Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas Stollen

The Sacred Stollen

Stollen Bread History
Stollen breads are very popular at Christmas time in America.  Commercially baked stollen breads are easy to find in most America grocery stores. I have tried these breads but never really liked them because they can often be dry and flavorless. I decided to try to make one using an historic recipe to see if it would be better. And I found that, indeed, home baked stollen is so much lighter, richer, and flavorful than anything I have ever bought in a store.

A stollen is a sweet bread associated with Germany (particularly the city of Dresden). The word "stollen" supposedly comes from an old German word "stollo" which means support or post. The bread is now associated with the sacred Christmas holiday because it is shaped in the form of the Christ child wrapped in swaddling clothes. Click here to read more about the history of stollen breads.

The Recipe: Christmas Stollen
Here is a recipe from an American cookbook dated to 1889:

Source: Aunt Babette's" Cook Book: Foreign and domestic receipts for the household: A vaulable collection of receipts and hints for the housewife, many of which are not to be found elsewhere. By "Aunt Babette", Cincinnati: Block Pub. and Print Co., 1889.

Modern Recipe Adaptation: Stollen

(Makes 1 Loaf)


  • 1 Cup Lukewarm Milk
  • 1 Package Active Dry Yeast
  • 3 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • Granulated Sugar, Divided (1 1/2 Teaspoons and 1/4 Cup)
  • 1 Stick Butter, Softened
  • 2 egg Yolks
  • 2/3 Cup Almond Meal 
  • Grated peel of 1/2 Lemon, or to Taste
  • 1/4 to 1/2 Cup Raisins (Optional)
  • 1 Tablespoon Melted Butter (To Brush on Top of Loaf)


1. In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix together the warm milk and the yeast. Whisk and set aside for 5 minutes, or until bubbles gather on the top of the milk.

Bubbles Forming in Milk and Yeast Mixture

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar. Add the milk/yeast mixture. Using a butter knife, mix together all of the ingredients until they start to come together. Then, use your clean hands to finish shaping the dough into a ball.

3. Place the dough ball in a large, greased bowl and cover. Set the bowl in a warm spot (if you have a warming burner on your stovetop, you can set it on the low setting). Let it rise until double in size.

4. Add the remaining sugar, softened butter, egg yolks, almond meal, grated lemon peel, and raisins (optional) to the risen dough. Mix all together using your hands. Punch the dough rather than knead it to incorporate all of these ingredients as much as you can. The dough will be moist and sticky.

Stollen Dough ready for a Second Rise

5. Time to Rise Again:  Place the dough ball in a large, greased bowl and cover. Set the bowl in a warm spot (if you have a warming burner on your stovetop, you can set it on the low setting). Let it rise for two hours.

6. Heat the oven to 375º F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Dust your hands and the lined baking sheet with a little flour. Place the dough on the pan and shape into a loaf that has narrow tapered ends. Brush the top of the loaf with the melted butter. 

The Stollen is Ready for the Oven

7. Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown on top.

Perfectly Golden Brown

8. Remove from oven and slide off cookie sheet. Immediately dust with confectioner's sugar. The 1889 recipe does not say to do this, but all stollen breads are coated with sugar.  Lots of historic recipes just assume you know what to do, so I did it! Cool for 10-15 minutes before slicing.

Dusted with Sugar

9.  This bread is not super sweet; therefore, you can serve it with butter, honey, and/or jam.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Cup of Holiday Cheer, Maryland Style

A recreated punch table for a Christmas Ball
c. 1801 Riversdale House Museum

The holidays are a time for imbibing in lots of great food and drink. In fact, a large punch bowl always at the ready was a sign of hospitality in colonial Virginia.  Based on the number of recipes for special occasion punches found in some early 20th century Maryland cookbooks, the penchant for holiday punches was clearly popular in more northern regions, as well. 

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, the word Punch most likely comes from the Hindustani, Sanskrit or Greek words for five in regards to the five main ingredients of punch: rum (or any spirit), water, sugar, citrus and spices.  Also, the use of this word may go as far back in time as 1632.  Interestingly, when the citrus and spices, the two most expensive ingredients, are not included in the drink, it is then called a Toddy.

Recipes for Holiday Cheer

Mulled Cider and Wine
Though never really popular in America, the English tradition of "wassailing" the apple orchards on Twelfth Night is most likely the origins of the holiday bowl of mulled cider or wine. "Waes Hael" means Good Health and also refers to the drink of mulled spiced cider and/or ale that was used to sing and toast apple trees, with the intent of promoting a good harvest in the new year.

