The New-York Historical Society Is Sharing Historical Recipes From Its Archives

Knud Winckelmann, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
Knud Winckelmann, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

With stay-at-home orders in effect across the country, many people are cooking now more than ever. If you've already exhausted your favorite cookbooks and recipe websites in quarantine, you can now get culinary inspiration from an unlikely source. As The New York Times reports, the New-York Historical Society has started sharing recipes dating back to the 19th century.

On Tuesday, April 14, the first recipe of the new initiative was sent to subscribers of the historical society's email list. Transcribed from a handwritten cookbook, the lemon cake recipe calls for the juice and peel of one lemon and 2 1/2 tumblers of powdered sugar. (In the 1800s, a tumbler was roughly equivalent to a cup.)

By sharing a new recipe from its archives every week, the N-YHS aims to tap into the home cooking boom that's developed during the COVID-19 crisis. Every piece that's spotlighted comes from the Duane Family Cookbooks, which feature recipes handwritten by Eliza Duane, Mary Wells, and Fanny T. Wells between 1840 and 1874. The "manuscript cookbooks" were used as guides for private chefs, and they better reflected the diets of upper-class households than those of middle-class families. In addition to baked goods like lemon cake and fruit cake, the collection also includes medicinal remedies like a "cholera mixture"—a reminder that our current experience with a pandemic isn't unprecedented.

Navigating a recipe with antiquated or missing conventions isn't as easy as looking one up on a food blog, but it can be a rewarding opportunity to connect with the past. And if the final product doesn't turn out quite as promised, it's still an entertaining way to spend time at home. If you're curious to see what people ate during another time of national hardship, here are some historical recipes from the Great Depression.

[h/t The New York Times]

Wednesday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Computer Monitors, Plant-Based Protein Powder, and Blu-ray Sets

Amazon
Amazon
As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 2. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

11 Absurdly Awesome Inventions

Google Patents/Erin McCarthy
Google Patents/Erin McCarthy

They say necessity is the mother of invention, but some of these are making us think twice.

1. “Animal-trap”

Don't mess with this mousetrap.Google Patents

Mousetraps can be so anticlimactic, but this one, patented in 1882, goes off with a bang. The frame is designed to hold your favorite peashooter. When a rodent steps onto the treadle, a spring yanks on the trigger and sets off the firearm. The inventor, James Williams, suggested it would make a good burglar alarm.

2. “Flatulence Deodorizer”

Confidently cut the cheese with this 2001 invention, which masks the smell of your personal potpourri. A simple charcoal pad clings to the back of your underpants, stopping the aroma before it reaches your boss’s nose. Benjamin Franklin would be proud.

3. “Apparatus for preventing collisions of railway trains”

This contraption was meant to scare cattle off of train tracks.Google Patents

It’s like a scarecrow—but for trains. Patented in 1888, J. W. James’s invention features an electric dummy riding in front of the train. The dummy is “made to throw up both hands at each revolution of the wheel and strike the gong with a hammer for the purpose of frightening cattle from the track and to announce the approach of the train,” James wrote.

4. “Fresh-air breathing device and method”

Take a deep breath.Google Patents

Smoke inhalation causes most fire-related deaths. Knowing that, William Holmes found out how to keep you conscious while you wait for rescue—as long as you can handle having toilet breath. In 1981, Holmes patented a snorkel-like device that supplies fresh air from your sewer. Just feed the tube past your throne’s water trap. Although you won’t die from a lungful of smoke, you might get woozy after huffing all that sewer gas.

5. “Wearable device for feeding and observing birds”

The ultimate accessory for bird watchers.Google Patents

As long as you’re okay with hanging a few birdfeeders from your dome, you can get a front row seat to all the action. David Leslie patented the contraption in 1999. Apparently, it’s also handy for butterfly hunting.

6. “Graffiti prevention apparatus”

Henry Hunt called graffiti “an assault on the visual pleasures of man.” So in 1997, he patented a system [PDF] that could kill the career of any wannabe Banksy. When a vandal approaches a potential canvas, a sensor embedded in the wall activates a magnetic field to repel the paint. There was one issue, though: Spray paint isn’t magnetic.

7. “Motorcycle Safety Apparel”

Dismayed by how dangerous motorcycle crashes can be, Dan Kincheloe patented an inflatable safety suit in 1987. Basically an airbag for your body, the suit has an “umbilical cord” that connects to a supply of compressed gas. When a biker flies off, a shorter pull cord snaps that rapidly inflates the suit. Pro? It could save your life. Con? You’ll look like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

8. “Process for the utilization of ruminant animal methane emissions”

This contraption collects cow emissions.Google Patents

Forget windmills and solar panels. Harness the beautiful power of cows! Ruminant animals—which have four stomachs—account for 20 percent of the world’s methane emissions. (Most of that methane doesn’t come from their behinds, actually. They exhale and burp it out.) To harness all that lost gas, Markus Herrema patented a bovine gas collector in 2006. The gas is channeled to a chamber full of methane-loving microorganisims, which can be used later in “nutritional foodstuff or … other useful products, such as adhesive or cosmetics.”

9. “Improvement in Vehicles”

If cow power isn’t your thing, go to the dogs. In 1875, Parisian inventor Narcisse Hueet patented the “cynophere,” a dog-powered velocipede. Hueet wrote, “My invention contemplates the employment of dogs or other animals, working within a cage or cages, forming part of the wheels of the vehicle to be propelled.” 

10. “Apparatus for Facilitating the Birth of a Child by Centrifugal Force”

What can you say but "yikes"?Google Patents

If the thought of childbirth makes you dizzy, look away. This will make it worse. In 1965, George and Charlotte Blonsky patented a turntable that gives pregnant women an, um, extra push. The mother-to-be is strapped onto the turntable, which spins fast enough that G-forces help ease the baby out. A “pocket-shaped reception net” catches the newborn and triggers the machine to stop. (But in case that doesn’t work, there’s a handbrake!)

11. “Double Bicycle for looping the loop”

You can never have too much bike.Google Patents

“I heard you like bicycles, so I put a bicycle on a bicycle so you can stay upright while you go upside down.” Patented in 1905 by Kael Lange.