I’m in the process of transcribing a handwritten family recipe journal into digital format. The recipe journal was given to Mildred Horn by her grandmother Augusta Hosmer Heal (Mrs. John B. Dakin).
The book currently belongs to Gussie’s great-granddaughter Carolyn, who has entrusted its care to me while I work on this project. The paper has become very fragile and stands a good chance of disintegrating in a few years. The binding is broken. Gussie’s handwriting is fading. Who knows if future generations will even know how to read longhand script! We plan to publish it as an eBook for the family as soon as it’s proofed.
I’m not sure when Gussie sat down to transcribe her collection of favorite recipes to give to her granddaughter but the recipes date back to the late 1800s and very early 1900s. Along with her own recipes she included recipes given to her by her close friends and family, most of whom lived on Staten Island. There are well over 50 names. Some of the names written in the journal are familiar to us or easily decoded, such as Mama (Mary VanPelt Smith Heal) and Mother Dakin (her mother-in-law). Others are a total mystery (Ella and Fanny Parsons, Mrs. Squiers, Mrs. Tobey, Bessie MacDonald, Edith N., Grace Gibson, and so on). It’s like a who’s who of Port Richmond at the turn of the previous century. Unfortunately the folks who would remember the names written in the journal are gone now. As I hold the journal I feel a strong connection to these women and a need to uncover their full names and their relationship to Gussie. At least I’m going to try.
Aunt Libbie Benjamin is the first name I came across that I hadn’t heard of before. My Horn family database did not include any Benjamins, so if she was in the database it was under her maiden name. Assuming Libbie lived on Staten Island my first instinct was to search the S.I. GenWeb site as I’ve had good luck there in the past. I got lucky right off the bat as the Bible Records on the Staten Island, Richmond County, Genealogy Resources NYRICHMO GenWeb included a submission by the Benjamins. I quickly found out that Libbie was the mother of Edgar Laing Benjamin and that his wife was Joanna Hillyer Egbert. Ok. I didn’t know who he was either but I was glad to identify his wife Joanna as another one of the recipe contributors. As I read through the Benjamin’s Bible records I discovered that one of Edgar & Joanna’s sons was named Alan Dakin Benjamin. So it was quite likely that Libbie was a Dakin and possibly John Dakin’s aunt. I wrote down a list of names and dates from the Benjamin Bible records but found nothing to indicate who Libbie’s parents were, so she was probably not a native islander. Next I searched the free online eBooks for Benjamin and Dakin genealogies. Aunt Libbie was named in both books. Her full name was Elizabeth M. Dakin (Mrs. Charles Benjamin) and she was John Dakin’s aunt, born in Hudson, NY! It turned out that Elizabeth was in my database under her maiden name. Now she’s joined there by the rest of her family.
Next on my recipe journal list was Mrs. Winegar. Her daughter Florence Winegar “Aunt Flo” was a life-long friend of the family. She was around 100 years old when she finally passed away. We think Nina Horn and Flo went to Barnard College together (ca 1909). As I started finding records for her family I realized that Flo’s grandmother was Mrs. Camp and Flo’s aunt was Miss Camp also contributors to Gussie’s recipe journal. The Winegars and Camps were from the Berkshires in Massachusetts and although there were at least two unrelated Winegar families on Staten Island I have found no connection between them and Aunt Flo’s family. Another reason to be careful to not jump to conclusions, I did a lot of unnecessary research on these other two families before I realized that Aunt Flo was not a native islander either.
A lot of family researchers stay totally focused on ancestors and their siblings. Nothing wrong with that but I find it much more fascinating to also research the extended family and friends. The relationships are so often intertwined over a lifetime and finding out about them adds so much to understanding who these people were, what they were interested in, and what their lives were like.
Once I can go no further in researching the friends and family mentioned in Gussie’s journal I’ll include my research notes as an addendum to the eBook. And hopefully, if I am unable to identify some of the women named in the journal some kind souls who do know who they are will contact me so I can fill in the blanks. In the meantime, their recipes live on into the 21st century. I think they would be pleased.
PS: If you have an abundance of green tomatoes in your garden, here’s Gussie’s mother’s recipe for piccalilli. I love the old-fashioned spelling she used. You can easily cut this recipe down by half, which is what I did when I made it last week. You can also change the spices, but don’t vary the proportion of vegetables and salt to the liquids, it’s critical in maintaining the right amount of acidity for safe storage.
Mary VanPelt Smith (Mrs. Joseph H. Heal), 1832-1895
1 peck of green tomatoes chopped (15 lbs)
6 onions chopped fine
1 cup of salt (pickling salt preferred)
Let stand over night. Then add 6 peppers (take seeds out) and chopped.
Scald 1 pint of vinegar and 1 quart water and throw over them. Let stand until cold. Drain off dry. Scald three pints of vinegar and add spices:
1 tablespoon cloves
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 cup mustard seed (1/4 lb)
1 tablespoon of celery seed
Cook this a few minutes so as to get spices through it well.
(Preserve using the boiling water method.)