Anna Rompf Lapp’s Cookbook
An item from my collection.
Actually, before we get started I’d like to draw your attention to Washington's Farewell Address from 1796, in which an elected president declared his sincere and earnest desire to get out of politics. The contrast with the present day could not be greater.
And now, something nonpolitical!
As some of you know, I collect old cookbooks, and sometimes even cook from recipes in them. Most of them are just books, with little history other than as physical objects and examples of written foodways. Some contain notes by nameless past owners (occasionally, copious notes). A few have a name written on them. Two, however, contain something more crucial: the name and address of a past owner.
That makes it possible to learn about those owners. In this case, Anna Rompf Lapp of Brooklyn and Syracuse, New York.
The book in question is The Presidential Cook Book, published in 1895 by The Werner Company. It includes a portrait of the First Lady at the time, Frances Folsom Cleveland, though she had nothing to do with it.
It billed itself as an abridgement of The White House Cook Book, which was first published in 1887 and reprinted many times in many editions (including under the “Presidential” title). As a result, according to an article I found online, it was at one time practically ubiquitous in American kitchens. As far as anyone has been able to determine, though, the White House connection was nothing more than a marketing ploy.
My copy of the Presidential version includes numerous scribbled notes on its surviving flyleaf page – mostly references to specific items within the book. It also contains the note “To Mrs Anna Lapp, 308 5 ave Bklyn NY.”
Moreover, one of several items tucked between the pages of the book is a photograph, which has a note on the back: “Grandma 61 yrs + Dorothy 8 ys.”
You can imagine my delight when my very first query, in the 1900 federal census, found an Anna Lapp on Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn, married to Peter Lapp, with a two-year-old daughter. Following this couple forward in time confirmed that their daughter eventually had a daughter named Dorothy. I’m leaving out most of the details about her because Dorothy lived until 2016, and that’s too close to the present for random chatter on the internet. She eventually moved to Connecticut, though, which is how her grandmother’s cookbook wound up in my rarely-in-New-York hands. I may have bought it in the same Connecticut town she lived in. (Alas, I can’t remember exactly where I bought it, but there is an antique shop in that town.)
At any rate, who exactly were Anna and Peter Lapp?
To begin with, they were a May-September couple: Peter was a full twenty years older than Anna, and this was his second marriage. In 1900, Anna was 29 years old and Peter was 49 years old, they had been married for five years, and their daughter was two. Both were New York-born children of German immigrants. Anna’s age in 1900 means the photograph of Anna and Dorothy (when Anna was 61) was taken in late 1931 or in 1932.
Five years puts the year of their marriage at 1895, the same year this edition of The Presidential Cook Book was published. On the strength of this, and the fact that the name and address have a “To” attached to them, I believe this cookbook was a wedding present. Is that awesome or what? Someone – I am going to say Anna, though it could have been her daughter or granddaughter – chose to protect the cover of the volume with light blue cotton cloth, sewn into place with thread. I have no intention of trying to take it apart.
I have been able to learn surprisingly little about Peter Lapp, who was also known as Peter T. Lapp. The State of New York doesn’t make images of its marriage records available to Ancestry.com, so I have not been able to get the names of his parents, which would be extremely helpful clues. The index of New York marriage records indicates that when he married, he gave his name as Theodore, a detail that has also proven unhelpful.
From census records and city directory entries, however, we know that he was a shopkeeper. Exactly what type of shop varied: cigars, stationery, “variety store,” candy, and “general store” were all mentioned at various times from the early 1890s to 1915. At first the family lived and worked on Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn, at either #308, 310, 314, or 320. As of 1906 or so, this was a section of Brooklyn that was not yet fully developed, but it was a prime location for a shop, with a trolley stop just outside. Then and now, this was the block between Second and Third Street, and the commercial/residential buildings that are there now are almost certainly the same ones that were there around 1900.
From 1905, however, for a few years the family was recorded at 560 Court Street in Brooklyn, about a mile west of, and across the Gowanus Canal from, their Fifth Avenue location. This building was on the west side of Court Street, between West 9th Street and Garnet Street, but I think some of the buildings there are newer than 1905.
