20 October 2015

The Complete Jam Cupboard

We are a little behind on cookbooks because we have been making jam! That our excuse and we are sticking with it!

While jamming, we have been pawing through old books and this is one of our favorites.  The Complete Jam Cupboard by Mrs. C.F. Leyel, Hilda to her friends. She was quite the lady, writing a series of cookbook and becoming a preeminent herbalist of her day.  She founded the Society of Herbalists in England in 1927.  She ran a chain of herbalist shoppes named after that founding herbalist, Culpeper.

He series of slight cookbooks turned the head of one of our favorite cookbook authors and writers, Elizabeth David who turned the head of Alice Waters.  Mrs. Leyel received a mention in one of the best modern preserving book, Saving the Season by Kevin West.  West came to Leyel from the David, Waters cookbook tree. In Saving the Season, West sets out to replicate one of the recipes for an apple jam with little success.  He ponders many reasons.  One he doesn't mention is the type of apple.  Leyel suggests "cooking" apples, but in today's marketplace, the range of cooking apples is slim.

My first attempt at a very generic family recipe for Pear Jam is a similar case in point. My great aunts used pears from an old, gnarled tree of questionable origin.  The pears, when fully ripened, were the shape and consistency of racked pool balls.  Standing under the tree could be quite dangerous. I set out to duplicate the recipe with Bartlett pears. Big, fat, soft, mushy, Bartlett pears. Needless to say, my pear jam bore no resemblance to my great aunts.

Therein lies one of the problems in cooking from old cookbooks. There is very little detail, and they assume that the reader understands how to cook, how to operate a wood stove, what the produce in a particular area might be, and a dozen other things you will not think of! In the end, after failing at Mrs. Leyel's recipe, Kevin West found his own recipe with a spark of inspiration from Mrs. Leyel.

In the end, that is what a great cookbook does, it provides a spark. Rhubarb is not a fan favorite here, but this recipe gives you a sense of what might be expected of your cooking skills in the 1920's.

Rhubarb and Fig Jam

Cut up a pound of figs for each seven pounds of rhubarb, and shred them finely, and cut the rhubarb into small pieces.

Put it all into an earthenware jar with five pounds of sugar for every seven pounds of rhubarb. Let it stand all night.

The next day boil it all together for over an hour, and add to it, before it is taken off the fire a quarter pound of chopped candied peel for each seven pounds of rhubarb.
As someone who makes jam on a regular basis, this recipe is scary.  Imagine what it looks like to someone who has never made jam. Who has an earthenware container that would hold eight pounds of fruit and five pounds of sugar, not to mention, what would one cook it in?  And what temperature does one cook it at and when, exactly in that over an hour cooking time does one add the candied peel?

Ah the joys of old cookbooks...


  1. I love old cookbooks, but yes, they do take a certain level of knowledge for granted.

  2. Having recently moved from Upstate New York to Central Florida I have discovered that one is at a disadvantage trying to make apple recipes in a state so far from apple country. This is a hard lesson to learn.


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