Saturday, August 30, 2014

Maryland Stone-Ground Cornmeal and Cornbread

Corn Bread Minis
Any native southerner will tell that sugar has no place in cornbread.  But today's cornbreads made without sugar are often tasteless, and therefore need a bit (or a lot) of sugar to give them much needed flavor.  This was not necessarily true in the days when corn was left to ripen and dry in the fields and ground on stones. When grinding mature, field-dried cornmeal on a mill, the result is a naturally flavorful and sweet product that is so tasty no additional sugar is necessary. 

Technological changes over time are largely responsible for the addition of sugar into cornbread recipes. By the turn of the 20th century, a new roller mill for grinding corn was developed that stripped the corn of lots of its flavor and created a much finer meal. Flavor is lost because roller mills eliminate much of the corn kernel itself including the bran and germ, both of which have a lot of the corn's great flavor.  When cornmeal is ground the old-fashioned way using stones, the whole corn kernel is ground, including the bran and germ. Even if the fibrous bran and germ is sifted out, its flavors commingle with the endosperm (the fine part of the corn we like to eat) and give the corn a complex and rich taste. Likewise, the roller-milling process also yields cornmeal with far fewer nutrients because the processing method strips the corn of its natural nutrients. Therefore, they need to be added back in, or "enriched". 

In addition, instead of using mature, ripe corn, commercial cornmeal producers use unripe corn that is dried with mechanized hot air which yields a product that has much less flavor. Therefore, sugar became a regular ingredient in cornbread recipes to add more flavor. Similarly, the finer grind that resulted with the use of roller mill-made cornmeal makes it harder for the cornmeal to react with a chemical leaven. Therefore, wheat was often added to make the bread rise properly.

Skip the enriched and degermed cornmeal and choose stone-ground instead! 

Stone-Ground Cornmeal Sources:
I like local Maryland cornmeal from the Old Wye Mill or from the gristmill at Washington's Mount Vernon.  Maryland's Old Wye Mill is located in Wye Mills in Talbot County on the Eastern Shore. It dates back to 1682 and the flour produced there fed the Continental Army during the American Revolution!

Here are some links to sources for good quality stone-ground cornmeal:

Sources for Stone-Ground Cornmeal 
Charleston Favorites Stone Ground Grits  (also available at The Fresh Market)
Notice the Coarse Texture of this Stone-Ground Cornmeal

The Recipe: Cornmeal Muffins
Maryland’s Way, The Hammond Harwood House Cook Book, 1963
The Old Wye Mill
Talbot County, Eastern Shore

1 ¼ cups coarse stone-ground cornmeal, sifted (white or yellow)
½  teaspoon salt
¼ cup flour
¼ teaspoon soda
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons shortening

Sift and mix dry ingredients.  Beat egg slightly and add buttermilk and melted shortening.  Add liquids to dry ingredients, mixing with folding motion, enough to moisten meal.  Pour at once into hot muffin tins,  Bake in 450° oven for 20 minutes.  Makes 8-10 muffins.  [Or, you can make mini muffins and bake for just 8 minutes.] Note:  If buttermilk is not available, use 1 cup sweet milk with 1 tablespoon of either lemon juice or vinegar.

Click this link: to read more about the technology of corn processing.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Peanut Wafers and a History of Peanut Butter

Peanut Wafers

About Peanuts and Peanut Butter
Peanuts are a native American product, originating in South America in Peru and Brazil, and were known as far back as possibly 3500 BC. The peanut was brought from Brazil to West Africa by the Portuguese. The Spanish took peanuts west across the Pacific from Peru and introduced them to the Far East.[i] Of course, the ancient Mesoamericans were the first to eat peanuts (proved by archaeological shell evidence); however, there is no documentation explaining how they ate them. 

