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Cooking Plain, Illinois Country Style

Helen Walker Linsenmeyer

Publication Year: 2011

Cooking Plain, Illinois Country Style by Helen Walker Linsenmeyer presents a collection of family recipes created prior to 1900 and perfected from generation to generation, mirroring the delicious and distinctive kind of cookery produced by the mix of people who settled the Illinois Country during this period. Some recipes reflect a certain New England or Southern influence, while others echo a European heritage. All hark back to a simpler style of living, when cooking was plain yet flavorful.


The recipes specify the use of natural ingredients (including butter, lard, and suet) rather than synthetic or ready-mixed foods, which were unavailable in the 1800s. Cooking at the time was pure and unadulterated, and portions were large. Strength-giving food was essential to health and endurance; thus fare was pure, hearty, flavorful, and wholesome.


The many treasures of Cooking Plain, Illinois Country Style include


• basic recipes for mead, originally served to the militiamen of Jackson County; sumac lemonade, made the Indian way; root beer, as it was originally made;

• soups of many kinds—from wholesome vegetable to savory sorrel leaf, enjoyed by the Kaskaskia French;

• old-fashioned fried beefsteak, classic American pot roast and gravy, as well as secret marinades to tenderize the tougher but more flavorful cuts of meat;

• methods for preparing and cooking rabbit, squirrel, wild turkey, venison, pheasant, rattlesnake, raccoon, buffalo, and fish;

• over one hundred recipes for wheat breads, sweet breads, corn breads, and pancakes;

• an array of delectable desserts and confections, including puddings, ice cream, taffy, and feathery-light cakes and pies;

• sections on the uses of herbs, spices, roots, and weeds; instructions for making sausage, jerky, and smoked fish and for drying one’s own fruits and vegetables; and household hints on everything from making lye soap to cooking for the sick.


And there are extra-special nuggets, too, for Mrs. Linsenmeyer laces her cookbook with interesting biographical notes on a number of the settlers and the origin of many of the foods they used. There is also a wealth of historical information on lifestyles and cooking before 1900, plus helpful tips on the use of old-fashioned cooking utensils.


A working cookbook complete in its coverage of every area of food preparation, Cooking Plain, Illinois Country Style will be used and treasured as much today as its recipes were by families of an earlier century. The recipes are not gourmet, but they are certain to please today’s cooks, especially those interested in using local ingredients and getting back to a more natural way of cooking and eating.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

SOME years ago, I mentioned to Susan Wilson, then the associate director of Southern Illinois University Press, that I was just beginning to explore the foods of southern Illinois. As a historian of food and foodways who had just moved to the region, I observed the truism that to know a people, start with their food: food is central to a people’s culture.
Well, Susan said, years ago we did publish a book on southern Illinois cookery, probably the only one of its kind, and a best seller for a university press back then. The book was ...

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pp. x-2

WHEN Vernon Sternberg of the Southern Illinois University Press asked me if I would be interested in writing an "indigenous Illinois Country cookbook," I was delighted. Too little has been written about the cooking customs of the pioneers who settled this southern tip of the state from St. Louis to Cairo. The project offered a great opportunity to renew family ties after spending my adult life in cities and supercities across the country, as well as a chance to share some of the old ...

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Cooking Plain, Illinois Country Style

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pp. 3-12

With a few exceptions, the early arrivals in southern Illinois brought a bare minimum of cast-iron cookware: a pot for soups, stews, vegetables and puddings; a skillet, and a dutch oven for baking bread, cakes and roasts. Cooking and eating utensils were often carved from wood; the hunting knife doubled for carving. Tin bread pans and other tinware were added as the family's fortunes improved; a 10- or 20- ...

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pp. 13-22

Our hardy forebears of southern lllinois did not allow the absence of a comer tavern to deter them from enjoying a hearty draught of the cup that cheers. God knows they needed a little cheering now and then. In fact, it often took a good jolt of the "ole red-eye" to help them forget for a short while the cares and woes of the never-ending battle to keep body and soul together. Distilled com liquor packed the ...

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pp. 23-28

During our mother's most prolific childbearing years, there was always a flock of little ones to be fed at noon. Dad and any of the boys who were old enough to help in the field sometimes took their lunch along, to eat as they sat under the shade of a tree. Mom's clever gambit on such days was her permission to prepare lunch ourselves, and as a couple of us older girls were on hand we soon organized the ...

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pp. 29-44

As this is being written, we consumers are being bombarded by the press with reminders that the average American consumes nearly a ton of grain in a year, and that over 90 percent of it comes not in the form of bread, but as beef, pork, chicken, milk, or eggs.
There is talk of feeding cattle less grain. Grass-fed cattle will produce less-tender beef, hence the steaks, roasts, chops, and other favorite ...

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Main Dishes

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pp. 45-56

Contributed by Mrs. Etta Over of Albion, Illinois. As Mr. Over's grandfather came from England I have several of the family's favorites and as they were noted for their chowders and Edwards County is known as the Chowder Capital of the world, here every group, town, and family has a chowder in the fall, so I am including that recipe.
From early summer until late fall, chowder is made and sold by ...

