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.
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 →
George Washington wrote that of all fruits, “none pleases my taste as do’s the pine.” He had acquired a taste for pineapple in Barbados, and later bought it whenever possible, asking sea captains who traded his goods to bring pineapples back from the West Indies. But he was one of the lucky few to enjoy this fruit. It was so costly at the time, some hostesses would actually rent the fruit from bakers to display as a centerpiece, then return it uneaten. The pineapple would be rented out again and again, sometimes until it rotted!
There were occasional recipes for pineapple in 18th- and 19th-century British and American cookbooks. But most were just instructions for cutting and serving the fruit raw, or preserving it. As the 19th century progressed, pineapples were imported in larger numbers from Florida, the Caribbean, and Central America, and recipes for using them increased. Most of these were for preserves, compotes, and cold dishes like pineapple salad, ice cream, and Bavarian cream.
A 19th century recipe for peach pie caught my attention the other day, not just because I love peaches but because it called for whole unpitted peaches. My first thought was that this pie was a gift to the lazy cook — no peeling, no pitting! My second was that I might break a tooth eating it, but that was a risk I was willing to take.
Line the plate with plain paste, and lay in the plate five peaches, which just press between the fingers, but do not take out the stones, as they flavor the pie; now fill the plate with peaches which have been cut in two and the stones taken out. Sift over this a small cup of sugar, and then add two spoonfuls of water. Cover and bake in a moderate oven one hour. Do not peel the peaches; they are very much better not to be.
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 →
Back 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 →
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 →
I was so excited to see a small wooden box of salt cod fillets at a supermarket a few weeks ago. I had no idea what to do with it but knew I’d find recipes in 18th-century cookbooks, since cod was ubiquitous in colonial times.