African slaves introduced peanuts to North America (particularly Virginia) by the 18th century. In the early days, peanuts were originally roasted and eaten as a snack food, and all production was done on a small scale. Roasted peanuts were popular particularly at the circus, theater, or ball games.[ii]

By the 19th century, health and vegetarian movements emerged and promoted the healthful benefits of a variety of nut butters, including peanut butter. The first person to patent peanut butter was Marcellus Gilmore Edson in 1884.[iii] In 1895, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (yes, of Kellogg’s cereal) patented “A Process of Preparing Nut Meal”, and he and his wife, Etta, published a version of peanut butter in 1895. Here is that recipe:

Peanut Butter
Mrs. Ella Eaton Kellogg, Science in the Kitchen. [Modern Medicine Publishing Co.: Battle Creek, MI], 1895.

A nut butter mill is desirable for the preparation of the nut butter at home. If one designed for the purpose is not obtainable, a coffee or hand wheat mill may be used. Blanch the nuts, but do not roast and grind. The meal thus prepared may be cooked by putting it (dry) in the inner cup of a double boiler and cooking as directed for grains, eight or ten hours. As it is required for use, add water to make of the desired consistency, and cook again for a few minutes, just long enough to bring out the essential oil of the nuts. Water may be added as soon as the nuts are ground, and the mixture placed in a covered pot and baked from eight to ten hours in a moderate oven, if preferred.[iv]
By 1901, the first recipe for peanut butter and jelly was published[v], and in 1904 peanut butter was popularized at the St. Louis World’s Fair. In the early 20th century, Dr. George Washington Carver also popularized peanuts when he promoted their cultivation and how to use them in recipes in his efforts to revitalize the economy of the South when the cotton crop started to fail there at the hands of the boll weevil.[vi] 

While peanut butter became more popular in the 20th century, there were issues with its stability as the natural oils would separate and could become rancid. In the 20th century, technological advances and the commercialization of food production and distribution made it possible for mass produced peanut butter to be in every home in America. Also, machinery and technology made it possible to make a more consistent product that would not spoil, and sugar was added to make it more appealing. Big business such as Beech-Nut and Heinz, could also afford huge advertising campaigns to promote peanut butter, and they were subsequently the most popular peanut butter manufacturers early in the 20th century.[vii]

A New Development
Skippy Peanut Butter was created in 1922 , the first company to use a new method whereby unsaturated fats were turned into saturated fats by hydrogenating them. In other words, now the liquid oil was transformed into a solid fat so that it would no longer float on the top of the butter. Therefore, a more consistent, solid product was developed.[viii] We now know this is not a healthy form of oil, but this type of peanut butter dominated the 20th century market and made it one of the most popular household food items of its time.

The Recipe: Peanut Wafers
Source: Mrs. Rorer’s New Cook Book by Sarah Tyson Rorer, Philadephia: 1902:

Mrs. Rorer's New Cook Book, 1902

Modern Recipe Adaptation
Yield:  Makes about 90 wafers.


  • 1/2 Cup Raw Peanuts or Prepared Peanut Meal (if you can get it; I found a good peanut meal at the local Amish market)
  • ½ Cup Organic Peanut Butter (the type where the oil settles on the top, but mix it together very well)
  • ½ Teaspoon Baking Soda
  • ½ Cup Warm Water
  • 1 ½ Cups Granulated Sugar
  • 3 Cups of White Whole Wheat Flour

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Place the raw peanuts in the oven for 5-10 minutes to release their oils Remove from the oven and remove their skins, if necessary. Grind the peanuts in a food processor.
  3. Mix together the peanut meal and the peanut butter.  Add the sugar. It is easiest to incorporate the sugar using your hands.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix together the baking soda and warm water.  Add this to the peanut mixture. Then, work in about 2 ½ cups of the flour until you have a firm but pliable dough. 
  5. Using the remainder ½ cup of the flour, roll the dough out into a thin sheet.  Cut into 2-inch squares, or use a cookie cutter of your choice.  Bake for 15 minutes. The wafers will crisp as they cool. 

