Election Cake

Election CakeElection 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

Maria Parloa’s Peach Pie

Maria Parloa's Peach PieA 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.

Here is the recipe, from Maria Parloa’s The Appledore Cookbook (1872):

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.

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Mulled Wine

mulled wineThis post was originally going to be about posset, an 18th-century tonic made with alcohol, hot spiced milk, and eggs. It sounded like therapeutic eggnog, just the thing for those of us already worn down by the holidays — and the cold weather in New York right now.

Well, I made two posset recipes, and neither turned out too well. I won’t go into the gory details about that (curdling and so on), but fortunately, while researching possets, I came across a recipe for mulled wine made with eggs.  I was intrigued and decided to give it a try, and I’m so glad I did! 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

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

Boston Brown Bread

Boston brown breadI got the idea for making Boston brown bread when I saw several big cans of B&M Brown Bread in my mother’s kitchen cupboard the other day. Bread in a can — how weird is that? It’s surprisingly edible, and might be just the thing to stock for the next hurricane. But if you live outside of New England, good luck finding it. “I know what you’re talking about, we don’t have it, and you’re the first person who’s ever asked for it!” said my local grocer.

I wanted to make this bread from scratch anyway, since it dates back to colonial times, or nearly so. Wheat flour was scarce in the American colonies, so “make-do” breads were made from other flours, or a combination of wheat and other flours. Boston brown bread — called just brown bread in New England — contained rye flour, wheat flour, and cornmeal. These were mixed with molasses and buttermilk, and the bread was steamed in a kettle over a fire.

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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