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Albemarle Woman Cooks Through "The Virginia Housewife" - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Albemarle Woman Cooks Through "The Virginia Housewife"

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An Albemarle County woman is challenging herself to serve up every single recipe in a cookbook that's influenced southern hospitality for nearly two centuries. "The Virginia Housewife" cookbook outlines hundreds of meals - but the directions are from the 19th Century so it's no easy feat to cook this kind of food. 

"The Virginia Housewife" was first published in 1824. Culinary historians consider it the first bestselling cookbook of The South. Thomas Jefferson even had a copy.

Wednesday, Leni Sorensen welcomed NBC29 into her White Hall kitchen as she baked back in time. A recipe for drop biscuits serves as Sorensen's guide - printed in the pages of Mary Randolph's 1824 cookbook:

To make drop biscuit: Beat eight eggs very light, add to them twelve ounces of flour, and one pound of sugar; when perfectly light, drop them on tin sheets, and back them in a quick oven.

"They are basically eggs, sugar and flour beaten ‘til very light," said Sorensen.

Randolph is considered the author of the first regional cookbook of The South. Sorensen discovered the descriptive delicacies of Randolph's recipes nearly two decades ago.

"She knows all the details of how to do it and she tells it so clearly. That's what is so wonderful," said Sorensen.

Sorensen, a central Virginia culinary historian, sees a personal challenge in the cookbook's pages. Sorensen plans to serve up the more than 400 recipes from "The Virginia Housewife." As a former African-American research historian at Monticello, Sorensen thinks back to the skilled slaves who worked alongside Randolph.

"We can use them as inspiration. So for me they are always, always the inspiration for doing this," said Sorensen.

The flavors from antebellum history will drift from Sorensen's oven for quite some time - but each dollop of batter brings a story and an experience.

"Food is not just what you put in your mouth. It's cultural. It's emotional. We all have opinions about it," said Sorensen.

Sorensen expects the challenge to take about three years, and she's starting a blog so you can follow along. Sorensen also offers cooking classes in her home kitchen.

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