More than 25 years ago, I was browsing the book selection from Amazon—yes, 25 years and no, not that Amazon—and came across an intriguing entry: The Captain’s Lady Cookbook & Personal Journal, 1837-1917, Vol. II: The Love Story, which included the following description:
“This is an amazing look at the life of a well-to-do woman who combined her diary, recipes, shopping lists, thoughts and dreams into her personal journal. The charm is indescribable. Recipes and a love story.”
I added it by hand to my printed order form, along with a reproduction Regency dress pattern, a pair of cotton ladies stockings, a handful of faux tortoise hair pins, and a bottle of Devon Violet eau de toilette. For me, the original mail order Amazon was Amazon Drygoods: “Purveyor of Items for the 19th Century Impression.” Their seasonal 100-page catalogs, with tiny print filling every page, put J. Peterman to shame and took weeks to peruse thoroughly.
Having developed a passion for historical romance in high school, I was eager to learn more about the clothing and customs of the 1800s, and Amazon Drygoods was the place to do so, supplying books, materials, and reproduction items for history enthusiasts and reenactors.
The Captain’s Lady Cookbook & Personal Journal was a real find—literally. Editor Barbara Dalia Jasmin found it at a tag sale in the early 1960s and paid 25 cents for its 300+ ultra-thin pages handwritten in copperplate script by the young wife of a Massachusetts ship’s captain in the mid-19th century. Although the entire journal comprises the period from 1837-1917, Ms. Jasmin chose to publish “The Love Story” first, which begins with the diarist’s marriage to her beloved captain on March 18, 1857 and covers the first 17 years of their lives together. Of his imminent departure on the clipper ship The Golden Fleece two months after their wedding, she writes, “I would choose to wait for him rather than for any other man in the entire world.”
Among traditional New England-style recipes such as Baked Indian Pudding and Washington Pie Cake are directions for making washing fluids, cough syrup, a digestive aid, and a dressing for the hair; lists of shopping items needed, wedding gifts received, and shipping cargo inventoried; “humour,” quotes, and poems (some by the author herself); mention of notable events (the end of the Civil War, the death of Abraham Lincoln); and stories of personal tragedy, like the loss of her brother at sea and the suicide by drowning of her cousin Jane. But there are also meditations on nature, family, faith, and, most of all, her undying love for her captain.
Instead of saying goodbye when he left for a voyage, the captain would tell his lady, “I think I shall sail across the Bay, but I shall be back in time for a piece of your special lemon pie.” She writes that, “When his return was imminent, I would make a lemon pie almost every day…Then, that special day arrived…My Captain would stride through the door…and say playfully, ‘Well, my Lady, isn’t that lemon pie ready yet?’” For their third anniversary, he gave her a gold pin and matching ring encrusted with precious stones. “Laid in succession, the first letter of each stone spells the word ‘Dearest.’ Diamond, emerald, amethyst, ruby, emerald, sapphire, and topaz.” O Captain! My Captain!
Amazon Drygoods noted that “Vol. I will be next in the series with a total of 9.” But—though Vol. II was first published in 1981 and the copyright page of the book states: “Vol I The Early Years 1837 – 1857 to be published October 9, 1983” and “Vol III The Children From the Sea 1863 in preparation”—I have never seen another book in the series published. These days, The Captain’s Lady Cookbook & Personal Journal can only be found from secondhand bookstores and select online vendors. I don’t know if something befell Ms. Jasmin or where the original journal resides today, but I do know that it’s a document of historical and human significance that should be preserved for posterity.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, you can indulge in this captivating cookbook and swoon-worthy story of true love by reading the digitized version online for free at the link below, but you’ll want your own copy to flip through whenever you need help navigating the rough seas of life and love. The Captain and his Lady demonstrate kindness to each other, respect for family, courage in adversity, celebration of life, and, above all else, a deep and abiding love—qualities we could use more of in THIS day and age. So open this present from the past to chart a course (and courses!) for your own happily ever after, and “fare” thee well.
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