Page 10, MARCH 2014
VMI Institute Report
Recipe Book Reveals:
Mrs. Jackson Loved Her Sweets
A recipe book that originally belonged to Mary Anna Jackson, wife
of Confederate Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, has recently been
donated to the Stonewall Jackson House, where it will become part of
the VMI Museum System’s collection.
The small, fiberboard notebook, filled with recipes arrived in late
January as a total surprise to Michael Anne Lynn, site director at the
Stonewall Jackson House. “It just appeared in the mail,” she explained.
The man who donated the book, though, is well-known to Lynn as a
longtime supporter of the Jackson House. James McAfee of Richmond,
a great-great grandchild of the legendary Confederate general, donated
the book to ensure its safekeeping. McAfee’s grandmother was Julia
Jackson Christian Preston, the granddaughter of Thomas and Mary Anna
McAfee, Lynn noted, was once on the Stonewall Jackson House
Foundation Board, before the house became part of the VMI Museum
System, and he also came to the first Jackson Symposium in 1986.
Ever since the book’s arrival, Lynn has been carefully combing through
its fragile pages for clues about the original owner’s life. Right away,
she could tell that the book was of post-Civil War vintage, because the
inscription inside reads, “M.A. Jackson, Charlotte, N.C.,” and that city
was Mary Anna Jackson’s home after the war.
Lynn also immediately noticed an irony – during Thomas Jackson’s life,
he was constantly trying to improve his health by changing his diet, but
the recipe book reflects his wife’s different tastes during her widowhood.
“Most of these recipes are for sweets and rich desserts,” she said.
“There’s charlotte russe, caramels, fillings for cakes, and candy.”
The recipe book also reflects a practical, housewifely side of Mary
Anna Jackson, with instructions for making lye soap and furniture polish,
and remedies for the common cold. Most of the recipes are handwritten,
in the elegant, flowing script of a 19th-century lady, but others have
obviously been clipped from newspapers and magazines and pasted in.
And while many of the recipes, such as those for gingersnaps,
puddings, and custards, would appeal to a modern-day palate, following
them exactly would be troublesome for a modern-day cook.
“There is no information about the temperature of the oven, because
a good cook knew [the temperature required], and they were cooking
on woodstoves,” Lynn explained. “There’s nothing about cooking times,
or the size of the pan.”
One thing is clear, though – the recipe book definitely got a workout
in the kitchen. “You can tell it was used,” said Lynn. “There’re food
stains and coffee cup rings.”
There’s also the briefest of insights into the Jacksons’ life in Lexington,
even though that era pre-dates the book. One of the recipes, for
buckwheat cakes, is attributed to “Aunt Amy, Lexington, Va.,” and Lynn is
fairly certain that this is a reference to the enslaved woman who cooked
for Thomas and Mary Anna Jackson in Lexington.
It’s the first time, though, that Lynn has seen her referred to as “aunt,”
although it was a common usage for African-Americans at the time. It’s
also the first recipe attributed to her that the Jackson House has ever had.
Ever since the recipe book’s arrival, Lynn has been busy with tasks
such as executing a deed of gift and processing the book into the Jackson
House’s collection. She’s not yet sure how or where it will be displayed in
the long run. It’s occurred to her that publishing the volume, complete
with modern updates, might be a possibility, but she also remembers
how exhausting the production process was when the Jackson House
published its last cookbook,
Historic Lexington Cooks
, in 1989.
No matter how it’s displayed, or whether or not its recipes ever get
updated for the 21st-century kitchen, Lynn is grateful that the Jackson
House now has a larger slice of the Jackson family’s life.
“It’s one of a kind,” she said.
Pickled watermelon rinds and lemon pudding
are among the recipes in Mary Anna Jackson’s
– VMI Photos by John Robertson IV.