Mixing Peanut Meal and Peanut Butter

Use Your Hands to Mix Sugar Into the Peanut Mixture

Wafer Squares Ready for the Oven


[i] Sophie D. Coe, America’s First Cuisines. Texas:  1994. p. 34
[ii] Ken Albala. Food: A Cultural Culinary History, The Great Course.
[iv] The Food Timeline,
[v] Albala.
[vii] Albala.
[viii] Albala.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Chocolate Tart: A Perfectly Easy and Historic Dessert

Chocolate Tarts, 18th c. Style

What makes this such a great dessert is its versatility because you can choose from a variety of flavorings!

Here are the two 18th c. chocolate tart recipes used as the inspiration for this recipe:

Chocolate Tart
Lamb, Patrick, Esq., Royal Cookery or The Compleat Court Cook, Printed for E. and R. Nutt and H. Lintot, London, 1731.

Put a Spoonful of Rice-Flower, and a little salt in a pan, together with the yolks of five eggs, a little milk, and mix them well together, then add a Pint of cream, and Sugar according to your Direction; Set it all to boil over a Stove taking Care that it do not curdle: mean while Grate some Chocolate into a Plate, dry it a little before the Fire, and when your Cream is boiling, take it off the First, mix your chocolate well with it, and set it by a cooling: Sheet a Tart-pan, put in Your Cream and bake it. When it is baked glaze it with powder’d sugar and a red hot shovel so serve it. Note, We make a Cinnamon-Tart in the same manner, only using grated Cinnamon instead of the chocolate.

To Make a Chocolate Tart
Glasse, Hannah, The Complete Confectioner, London, 1800.

Put two spoonfuls of fine flour in a stew-pan, with the yolks of six eggs, reserve their whites, mix these with some milk, add a quarter of a pound of rasped chocolate, with a stick of cinnamon, some sugar, a little salt, and some rasped green lemon peel; let them be a little time over the fire, after which put in a little preserved lemon peel cut small, and having tasted whether it has a fine flavor, let it cool; when cold, mix this with the reserved whites of eggs beat up to a froth, doing the rest as before directed.

18th c. Style Chocolate Tart (transcription)
(I had this recipe for the first time at Colonial Williamsburg about 2006. I was there on a study tour and met Jim Gay, a foodways journeyman cook there, and he offered those of us in the group a piece of this tart to try that was freshly made by him that day. Jim Gay's recipe was not published online at the time and for years I struggled to figure out how to recreate it. I finally found it online and offer it to you here with some of the modifications I made over the years based on the experimentations I did in trying to recreate it. You can find the original recipe by the late Jim Gay by clicking here.

  • 5 oz. dark chocolate, (your favorite dark chocolate in the form of chocolate chips or a solid bar of chocolate grated by pressing down on the chocolate with a serrated knife)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 egg yolks (large size eggs)
  • 1 Tbsp. rice flour
  • 1 Tbsp. milk
  • Flavorings of choice (see below)
  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • ¼ cup white granulated sugar , or to taste, depending on the sweetness of the chocolate used
  • 1 prepared pie shell, store-bought fresh or home-made (a frozen crust is not recommended as it gets too brown in the oven.)
  • Option 1: Fresh and Dried Citrus
    • Fresh rind from one lemon
    • 1 tsp dried lemon peel
    • 1 tsp dried orange peel
  • Option 2:  Cinnamon and Lemon
    • Fresh rind of one lemon
    • 2 tsp Ceylon Cinnamon
  • Option 3:  Chocolate Spice Mixture (below) + 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
    • 1 tsp Ceylon cinnamon
    • ½ tsp dried grated orange peel
    • ½ tsp grated lemon peel
    • 1/8 tsp ground annatto (achiote)
    • Pinch of ground cayenne pepper
    • 1/8 tsp ground star anise
    • 1/8 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • Option 4:  Choose Your Own Combo!


Measure the chocolate chips or grated chocolate and place into a bowl, and set aside.
Pour the cream into a sauce pan and set on low heat.  While it slowly comes to a boil, combine the salt, egg yolks, rice flour, milk, and your flavorings of choice in a separate large bowl and set aside.

Once the cream starts to gently boil, add the grated chocolate, stirring constantly and making sure all of the chocolate is melted. Then, add the sugar and cook until the sugar is melted.