Then, the 1910 federal census reported the family on Milton Avenue in the village of Solvay, town of Geddes, which was and is a suburb of Syracuse in Onondaga County, New York. Where in Brooklyn they had lived in a rented apartment on their own, here they owned a building and were sharing it with four other small working-class families. They may in fact have been running a rooming house. The 1915 state census found them in the same place as of June, although renting to only one other family.
Then on August 5, 1915, Peter Lapp died, leaving Anna a widow.
I have not been able to find an obituary for Peter Lapp; there seems to be a gap in scanned newspaper coverage for the Syracuse area in 1915. I did, however, find that after Anna died on December 30, 1945, an obituary was published in early January. The single paragraph gave her name as Anna Rompf Lapp, and her survivors as a married daughter, a granddaughter, five niblings, and three siblings: Mrs. Caroline Scherrer, Mrs. Catherine Dick, and William B. Rompf.
Armed with this information, I determined that Anna was not a native of Brooklyn or New York City. Back in the 1880 federal census, Anna Rompf (or Romph, as the census return has it), aged 9, lived in Geddes, New York, with siblings Carrie, Catherine, John, and a newborn sister. Their parents, Peter (age 40) and Lena (age 33) were German immigrants, and their father worked as a salt boiler. According to the information they later gave the federal census taker in Syracuse in 1910, Peter Rompf had immigrated in 1868 (and by then was a naturalized citizen), and Lena Rompf had immigrated in 1855. The latter form also listed another son, Balde W. (age 22), whom I believe later went by William B.
At some point after 1880, Anna moved to New York City, where she met and married Theodore/Peter Lapp. Their move to Geddes in about 1910 was in fact a return to her roots. In her widowhood, she continued to run the general store (according to the 1920 federal census) or a confectionary (according to a 1925 city directory). The information from the 1915 state census indicates that the building was between Boyd Avenue and Center Street; as shown on the following Sanborn Fire Insurance map from about 1911, that was on the south side of Milton Street, and across from the railroad tracks, and I think it was the middle building.
The 1920 census also showed that her daughter had married, and the young couple lived in the building while Madaline worked for Anna in the shop.
I am confident that the building in which Anna Lapp lived and worked from approximately 1910 to 1925 was this one, currently known as 2409 Milton Avenue (image from Google Maps):
That is an early 20th century storefront, with an apartment above, tacked onto the front of an older house – quite typical of the time period, and more than capable of housing multiple small families (in 1910) or a widow and a small family (1920).
By the 1930 federal census, however, Anna Lapp owned a different general store in Camillus Township, Onondaga County, somewhere on West Genesee Turnpike. Camillus is another suburb of Syracuse, in fact the next one to the west of Solvay and Geddes. Her own home was valued at $8,000. Something significant seems to have happened to her daughter’s family, however: Madeline lived and worked with her mother, while her husband was living with a cousin in neighboring Cayuga County, and their daughter was living with an aunt and uncle, also in Cayuga County.
Then in 1940, the federal census found Anna Lapp still living in Camillus, Onondaga County, but alone. At 69, she had no listed occupation; her daughter’s family was together again, at least, and living in a neighboring town. She was still resident in Camillus when she died at the end of 1945, and was buried at St. Agnes Cemetery in Syracuse.
Her cookbook, passed on to her daughter or granddaughter, has not survived the years unmarked. At present, the cover is completely separated from the signatures, and some water damage occurred at some point. I prefer to think that it was Anna who wrote the many page references scribbled on the surviving blank page at the front of the volume, and who marked some recipes throughout the book with a checkmark or Χ, and occasionally the remark “good.”
And there’s another thing – you thought we were done, didn’t you? There’s this note:
It’s not much easier to read in the original, either, and I think it was a draft rather than a completed work, but here is what it says:
Generaus to a fault you have many friends and seen many happy days though inclined to be rash at time you are thoroughly practical full of fun and gayety
You will be fairly successful through life and will acquire considerable means either by
will be [??] called a
For you luck keep
The [????] at y 1895 you our
17 27th anth
Is it from her husband? The mention of 1895 as “our lucky day” certainly makes it seem so. But it is incomplete and oddly disjointed at the end – a mystery, except for the affection it expresses.
Rest in peace, Anna.