Growing up, I looked forward to eating sand tarts every Christmas at my grandparents’ house in Pennsylvania. They are common in Pennsylvania Dutch country and throughout the state. My grandmother baked a lot of good cookies during the holidays, but this one was my favorite. She made them so thin you could practically see through them, and they were a sugary, buttery delight.
I thought oatmeal cookies had been around for centuries — they just seem so old-fashioned. But it turns out that this cookie was essentially a 20th-century creation, one that became hugely popular in just a decade or two.
Until recently, not many people ate oats, let alone oatmeal cookies. The grain was considered animal fodder, except in parts of northern Europe and the British Isles — particularly Scotland, where oat porridge and oat cakes were staples for many centuries. Continue reading
After spending nearly two years writing mostly about 18th-century food, I’ve decided to expand my blog’s scope to include recipes from the 19th and early 20th centuries as well. I’ve strayed into the 19th century before, and the lure of this period has become irresistible. I’m also going to focus exclusively on baking and desserts.
One appeal of 19th-century recipes is that they are usually easier to follow than colonial ones. We have Eliza Leslie partly to thank for this change. I’ve written about Leslie before (in a post on Indian Pound Cake). Her cookbook Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats (1828) was the first of several bestsellers.
Long before bitcoins, the new digital currency that completely mystifies me, a coin called the pine tree shilling caused a big stir in colonial America. In the mid-17th century, the Massachusetts Bay Colony was flourishing but had a shortage of actual money. England did not want to send its coins to the colonies, since they were in short supply. So two settlers, John Hull and Robert Sanderson, starting minting their own money. These silver coins were known as pine tree shillings because one side was stamped with the image of a tree, usually a pine. (Pine trees, used for ships’ masts, were one of the Bay Colony’s main exports.)
Eventually someone had the bright idea to press one of these shillings into a cookie before baking, creating a tree design. Continue reading
I wanted to make Eliza Leslie’s Indian pound cake partly because it sounded so good — the ingredients include cornmeal, eggs, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, and brandy — but also because its creator seemed so interesting.
Born in 1787, Leslie was one of five children of a Philadelphia watchmaker. Her father, who was friends with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, died heavily in debt when she was sixteen, and she and her mother ran a boardinghouse to support their family. According to culinary archivist Jan Longone, Leslie set out to become a writer of novels and stories but wrote a cookbook, Seventy-five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes and Sweetmeats (1828), because her friends kept asking her for recipes. (She had been a pupil at Mrs. Goodfellow’s cooking school in Philadelphia.) Continue reading
I meant to make blancmange earlier this summer, but got that unfortunate cholesterol reading and so put it off, since the dish is made with lots of cream. Then I was reminded of it while watching Wimbledon, with all the references to Andy Murray defeating the blancmange. For those not up on their Monty Python, and I wasn’t, in the relevant sketch an alien race of blancmange try to win Wimbledon by turning all the Englishmen into Scots, who are supposedly bad at tennis. (“And it’s blancmange to serve,” and so on. If you’re curious, watch the “Science Fiction Sketch” on YouTube.)