English Quakers sought freedom and simple pleasures.
The Quaker Cookbook That Fed Generations
By Karen Schwartz
| Photography by Nils Ericson
The cookbook that tells a story
This cookbook is among Jenny Lewis’ family treasures, objects that reveal how much daily life 300 years ago has in common with ours. An English tea set, a trunk and this unique and prized book of recipes remind Lewis of her English Quaker family’s intimate moments together in a new world, and help her appreciate their determination
to find freedom in America.
Lewis’ ancestors left the comforts of English middle class life to find a place to be allowed to worship freely. In England in the 17th century, the Reformation was in full pace, as Protestantism began making gains on Catholicism. The Protestants deemed Quaker practices blasphemous and anarchic. By 1680, 10,000 Quakers had been imprisoned in England. During the 1670s, many of them left England to settle in what is now Pennsylvania, and in 1681, Quaker leader William Penn parlayed a debt owed to his father into a charter for the colony. By 1685, as many as 8,000 Quakers had arrived there.
A new home
Records from the time show that the crossing to the New World was difficult, with many succumbing to smallpox. But these settlers brought much with them from England—furniture, tools and building materials—that smoothed their transition and enabled them to set up homes quickly on arrival. “Thinking about what it took for them to do what they did—to leave what seems like a pretty comfortable life in England and come to a completely new, unestablished place—really moves me,” Lewis says. “I’m not sure I could do it.” The Lewis ancestors found a home in Pennsylvania. Records show that William Penn himself was a friend and neighbor.
A cookbook as a diary
The cookbook’s worn pages contain instructions—all handwritten in quill pen—for making edibles like desserts and beer, but also for concocting salves and plasters to treat ailments, including one that appears to be an early cough syrup and calls for blackberries and brandy. The cookbook’s almost-diary-like feel leaves an intimate record of how Lewis’s ancestors lived. “It feels so personal,” Lewis says. “Probably because its handwritten.” It is also a reminder that nothing about life then was simple “There are instructions on how to build a fire,” Lewis says. “You realize, that was something they really relied on, that they had to do every day.” Reading the recipes, Lewis says, “really puts you in their shoes. You see how much harder things were then. I mean, tobacco salve? Can you imagine? And now, of course, if you have a cough, you just go to the drugstore.”
Inspiration to learn more
The heirlooms are from a branch of Lewis’s family tree dubbed “The Buckman Line.” “It’s my father’s side,” she explains. “My great grandmother was a Buckman, and when she married, the name died out.” About 20 years ago, armed with some handwritten notes on a family tree, Lewis decided to dig a bit deeper. With help from internet genealogy sites, she unearthed more information about her family’s roots “There’s still a Buckman’s corner in England,” she says. “Several family members have been there.” Steerage logs indicate that the Buckman family had a seemingly comfortable, middle-class berth for their passage to the New World. They landed in Delaware and settled in what would later become Pennsylvania. “It’s probably a place called Newtown Township now,” says Lewis. The area is located in what is now Bucks County, though Lewis has not been able to confirm ties to her family name, she says.
A gift for future generations
Connecting to history has always been important to Lewis, particularly while raising her now-grown children. “I think it’s really important for children to know where they come from, to be connected to past generations,” she says. “They risked their lives and gave up comforts to be free in ways we take for granted.” For Lewis, living among her family’s antiques in their Irmo, South Carolina, home, is a core way to foster that connection. “We always mixed the new with the old,” she says. “The objects that have been handed down are very much part of our day to day life.” With one exception: the cookbook. “The book is so frail,” Lewis says. “The spine breaks easily, and the pages almost crumble. It’s just too fragile too display. So I store it in a Ziplock bag.” But despite the fragility, some recipes have, in fact, been made. “My father once made a Spanish Cream dessert,” Lewis says, remembering a concoction of eggs and sugar. “It was…interesting.” Has she ever been tempted to try one on her own? “My siblings used to joke about the tobacco salve,” she says. “Maybe one day I’ll try the cough syrup.”
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