Rusks and Zwieback

zwieback with cinnamon sugarI wrote about rusk several years ago, after making it in an open-hearth cooking class. But that was soft rusk, which is really a misnomer because true rusk is a hard, twice-baked bread that is sliced before its second baking. Most Americans know it by its German name Zwieback, meaning “twice baked.”

Many of us ate Nabisco Zwieback when we were little — you may remember the striped yellow box with a smiling boy on it. I was sorry to learn that Nabisco no longer makes this bread. It seems to have gone out of favor in the United States, although you can still buy zwieback imported from Germany. Continue reading

Spoon Bread

spoon bread

“The apotheosis of corn bread, the ultimate, glorified ideal,” wrote journalist John Egerton about spoon bread in his book Southern Food (1987). I would agree with that. My family jokes about how besotted I’ve been with this dish ever since we ate it at the Christiana Campbell Tavern in Colonial Williamsburg.

Spoon bread at its best is like a soufflé version of cornbread, slightly crusty and chewy on top and soft and airy inside. The dish evolved from Southern cornbreads during the 19th century, and although it is still made in the South, it’s unfortunately not as common as it used to be.

Oddly, the term spoon bread didn’t appear in print until about 1904. The name may derive from suppone or suppawn, a Native American word for mush made from cornmeal mixed with boiling water. Spoon bread evolved much later, however, so it seems more likely that the dish is called spoon bread because it’s so soft that you need to eat it with a spoon.  Continue reading

Macaroni and Cheese

mac and cheese, Jefferson styleAs my daughter scarfed down yet another meal of mac and cheese the other day, I told her that she had Thomas Jefferson at least partly to thank for that dish, although I can’t imagine what he would have made of our modern-day macaroni boxes with powdered cheese packets.

Jefferson fell for pasta in a big way when he lived in France and traveled through Europe in the 1780s. He took notes on “maccaroni” (then a generic term for pasta) while in Italy, and drew a diagram for a pasta machine. He also brought home a recipe for hand-made noodles (to be used in vermicelli soup) and had a pasta press shipped home — which, like most of us, he didn’t really use. Continue reading

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

Transparent Pudding

transparent puddingI wanted to make transparent pudding because the name seemed so intriguing — and I wanted to see if it was actually transparent. It’s not, but the filling is sort of cloudy. It’s also more like a pie, but in the 18th century, this type of dessert was called pudding. (For more on the complicated history of pudding in England and America, see foodtimeline.org.)  Continue reading