1 roast of beef
The general rules are, to have a brisk hot fire, to be placed on a spit, to baste with salt and water, and [roast] one quarter of an hour to every pound of beef. Tho’ tender beef will require less, while old tough beef will require more roasting. Pricking with a fork will determine you whether done or not; rare done is the healthiest, and the taste of this Age.
From American Cookery or, The Art of Dressing Viands, Fish, Poultry and Vegetables Adapted to This Country and All Grades of Life, by Amelia Simmons, 1796
Comment: This recipe may seem, of all things, too old to appear in a Civil War cookbook. Ms. Simmons is famous as the author of “the first American cookbook” to be published after the Revolution and independence. Her occupation, if you will, was listed as “an American orphan,” which tells an interesting story in itself. Women of the period, to put it bluntly, were not expected to be writing books. A female was expected to be under the protection, and to some extent the property, of her father until she married, and her husband until his death. Amelia in fact spends almost as much time in her Introduction apologizing for being unprotected in the world and therefore obliged to come up with some means of supporting herself, than she does discussing the food.
Whatever its origins, this book was popular for much of the first half of the 19th century, and in any case the technique she describes was hardly anything new or radical. The process was probably used on haunches of mastodon in an earlier age, and will continue to be the best way to roast beef as long as it continues to be eaten.