Recipe Wednesday: Blasts From The Past

I’ve got some new cooking adventures to tell you about (including the easiest curry you’ll ever make), but Beloved Husband and I keep eating all the evidence before I can remember to take pictures of it.  So that’ll have to wait until a less hungry week, I guess.

Meanwhile, the two of us have embarked on a new project.

It started when I acquired a metric boatload of e-book versions of historical cookbooks for free via the interwebs.  (That’ll be a separate entry later, I think.)  Anyway, I was organizing them, and being totally gleeful about obtaining a copy of Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cookbook (which I have in hardcopy, but it’s stored away in a box at the moment).  My glee only lasted until I opened up the e-book…and discovered that it had been processed via OCR (Optical Character Recognition)–and that not only had the people who’d posted the book on the interwebs not bothered to clean up some of the typos, but every single fraction in the book had scanned as gobbledygook (yes, that’s a technical term, I’m quite sure).

And, since almost every recipe uses fractions in the ingredients list…it meant that the book was all but useless.

Well, nuts.

So I went back out onto the interwebs.  And I found a couple of sites that had better versions, but not as downloads–you have to be connected to the internet to access them.  I want a copy I can store on my netbook and have handy even when I’m someplace where there’s no wireless (like my in-laws’ house, for example).

A bit more poking finally yielded a scanned version of the book where the scans had been saved as whole-page images, rather than having been OCR’d.  Which works fine as far as addressing the fractions issue…but when I want to look up a specific recipe, I can’t do a search on the title, or on an ingredient.

So what I decided to do in the end was to use the whole-page version to correct the fractions on the e-book version.  I discovered a program called Sigil, which essentially allows you to open up an e-book file and tinker around under the hood.  It’s actually pretty cool…and I’m planning to use it to edit a few e-books I’ve downloaded that had typos in them.

But…when I sat down to work in earnest, I discovered two things:

One, flipping back and forth between the two versions of the book was giving me motion sickness.  And there’s no question of just keeping both apps open side-by-side on my trusty netbook’s tiny screen.  (Now if I could haul my two mega-monitors home from work, I’d be a happy camper.  But alas, I can’t.)

After a bit of hemming and hawing, I came up with a solution:  I asked Beloved Husband for help.  So now, once a week or so, we sit down with our two computers, and he reads to me from the page-image version, and I make changes to the e-book version.

Of course, we hadn’t been at this long when we discovered a major problem:  The page-image version was from the 1898 edition of the book, and the e-book version is from the 1918 edition.  A surprising amount stayed the same in those twenty years, but there are enough changes to keep us on our toes.

We’ve been at it for a little over a month now, and we’re through the chapters on soups  (Soups With Stock and Soups Without Stock are two separate categories, by the way, with subcategories within each.  Who knew?)

So far, the worst-sounding recipe we’ve found is for mock turtle soup, where you use a calf’s head instead of turtle.  I was okay with it until I reached the part where the instructions tell you to cut off the face  and dice it.  Something about dicing a calf’s face just squicked me out. {shudder}  I’m sure there are folks who would consider it a delicacy.  Well, they can have my portion.  And Beloved Husband’s, too.

As we continue our journey through Fannie Farmer, I’ll post some other notes and observations.  And of course, once I have a corrected version of the e-book, I’ll find some way to make that available to people.

But that’s what we’ve been up to.

What sorts of cooking projects are other folks working on?


About sheilamcclune

Aspiring author, sharing the tidbits I've learned along the way.
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2 Responses to Recipe Wednesday: Blasts From The Past

  1. Eww. They can have my portion too. After you’ve done all this work, are you going to post your corrected version for others to download?

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