The Frau Erica Project
Muellers in America:
The first 155 years


Section header for Frauenfleiß (Women’s work), page 509 of Die Abendschule for 1921. This issue carried an extensive obituary of Frau Erica, most likely written by her daughter and editorial successor Dora (Dodo) Knief.

Adelheid (Frau Erica) Rickmeyer:
Recipes, household advice, devotional verse

Writing for old friends in new circumstances
Between 1850 and 1900, more than 4.4 million German immigrants arrived in the United States. When Frau Erica arrived in the 1860s, there were already about 2.45 million Germans in a country of about 35 million people. Someone needed to provide books, magazines, and newspapers.

Adelheid Rickmeyer began writing for publication when she was a teenager in Germany, adopting the pen name Frau Erica after the heather (Erikablüte) in the meadows where she grew up. She wrote mostly devotional verse in the German Lutheran tradition.

Decades later, as the wife of Wilhelm Ernst Paul Mueller and mother of 10, she found herself in Chicago, where she and Wilhelm found editorial work. Wilhelm left editing after a year or so and became director of Concordia Cemetery; Frau Erica persevered.

She was the Hints from Heloise and Dear Abby of her day, working for the large-circulation German newspapers in Milwaukee and Chicago that served a substantial population of recent immigrants. Her column Frauenfleiß in die Abendschule served up recipes, housekeeping tips, meditations, advice on child-rearing, counseling on family life, and devotional materials. Using her newspaper writings and material from her column, she assembled the Deutsch-Amerikanisches Kochbuch, a cookbook (©1894 by Louis Lange Jr. & Co.) to help immigrant women keep house and feed their families in unfamiliar surroundings.

In November 2014, the archives learned of a competitor, also in Chicago. Frau Katharina Hofstetter was also in print with Das Deutsch-Amerikanische [not es] Kochbuch, published by the Mercantile Publishing and Advertising Co. in 1891. There is no way to know whether the two Frauen knew of each other or competed for readers, but Frau Erica would likely have had the upper hand. Her Deutsch-Amerikanisches Kochbuch went to at least 11 printings, she had a wide following at Die Abendschule, and her publisher, Louis Lange Jr., was prominent enough to be appointed U.S. consul in Bremen by President McKinley. (Newspaper accounts identified him as “the Lutheran German publisher from Chicago.”) Frau Hofstetter’s book, however, has been digitized in the Library of Congress and went on sale at Amazon in 2013.

Es sei der Verfasserin erlaubt über Zweck und Entstehung vorliegenden Buches einige Worte zu sagen, möchte es doch angesichtes der langen Reihe vorhandener Kochbücher fast anmaßend erscheinen, denselben noch ein weiteres hinzufügen zu wollen. Und welche Fülle von Rezepten bieten die meisten derselben! Aber — und das ist eben das Entmutigende an der Sache — es ist kein deutsches, dem amerikanischen Leben entsprossenes Kochbuch darunter, und den amerikanisierten, deutschländischen fehlt das Alltägliche, was die hiesige Küche erfordert.

Since the author is allowed to say a few words about the birth and purpose of the current volume, she might be expected to explain why she is adding yet another to the long line of cookbooks that is appearing. And what an abundance of recipes most of those books offer! But — and this is always the disappointing part — there is no German cookbook among them that arises out of the American way of life, and the Americanized German cookbooks fail to address what is required for the indigenous cuisine.

Oder ist dem nicht so? Wozu denn die entlos vielen Anfragen bei der Verfasserin: “Wo erhalte ich ein Kochbuch, das speziell für die gewöhnliche deutsch-amerikanische Küche geschrieben? Ich besitze freilich ein deutschländisches, ungearbeitetes Kochbuch, aber wir müssen mehr und ausführlicheres über hiesige Hefe- und Brotbereitung, über americanische Backwaren, über hiesiges Einmachverfahren, über Verwendung des Welschkornmehls u.s.w. wissen! Und dann das lästige Abwängen der geringsten Kleinigkeit! Geben Sie uns Rezepte, bei denen mehr das Maß als das Gewicht in Anwendung kommt. Auch fügen Sie die gebräuchlichsten englischen Benennungen den Artikeln und in der Küche gebrauchten Gegenständen bei, da wir der englischen Sprache (weil kürzlich eingewandert) nicht mächtig sind, damit wir uns auf diese Weise gar bald in einem Kram- und Metzgerladen verständlich machen können.”

Or is that not the case? Why then these endless questions for the author: “Where can I find a cookbook that is specially written for the typical German-American kitchen?” “Of course I already own an unrevised German cookbook, but we need more information and explanation about local yeast and bread preparations, about American baking pans, about local canning techniques, about how to use different flours and so forth.” And then comes the incessant pleading for the tiniest little things: “Give us recipes that list ingredients more by measure than than by weight. Also give us the commonly used English terms for items that are needed and used in the kitchen. We have recently immigrated and our command of English is not strong enough to make ourselves understood in a grocery store or a butcher shop.”

Ob die Vervasserin diese Anforderungen im vorliegenden Buche annähernd erfüllt hat? Die Antwort hierauf überlaßt dieselbe der Prüfung und dem Urteile ihrer geneigten Leserinnen. — Die leeren Blätter dieses Buches werden den lieben Frauen und Jungfrauen eine angenehme Neuheit sein; da ja die Kochkunst eine stetig fortschreitende Wissenschaft ist und wir sammeln, wo wir gutes finden, so sollen diese leeren Blätter zur Aufnahme praktischer Rezepte and Anweisungen für Küche und Haushalt dienen, wie man deren so häufig in Zeitschriften und Tagesblättern begegnet. Durch Aufkleben oder Abschreiben solcher Zeitungsausschnitte oder Artikel vermehrt man nach und nach den Inhalt des Buches.

So, has the author come close to meeting these demands in the book at hand? The answer depends on the constant testing and judgment of her discerning readers. The as-yet unexamined pages of this book will be a splendid new experience for housewives and young women. For all of us, the art of cooking is a constantly developing body of knowledge, and we add to it wherever we find something good. So too, these pages should serve as a source of practical recipes and advice for the kitchen and for keeping house — the kind of information one frequently encounters in periodicals and daily publications. By pasting or copying newspaper clippings and articles, one can expand the contents of this book.

Möge sich dies Kochbuch in deutsch-amerikanischen Familien zahlreiche Freundinnen erweben und diesen in der That den Nutzen bringen, den die Verfasserin bei der Ausarbeitung deselben im Auge hatte.

May this cookbook find countless friends in German-American families and bring them the kind of useful knowledge that the author had in her mind’s eye when she gathered it all together.

— Frau Erica

— Frau Erica