A Lesson on Beef ~1902

Cows in Old Cookbooks.


Let beeves and home-bred kine partake
The sweets of Burn-Mill meadow. – Wordsworth

Cow in a field
Share the Trail! Local park using natural land management.

By the time we move into the late 1800s and early 1900s, cookbooks have settled into some predictable patterns. Chapters are mostly divided into the type of dish being served, for example cakes or soups, or the type of ingredient being used. All cookbooks include several chapters on meat – beef, veal, lamb, sea food, etc. Today’s excerpt comes from Practical Cooking and Serving c. 1902 out of my personal collection, which is a classic example for how a chapter on meat is laid out. First, start with an overview of the cuts. Then, move to marketing. Finally, you get into the actual recipes.

Understanding Cuts of Beef.

Pictures like the one below served to help the cook understand where a particular cut of meat was located on the animal. We also see something unique in this particular chart. Over in the far right-hand column, there is a references to ‘Fuel value per lb. calories’. Now, calories have been around since the mid-1800s, some would argue they were first described in the 1820s, but they didn’t make it into cookbooks until around the 1900s, and gained popularity (along with commentary on nutritional value) during WWI, when rationing and concerns over a food’s health benefits became a more mainstream concern.

Cuts of beef 1902

This next chart really is helpful for a homecook with limited knowledge of the different ways of preparing any given cut of beef. In contrast, today’s cookbooks list the ingredients for a particular cut and you go and shop for that cut. Here you see that different cuts can be prepared in a similar fashion. Helpful.

List of cuts of beef

Marketing for Beef.

Now that we have the different cuts figured out, the author moves into marketing. Shopping for meat required a certain savvy so as not to be taken advantage of. Here’s what you need to know:

“Beef dressed for the market is divided at the backbone into two parts, each of which is termed a side of beef. The weight of a side is from three to five hundred pounds. Of this, much less than one hundred pounds is tender meat, suitable for quick cooking, as roasted, or broiled meat. But while meat thus cooked is better relished and, oftentimes better adapted to our physical condition, it is less nutritious than those parts that nourished by muscular use and which, in consequence, secrete juice and flavour. For these cuts long slow cooking, with moisture, is needed to soften the collagen, so that the little bundles of fibres may fall apart easily, when they come in contact with the teeth.

The lean in beef of good quality is of a dark purple color when first cut, but soon it turns to bright red. It should be coated and, especially the tender cuts, well mottled with fat. The fat in beef of prime quality is firm, of light yellowish color, and crumbles easily. What is fat in a good quality of meat is water in a less desirable article.

In all markets a side of beef is divided into hind and fore-quarter, but the point of this division, as also for other smaller divisions, varies in different sections of the country, and at different markets in the same section, In New York City markets the division into hind and fore-quarter is so made that the thirteen ribs are included in the fore-quarter. IN Boston markets three ribs are included in the hind-quarter. In a few Boston markets the rumb, separated from the loing, is cut into roasts and stews, the upper part, or back of the rump, giving a large and choice roast. This custom is not general and is usually frowned upon by marketment who cater to family trade. When meat comes from the market, remove it at once from the paper in which it is wrapped, wipe the outside with a damp cloth – do not wash – cut off any unsightly bits and set aside in a cool place – but not directly upon the ice – until the time for cooking.”

This particular book has several photographs. An uncommon addition for the day, they clearly illustrate how the different cuts are supposed to look. Nice!



Braised beef, corned beef, beefsteak, boiled beef tongue, beef ala mode. Recipes enough to whet any appetite! Here two classics:

Roast Beef.Roast Beef Recipe 1902

Corned Beef “Fancy Brisket”Corned Beef Recipe 1902

Interested in learning more about cows? Checking out this post on raising cows, or this fun post on keeping butter fresh.

Cow Field

More Fun Discoveries from Antique Cookbooks

Witty Remarks and Insights Welcome~

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