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What Were Austinites Eating in 1890?

Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection
A bird's eye illustration of Austin in 1890, the year before the city's first cookbook was published

Austin is becoming known for a lot more than just barbecue and Tex-Mex these days, but what were people in this city feasting on 125 years ago? The first cookbook published in Austin is helping to answer that question. 

The cookbook was compiled in 1891 by the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, which still exists. Mike Miller, director of the Austin History Center, dug it out of the archives and researched some of the people behind it for his new book, Austin’s First Cookbook: Our Home Recipes, Remedies and Rules of Thumb

"Cookbooks at that time, they weren't the recipes of everyday food," Miller says. "Most of the women who did that knew the recipes, and they were passed down orally from mother to daughter."

"These [recipes] are for special occasions," he says. Listen to our interview with Miller and read on to see some of the recipes. 

The first thing you might notice in reading the recipes is that they are much shorter and less descriptive than your typical recipe today. Take these instructions on how to broil a steak. 

Credit Austin’s First Cookbook / Mike Miller

Sometimes recipes called for ingredients that wouldn't be readily available at your modern H-E-B, such as freshly slain partridge. 

Credit Austin’s First Cookbook / Mike Miller

The electric refrigerator wasn't commercially available until the early 20th Century, so sometimes Austinites would cure meats for reasons other than flavor, as shown in this recipe for tongue.  

Credit Austin’s First Cookbook / Mike Miller

Other recipes in the book take even longer to complete. Here's a very time-consuming recipe for preparing a calf's head. 

Credit Austin’s First Cookbook / Mike Miller

For a deeper dive into these vintage recipes, you can check out Miller's book about the 1891 cookbook. It's available for about $16

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at nbernier@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.
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