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Wild Game and Fish

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pp. 57-72

With the several wildlife refuges in southern lliinois being visited by hundreds of thousands of waterfowl each autumn, young cooks are seeking advice from their grandmothers on cooking the wild geese which their husbands bring home, smiling broadly and swaggering a bit....

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Side Dishes

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pp. 73-92

Asparagus, or "sparrowgrass" as it was called by the old-timers, grew in profusion in the fields and byways, free for the cutting. Properly cooked and not oversauced, the fresh, tender early spring cutting of this delicate vegetable is a treat for the stomach. When my dad walked into the kitchen with a bunch of the newly grown spears, one got the feeling that he had just found part of the gold at the end of the ...

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Dumplings, Noodles, Stuffings

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pp. 93-100

There is a small restaurant in a little town on the Mississippi Grand Tower-where the tradition of bountiful southern Illinois meals is being continued. Although Hale's Restaurant is distinctly a twentieth- century institution and came into being later than the turn-of-the century deadline set for this book, it seems worthy of mention because it typifies the meals served by our grandparents when times improved ...

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Breads, Biscuits, and Pancakes

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pp. 101-134

Making bread is far more than the dull, drab, routine task of supplying sustenance to one's family. It is the homemaker's sacrifice to those under her care. It is an Experience. Young brides with culinary ambitions and husbands who ask them to entertain a lot yearn to produce the perfect loaf of yeast bread. Many men strive for perfection in breadmaking, as evidenced by Bob Farnsworth's detailed directions ...

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pp. 135-152

Every homemaker worth her keep has her own favorite piecrust recipe which she can depend on. Here is one, however, which can be held in reserve for very special occasions when a little extra cooking skill seems called for-sort of a kitchen status symbol, as it were. The egg yolks assure a robust yellow tint to the piecrust-a note of opulent authority....

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pp. 153-176

In these times with food prices spiraling from day to day, it was interesting to find among a sheaf of old-time recipes the penciled notes of some long-ago thrifty housewife who was probably struggling with her budget even then. The heading reads "White Fruit Cake." Exact date unknown; around the 1800s....

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pp. 177-186

Hickory nut trees grew in abundance throughout southern Illinois when the first settlers came. The fine-textured hard wood was coveted for tool handles and farm machinery, with resulting scarcity of these sweet, delicately flavored nuts. When my father cleared land for his home he left 22 hickory trees standing near the house. We harvested all of the large shagbarks for use through the winter....

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Desserts and Confections

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pp. 187-208

Today's schoolkids are intrigued with the image of Johnny Appleseed clamping through Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana wearing a long-handled cooking pot on his head and planting apple seeds in clear spaces here and there. There is no doubt that at least a few of the apple orchards planted in southern lllinois in the first half of the nineteenth century were seedlings from Johnny Appleseed's (John...

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Pickling, Preserving, Jams and Jellies

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pp. 209-230

Not strictly from southern Illinois, but quite possibly shared with, or by southern Illinois relatives, since asparagus was grown extensively around Makanda and Grand Tower and shipped to St. Louis for market. From a handwritten "memory book," ca. 1845, written by Jane Magill, daughter of Dr. Samuel and Eleanor Sullivan Magill, early settlers of Florissant, Missouri. Sent to me by John S. McCormick of ...

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Drying, Butchering, and Curing Meats

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pp. 231-238

Jerky was the Indians' practical method of preserving meat for use in their nomadic life-style. Venison replaced the buffalo as a meat source when the latter began retreating westward in the vanguard of "civilization." The Indians passed their method on to the white man, who used it to his advantage. Campers and hikers swear by it. In fact, the commercial meat-packers have caught on to its efficiency and ...

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Drying Fruits and Vegetables

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pp. 239-248

In the dim, dark ages before glass jars for canning were available in quantity, and home freezers were undreamed of, pioneer families depended on Old Sol to assist in preserving Mother Nature's bountiful gifts of fruit and vegetables for the long winter months ahead. Long strings of drying apples, peaches, and other fruits festooned along kitchen walls were a familiar sight in certain relatives' homes as recently...

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Herbs, Spices, Roots and Weeds

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pp. 249-254

All good cooks know that food flavors are enhanced by the addition of herbs and spices. Our forefathers who came to the New World from Europe brought seeds of their favorite seasonings across the ocean with them. Wild plants used by the Indians were quickly adopted. Our great-grandmothers' gardens had a section set aside for herbs, many of which were also used for medicinal purposes as well as...

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Helpful Household Hints

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pp. 255-266

When spreading butter on sandwiches or toast, use a silver knife which has been heated in boiling water. This is easier and quicker than softening the butter.
On making cake when fresh milk, buttermilk, molasses, and sour milk are lacking, use a cup of applesauce into which a teaspoon of baking soda has been stirred. The sauce makes a delicious spice cake...

Glossary of Cooking Terms

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pp. 267-270


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pp. 271-275

Author Bio, Back Cover

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p. 276-276

E-ISBN-13: 9780809330744
E-ISBN-10: 0809330741
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809330737
Print-ISBN-10: 0809330733

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2011