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Sample Chapter

6: EARLY AMERICAN MEALS:
SPRING (1792 -1852)

The Early American period from the Revolution to the Civil War is where we can document a full range of seasonal menus. Printed cookbooks and surviving kitchen manuscripts give a clear picture of seasonal cooking, as recipes used only once a year had to be written down. Seasonal lines had blurred, as settlers and colonists became more efficient farmers and preservers and as transportation improved. But seasons were still very important for average Americans. (And, incidentally, the unusually cool climate of 1645-1825, sometimes called "the little ice age," also exaggerated the effect of seasons upon early settlers. It was somewhat abating by the Early American period, except for the famous "year without a summer," 1816.)

Most calendars of Early American life begin in winter, the season that defined the activities of the other three. In terms of food, however, early spring was the time of simple meals and scarcity, as stored supplies ran out and natural refrigerators began to fail. Hens stopped laying eggs in the dark of winter, but eggs could be stored for a while. Most farmers stopped milking in late fall or early winter, and slaughtered surplus cattle, so that the remaining cows could be kept more economically. By spring, stored butter and cheese had run out, or were of very poor quality.

Pigs were the easiest animals to keep through the winter and were slaughtered in midwinter for Christmas roasts. So salt pork or pickled pork were the basis of early spring meals, with the last of the beans and cornmeal. Hunting and trapping supplied what fresh meat could be had. The other activity in rural areas was tapping maple trees for syrup and sugar. Because the climate was colder in Early American times, maple syrup was still being produced in the southern states.

The first spring greens, onions, and asparagus were eagerly awaited, and sometimes eaten in omelets with the first eggs and butter. Americans were beginning to grow rhubarb for spring pies. In coastal areas, fishing and shellfishing resumed once the worst winter storms were over, and spring runs of spawning fish such as smelt, shad, and salmon were still important. By late spring, the salt pork could be stretched around meals of veal and lamb, as farmers culled male calves from dairy herds and male lambs from wool flocks. Veal was one of the cheapest meats and considered food for the poor.

(A very ingenious study of stored foods listed in estate inventories from 1711 to 1835 by Sarah E McMahon shows numeri­cally how seasons gradually extended. It's in "'All Things in Their Proper Season': Sea­sonal Rhythms of Diet in Nineteenth Century New England," in Vol. 63, No. 2, Spring 1989 Agricultural History magazine.)

ANN'S INDIAN BAKED PUDDING
(1822-1852)

Indian pudding is one of the best-­remembered early American foods, but a lot of mythology has grown up around it. For one thing, the name derives from the "Indian meal" (cornmeal) used in a simplified English pudding. Although Native Americans had long made enriched and sweetened cornmeal mushes, this kind of baked pudding was not thought of as Indian food by most early Americans. (The most obvious Indian retention in this recipe is the step of scalding the meal before assembling the pudding.) Settled Native Americans ate this kind of pudding in the Early American period, but probably did not begin thinking of it as an ethnic food until the early twentieth century. It's also im­portant to remember that early American puddings were not very sweet and were not usually eaten as desserts. Indian pudding in particular was often eaten first, before the meats, to fill up on. Many early Indian puddings were boiled in cloth bags, as home ovens were not common in some regions.

This particular recipe is from the manu­script cookbook of Elizabeth C. Kane, a member of a prominent Philadelphia family. The Kanes could afford sugar (possibly brown sugar) in this pudding, where most people used molasses, and farmers might use their own maple or sorghum. The recipe was published by food historian Jan Longone in an article in the Spring-Summer 1986 issue of The American Magazine and Historical Chronicle. I have guessed at the quantities of sugar and spice from other early recipes. The "whey method" is from Lydia Maria Child's American Frugal Housewife, and you may need the extra milk to compensate for the dryness of modern cornmeal. If you increase the recipe, increase the baking time.

“One cup of meal, with one quart of Milk, a pint of which make hot and scald the meal, the other half add cold, three eggs, a lump of butter the size of a large walnut, sugar Cinnamon and nutmeg to your taste bake it one hour: you may add a little ginger if you like it -- Either Wine sauce or butter and sugar mixed together.”

Yield: Serves 8

1 cup yellow cornmeal (stone ground preferred)

1 quart whole milk or half-and-half, plus 2 cups more for optional whey method

3 small eggs or 2 extra large eggs

3 tablespoons salted butter, plus 1 stick for sauce, and some to grease baking dish

3 ounces white or light brown sugar,

plus 1/2 cup for sauce

1 tablespoon mixed cinnamon and nut­meg

1 / 2 teaspoon ginger (optional)

Equipment: 2- or 3-quart baking dish

1. Bring 2 cups of the milk or half-and-­half almost to a boil in a pot or mi­crowave oven.

2. Stir hot milk carefully into the cornmeal.

3. Stir in 3 tablespoons butter and let cool.

4. Break eggs and mix with spices and the 3 ounces of sugar.

5. Mix 2 more cups of milk with the egg mixture, and then work every­thing into the cornmeal.

6. Grease baking dish.

7. Fill baking dish with pudding mixture. (To make "whey," a sweet clear liquid that would be used as a sauce, add another cup or two of cold milk on top of the pudding before it goes into the oven.)