Temper the egg mixture and the chocolate mixture by taking a quarter of a cup of the hot mixture and slowly add to the egg yolk and rice flour mixture, stirring constantly with a whisk, to prevent scrambling.

Stir the warmed egg yolk mixture into the sauce pan and bring all the ingredients to a boil for about a minute. Set aside and allow it to cool 5-10 minutes. While the mixture is cooling, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place a pie plate with a bottom crust.

Pour the chocolate mixture into the prepared pie plate, set it upon a cookie sheet to prevent spillage, and bake for about 45-50 minutes until set (no jiggling just in the very center when gently shaken; it should all move together equally when done). Remove from oven and let it cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for 3-4 hours, or overnight.  Note:  You can also make individual tarts (as pictured) in mini-muffin pans; bake for 20 minutes.

Friday, August 15, 2014

On Historic Flour

The Wheat Sifters by Gustave Courbet, 1855

When trying to recreate historic recipes, the question of ingredients usually creeps up.  I am sure you've often asked yourself, "Am I using the right size eggs?",  "Is today's sugar the same as in the past?", and, without fail, "What type of wheat flour would be most appropriate for this recipe?" I have done some research on this subject for recreating recipes in the early America south, c.18th-early 19th century.  Here is what I have found out so far:

Wheat Flour Bolting and Extraction Rates:
  • Bolting is another word for sifting the flour to remove part or all of the wheat germ and bran.
  • Extraction Rate: This refers to the amount of bran and germ that is removed (extracted) from the flour. For example, if you bring a miller 100 pounds of wheat in its kernel form and receive back from him 85 pounds (85%) of ground wheat flour, the extraction rate is 85% (15% of the total weight that was removed in the form of germ and bran). 
  • Bolting cloths: Sacks that were used to sift out the germ and bran. They were originally made of tough canvas, linen, or wool.

What were extraction rates in the past?
  • Modern technology of today removes all of the bran and germ, giving modern users an extraction rate of about 72%.
  • According to food historian, Peter Brears, millers in the medieval days were skilled enough to be able to extract all of the germ and bran, thus they yielded flour at an extraction rate close to today's low percentage rate, if they chose.
  • However, according to another food historian, Elizabeth David, she feels that “it cannot have been possible for millers to produce flour of anything approaching the degree of fineness and whiteness we now know.” 
  • Similarly, food historian, Karen Hess, states that “the technology for turning the golden life-giving wheat flour of yesteryear into the chalky lifeless dust of today had not yet been perfected in the day of Mrs. Randolph [late 18th-early - early 19th c. America]. The wheat germ was still pretty much intact and even tiny flecks of bran escaped the bolting cloths, so that white flour was a lovely cream color and was more flavorful and nutritious than the flour of today.”
  • The process of bolting flour changed a lot in the middle of the 18th century because of the introduction of a fine silk bolting cloth that yielded whiter flour with a higher extraction rate.
  • Roller mills invented in the late 19th c. further reduced the extraction rate to about 75% because the wheat was no longer crushed by stones all together with the bran and germ. Instead, the wheat kernels were sheared open to free the endosperm (gluten-rich white) from the bran and germ; essentially the wheat kernel was stripped and left as granular semolina (think Farina/Cream of Wheat). This process heated up the the kernels and some of the nutrients were lost.   
  • Bleaching and Conditioning the Flour:  In the Age of Industrialization, bromates were used to make the flour whiter.  This process destroys the Vitamin E in the wheat. Conditioners were also used to make the flour longer-lasting and bouncier.  Breads were then enriched with vitamins and minerals to counteract the depletion of them in the processing.
  • In addition, according to Karen Hess, soft wheat was used most often in the American south, and flecks of bran and germ would have made the flour cream in color, and more nutritious and flavorful. FYI - the wheat that was used in the mid-west during the Homesteading days of the mid-to-late 19th c. was the hard, red wheat variety.
  • Therefore, for recreating recipes in the 18th-19th c. American south, I either use a white whole-wheat pastry flour or an all-purpose flour with a bit of the wheat germ and bran added back in (about 1 Tbsp per cup).

