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

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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