8. Bake 1 hour at 350 degrees.

9. For sauce, blend a stick of softened butter with 1/2 cup sugar or brown sugar.

Serve before or with the meat at a large af­ternoon "dinner." The butter-sugar sauce would be melted onto a mound of pudding, or the whey ladled over it in a bowl.

A GOOD PICKLE FOR BEEF AND PORK,
CALLED THE "KNICKERBOCKER PICKLE"
(1825)

This recipe would have been used in the fall and winter slaughter of cattle and pigs respectively, but I place it here so you can make your own pickled beef and pork for the bean recipes that would have been more important in early spring. In winter some cuts could be frozen or refrigerated in a bar­rel of snow, but most beef and pork, and some mutton and fish, were preserved by salting or pickling and brought out for daily use. Even in cities, salt pork and corned beef were cheaper than fresh meat and more widely used.

This pickle recipe is from the 1825 The Family Receipt Book, containing Thirty Valuable and Simple Receipts . . . , by "A Long­-Island Farmer." The quantities given would cure a barrel of meat, so I have a given a one-twelfth-size recipe, suitable for a full brisket of beef or five pounds of country spareribs. Knickerbocker pickle shows the developing American sweet tooth, later expressed in sugar-cured hams and sweet glazes for baked corned beef or ham. The "Long-Island Farmer" is among the first American authors to print a list of ingredients in a column as we do today.

“The following Receipt is making pickle for beef or pork, is strongly recommended to the adoption of those who pickle beef and pork for family use. Persons in the trade who adopt it will find a ready sale. It has been used by many families in this city and always approved.

Receipt,­-

6 gallons water,

9 lbs. salt, coarse and fine mixed, 3 lbs, Brown Sugar,

3 oz. salt petre [sodium nitrate, optional],

1 oz. pearl-ash [substitute baking soda],

1 gallon molasses.

In making a larger or smaller quantity of pickle, the above proportions are to be observed. Boil and skim these ingredients well, and when cold, put them over the beef or pork."

Yield: Enough for a full brisket of beef or 5 pounds of spareribs

2-1/2 cups ( 3/4 pound) kosher salt or pick­ling salt

1 cup lightly packed down (1/4 pound) brown sugar

1-1/2 teaspoons (1/4 ounce) sodium nitrite

(optional)

1/2 teaspoon (1/12 ounce) baking soda

1-1/3 cups molasses

2-3 pound flat-cut brisket, or 12 country spareribs

Equipment: Deep plastic or enamel or pottery bowl or bucket, clean stones to weight meat, refrigerator space

1. Put 2 quarts of water into a soup pot and measure in the other ingredients.

2. Heat the water to boiling, stirring to dissolve the other ingredients.

3. Remove from heat.

4. Wash off meat, arrange in bowl, pour the pickle over it. Weight down the meat with stones as necessary to keep it submerged.

5. Store in refrigerator. After a week, meats will be quite salty.

Use in recipe for Boiled Dish or Baked Beans, below, or other recipes calling for corned beef or salt pork.

BOILED DISH-MEAT (1844)

This recipe, from the 1844 The New England Economical Housekeeper, and Family Receipt Book, by Mrs. E.A. Howland, seems to be the first for what we now call "New England Boiled Dinner," or at least the first to describe it as made in one pot by timing the vegetables. However, by 1845 boiled corned beef and salt pork had probably been eaten almost every day for more than 150 years in the United States, north and south. Mrs. Howland's boiling times suggest either that she was working with very dried-out early spring vegetables, or that Americans were beginning in the 1840s to overcook vegetables. Lydia Maria Child's American Frugal Housewife, fifteen years earlier, had much shorter boiling times for beets and potatoes, although longer for parsnips. Because we have much smaller pots today, I have given a recipe with boiling times suitable to modern vegetables, and suggest cutting them into four-ounce pieces to cook faster. Unlike most modern cooks, Mrs. Howland cooked her beets along with everything, often staining the meat and cut vegetables pink, except when she had white beets or yellow beets (which you may still find in farmers' markets). Her turnips may have been larger than ours, and she probably cooked the cabbage whole.

“Corned beef should be boiled three hours, pork two hours. Beets need as much boiling as the beef in winter; one hour will do in the summer, when they are more tender; carrots, cabbage and turnips, each an hour, parsnips forty-five minutes, potatoes twenty to thirty minutes.”

