Thanks to this blog, I cook with a lot of butter these days, since there seem to be few colonial dishes that don’t have large quantities of butter either in them or poured on top. I got the idea for making butter from a book my daughter brought home from the library, Janis Herbert’s The American Revolution for Kids. All you do is put a cup of whipping cream in a large wide-mouthed glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, and shake it for about 10 minutes. The cream turns into whipped cream in about five minutes, then thickens into butter. 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 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
We visited Mount Vernon, George Washington’s Virginia estate, with some friends a few weeks ago, and had a good time touring the house and gardens. I then made a beeline for the exhibition “Hoecakes and Hospitality: Cooking with Martha Washington,” which is on display at Mount Vernon’s Reynolds Museum through August 11th.
This exhibition explores the work that went on behind the scenes to feed the Washingtons and their many visitors. Some of the original pots and pans and tableware are on display, as are a number of Martha’s cookbooks and recipes. There are recipes for hoecakes (George’s favorite breakfast), sturgeon, a “ragoo” of asparagus, and Martha’s “Great Cake.” But the one that appealed to me most was for a drink called cherry bounce. 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.)
I apologize to my readers for being away from the blog universe for a few weeks. I was in Orlando, Florida, having a decidedly non-colonial experience with my family at the Harry Potter theme park. I was also letting my shrubs age and mellow.
Shrubs, also known as “drinking vinegars,” are syrups made from fruit (usually berries), vinegar, and sugar, which are then combined with water, wine, or spirits to make a refreshing, tart summer drink. An easy way to preserve fruits in the days before refrigeration, shrubs date back to 17th century England and were popular thirst-quenchers in colonial America. Continue reading
I had seen open hearth cooking at several historic sites but never tried it, so I was really excited about Sarah Lohman’s hearth cooking class at the Old Stone House in Brooklyn last weekend, despite the 90-degree temperature. Sarah, a “historic gastronomist” and author of the fantastic blog Four Pounds Flour, taught a small group of us how to cook an 18th-century meal over an open fire and learn, as she put it, “primal cooking skills.”
It didn’t come as much of a shock when my doctor told me recently that my cholesterol had skyrocketed. I’ve been buying massive quantities of butter, cream, and eggs ever since I started this blog. (His timing was pretty comical — I happened to be stirring a big pot of cream, sugar, and chocolate when he called.) I decided it was time to seek out some healthier 18th-century recipes.
Salmagundy was a sort of colonial chef’s salad that originated in England in the 17th century, and became popular in America as well. It was served on a large platter with the ingredients presented in layers or geometric patterns, often piled up in a dome shape. Continue reading