I recently spent a fun evening helping out with a historic cooking workshop at the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum, where we made queen cakes, little currant-filled treats that were popular in England and America in the 18th and 19th centuries. These cakes may have been named for Queen Mary, who reigned in Great Britain from 1689 to 1694, or her sister Anne (1702–1714). The earliest known recipe for them was in a book called Court Cookery (1725) by Robert Smith:
Take a Pound of dry’d Flower, a Pound of refin’d Sugar sifted, and a Pound of Currans wash’d, pick’d, and rubb’d clean, and a Pound of Butter wash’d very well, and rub it into the Flower and Sugar, with a little beaten Mace, and a little Orange-Flower Water; beat ten Eggs, but half the Whites, work it all well together with your Hands, and put in the Currans; sift over it double-refin’d Sugar, and put them immediately into a gentle Oven to bake.
Election Day used to be a lot more fun. In late 18th and early 19th century America, it was a festive holiday, featuring parades, dancing, and lots of food and drink. The culinary highlight was a sweetened, fruit-filled yeast bread called election cake.
This cake seems to have originated in Hartford, Connecticut, although it is really a descendant of the English “great cakes” made for grand occasions. It was a bread-like cake made from a dough sponge, which was usually left to rise overnight and mixed with butter, molasses or sugar, eggs, raisins, spices, and brandy. Continue reading →
It’s a coincidence that I made soup meagre during Lent, but my timing was good, since in the 18th century this meatless soup was traditionally made in the latter part of Lent, when springtime greens were just becoming available.
Soup meagre is a very simple dish, thus the name. I assumed “meagre” was a French word, but it’s the British spelling of “meager,” from the Old French maigre. In the oldest recipe I could find (in the Ashfield Recipe Book, 1723*), sorrel, parsley, cabbage, and onions were boiled in water, after which dried bread, cloves, salt, and pepper were added. Then, because this is colonial cooking, half a pound of butter was added. The soup was then boiled for two hours. When the soup was made late enough in spring, peas were included as well. Continue reading →
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 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 →
I’m intrigued by the variety of colonial recipes for stuffed foods, some of them with elaborate “forcing” instructions, as the method was called. Forced cucumber, for example, was stuffed with a mixture of ground beef, suet, and spices, then sewn up with a needle and thread and stewed. Odd but true!
Another approach was to stick foods into (rather than inside) other foods. You see this in desserts like quaking pudding, which has almond slices sticking out of it like a porcupine’s quills. (A picture of this can be seen on the home page of Ivan Day’s website Historic Food.) Another example of this spiking technique is asparagus forced in rolls, which I decided to make since asparagus is so plentiful right now. Continue reading →