Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Want: Apple Slum(p)

The arrangement of Youman’s Dictionary of Every-day Wants is perhaps curiously genderless. In an era rife with books specifically for “ladies” and books specifically for “gentlemen,” the Dictionary intersperses without comment chapters devoted to traditionally masculine and feminine tasks—hunting with cooking and baking; farming with preserving food; carpentry with making clothes; and metalwork with washing, bleaching, and dyeing. Some specific chapters have even more all-encompassing appeal: the one devoted to toilet practices hops back and forth between freckle-bleaching methods for the ladies and whisker-growing techniques for the gentlemen.

It’s unclear just how Dr. Alexander Youman wrote with equal confidence about setting up a new beehive and finding the best homemade mascara, but he seems to have done so. Or was Mrs. Youman laboring quietly at his side?

As a lifelong New Englander I wish I could say I immediately spotted the potential typo in the title of today’s entry, but I’ve never heard of apple slum or apple slump. It seems to be a regional dish that’s still fairly common, a close (and tasty-looking) cousin to the buckles and crumbles that have become popular on the farmer’s market circuit around here. With the fluid nature of recipe titles over the years I’m not sure that we can call “slum” a error, but today this dish is definitively “apple slump.”

Youman’s recipe is painfully vague for cooks like me, who specialize in Kraft-based dishes. But for the day it was par for the course—standardized measurements and truly step-by-step recipes wouldn’t be common for another fourteen years, until the publication of Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking-school Cook Book.

It turns out that apple slump was a favorite of Louisa May Alcott’s family; a fancy calligraphy version of the recipe is even sold online and at the gift shop of Alcott’s Orchard House. A number of modern cooks have posted about their experiences with the recipe, which are fun to read—from the foodie to the traditional to the Rachel Ray (!).