My apologies for writing about bananas at a time when we clearly have more pressing things to talk about. But the White House isn’t taking my calls (“the comment line is currently closed”), and I’ve neglected this blog too long. I also think a lot of people might be in need of comfort food, thus the choice of pudding.
It’s hard to imagine now, when bananas are so plentiful and cheap, that they were an exotic fruit a few hundred years ago. James Fenimore Cooper mentioned finding bananas in markets in the 1820s, but they were a rarity until well after the Civil War, sold only in port cities like New York and Charleston. Cookbook author Eleanor Parkinson seemed to assume most readers were unfamiliar with the banana when she wrote in 1846, “This fruit is about four or five inches long, of the shape of a cucumber, and of a highly grateful flavor…. When ripe it is a very pleasant food, either undressed, or fried in slices like fritters.” Continue reading →
I’ve been craving comfort food lately, what with all the bad news these days, so I delved into Miss Leslie’s Directions for Cookery (1837) in search of a nice old pudding. As I’ve written before, Eliza Leslie was such an elegant writer, her cookbooks are worth reading for her fine prose as well as her recipes.
I was drawn to “A Bread and Butter Pudding,” a simple dish that calls for layers of buttered slices of bread topped with currants and brown sugar, with an egg and milk sauce poured on top. This pudding is British in origin, with published recipes dating to the early 18th century. It seems most closely related to an older pudding from Devon, England, called “white-pot,” which contained dates as well as raisins.
John Campbell Loudoun’s apple pudding recipe first caught my eye because it was written in verse. A rarity today, rhyming recipes were common in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when they were supposedly used by housewives to help them remember recipes. Loudoun’s poem, attributed to him by Kristie Lynn and Robert Pelton, authors of The Early American Cookbook, is much older, dating back to the 18th century:
If you would have a good pudding, observe what you’re taught: —
Take two pennyworth (six) of eggs, when twelve for the groat (fourpence):
And of the same fruit that Eve had once chosen,
Well pared and well chopped, at least half-a-dozen;
Six ounces of bread, let your maid eat the crust,
The crumbs must be grated as small as the dust;
Six ounces of currants from the stones you must sort,
Lest they brake out your teeth, and spoil all your sport;
Five ounces of sugar won’t make it too sweet;
Some salt and some nutmeg will make it compleat,
Three hours let it boyle, without hurry or flutter,
And then serve it up without sugar or butter.
I couldn’t let August go by without writing about corn, a mainstay of the 18th-century Americans’ diet. I’ve posted several cornmeal-based recipes, but wanted to try one with fresh corn — especially the mysterious “green corn” I kept seeing in old recipes.
It turns out that “green corn” just refers to young ears of sweet corn, and also to varieties developed to ripen in early summer. This corn was often roasted by Native Americans and North American colonists, or used in stews. The forerunner of corn pudding was Native American succotash, corn stewed with vegetables like beans. But as Betty Fussell writes in The Story of Corn, whereas Native Americans sometimes added “hickory cream,” made from ground nuts, to thicken their corn stew, the settlers used cow’s milk, and often mixed in a little butter. Continue reading →
I wanted to make transparent pudding because the name seemed so intriguing — and I wanted to see if it was actually transparent. It’s not, but the filling is sort of cloudy. It’s also more like a pie, but in the 18th century, this type of dessert was called pudding. (For more on the complicated history of pudding in England and America, see foodtimeline.org.) Continue reading →
I’ve been battling a cold for the last week, so I decided to try a colonial cure, Amelia Simmons’s “sickbed custard”:
“Scald a quart milk, sweeten and salt a little, whip 3 eggs and stir in, bake on coals in a pewter vessel.”
In the 18th century, many medicinal vessels were made from pewter. It was sturdy and relatively affordable. Lower-quality pewter also usually contained toxic lead, so I hope Simmons was using the good stuff or she may have been sickening people with her sickbed custard.
Indian pudding is not a photogenic dish, but if you like pudding, you’ll probably love it. Native Americans did not make this, but they taught European settlers how to use cornmeal, a main ingredient in the pudding, along with milk and molasses. It is basically a variation on English hasty pudding using cornmeal instead of wheat flour, which was scarce in the colonies. The dish evolved over time to include spices, butter, eggs, and sometimes raisins. It is traditionally baked for hours at a low temperature. Continue reading →