Later recipes mention other vegetables, such as summer or winter squash, corn, and rutabagas. I have not found a reference to boiled corned beef with onions in the nineteenth century. There is also some record of cooking an Indian pudding in a muslin bag along with the beef and vegetables, or adding dumplings like the Corn Dumplings below.

Yield: Serves 6

1 flat-cut corned beef brisket (2-3 pounds)

lean salt pork (optional)

6 2-inch beets

6 potatoes (red or waxy preferred) 6 parsnips

6 large carrots

Large head green cabbage

6 2-3-inch, white-topped turnips (or one large rutabaga)

Equipment: 1 oversized soup pot, or 2 spaghetti pots, long tongs

1. About 3-1/2 hours before you are planning to eat, put the meat in a large pot, and cover with water up to about half the pot (4 quarts). Bring to a boil.

2. Remove top of pot and reduce heat until water just simmers.

3. Turn up the heat and a bagged pudding, if using. Reduce heat again to a bare simmer. Make a time chart for when the dish is to be served, and plan to add beets an hour before serving, depending on size; potatoes 10 minutes later; turnips 10 minutes after that; parsnips and carrots 25 minutes before serving for the biggest pieces, 15 minutes for smaller ones; and cabbage 7-10 minutes. If your pot isn't big enough, plan either a second pot with salted water, or start the beets and potatoes earlier and plan to remove them to make room.

4. Trim off tops and roots of beets. When it is time to add them to the pot, increase heat so that it does not stop simmering, then reduce heat to keep them at just a simmer.

5. Wash potatoes and peel off any green areas on potatoes. Add to pot.

6. If using rutabaga, scrub; peel off wax, if any; trim; and cut in half at the equator. Quarter each half. If using turnips, scrub and trim off any roots or sprouts. Add to pot on schedule.

7. Peel parsnips and carrots and cut into 1-inch lengths. Separate all the pieces an inch or more in diameter into one pile, to add about 25 minutes before serving.

8. Check corn beef for doneness (It will have lost some of its stiffness). If done, you can remove from the pot and weight between 2 plates for cleaner slices. This makes more room for vegetables. Check the beets for doneness by poking with a fork (it should go all the way in). Check the potatoes and rutabaga or turnip by halving the largest one or piece. Potatoes should be cooked all the way through; turnip or rutabaga could have a small granular area at the center. Remove vegetables that are done.

9. Add the large chunks of carrot and parsnip 25 minutes before serving.

10. Add the smaller chunks of carrot and parsnip 15 minutes before serving.

11. Cut the cabbage the long way into 6-8 wedges, each with some of the stem to hold it together. Add to the pot about 7-10 minutes before serving and cover tightly so the cabbage steams.

12. Slice corned beef (and/or salt pork, if using) in thin slices. Arrange on a platter with vegetables surrounding the meat.

Serve with melted butter.

CORN DUMPLINGS (1845)

Boiled dinners were in favor because the physics of boiling water guarantee a constant temperature with relatively little tending of the open fireplace. The large pot of boiling water invited the addition of storage vegetables and also bagged puddings or simple dumplings like these from Domestic Cookery, by Marylander Elizabeth Lea, first published in 1845. Notice the similarity of these dumplings to the Indian Bread in Chapter 1. Mrs. Lea's cornmeal would have been stone ground with the germ and some of the bran still in it. It was moister and stickier than ours, and may have cooked faster.

"When you boil corned beef, new bacon, or pork, you can make dumplings by taking some grease out of the pot with some of the water, and pouring it hot on a quart of Indian meal, mix and work it well, (it will not require salt), make it into little round cakes (they should be stiff, or they will boil to pieces); take out the meat when it is done, and boil the dumplings in the same water for half an hour. They may be eaten with molasses and make a good common dessert."

Yield: About 48 dumplings

4 cups yellow cornmeal (stone ground preferred)

1 recipe Boiled Dish (above) 1 cup molasses or maple syrup

Equipment: Food processor or blender, mixing bowl, wooden spoon or pudding stick, ladle, waxed paper, skimmer or slotted spoon

1. If using modern cornmeal, as boiled dinner is cooking, whirl half the cornmeal for 5 minutes in a blender or food processor with one side propped up with a thin book.

2. Put all the cornmeal in a mixing bowl and skim the grease and some of the broth out of the boiled dinner, starting with about 2 cups. Add little by little to the cornmeal, stirring hard to get a crumbly-looking "pre-dough" that will stick together when compressed.

3. Wet hands and form patties smaller than your palm.

4. Set out patties on waxed paper.

5. When boiled dinner is served, turn up heat on broth, and put in corn cakes with skimmer or slotted spoon, a few at a time. Cover pot and reduce heat to a simmer.

6. Cook 30 minutes.

Serve two dumplings as a dessert, striped with a little molasses or maple syrup.

