The name Jane Grant Gilmor Howard means little today. But in her lifetime, about 1870, she was a Martha Stewart-like figure with a bestselling cookbook that remained in print for decades. It was the go-to volume for the preparation of fried chicken, gingerbread and brown stew of partridges.
She was the mistress of her family’s summertime home, The Vineyard, a mansion that stood on what is now the playground of the Barclay Middle School in the Charles Village and Abell communities.
Her book was published as “Fifty Years in a Maryland Kitchen,” and it sold and sold. Various publishers kept it in print, including the old Baltimore firm Remington’s. It made yet another appearance in 1944 when the complicated original recipes were revised by Florence Brobeck.
Brobeck interviewed Jane Howard’s descendants, who said that the fancy cooking and large meals emanated from The Vineyard, where Howard spent her summers. For a while, she lived in yet another very, very grand winter residence, Belvidere. (Her father-in-law was John Eager Howard, the Revolutionary War general). She died in 1890.
The Vineyard was torn down about 1958 for the construction of the Barclay Elementary-Middle School. The only bit of evidence of the old home is a small thoroughfare, Vineyard Lane, a little more than one block of which survives behind the 3000 block of Barclay Street.
The Vineyard property abutted that of old Oriole Park, where the International League Orioles competed until the place burned in the early morning hours of July 4, 1944. The ballpark and The Vineyard were later united in one building parcel that became the school’s footprint.
“The Vineyard must have been a land of plenty, not only for the grapes on the vine, but of well stocked orchards, dairies, smokehouses and gardens if her cooking was born out of abundance,” said Brobeck in her introductory remarks to her version of the cookbook.
By the 1950s, The Vineyard’s original acreage was down to a surviving triangle of land behind rowhouses on the 300 black of East 30th Street and the 2900 block of Guilford Avenue. Its perimeter was defined by a vine-covered wire fence, and the old home was not easily viewed because of a dense tangle of mature trees.
Howard’s book celebrates Maryland and Baltimore as a culinary destination. There’s terrapin soup, of course, but Howard also has plenty to say about the preparation of the Chesapeake Bay soft crab.
Howard could please her guests with Maryland punch, involving a quart each of cognac and sherry, a pint of rum, six lemons, a half pound of rock candy and two glasses of currant jelly. You let it sit five hours and added three quarts of sparkling water and ice. It serves 50.
Her recipe for apple pie calls for a heavy dose of cloves and grated lemon and orange peels. There is no cinnamon.
Some of her dishes would tempt only those who would take a chance on a new dish — beef tongue and sweetbread croquettes cooked in hot lard.
Her bread pudding requires a cup of chopped beef suet and cognac, as well as all the traditional bread, milk and eggs.
There is no crab cake recipe at all, but there are pages of methods of preparing oysters, the apparent seafood of choice in Baltimore of the 1870s.
Liver Maryland, a curious dish, involves calf’s liver, an anchovy and Madeira or sherry.
When Howard died, Baltimore’s mayor, Ferdinand C. Latrobe, was among her mourners. She was buried at Green Mount Cemetery on Greenmount Avenue, a little more than a mile due south of The Vineyard.