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

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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Anadama Bread

IMG_0661I often become interested in a colonial dish only to learn that it’s perhaps not so colonial after all. This happened with anadama bread. It’s described in some modern cookbooks as an 18th century bread, but it doesn’t appear in 18th or even 19th century cookbooks. However, an Anadama brand bread was recorded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 1850, and there is anecdotal evidence that it was made before then.

There are quite a few legends about this delicious, slightly sweet bread, most involving a fisherman on Cape Ann, Massachusetts, and his wife Anna. Continue reading

Mary Ball Washington’s Gingerbread

IMG_0349As my family will attest, I went a little crazy with gingerbread this fall, all in the name of finding the best-tasting, most authentically “colonial” recipe. But really, I just wanted to eat lots of gingerbread. Not the cookie variety so much but soft, cake-like gingerbread — with piles of whipped cream.

Gingerbread actually dates back to medieval times, although it was made quite differently then, with bread crumbs and honey. See theoldfoodie.com for gingerbread recipes from many different centuries. My favorite one there — which I did not attempt — is the shockingly laborious 19th-century “Gingerbread for Voyages or Travelling,” which is baked, grated, kneaded, rebaked, dipped in spirits, washed with isinglass [fish bladder gelatin], wrapped in writing paper, and packed in a box so that “it will keep years.” Continue reading

Indian Pudding

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baked Indian puddingIndian pudding is not a photogenic dish, but if you like pudding, you’ll probably love it. Native Americans did not make this, but they taught European settlers how to use cornmeal, a main ingredient in the pudding, along with milk and molasses. It is basically a variation on English hasty pudding using cornmeal instead of wheat flour, which was scarce in the colonies. The dish evolved over time to include spices, butter, eggs, and sometimes raisins. It is traditionally baked for hours at a low temperature. Continue reading