CORNED BEEF HASH (1861)

Boiled dinner was almost always followed by a hash of the leftover meats and potatoes. This was so obvious, and so variable, that early writers did not write down a detailed recipe. The name "hash" comes from the French verb to slice or chop. Older English and French hashes were sliced meat reheated in gravy. The chopped and fried hash with potatoes we still enjoy is a somewhat later development, and this 1861 recipe, from The Housekeeper's Encyclopedia by Mrs. E.F. Haskell, suggests that some people still did not accept fried hash at that date.

"The best hash is made from boiled corned beef. It should be boiled very tender, and chopped fine when entirely cold. The potatoes for hash made of corned beef are the better for being boiled in the pot liquor. When taken from the pot, remove the skins from the potatoes, and when entirely cold chop them fine. To a coffee-cup of chopped meat allow four of chopped potatoes, stir the potatoes gradually into the meat, until the whole is mixed. Do this at evening and, if warm, set the hash in a cool place. In the morning put the spider [frying pan with legs] on the fire with a lump of butter as large as the bowl of a table-spoon, add a dust of pepper, and if not sufficiently salt, add a little; usually none is needed. When the butter has melted, put the hash in the spider, add four table-spoons of water, and stir the whole together. After it has become really hot, stir it from the bottom, cover a plate over it, and set the spider where it will merely stew. This is a moist hash, and preferred by some to a dry or browned hash."

Yield: Serves two hungry farmers, but can be multiplied according to available leftovers

1 cup corned beef

4 cups boiled potatoes and other veg­etables from boiled dinner, such as beets, carrots, parsnips

2 tablespoons butter

Equipment: Heavy frying pan with loose lid

1. Cut up and measure corned beef. Rub skins off potatoes and vegetables before cutting up and measuring them.

2. Heat up butter in skillet, add a little pepper. If you are working with leftovers of the boiled dinner above, you should not need more salt.

3. Mix meat and vegetables together and add to frying pan with 1/4 cup water.

4. When water begins to bubble, stir once to turn it over, reduce heat and simmer until hash is warmed thoroughly.

Serve for breakfast with eggs and hot biscuits or mush.

BAKED BEANS (1829)

This is the first historical recipe I ever cooked, and I still make it. "Boston Baked Beans" became associated with so much sweetening by the end of the nineteenth century that it is quite a surprise to try them with no sugar or molasses at all!

This is apparently the first written recipe for pork and beans, although written sources mention it as a common food for more than a hundred years, and folklore associates it with Puritan Sabbath observance. This recipe appears in the 1829 The Frugal House­wife, by Lydia Maria Child. Mrs. Child learned to cook in Maine as a teenage house­keeper for her married older sister, but wrote the book as a resident of Boston. Native Americans stewed beans with fat or smoked meat (and often with dried corn), and there are dishes of fava beans with pork or bacon in English and French cooking traditions.

Home baking ovens were most common in New England and Pennsylvania, and thus much of the country would have used some­thing more like the boiled Stewed Beans and Pork. Mrs. Child does not specify what kind of beans to use, and the use of small white beans in "Boston Baked Beans" seems to have developed over the eighteenth century. Probably early Americans used whatever dried beans were available, including spotted and yellow-eye beans like the multicolored Indian beans. Mrs. Child's recipe is very close to the method currently recommended by the California Bean Board to soak out many of the bean sugars now known to cause intestinal gas. I have added a corned beef option mentioned in other early recipes. You can half this recipe for a small pot.

"Baked beans are a very simple dish, yet few cook them well. They should be put in cold water, and hung over the fire, the night before they are baked. In the morning, they should be put in a colander, and rinsed two or three times; then again place in a kettle, with the pork you intend to bake, covered with water, and kept scalding hot, an hour or more. A pound of pork is quite enough for a quart of beans, and that is a large dinner for a common family. The rind of the pork should be slashed. Pieces of pork alternately fat and lean are most suitable; the cheeks are the best. A little pepper sprinkled among the beans, when they are placed in the bean-pot, will render them less unhealthy. They should be just covered with water, when put into the oven; and the pork should be sunk a little below the surface of the beans. Bake three or four hours."

NOTE: RECIPE REQUIRES TWO DAYS.

Yield: Serves 6-8

2 pounds dried beans, small white or yellow-eye preferred

1 pound lean salt pork, or point-cut corned beef brisket

Black pepper

Equipment: Large soup pot, bean pot or covered casserole, colander

1. The night before serving, wash beans carefully in the colander and pick over to remove any dirt, small stones, or spoiled beans.