If you are reading this and have any other information on the subject, please do share!

Monday, August 11, 2014

To Braise Eggplant According to Bartolomeo Scappi, c.1570

About the Recipe
This recipe dates back to 1570, from a cookbook called, The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi. Although there is little definite information about Scappi's life, it is known that he was the chef to two popes and several cardinals. It appears most likely that he was from northern Italy, either from Lombardy, Veneto, or Emilia, and that he compiled his recipes in the 1560s, during the peak of his career. According to Ken Albala, in Food: A Cultural Culinary History (Great Courses), Scappi's book was the "largest and most detailed cookbook ever written at the time . . . [and] the precision and thoroughness with which he treats the ingredients and procedures mark this perhaps as the first modern cookbook."

This recipe is very interesting because it is so similar yet so different from today's eggplant parmegiana. It is similar in that the eggplant is floured and covered with breadcrumbs, then it is layered with cheese. It is different because there is no tomato sauce and the seasonings are very different from a modern version of eggplant parmegiana. 

According to Alan Davidson in The Penguin Companion to Food, tomatoes arrived from the New World into Italy early in the 16th century, "although there is little evidence to suggest that people had begun cooking or eating tomatoes except rarely and by way of experiment." Indeed, Scappi does not seem to utilize them in his 16th century cooking at all (I've looked throughout the recipes and the index and haven't found one tomato reference). In addition, this recipe does not call for basil or oregano, herbs traditionally associated with Italian food. Instead, the fresh herbs used are mint, marjoram (which admittedly is very similar to oregano), fresh fennel fronds, and parsley. Additionally, salt, black pepper, garlic, sugar, verjuice, cinnamon, and cloves are used; the last four ingredients not at all usually associated with parmegiana nowadays. 

The Recipe
To braise eggplant -- that is, pomi sdegnosi.
Source: The Opera by Bartolomeo Scappi (1570), The Art and Craft of a Master Chef, Translated with Commentary by Terence Scully, University of Toronto Press, 2008.

Get eggplants that are not too ripe or too bitter, and clean off the purplish skin they have -- although you do find white ones -- and cut them lengthwise into several pieces. Let them steep for half an hour; discard the water and set them to boil in a pot in fresh water that is lightly salted. When they are well cooked, take them out and let them drain on a table. Have an earthenware baking dish or a tourte pan ready with oil; carefully flour the pieces and make a layer of them in the pan. Get beaten mint, sweet marjoram, Burnet, and parsley, and beaten fresh fennel tips or ground dry fennel along with crushed garlic cloves, and scatter all that over the layer of eggplant, as well as enough pepper, cinnamon, cloves and salt; splash verjuice on that and sprinkle it with sugar. Repeat, making up two or three layers. Cook it the way a tourte is done. When it is done, serve it hot in dishes with broth over it. If is not a fasting day you can put slices of provatura or ordinary cheese and grated bread between each layer; and, instead of oil, use butter.

Notes on the Recipe
  • After reading other recipes for eggplant in the Scappi book, I determined that his direction to "clean off" the skin meant that the skin should be cleaned very well rather than peeled (in other recipes he does give specific directions "to peel" the eggplants). Since he doesn't say peel, I didn't peel. 
  • I have verjuice in my fridge which was a bonus. 
  • The only thing I didn't have and could not get was the herb called Burnet. 
  • Since it's not ever a fasting day for me, I used the bread crumbs and the cheese (I substituted mozzarella for the provatura cheese). 

