Blancmange

blandmangeI 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.)

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Pound Cake

Mary Randolph's pound cake

I knew that “pound cake” referred to cakes made with a pound of butter, but I didn’t realize until researching 18th-century cakes that this term once referred to the cake’s other ingredients as well — a pound of flour, a pound of sugar, and even a pound of eggs. Here’s Hannah Glasse’s recipe for pound cake from The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1747):

Take a pound of butter, beat it in an earthen pan with your hand one way, till it is like a fine thick cream: then have ready twelve eggs, but half the whites; beat them well, and beat them up with the butter, a pound of flour beat in it, a pound of sugar, and a few carraways. Beat it all well together for an hour with your hand, or a great wooden spoon, butter a pan and put it in, and then bake it an hour in a quick oven.

Two things about this recipe really struck me: first, that Glasse recommended beating the butter with one’s hand; second, that she beat the batter for an entire hour!  Continue reading

Colonial Tea Party

the tea party beginsAs my daughter’s spring break approached recently, I wondered whether I would get any blogging done, when inspiration struck: We would have an 18th-century tea party for her dolls, one of which is Felicity, American Girl’s so-called “spunky colonial girl.”  We even had doll-size blue willow china, a nice gift from friends.

Katie is not a girly girl — she’s more likely to make her dolls challenge each other to a duel than have tea — but she liked my idea well enough and got Felicity and Ivy suitably attired in colonial clothing. (Ivy is a Chinese-American girl from the 1970s, but let’s not quibble.) Continue reading

Martha Washington’s Great Cake

Martha Washington's Great Cake

When I read about Martha Washington’s Great Cake, I wondered whether it was called that because it was really good or really large. I think the name was meant to describe its size — to give you an idea of just how big it was, here is Martha’s recipe:

Take 40 eggs and divide the whites from the yolks and beat them to a froth. Then work 4 pounds of butter to a cream and put the whites of eggs to it a Spoon full at a time till it is well work’d. Then put 4 pounds of sugar finely powdered to it in the same manner then put in the Yolks of eggs and 5 pounds of flour and 5 pounds of fruit. 2 hours will bake it. Add to it half an ounce of mace and nutmeg half a pint of wine and some fresh brandy. Continue reading

Chocolate Puffs

chocolate puffsI recently bought a block of American Heritage Chocolate, a gritty, stone-ground chocolate made in the colonial style, at the Genesee Country Village and Museum in Mumford, New York. I was excited about using it for this blog, but soon discovered that not many 18th-century English or American recipes actually called for chocolate.

Chocolate was widely consumed in colonial America — it was even part of military rations for American and British troops during the Revolutionary War. But until the mid-19th century, it was nearly always used for drinking, not baked in desserts or eaten on its own.

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Mary Ball Washington’s Gingerbread

IMG_0349As my family will attest, I went a little crazy with gingerbread this fall, all in the name of finding the best-tasting, most authentically “colonial” recipe. But really, I just wanted to eat lots of gingerbread. Not the cookie variety so much but soft, cake-like gingerbread — with piles of whipped cream.

Gingerbread actually dates back to medieval times, although it was made quite differently then, with bread crumbs and honey. See theoldfoodie.com for gingerbread recipes from many different centuries. My favorite one there — which I did not attempt — is the shockingly laborious 19th-century “Gingerbread for Voyages or Travelling,” which is baked, grated, kneaded, rebaked, dipped in spirits, washed with isinglass [fish bladder gelatin], wrapped in writing paper, and packed in a box so that “it will keep years.” Continue reading

Apple Dumplings

baked dumplings

Amelia Simmons, America’s first cookbook author, was passionate about apples. Here’s what she wrote in American Cookery (1796):

“Apples…are highly useful in families, and ought to be universally cultivated, excepting in the compactest cities. There is not a single family but might set a tree in some otherwise useless spot, which might serve the twofold use of shade and fruit; on which 12 or 14 kinds of fruit trees might easily be engrafted, and essentially preserve the orchard from the intrusions of boys, &c. which is too common in America.”

Living as I do in one of the “compactest cities,” I have no spot for an apple tree. But I do live a block from a farmers’ market with a huge variety of apples. I bought some Golden Delicious the other day and decided to make apple dumplings, a dish that was popular in Simmons’s time. Continue reading

Syllabub

I had never heard of syllabub before visiting Colonial Williamsburg. It’s still occasionally served in the South but was extremely popular in colonial times, made either as a beverage or in a thicker form (with a higher proportion of cream) as a dessert.

Syllabub used to be made by adding fresh warm milk to sweetened cider, wine, or ale, which caused a froth to form on top. Some versions also contained egg whites. I just wish I could replicate the very dramatic recipe for “a fine Syllabub from the Cow” by Amelia Simmons, from American Cookery (1796):

“Sweeten a quart of cyder with double refined sugar, grate nutmeg into it, then milk your cow into your liquor, when you have thus added what quantity of milk you think proper, pour half a pint or more, in proportion to the quantity of syllabub you make, of the sweetest cream you can get all over it.”

Lacking a cow in midtown Manhattan, I followed a more modern recipe from Shields Tavern in Williamsburg, Virginia. Continue reading