If you were given a copy of The Suffrage Cook Book (published in Pittsburgh, 1915) by Mrs L O Kleber without knowing it’s title, you could be forgiven for thinking it was just another recipe book from a bygone age. It promises to show its reader how to prepare wholesome meals to ensure the health of their family:
‘Women being the homekeepers, and the natural guardians of the children, it is important that they be made familiar with the culinary art so they may be entirely competent to lead coming generations in the paths of health and happiness.’
The books contains recipes from numerous contributors ranging from Shrimp Wriggle to a section Nuts as a Substitute for Meat(surely way ahead of its time in 1915?) to the lavish sounding Suffragette Angel Cake. But there is a soupçon of subversion within its pages. Sandwiched between a recipe for Chicken Pot Pie and Giblets and Rice you find this one from the Ebensberg Mountaineer Herald:
Anti’s Favorite Hash
(Unless you wear dark glasses you cannot make a success of Anti’s Favorite Hash)
1lb truth thoroughly mangled
1 generous handful of injustice
(Sprinkle over everything in the pan)
1 tumbler acetic acid (well shaken)
A little vitriol will add a delightful tang and a string of nonsense should be dropped in at the last as if by accident.
Stir all together with a sharp knife because some of the tid-bits will be tough propositions.
The recipes are interspersed with letters from suffrage supporters like social reformer and director of the United States Children’s Bureau Julia Lathrop who scoffs at man’s ineptitude in coping with daily domestic duties like preparing a meal (‘No wonder a mereman said, “I can’t cook because of the awful simultaneousness of everything.”’) whilst they claim women lack the mental capacity to weald the right to vote appropriately, (‘Think of the power organisation required to prepare a meal and place it on the table in time!’ wrote Lathrop).
Kleber also managed to garner support from well respected men from state Governors to writers like Irvin S Cobb who wrote ‘…it will be better to have intelligent women voting than the illiterate and incompetents who have the vote now because they are men.’
Producing a cookbook to promote the cause of women’s suffrage may seem a bit odd to todays feminists. Kleber’s book was not the first of it’s kind. Similar books had appeared in the US in the late 19th century during the early days of the suffrage movement. They were a counter offensive against the anti suffrage propaganda which portrayed suffragettes as bad mothers with loose morals (the poster of the baby crying because his mother is a suffragette seems comical now but added much fuel to the fire against giving women the vote among the general populace). I read an academic paper recently which compared suffrage community cookbooks to hiding spinach in the brownies. In other words it’s about making a controversial political message more palatable to the masses. Kleber’s book is a practical cookery book (see the recipe below) but also conveyed a message in support of women’s right to vote with a pinch of humour to prevent from being too preachy.
Unfortunately, not much is known about Kleber herself. She clearly had the foresight and courage to produce this book which has been reissued by Aurora Metro Books (sadly without the original cover displayed a picture of Uncle Sam holding some scales showing men and women equally balanced). In addition Aurora is organising a touring exhibition on Art, Theatre and Women’s Suffrage ‘How the Vote Was Won’ which celebrates some of the amazing women who through their visual arts and plays helped to shape and further the cause of women’s suffrage 100 years ago. It will appear at:
Surrey History Museum, Woking: 2 August – 1 September
Rifles Museum, Winchester: 5-18 September
Harrow Museum, October – December
Brent Libraries: October – December
Repast Supper Club will be joining forces with Metrodeco Tea Salon in Brighton in October to hold a vintage cocktail and canapés evening to commemorate 90 years since most women got the vote in the UK. You can find out more here.
Parliament Gingerbread (With apologies to the English Suffragists)
These spicy biscuits are a bit like ginger snaps and are lovely with a cup of tea.
Makes approx 36 6cm biscuits
- 225g plain flour
- 25g butter
- 2 tsp ground ginger
- 2 tsp mixed spice
- 110g caster sugar
- ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda dissolved in 1 tbsp hot water
- 225g treacle
- Preheat the oven to 180℃.
- Put the flour in a basin and rub in the butter then add the spices and caster sugar.
- Add the soda and water along with the treacle then knead to a smooth paste (or cheat and use a food processor!)
- On a lightly floured board, roll the dough out to a thickness of around 3mm then stamp out rounds using a 6cm cookie cutter. Make sure you have enough flour on the board as this is an exceedingly sticky dough! (Kleber doesn’t specify the precise thickness but says the dough must be ‘quite thin’. She also intructs her readers to cut the dough in oblongs).
- Place on a baking sheet lined with silicone paper (or well greased) then bake for 7-8 minutes. Leave for on the sheet for a few minutes to harden before cooling on a wire rack.