More than a Gun Museum

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Date: December 8, 2011
Contact: Shera Cohen, (413) 734-8551

A variety of cookbooks are available at Springfield Armory National Historic Site

National Park Service

SPRINGFIELD: You have already bought the kids their gifts at Wal-Mart, shopped for mom at Macy's, and hit Target for electronic toys. Who would think to do their holiday shopping at a gun museum? Other than those in the military (past and present) or weapons' enthusiasts, a museum like the Springfield Armory National Historic Site is probably the last place many people would think of to buy that very special gift.

Then again - who is the cook in the family? Or the baker? The health food guru? Who's the family member who enjoys mixing the ingredients with a bit of good ol' American history? Sometimes, preparing and eating the meal is simply not enough. Consider making dinner (or breakfast or lunch) a total experience by reading about the recipes' origin, its era, and those who ate the morsels.

The bookshelves of the Springfield Armory NHS store, located on the campus of Springfield Technical Community College at the corner of State and Federal Streets, Springfield, are lined with vintage cookbooks with index listings of recipes from pre-Revolutionary War. The pages are full of pictures and drawings from centuries ago. Not surprisingly, most of these items are far from 21st century fare seen on your dining room table or in restaurants. Perhaps it might be time to experiment with unusual ingredients and combinations. The Springfield Armory NHS cookbooks will please both the "chef" and the novice in the family.

"Revolutionary Recipes - Colonial Food, Lore & More" by Patricia Mitchell [Patricia B. Mitchell, 1988] includes descriptions of meals made as far back as 1777. Martha Washington's Chicken Fricassee, a popular dish of the Colonial era, was actually titled "To Make a Frykacy of Chikin Lamb Veale or Rabbits." Incidentally, her husband George was the person who founded the Springfield Armory NHS in 1794. Perhaps on one of his journeys he ate the supper snack called salmagundi, which was prepared with minced veal, chicken, pickled onions or herring, boiled eggs, chopped and served with oil. That's a lot to snack on.

The table of contents of "Old-Fashioned Berry & Cherry" [Bear Wallow Books, 1988] lists just about every possible way to cook, dice, chop, steam, stuff, and press fruit ending with the word "berry." Gooseberry Fool and Raspberry Flummery were two of the many popular recipes, some of which were created by Native-Americans.

"New England Cookbook" [Culinary Arts Books] jams 300 "fine old recipes" with poems, drawings, and song lyrics of the 1700's and 1800's. It has undoubtedly been a while, if ever, that a 21st century dinner included asparagus loaf, Boston bakes bean croquettes, and grunts. However, who are we to judge the delicacies of old New England.

Barbara Swell's "A Garden Supper Tonight - Historic Seasonal Recipes & Home Lore" [Native Ground Books & Music, 2009] comes with a warning. "The instructions and measurements for vintage recipes in this book are not precise!!!" Most recipes are given dates and have cartoon illustrations. The recipes are written "spelling and measuring errors and all." Remember, those were the days when measurements were "a handful" or a "pinch." The book gives instructions on how to till the soil and make chewing gum, although not at the same time.

Anecdotes relate to food, celebrations, and utensils. A full page is devoted to "Death by Dishcloth" from Good Housekeeping's June, 1888 edition. "Now that diseases are known to be caused by germs, one is on the lookout for death in almost anything. Even a dishcloth may generate the germs that cause sickness and death. If it is black and stiff and sour, throw it into the fire."

Most of the gift books at the Springfield Armory NHS are soft cover. However, "The City Tavern Cookbook - Recipes from the Birthplace of American Cuisine" by Walter Staib [Running Press Book Publishers, 2009] is a large hard cover epic of stories, recipes, drawings, photographs, and old menus based on the cuisine at Philadelphia's City Tavern. The site opened for business in 1773 with the purpose of being "a large and commodious tavern that will be worthy of Philadelphia's standing as the largest, most prosperous city in the colonies."

Some delicacies are familiar tastes for today's palettes; i.e. turkey pot pie, mustard (deviled) eggs, and plum pudding. Others are not quite so familiar; i.e. braised oxtail, financiers, fried leek, Ben Franklin's spruce beer, and Sally Lunn bread.

The author dedicated his book to Thomas Jefferson, citing the former Founding Father as "our nation's first true gastronome and, in my opinion, the greatest contributor to early American culture."

Some dishes in the Springfield Armory's cadre of cookbooks are easy to prepare; others are more complicated. Prices range from $2.95 to $35. The Springfield Armory NHS is open every day from 9am - 5pm; admission is free and wheelchair accessible. For further information call 413-734-8551 or check the website at

The Springfield Armory National Historic Site is the location of the Nation's first Armory (1794 - 1968) and was established by George Washington. The site includes historic grounds, buildings, and the world's largest historic American military firearms collection. It is open daily from 9am - 5pm. The site is wheelchair accessible. Admission is free. For information on this event check or call 413-734-8551.


Last updated: February 26, 2015

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Springfield Armory National Historic Site
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Suite 2

Springfield, MA 01105


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