Maryland's Way: The Hammond-Harwood House Cook Book.  Annapolis: Hammond-Harwood House, 1963

Recipe Served on Christmas Greens Day at The Hammond-Harwood House, Annapolis 

1 Gallon Apple Cider
48 Whole Cloves
4 Teaspoons Whole Allspice
12 Pieces Stick Cinnamon
2 Cups Sugar, or to Taste
1 Cup Orange Juice
6 Tablespoons Lemon Juice

Combine ingredients and bring to a slow boil.  Simmer 10 minutes. Strain and serve hot. 4 cups apple brandy may be added after boiling, if desired.

To Mull Wine 
Manuscript of Ann Maria Morris, Special Collections Library at the Maryland Historical Society, c. 1824+

Grate half a nutmeg in a pint of wine & sweeten to your taste with loaf sugar, set it over the fire & when it boils take it off to cool, beat the yolks of 4 eggs exceeding well, add to them a little cold wine, then mix them carefully with your hot wine, a little at a time, then pour it backwards & forwards several times ‘till it is quite hot, and pretty thick – serve it in chocolate cups, with thin pieces of toasted bread.

Mulled Wine
Howard, Mrs. B.C. Fifty Years in a Maryland Kitchen. New York: M. Barrows and Company, Inc., 1944.

1 Stick Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Grated Nutmeg
10 Cloves. Mashed or Bruised
1 Cup Boiling Water
1 Tablespoon Sugar
2 Cups Hot Sherry or Port

Mash and bruise the cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves together in an enamel or glass pan, add the boiling water and let them stand for one hour.  Strain and add the sugar to the liquid. Heat the wine in the upper part of a double boiler and add the spiced water to it.  Serve hot in mugs.  Six cups.

Claret Cup
Howard, Mrs. B.C. Fifty Years in a Maryland Kitchen. New York: M. Barrows and Company, Inc., 1944.

1 Quart Claret
1 1/2 Quarts Sparkling Water
1/4 Cup Cognac
Ice and Sugar

Mix the ingredients and sweeten to taste.  Add the cracked ice and serve in tall glasses.  Serves ten to fifteen.
If a hot cup is liked for a cold winter's night, add three pints of hot water instead of the ice and sparkling water called for.  Add one cinnamon stick to each mug and a slice or two of lemon.

Farmer's Bishop, A Christmas Punch
Maryland's Way: The Hammond-Harwood House Cook Book.  Annapolis: Hammond-Harwood House, 1963

Recipe By Amelia Pinkeney D. Lurman, Harford County

6 Oranges
Whole Cloves
1 Quart Apple Brandy
1/2 Gallon Sweet Cider 
Sugar and Spices to Taste

Cut oranges in half and stick skins full of whole cloves. Bake in oven until juice begins to run. Remove to bowl that can be kept hot. Add sugar to taste and pour over them 1 quart apple brandy. Light brandy and after it has burned a few seconds, extinguish by pouring over the cider. Place bowl over a low flame or at back of stove. Add pinch of cinnamon, whole allspice and nutmeg (go easy on spices). Stir mixture until hot. It should be kept hot while being served but must never reach boiling. Serves about 24. This punch was served in the countryside when the Bishop was expected. The receipt said, 'Add brandy to the amount of the capacity of the Bishop.'

Egg Nog
This treat which is quite traditional in America probably started out as a posset, a sack posset, or an egg caudle. A posset is a slightly curdled drink made of hot milk mixed with sugar, spices, citrus and beer, sherry, or wine. A sack posset is made with sweet white wine, like sherry. Possets became popular in the Middle Ages, and by the 17th century, eggs started to be added to possets. These were sometimes called egg-caudles.

The first written reference to egg-nog was from its mention on a breakfast menu at City Tavern in Philadelphia, February, 1796. It was considered a hot winter treat and may be why it is so much associated with Christmas today.

Egg Nog
Howard, Mrs. B.C. Fifty Years in a Maryland Kitchen. New York: M. Barrows and Company, Inc., 1944.

12 Eggs, Yolks and Whites Beaten Separately
1 Cup Powdered Sugar
1 Pint Cognac
1/2 Cup Peach Brandy (Optional)
1 1/2 Quarts Milk
2 Quarts Cream, Whipped Stiff

     Beat the yolks till light, combine with the stiffly beaten whites and mix the sugar with this.  Pour slowly into these the two brandies, then add the whipped cream which has been mixed with the milk. Sprinkle grated nutmeg over the bowl's top.  Fifty punch glasses.

Egg Nog [by] Miss Hoffman 
Manuscript of Ann Maria Morris, Special Collections Library at the Maryland Historical Society, c. 1824+

To make four gallons of Egg Nog, two gallons of cream, one gallon & one quart of new milk, two lb. lump sugar, three pints of French Brandy, half-pint Peach Brandy, thirty-three eggs. Pound the sugar & beat it with the eggs very light, then stir in the Brandy slowly on it till well mixed. Then the cream & milk, stirring all very well.

