- Following the Breadcrumbs:Markoe and Emlen Families Correspondence and Recipe Book
recipes, receipts, Emlen, Markoe, food, women, physic, medicine
Comprising a box of family correspondence and recipe book, the Markoe and Emlen Families Correspondence at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania is a rich source of information for scholars of food history and mid-nineteenth-century women's roles. In addition, it offers abundant information on topics including but not limited to medicinal practices and social networks and conventions in Philadelphia's upper classes. Researchers would not have to travel far to follow the breadcrumbs provided by this collection, as the breadth of HSP's archive can answer most queries. Many old Philadelphia names appear in the correspondence, such as Biddle, Camac, Cox, and Physick, each of which has a collection at HSP. Anyone wishing to know what the Markoe and Emlen families' Philadelphia looked like need look no further than HSP's collection of David Kennedy's watercolors. Spanning 1836–98, sixty linear feet of watercolors and pencil sketches represent many aspects of Philadelphia.
Of primary interest for scholars of food history is the recipe book. This manuscript includes more than four hundred recipes, organized into sections titled Meats, Sauce, Vegetables, Puddings, Desserts, Soups, Cakes, Preserved Fruits, Liquors, Food for the Sick, Medicines, Pickles, and Sundries. The book was written by Hitty Markoe, Ellen Emlen's mother, which can be established by examining the correspondence. The penmanship matches letters written by Markoe. Ellen Markoe Emlen's name appears on the inside front cover in the same hand in which the recipes were written. The book dates from roughly 1800–1860. Markoe was born in 1782, and a written date of 1860 appears on page 189.1 If Markoe received cooking advice from her own mother, the date could be earlier. [End Page 387] The large number of recipes would make it easy to create an inventory of staples available in Philadelphia during the time, which could, in turn, provide information on trade. Specific recipes also mention the type of cookware to be used. For scholars of medical history, two substantial chapters, Food for the Sick and Medicines, hold recipes from Dr. Physick—presumably "father of American surgery" Philip Syng Physick (1768–1837)—and Dr. Hewson, possibly Thomas T. Hewson (1773–1848), who held positions in prominent Philadelphia institutions, including the Alms House and the Orphan's Asylum. References to both physicians can also be found in the correspondence.2
Finally, the recipe book could help reconstruct the social circle of the Markoe/Emlen family. Many of the recipes have authorship. Most are attributed to H. M. (Hitty Markoe), but an additional forty-three people are credited with 130 recipes. A Mrs. Camac features prominently. Emily Hewson, the wife of Dr. Hewson, also contributed recipes. The proliferation of names would help reconstruct the dinner tables of some of Philadelphia's prominent families. Solitude, the mansion on the west bank of the Schuylkill River owned by John Penn, William Penn's grandson, also appears as a source for a few recipes. The Physick family managed the property, which was often rented out as a summer vacation spot, until the 1840s. Yet not all who appear in the recipe book were prominent members of society. For example, "Eliza, cook at E.P. Cox" is credited with two recipes.3
The box of correspondence paints a broader picture of the family. The Markoe/Emlen women were prolific and elegant writers. Their letters provide useful details about the everyday lives of early American women. Ellen Emlen and her husband, George, corresponded while she summered in Cape May and he stayed in Philadelphia. George's letters to Ellen reveal a loving relationship. Beginning each letter with "My dear wife," he shared news, town gossip, and his activities. He wrote about terrible weather that made everyone sick, friends and neighbors, and how much he missed his wife and baby. At the end of one letter, he wrote, "Till then sweet wife good bye, give baby twenty kisses for me —Your share I will give when I arrive."4 [End Page 388]
After George's death in 1853, Hitty Markoe wrote a lengthy letter...