Gem," was published in Newman Grove. Although
no date was printed in the book, State Historical Society Librarian Cindy Drake believes the
recipes to be typical of the 1890s. But not all the recipes in "The Prairie Gem" are typical.
A Mrs. M. Bitney contributed a number of "legitimate" recipes to the collection, Mrs. Drake
said. But just for fun, she included a few "ringers."
Here's Mrs. Bitney's recipe for "shirred eggs":
"Carefully remove the shell from a fresh egg and hold the white and yolk firmly in the left
hand. Then with a fine needle and thread, gather the material in straight rows about half an
inch apart. Draw up to the required fullness and fasten neatly with the ends of the thread."
Snow pudding was a popular dish at the turn of the century. But cooks seeking to recreate
this old favorite might find a real challenge in Mrs. Bitney's recipe:
"Take about 4 quarts, say, 4 1/2 of fresh snow. Wash in several waters and put it to soak
overnight. In the morning knead it up and set by the fire to rise. Add some melted glue and
set aside to cool."
This fascinating cookbook is just one of the many "prairie gems" in the State Historical
Society Library, according to Mrs. Drake. "But we know many more such 'gems' are out
there, and we'd like to add them to the library's collection," she said.
The library is searching for books directly related to Nebraska's past. City directories, county
fair premium books, business, church, and county histories, scrapbooks, school and college
yearbooks, plat books, phone books, and of course, cookbooks are just some of the publications
the library is seeking. "We want to make the Historical Society Library the most
complete repository of information about Nebraska," Mrs. Drake noted. "Since we have
limited resources for acquisitions, we're dependent upon the generosity of Nebraskans to add
to our collections."
Many printed items which would be valuable to the Society are thrown away or donated to
charity, Mrs. Drake said. "We'd like to encourage Nebraskans to consider the State Historical
Society when cleaning out the attic or disposing of family estates." The Library Acquisitions
Committee will check offered items against titles currently on the library shelves. "We'd like
to have two of everything," Mrs. Drake said.
Individuals with "prairie gems" to donate are urged to contact Cindy Drake at the Nebraska
State Historical Society, P.O. Box 82554, Lincoln, NE, 68501, or call 402/471-4785.
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