Milk Egg Nog
Maryland's Way: The Hammond-Harwood House Cook Book.  Annapolis: Hammond-Harwood House, 1963

Recipe By Jack Peacock-Green, Dogwood Mooring, Whitehall Creek, Anne Arundel County

     There are, no doubt, a hundred and one receipts for Egg-Nog; most suffer from being too sweet or too rich.  Egg-Nog has been served on New Year's Day in my family for at least four generations, and it has always been made in the same way, in the same bowl.  It has been made to drink, not to taste ritually.  The passing years seem to have confirmed the judgment of older generations.

     Our bowl is about 12" across the top and 8" deep, and this will about half fill it:  3/4 pint of the best Jamaica Rum, 1 1/2 pints of the best Bourbon Whiskey, 2 quarts milk, yolks of 8 eggs, beaten; 1/3 cup granulated sugar.

     Stir these together in the bowl and float on top the whites of the eggs, beaten until stiff, sprinkle freshly grated nutmeg over the whole. Do not heat or chill it, do not compromise with the quality of liquors used, and do not use cream. 

Fun Maryland Punch Recipes

Maryland Punch
Howard, Mrs. B.C. Fifty Years in a Maryland Kitchen. New York: M. Barrows and Company, Inc., 1944.

1 Quart Cognac
1 Quart Sherry 
1 Pint Rum
6 Lemons, Sliced
1/2 Pound Rock Candy
2 Glasses Currant Jelly

     Mix all of the above in the punch bowl; sweeten to taste.  Let stand four or five hours to ripen.  At serving time add two or three quarts of sparkling water.  Fill the bowl with cracked ice or one large piece of ice.  Fifty or more punch glasses.

Port of Annapolis Punch
Maryland's Way: The Hammond-Harwood House Cook Book.  Annapolis: Hammond-Harwood House, 1963

Recipe By Historic Annapolis, Inc. Annapolis

"Port, a popular wine in the 18th century, is mulled in the same manner as was customary in the old seaport of Annapolis."

1 Quart Bottle of Port
Juice of 1 Lemon
2 Tablespoons of Sugar
1 Cinnamon Stick
Rind of 1 Lemon
1 Orange, Peeled Spirally
Grated Nutmeg

     Dissolve sugar in 1 cup of boiling water.  Combine this with the lemon juice and Port in a lined pot over an open fire. Add cinnamon stick and the rinds. Serve hot with a dusting of nutmeg.

Mulled Wine
Source: Wikimedia Commons

  • Davidson, Alan. The Penguin Companion to Food. 2002.
  • Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Origin of Punch:  "perhaps from Hindi & Urdu pā̃c five, from Sanskrit pañca;akin to Greek pente five; from its originally having five ingredients — more at five; First Known Use: 1632"
  • Theobald, Mary Miley and Libbey Hodges Oliver. Four Centuries of Virginia Christmas. Richmond, VA:2000.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Uncommonly Good "Common Gingerbread"

Common Gingerbread, c.1841

This gingerbread recipe comes from Sarah Josepha Hale's, The Good Housekeeper, published in 1841.  Sarah Hale is known as the Mother of Thanksgiving as she used her platform as editor of Godey's Ladies Book to lobby presidents and the American public for an annual national day of Thanksgiving.  Here is her recipe for gingerbread cookies that can be served at Thanksgiving, Christmas, or anytime you are in the mood for a chewy, spicy, and slightly sweet treat!

Common Gingerbread
Sarah Josepha Hale, The Good Housekeeper, Boston, 1841

Take a pound and a half of flour, and rub into it half a pound of butter; add half a pound of brown sugar and half a pint of molasses; two tablepoonfuls of cream, a tea-spoonful of pearlash, and ginger to the taste.  Make it into a stiff paste, and roll it out thin.  Put it on buttered tins, and bake in a moderate oven.

Modern Recipe Adaptation
5 Cups All-Purpose Flour, Plus More for the Board
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 1/2 Tablespoons Ginger
1/2 Pound (2 Sticks) Butter, Cut in Small Cubes
1 Cup Brown Sugar
1 Cup Molasses
2 Tablespoons Milk or Heavy Cream

  1. Preheat oven to 375º F.  Butter cookie sheets or line them with parchment paper.  Set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and ginger. 
  3. Add the butter to the flour mixture.  Use your hands to work the butter into the flour until the butter is evenly distributed.
  4. Add the brown sugar, molasses, and cream.  Mix all together using a wooden spoon or an electric mixer.
  5. Mix until all of the ingredients come together in a ball.  Let the dough rest at room temperature or in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. You can make this a day ahead and keep refrigerated.
  6. On a floured board, roll the dough until it is about 1/4 inch thick.  Cut with your favorite cookie cutters.
  7. Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Apple Strudel: Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge 14, Fear Factor

Apple Strudel

The Challenge
Fear Factor (November 30 - December 13)
What foods have you always wanted to attempt, but were afraid to attempt to make - or afraid to eat? Choose a dish that is either tricky to create or nerve-wracking to eat, and get adventurous! It’s historical Fear Factor!