2. Put beans in a large soup pot and cover with a lot of water.

3. Cover pot and bring to a boil for 4 minutes. Remove from heat and let soak overnight.

4. Drain beans in colander. Rinse with fresh water a few times.

5. Slash rind of salt pork, if using. Return beans to pot, add meat, and cover with water.

6. Bring pot to a boil, but immediately reduce heat to simmer 1 hour without cover.

7. Again drain beans and meat in colander.

8. Bring 6 cups of water to a boil. Pre­heat the oven to 250 degrees.

9. Put about 2/3 of the beans into the bean pot or covered casserole, sprinkle on some pepper. Add the meat, then the rest of the beans, and another sprinkling of black pepper.

10. If using a rounded bean pot, use just enough water to cover (about 4 cups). In any other covered casserole, add another cup of water.

11. Cover pot and place in the oven. Reduce heat to 200 degrees and cook 3-7 hours. Check once or twice to see if you need to add a little water, and for doneness.

Serve as simple supper or with brown bread, Thirded Bread, or codfish cakes. Leftover beans were reheated, made into a soup with added water, or spread on bread to make baked bean sandwiches.

STEWED BEANS AND PORK
(1841)

Home brick bake ovens were most characteristic of the northern colonies and states prior to the wide acceptance of cook stoves from 1840 to 1870. Thus pork and beans in the middle and southern colonies were more likely to be boiled over the fire. Because the dried beans and salt pork represented concentrated and easily transported food energy, this form of pork and beans was widely used on sailing ships, army camps, and wagon trains. The recipe is from the 1841 The Good Housekeeper, by Sarah Josepha Hale. Mrs. Hale was editor of Godey's Lady's Book (magazine) from 1837 to 1877 and seems to be the first to specify white beans. Her recipe largely copies Mrs. Child's and again does not use sweetening.

"Stewed beans and pork are prepared in the same way [as her previous baked bean recipe, similar to Child's, above], only they are kept over the fire, and the pork in them, three or four hours instead of being in the oven. The beans will not be white or pleasant to the taste unless they are well soaked and washed, nor are they healthy without this process."

Yield: Serves 6-8

2 pounds dried white beans (pea, navy, or small white preferred)

1 pound lean salt pork, or point-cut corned beef brisket (the fattier, front part)

Black pepper

Equipment: Large soup pot, colander

1. The night before serving, wash beans carefully in the colander and pick over to remove any dirt, small stones, or spoiled beans.

2. Put beans in a large soup pot and cover with 2 quarts of water.

3. Cover pot and bring to a boil for 4 minutes. Remove from heat and let soak overnight.

4. Drain beans in colander. Rinse with fresh water a few times.

5. "Score the rind" of salt pork, if using. Return beans to pot, add meat, and water, just to cover.

6. Bring pot to a boil, but immediately reduce heat to simmer 1 hour without cover.

7. Again drain beans and meat in colander.

8. Return beans to pot, add meat, and water to cover, "one tea-spoonful of salt," and "a little pepper."

9. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer 3-4 hours. Beans are done when floury clear through.

THIRDED BREAD (1833)

New Englanders especially were apt to make puddinglike breads of rye- and corn­meal, or this thirded bread of wheat, corn, and rye flours. They later evolved into the steamed brown bread that some people still like with baked beans. The recipe is from Lydia Maria Child's The American Frugal Housewife, with some quantities from a version tested by Sandra L. Oliver in Saltwater Foodways.

"Some people like one third Indian [cornmeal] in their flour. Others like one third rye; and some think the nicest of all bread is one third Indian, one third rye, and one third flour, made according to the directions for flour bread. When Indian is used, it should be salted, and scalded, before the other meal is put in. A mixture of other grains is economical when flour is too high.

"Flour bread should have a sponge set the night before. The sponge should be soft enough to pour; mixed with water, warm or cold, according to the temperature of the weather. One gill of lively yeast is enough to put into sponge for two loaves. . . . About an hour before your oven is ready, stir in flour into your sponge till it is stiff enough to lay on a well floured board or table. Knead it up pretty stiff, and put it into well greased pans.... Common sized loaves will bake in three quarters of an hour. If they slip easily in the pans it is a sign they are done."

NOTE: RECIPE TAKES TWO DAYS. Yield: 30-36 slices

3 cups rye flour (stone ground preferred)

3 cups yellow cornmeal (stone ground preferred)

3 cups whole wheat flour, plus 1-2 cups more to knead

1 tablespoon yeast

Butter to grease loaf pans

Equipment: 3 loaf pans or 2 large loaf pans, board for kneading, 2 mixing bowls (1 large), kitchen towels

1. Heat 3 cups water to boiling.

2. In a mixing bowl, stir boiling water into cornmeal and 1 tablespoon salt.

3. Mix yeast with a little water and a pinch of sugar in a small cup. When a foam of bubbles forms on top, you know the yeast is active and can proceed to make the "sponge."

