Homemade Butter

homemade butterThanks 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

Fruit Shrubs

shrub with seltzer

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

Open Hearth Cooking

hearth cookingI 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.”

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Salmagundy

salmagundyIt 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

Pound Cake

Mary Randolph's pound cake

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

Asparagus Forced in Rolls

forced asparagus in rolls

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

Colonial Tea Party

the tea party beginsAs my daughter’s spring break approached recently, I wondered whether I would get any blogging done, when inspiration struck: We would have an 18th-century tea party for her dolls, one of which is Felicity, American Girl’s so-called “spunky colonial girl.”  We even had doll-size blue willow china, a nice gift from friends.

Katie is not a girly girl — she’s more likely to make her dolls challenge each other to a duel than have tea — but she liked my idea well enough and got Felicity and Ivy suitably attired in colonial clothing. (Ivy is a Chinese-American girl from the 1970s, but let’s not quibble.) Continue reading