Modern Recipe Adaptation

  • 1 Eggplant, Large
  • Olive Oil (or Butter)
  • 1/4 Cup Fresh Marjoram
  • 1/4 Cup Fresh Parsley, Flat-Leaf Italian
  • 2 Tablespoons Fresh Mint
  • 2 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 Teaspoons Ground Black Pepper
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ceylon Cinnamon
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
  • 1 Teaspoon Granulated Sugar
  • 2 Tablepoons Verjuice (or Lemon Juice)
  • 1 Cup All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 Cup Bread Crumbs
  • 4 Ounces Fresh Mozzarella, Sliced (the recipe calls for provatura cheese which is a pulled cheese similar to mozzarella)
  1. Wash eggplant well and slice lengthwise. Place in a shallow baking dish and sprinkle lightly with salt and cover in lukewarm water. Let the eggplant sit for 30 minutes. Rinse the eggplant. 
  2. Boil a pot of salted water and submerge the eggplant in it for just about 8 minutes. Remove the eggplant and drain. 
  3. Prepare an earthenware baking dish by coating it with olive oil or butter. 
  4. Dredge the eggplant slices in flour and layer the bottom of the dish (use just enough to make 2-3 layers). 
  5. Chop all of the herbs, and mix them with the garlic, spices, sugar, and verjuice. 
  6. Cover the eggplant with a portion of the breadcrumbs (depending on the number of layers you choose to make). Then drizzle with olive oil (or dot with butter), top with herb/spice mixture, and dot with the cheese. Complete this process for all layers. 
  7. Bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees F for 30 minutes.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Maryland Chili

When you combine two iconic Maryland brands such as Manning's Hominy and McCormick Spices, you've got a recipe for success!

What is Hominy: 
Hominy is made from corn (maize) that has been soaked so that hull and the germ of each corn kernel is removed.  This reveals the inner corn kernel which is less fibrous and easier to eat; the kernels also puff up to almost twice their original size when processed in this way.  The Native American Indians in the American southwest and natives of Mesoamerica and Guatamala processed their hominy by adding an alkali substance such as wood ash (lye or lime) to the hot water used for soaking the corn.  This process is called nixtamalization.  This was done to hasten the process but also because the alkali allows the body to digest the essential nutrient, niacin, found in the corn.
     Baltimore's Manning's Hominy:  Following in the footsteps of the eastern Native Americans and American settlers, the hominy that became popular in Baltimore was not processed with an alkali.  In 1904, an enterprising Baltimore resident, Margaret Manning, first canned her homemade hominy and began to sell it door to door.  Mass production of Manning's Hominy began in 1917 and is still going strong.  Importantly, Manning's Hominy is steam-processed and uses no chemical additives in its production.  As a result, it is very gelatinous and needs to be broken apart for use.

Cans of Manning's Hominy

Manning's Hominy is gelatinous;
it needs to be broken apart.

McCormick Spice Mixture

McCormick Spices:
In 1889, Willoughby McCormick started his flavorings business in a cellar and one room in Baltimore.  However, it wasn't until 1896 when McCormick started in the actual spice business with the purchase of the F.G. Emmet Spice Company of Philadelphia.  He had the whole business shipped to Baltimore and so began a legend!

Maryland Chili*
Based on a recipe from

1-2 packages McCormick Chili Seasoning, to taste
½ cup water
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 – 15.5 ounce cans Great Northern Beans, undrained
2 – 20 ounce cans Manning’s Hominy, broken apart
1 – 15.5 ounce can Blackeye Peas
Salt to taste

Combine chili seasoning with ½ cup water.   Heat olive oil in a medium-sized stock pot.  Add the onion and cook over low heat until soft.  Add the beans, hominy, and chili/water mixture.  Season to taste with salt. Stir and heat through about 15-20 minutes.

*Note:  You can add meat and other beans, vegetables, etc. depending on your tastes.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Candied Oranges: Fruit Candy Made with Real Fruit

These were really fun to make, and they taste really good, too!

Candied Oranges*
The White House Cook Book by Fanny Gillette, 1887

Candied orange is a great delicacy, which is easily made: Peel and quarter the oranges; make a syrup in the proportion of one pound of sugar to one pint of water; let it boil until it will harden in water; then take it from the fire and dip the quarters of orange in the syrup; let them drain on a fine sieve placed over a platter, so that the syrup will not be wasted; let them drain this until cool, when the sugar will crystallize. These are nice served with the last course of dinner. Any fruit the same.

[*Be careful when working with hot sugar!]