4. Blend the yeast with the rye flour and enough water to make a pourable batter, 2-3 cups.

5. Cover the two mixing bowls and let sit overnight.

6. In the morning, combine the corn­meal and the rye sponge, and mix well.

7. Work in the whole wheat flour to make a stiff dough. It will be fairly sticky.

8. Flour the board and your hands, re­move rings, and knead the dough until it is somewhat elastic and smooth. It will remain more sticky than bread dough.

9. Roll the dough up into a ball, and re­turn to the large mixing bowl. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise until at least half-again larger.

10. "Punch down" dough to remove large air bubbles, and divide into 3 parts.

11. Grease loaf pans. You may sprinkle a little cornmeal in the bottom of each pan.

12. Knead each portion of dough a few times, then shape into loaves and put them in the pans. Let rise until about half-again as large.

13. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake loaves 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 325 degrees and bake another 40-50 minutes, or until the loaves come out of the pans easily, and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped. (If the loaves come out, but the bottom doesn't sound done, put the loaves directly on the wire racks of the oven, upside down, for another 5-10 minutes.)

Serve hot with butter, often with baked beans. Early American health food enthusiasts would not eat hot bread, so they would bake a day ahead. Leftover crusts were broken into crumbs for puddings, or stewed with milk to make "brewis."

OYSTER SOUP MR. PACA'S WAY
(1799)

Shellfish beds could be raked in early spring, and oysters were already being packed into barrels of ice and shipped in­land on rivers and canals in Early American times. Railroads made them a popular luxury food over much of America. This recipe is from a Maryland cooking manuscript of Miss Ann Chase, begun in May 1811. The recipe is reprinted in the book, Maryland's Way, published by the Hammond-Harwood House Association in 1964. William Paca, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, died in 1799, so we can assume that this recipe dates from his lifetime. Miss Chase's father, Justice Samuel Chase, was a colleague of Mr. Paca and also a signer of the Declaration. Mr. Paca liked a very thick oyster stew. This was a rich soup course served in the home of the chief magistrate of Maryland, but probably only the richness and spice would have been lacking on the tables of more ordinary city dwellers. Since oysters were larger in his time, I have changed around the directions slightly to thicken the soup before adding the oysters.

"Take half a gallon of oysters opened new with their liquor and stew them: when half done take a piece of butter the bigness of a teacup and rub in with as much flour as will thicken them. Season with pepper, salt and mace. Just before you take them up add half a pint of cream."

Yield: Serves 12

2 quarts of oysters and juice (from about 6 dozen whole oysters)

6 ounces salted butter (1-1/2 sticks)

1/2 cup flour

1 tablespoon wheat germ (optional)

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon mace

1/2 teaspoon pepper

Equipment: Large soup pot, mixing bowl, fine sieve

1. About an hour before starting, remove butter from refrigerator to soften.

2. If you are starting from whole oysters, scrub off the shells and put them in a large pot with a tight lid. Add a few tablespoonfuls of water and steam the oysters for a few seconds until all the shells open slightly. Now cut the oyster meats into a mixing bowl and discard shells. Save juices with meats. When you are finished, pour the steaming liquid carefully into the mix­ing bowl, so you don't get the sand or shells into the soup. (Mr. Paca's cook, who may have been a slave, might have had extra help to open the oys­ters, or might have been authorized to pay a peddler to shuck the oysters.)

3. Cream butter and flour together. Cut mixture into small pieces.

4. Pour oyster liquor off oysters into a soup pot, and heat it to a simmer.

5. Add mace and pepper, and the flour­butter mixture. Stir to dissolve all the flour and cook until it thickens.

6. Add oyster meats and simmer 5-10 minutes, stirring to mix well.

7. Remove from heat and mix in cream. Taste and add salt if needed.

Serve hot with hard crackers.

TO BROIL COD, SALMON,
WHITING, OR HADDOCK (1792)

This recipe is from a London cookbook published in Boston, The Frugal Housewife, by Susannah Carter. We know this book was widely used, in part because sections of it were borrowed for American Cookery by Amelia Simmons four years later. Right now, cod and haddock are somewhat endangered species, and hake (the American version of whiting) is not usually sold whole or in steaks. On the other hand, farmed salmon are now widely available, so we can make this Early American spring dish much as it was eaten along many rivers as the salmon came up to spawn in the spring months. The main difference is that the farmed salmon of today are fattier than wild salmon, but this makes them even better when broiled or grilled. Early American broiling was done over burned-down wood coals, on a gridiron. We can use a charcoal grill, a gas grill, or the oven broiler on any stove. The lobster-butter sauce was typically English and does not seem to have been popular in the United States, where lobsters were spit-roasted or boiled and eaten as a separate dish.

"Flour them and have a quick clear fire; set your gridiron high; broil them of a fine brown; lay them in a dish and for sauce have good melted butter. Take a lobster, bruise the body in the butter, cut the meat small, put all together into the melted butter, make it hot and pour it into the dish, or into ba­sons. Garnish with horseradish and lemon."

