Vegetarian Turkey from the Early 20th Century

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Whether you're enjoying your Tofurkey or want a historic recipe for mock turkey, check out this recipe for mock turkey from one of the most popular voices of cookery in the early twentieth century.

For context...Meat substitutes became a standard part of vegetarian diets, beginning in the 1880s. Popularized first by J.H. Kellogg (I will highlight Kellogg and his invention of protose, the "vegetable meat" in a subsequent post), meat substitutes expanded the definition of vegetarianism. Whereas the older generation of vegetarians from the 1850s until the 1880s assailed all qualities of meat, a new generation of vegetarians accepted that meat had beneficial properties, particularly as a source of protein (its "blood building" properties as dietary practitioners were apt to note in the late nineteenth century).

A plethora of cookbooks proliferated at the end of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century, exhorting the benefits of these meat substitutes. One such cookbook was Mrs. Rorer's Vegetable Cookery, first published in 1909.

Sarah Tyson Rorer—known as Mrs. Rorer to her throngs of readers—authored over seventy-five cookbooks and cooking manuals during her prolific working years. Mrs. Rorer ran a cooking school in Philadelphia for eighteen years and was the editor of Table Talk magazine, while writing for other domestic, household publications. She was one of the most respected and listened to voices of cookery at the turn of the twentieth century. Rorer’s writings promoted healthy lifestyles, yet she was no vegetarian. However, the continually growing vegetarian movement gained Mrs. Rorer’s attention.

In Mrs. Rorer’s Vegetable Cookery and Meat Substitutes, the domestic guide promised to illustrate “how to cook three meals a day without meat” using “vegetables with meat value. Vegetables to take the place of meat.” Mrs. Rorer explained that a practical vegetarian cookbook was “universally needed” given the “over-eating of meat” that “has left us as a reminder much sickness and sorrow.” Other vegetarian cookbooks provided “unhygienic, indigestible, tasteless and unattractive dishes.” Mrs. Rorer’s cookbook aimed to “present clearly, concisely and simply in a logical fashion, the best meat substitutes and their artistic and hygienic accompaniments.”

The cookbook included an entire chapter on items to be used “in the place of meat.” Sausages could be made with farina, pecans and breadcrumbs. Lentils combined with breadcrumbs and peanuts comprised a mock veal roast. Hominy grits mixed together with nuts, eggs, onion and parsley could be baked into a mock fish filet. As this blog and site expand, I will attempt to create some of these historic recipes and will report back on the results. In the meantime if anyone else is inspired to try the recipe, I would be quite curious to hear the results. Here is one of Mrs. Rorer's recipes, for "Mock Turkey."

Meat substitutes changed the nature of vegetarian dietetics. These new, more appealing foods appealed to a wider audience, in the process accepting that meat did, in fact, have some positive aspects to be emulated. Meat substitutes attempted to provide these benefits while also ensuring a violence free diet. Long before there was Morningstar Farms and Boca Burgers, vegetarians sought out faux-meats. Mrs. Rorer, reflecting the rising popularity of the movement in the early years of the new, modern century, emphasized the possibilities apparent in mock meats--even advising curious vegetarians to mold her concoction into the shape of a turkey. Vegetarianism was increasingly becoming embraced by normative society, emphasized as a means to succeed. But the movement was only understandable through a lens of a carnivorous society, one that even expected its vegetarians to manipulate its grains, nuts and breadcrumbs into turkey legs.

Sarah Tyson Rorer, Mrs. Rorer’s Vegetable Cookery and Meat Substitutes (Philadelphia: Arnold & Company, 1909), 18, 42-6, 66, 136.

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