This Changing World

When did yelk become yolk?

Bill Veazey

When perusing the September 1904 issue of The Ladies’ World magazine, which happened to be the year and month of my mother’s birth, I came across a ‘typo’.  In my current role as one of the editors for Rye Reflections, as well as for a novel my wife is about to publish, I have become very aware of errors, so the typo jumped out at me.  It was in a recipe for Cherry Cake.  (given below)

Stir up briskly a quarter of a pound of sugar and a half teaspoonful of cinnamon with the yelks of nine eggs; grate ten stale Parker House rolls, and stir and add the whites of your nine eggs beaten to a stiff froth.  Butter your tin and pour in a layer of your dough for the bottom crust.  Add to the rest of the dough two pounds of cherries, stir together thoroughly and fill your cake tin with the mixture.  Bake in a moderate oven.

Thinking about my discovery, I decided to look further through the magazine. Sure enough, there was an article on page 12 entitled, A Cook Book of 1807, one hundred years earlier, and there it was again.

For Davenport Fowls:   Hang the young fowls at night; take the livers, hearts and tenderest parts of the gizzards, shred very small, with half a handful of young clary, an anchovy to each fowl, one onion, and the yelks of four eggs, boiled hard, with pepper, salt and mace to taste.

Then, once again I found on page 13, on how to prepare a Tansy:   Beat seven eggs, yelks and whites separately; add a pint of cream, near the same amount of spinach juice, and a little tansy juice gained by pounding in a stone mortar……….

Well that was quite enough for me!  Obviously these were not typos, the editor must have thought that was how yolk was spelled.  And even though they were in separate articles, there was probably only one editor.  

Since I had been thinking about Mother, I smiled and thought how she would have laughed at all this, considering she had been a Home Economics graduate from Iowa State in 1921 and had presented the Daisy Davis Cooking School in 1927/28 over WTAM radio in Cleveland.

As I returned the “flawed” antique magazine to the shelf, I spotted the Noah Webster dictionary of 1841.  Uh-oh, as an editor I'd better check this out. There it was on page 340: Yelk, n. the yellow part of an egg.  -and a little way down the page was: Yolk, n. the unctuous secretion from the skin of sheep. Backing up a few pages in the dictionary, there it was: Unctuous, a. oily, fat, greasy. Yuk!  That was something I didn’t need to know.

The question still remained, so I went to Wikipedia on the internet to continue my search.  In rambling around that site, up popped the ad shown below.

Voilŕ, there was a direction given to me, so I zoomed to the lower level of our home where the 1905 Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica resides.  Sure enough, the Index said to look for egg in Vol. VII, page 696.  As I opened Vol. VII, there in living color on the front page was: The Evolution of a Hen’s Egg.  I was close to the answer.  Rapidly, I turned to p.696 and read in part: “ --the eggs of all animals are found to consist of the same essential parts, viz., the germ cell, the yolk, and the yolk membrane, one chief difference between them -- “

And thus the mystery remains, when did yelk actually become yolk?  Was it a typo in the Brittanica or the beginning of the new spelling?  If anyone out there can help, I sure could use it.  See you next month with an answer, and probably an Opinion about this changing world.

June 2006