Yield: Serves 6

3-4 pound section of salmon, or salmon steaks

Shortening to grease grill

1 / 2 cup flour

1 lemon

Prepared horseradish

Equipment: Paper towels, charcoal or gas grill (optional), fish cage for grill (optional), broiler pan, stoneware dish, hardwood chips (optional), pancake turner

1. Before cooking, wash fish in cold water and dry with paper towels. If using charcoal grill, make a smaller fire than usual, mostly on one side, and let it burn down to coals. If using oven broiler, set up pan as far from the heat­ing element as possible. If you grill outdoors with wood chips for added flavor, it may surprise you to know that Amelia Simmons suggested this for grilling fish in 1796: "[M]ake a smoke with small chips while broiling."

2. Spread out flour on a plate or in a paper bag, and mix with salt and pep­per. Dredge fish in flour.

3. Grease grill or cage with shortening. (Early American recipes call for rubbing the gridiron with a piece of suet.) Set fish in cage (if using) or "flesh side down" (if using split or filleted fish) on the grill or skin-side-down in a broiler pan.

4. Grill or broil inch-thick salmon steaks or fillets about 4 minutes before turning. Try to keep them quite far from the coals. With larger pieces, start at about 5 minutes per inch.

5. Turn fish by sliding onto the stoneware plate. Turn over on the plate, and slide back onto the grill or broiler pan.

6. Cook steaks or fillets about 3 more minutes, larger pieces another 5 minutes per inch. Early American cooks considered fish done when it flaked down to the bone at the thickest part. (Some people now consider this overdone.) A large fish will cook a little more after removed from heat.

7. Remove fish from grill back onto plate. A sauce of drawn butter (see To Melt Butter, Chapter 8) or Common Egg Sauce (see below) would be poured on.

8. Slice lemons and spoon up horserad­ish for garnishes. On the Colonial table, they would have been put in small dishes and arranged symmetrically in a line, or at 4 corners.

Serve as early Americans did, by placing the fish platter centered on the table at one end. The host or hostess would carve the main dish and serve to each diner.

COMMON EGG SAUCE (1852)

Egg sauce remained the typical New England sauce for salmon well into the twentieth century. This recipe is from Mrs. Hale's New Cook Book, by Sarah Josepha Hale. Her "Very Good Egg Sauce" has a little more butter and two extra egg yolks.

Yield: Serves 6

2 medium eggs

1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter

Equipment: Small tureen or large gravy boat

1. Boil eggs 15 minutes, then cool in cold water.

2. "Break the shells by rolling them on the table, take them off and, separate the whites from the yolks, and divide all of the latter into quarter-inch dice."

3. Mince the whites "tolerably small."

4. Rinse out gravy boat in hot tap water to warm it, and dry off with a paper towel.

5. Mix egg whites and yolks in the gravy boat.

6. Pour hot butter over the eggs and stir.

Serve immediately.

DELIGHTFUL CAKES
(ABOUT 1830)

This recipe for cookies topped with meringue and a bit of candied fruit or jam became known as "Marguerites," because the resulting cookies looked a little like daisies. In the mid-twentieth century, mar­guerites were being made with marshmal­lows (which are a sort of meringue), and thus may have been an ancestor of S'mores.

The recipe occurs toward the end of a manuscript cookbook belonging to the Ohio State Historical Society and acquired with a group of Quaker manuscripts from Selma, Ohio. A transcription was published in MississippiValley Historical Review in 1948. The author, who may have had the initials F.B.E. or H.B.B., had probably moved to Ohio from Virginia, as the book begins with about twenty recipes similar to recipes in The Virginia Housewife, by Mary Randolph, first published in 1824. She then copied almost twenty recipes exactly from the Randolph book, among some others. In the middle of this part of the manuscript she wrote down a non-Randolph recipe with a date of February 1828. However, the last twenty-five recipes in the book show influences of the Ohio settlers: a "Yankee" gingerbread, a sweetened custard cheese that may derive from Pennsylvania Dutch settlers, and this Virginia-style recipe for "small cakes." I have added some details from an 1847 recipe for Marguerites in The Southern Gardener and Receipt Book.

"To one and half lbs of Flour add one lb of Sugar one lb of butter six Eggs leav­ing out four whites Spice to your taste Mace or Nutmeg Roll these cakes out thin put in the oven and bake nearly done - then take them out and lay them on a dish to cool - Whip the four whites to a froth and make them thick with powdered sugar, adding a few drops of Essence of lemon put Sweetmeats of stiff jelly on the top of each Cake and with a spoon fill the Icing up high on the Cakes return them to the oven and bake them of a light brown."

