Sand Tarts

sand tarts“Why are they called sand tarts?” asked my daughter. I told her that I think it’s because these delicate sugar cookies crumble like sand when you eat them.

Growing up, I looked forward to eating sand tarts every Christmas at my grandparents’ house in Pennsylvania. They are common in Pennsylvania Dutch country and throughout the state. My grandmother baked a lot of good cookies during the holidays, but this one was my favorite. She made them so thin you could practically see through them, and they were a sugary, buttery delight.

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Potato Rolls

potato rolls

This post was originally going to be called “Martha Washington’s Potato Rolls.” I had found recipes by that name in several cookbooks, and thought this would be a straightforward historical re-creation. Well food history is rarely straightforward — haven’t I learned that by now? The recipes turned out to be completely different, and I couldn’t tell which was really Martha’s.

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Graham Bread

graham breadI don’t have a lot of experience with yeast breads, but I couldn’t resist making graham bread after reading about Sylvester Graham, a 19th-century Presbyterian minister who devoted himself to dietary reform and developed the flour that bears his name. Some of his beliefs were pretty eccentric, but in his enthusiasm for whole grain bread, he was a visionary.

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Rhubarb Pie

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When I started researching historic rhubarb recipes, I was surprised not to find any in 18th-century cookbooks. It turns out that rhubarb cultivation for food had just begun in Europe then, and it was nonexistent in North America. The root of this tart plant had been used medicinally in China for thousands of years, to treat indigestion and other problems. Rhubarb was eventually grown in Europe for medicinal use, but the stalks weren’t eaten until the mid-18th century, and rhubarb wasn’t a common food until the 19th century. Continue reading

Eliza Leslie’s Cup Cakes

Eliza Leslie cup cakesAfter spending nearly two years writing mostly about 18th-century food, I’ve decided to expand my blog’s scope to include recipes from the 19th and early 20th centuries as well. I’ve strayed into the 19th century before, and the lure of this period has become irresistible. I’m also going to focus exclusively on baking and desserts.

One appeal of 19th-century recipes is that they are usually easier to follow than colonial ones. We have Eliza Leslie partly to thank for this change. I’ve written about Leslie before (in a post on Indian Pound Cake). Her cookbook Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats (1828) was the first of several bestsellers.

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Pine Tree Shillings

pine tree shilling

Long before bitcoins, the new digital currency that completely mystifies me, a coin called the pine tree shilling caused a big stir in colonial America. In the mid-17th century, the Massachusetts Bay Colony was flourishing but had a shortage of actual money. England did not want to send its coins to the colonies, since they were in short supply. So two settlers, John Hull and Robert Sanderson, starting minting their own money. These silver coins were known as pine tree shillings because one side was stamped with the image of a tree, usually a pine. (Pine trees, used for ships’ masts, were one of the Bay Colony’s main exports.)

Eventually someone had the bright idea to press one of these shillings into a cookie before baking, creating a tree design.  Continue reading

Joe Froggers

Joe FroggersBack in college, I had a roommate who was a great baker, and one of her specialties was Joe Froggers. I didn’t realize at the time that these wonderfully soft, thick gingerbread-like cookies had a colonial origin, and a good story behind them. They are named for Joseph Brown, or “Black Joe,” a freed slave whose mother was black and whose father was Native American. Black Joe fought in the Revolutionary War and in the 1790s opened a tavern in Marblehead, Massachusetts, north of Boston, where he had lived before the war. Continue reading

Apple Pandowdy

apple pandowdy

Shoo-Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy
Makes your eyes light up
Your tummy say “Howdy.”
Shoo-Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy
I never get enough of that wonderful stuff…

My husband and I have been unable to stop singing this ditty ever since I made apple pandowdy recently. The song by Guy Wood, with lyrics by Sammy Gallop, is from the 1940s. (Here’s Dinah Shore’s recording.) Pandowdy, however, dates back to colonial times. It is a sort of pie made with sliced fruit — usually apples — sweetened with sugar or molasses, then topped with a rolled biscuit dough, or according to some old recipes, a pastry dough. Continue reading