Yield: 50-60 cookies

4-1/2 cups sifted white flour, plus more to flour board

1 cup whole wheat flour

6 tablespoons wheat germ

4 cups sugar

6 medium eggs or 4 extra large eggs

1 pound butter

1 tablespoon nutmeg or mace

1/4 teaspoon lemon extract

4 cups confectioner's sugar

Quart jar strawberry jam or currant jelly

Equipment: Pastry blender or large fork, rolling pin and wood board, 2 or more baking sheets, wire racks, wire whip or hand beater, spatulas

1. An hour before beginning, remove butter from refrigerator to soften.

2. Separate eggs by pouring from shell to shell over a cup. Put the first 4 whites in a medium bowl, and the first 4 yolks into a small bowl. Crack the last 2 eggs into the cup, and add to the yolks. (If using extra large eggs, separate the first 3, and use the 4th with the yolks.)

3. Beat egg yolks until light and creamy.

4. Measure out the flour, whole wheat flour, wheat germ, and spice, and sift together.

5. Cream butter and sugar together with pastry blender or large fork.

6. Combine butter mixture and egg yolks in a large bowl with a wooden spoon.

7. Stir in flour mixture until you have a lump of dough.

8. Use remaining flour mixture (or just flour) to flour board and rolling pin.

9. Turn dough out onto board, and work a little until smooth. Roll out 1/2-inch thick and cut rounds with a drinking glass or biscuit cutter.

10. Flour baking sheets, and arrange biscuits so as not to touch.

11. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

12. When you have covered both baking sheets, bake biscuits 5 minutes. Combine scraps and re-roll until all the dough is used up. You may need to bake a second batch.

1 3. Cool half-baked cookies on wire racks.

14. Beat egg whites with a wire whip or hand mixer until they form soft peaks.

15. Add lemon extract and whip in enough sugar to form a stiff but spreadable icing.

16. Put a lump of jam or jelly at the center of each cookie, and spoon a pile of icing over that. (It will flatten out in the baking.)

17. Turn the oven down to 300 degrees and bake until icing is browned at the edges.

Serve as dessert, or with ice cream as part of the dinner of a wealthy family.

ELIZA COOKEES (1849)

This recipe is from a collection of recipes dated from 1829 to 1849 and probably made by Anna Moore Hubbell (1790-1861) of Bennington, Vermont. Mrs. Hubbell's husband was born in upstate New York, and the word "cookie" came into American use from the Dutch language. The first printed recipe for cookies is quite similar, although not so rich, and was published by Amelia Simmons in the 1796 American Cookery. This manuscript recipe shows that Simmons's book was read and used, or perhaps reinforces the theory that Simmons lived near Albany, where the second and much-corrected version of her book was published. We know that Mrs. Hubbell made these cookies in the spring, because she dated the recipe. Since she gives no method, I have taken the directions from Simmons.

"5 cups of flour

2 [cups] of Sugar

1 [cup] of Butter

1 [cup] of Water

Teaspoon salaratis [potassium bicarbonate]

a little Salt Carraway Seeds

April 14, 1849"

Yield: 50-60 cookies

5 cups flour 2 cups sugar

1 cup butter (2 sticks), plus some to grease baking sheets

 

Figure 3 Manuscript of recipe for "Eliza Cookees." Source: Hubbell manuscript, author's collection

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon whole milk

2 tablespoons coriander

Equipment: Pastry blender or food processor, small saucepan, 2 baking sheets, wood board and rolling pin, cookie cutters (optional), cookie jar

1. Remove butter from refrigerator 1 hour before using to soften. Grease baking sheets.

2. In a small saucepan, mix sugar with a cup of water and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar.

3. When syrup is cool, dissolve 1 teaspoon salt and baking soda in a little milk, and add to syrup.

4. Measure flour into a large mixing and bowl and stir in the coriander.

5. If using food processor, cut the butter into small cubes and process with most of the flour until it has the consistency of cornmeal, then blend with the rest of the flour. If using pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour until it is evenly distributed. (Mrs. Hubbell may have "rubbed" the butter into the flour with her hands.)

6. Work syrup into the butter-flour mixture to make a stiff, or even a little crumbly, dough.

7. At this point, Simmons writes, "Make rolls half an inch thick and cut to the shape you please." This probably means to roll out the dough on a board 1/2-inch thick, and then cut into shapes such as rounds, hearts, or diamonds. If your dough doesn't roll well, thin with a little more water, or add a little flour. Gather scraps of dough and re-roll to make as many cookies as possible.

8. Bake 25 minutes in a 325-degree oven.

9. Leave in cookie jar overnight to soften.

Serve as a snack for up to three weeks.

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Copyright 2003, 2004 by Mark H. Zanger. Remember, there is no copyright on recipes or other common household formulae, but copyright and fair use laws do apply to selection of recipes and cultural-historical commentary.