I chose Apple Strudel because I have always thought the the recipe to make the dough seemed to be really time-consuming and hard to make.  The dough needs to be rolled and stretched on a large table (countertops are too small) until it is as thin as possible. This has always been fear-inducing to me, especially because I have never known anyone to make it and had no past experience with this kind of a dough.  As it turns out, I was right to be afraid of this recipe!!!

The Recipe

Apple Strudel
"Aunt Babette." "Aunt Babette's" Cook Book: Foreign and Domestic Receipts for the Household: A Valuable Collection of Receipts and Hints for the Housewife, Many of Which Are Not to be Found Elsewhere. Cincinnati: Bloch Pub. and Print. co., c. 1889 

Take about one pint of flour, sift it into a bowl, make a hole in the center of the flour, pour in it gradually one cup of lukewarm water, a pinch of salt and a spoonful of butter or goose fat. Stir this slowly, making a nice smooth dough of it and adding a little more flour if necessary. Cover up the dough and set it in a warm place until you have pared half a peck of apples, and cut them very fine in the following manner: Pare, quarter and take out cores and seeds, and cut or rather shave them very fine. Now cover your kitchen table with a clean tablecloth, sift flour all over it and roll out your dough as thin as possible. Now use your hands, placing them under the rolled dough and stretch it gently, very gently, so as not to tear it, walking all around the table as you do this, to get it even and thin as tissue paper. Pour a few tablespoonfuls of melted butter or goose oil over the dough; next the apples, brown sugar, cinnamon and raisins. Now take hold of the tablecloth with both hands, about a yard apart, and begin to roll the strudel (it will roll itself almost--just lift the cloth high
enough). Now butter or grease a large cake-pan, hold it up to the edge of the table and dump in the strudel. Bake a nice brown, basting often with butter or goose oil.

Modern Recipe Adaptation

To Make the Dough
3 2/3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Lukewarm Water
12 Tablespoons Melted Butter, Divided

To Make the Filling
8 Large Apples (Peeled, Cored, Seeded, and Cut in Thin Slices)
1/3 Cup Brown Sugar
1 Teaspoon Cinnamon
1/2 Cup Raisins
1 Teaspoon Lemon Juice

1. Using an electric stand-up mixer, mix together the flour, salt, warm water, and just 1 tablespoon of the melted butter. Mix until all of the ingredients come together into a soft, pliable dough that is not sticky.  This mixing/kneading process can take as long as 10 minutes so keep at it until the dough is soft and smooth. Start off using a paddle attachment to mix all of the ingredients; then switch to a dough hook for the rest of the mixing/kneading process.

2. When finished mixing, set the dough aside and let it rest for 15 minutes. This is very important because if the dough doesn't rest you won't be able to roll and stretch it too much without it breaking.

Let the dough rest for 15 minutes.

3. While the dough is mixing, prepare the apples:  
Mix together the prepared apples with the brown sugar, cinnamon, raisins, and lemon juice.  Cover and set aside until needed.

4.  Preheat the oven to 350º F.  Line a jelly roll pan with a sheet of parchment paper.

5. Time to Roll and Stretch: 
  • Cover a table with a tablecloth and sprinkle flour on it; lay the ball of rested dough in the center:  
Floured tablecloth ready for
working the dough.

  • Roll the dough on the cloth until it starts to get very large.

  • Keep rolling until the dough starts to get really thin and covers a large portion of the table surface:
Roll and stretch as much as you can
without the dough ripping.

  • You can allow the dough to lay off the side of the table to allow gravity to help stretch it:

  • While it is impossible not to tear the dough, don't over roll and stretch it if it a lot of tears start to occur.

6.  After the dough is fully stretched, brush the entire top of it with melted butter:

Brushing the dough with melted butter.

7.  Spread the prepared apples off to one side of the dough:

Lay apples off to one side of the rolled dough.

8.  Roll the dough around the apples.  Make sure to brush all surfaces of the dough with the melted butter.  Use the tablecloth to help roll up the strudel.

Brush all dough surfaces with melted butter.
Brushing the dough with the butter is very important!

Use the tablecloth to help roll up the strudel.

9.  Place on the prepared sheet and cut slits in the top to allow the steam to vent.

Ready for the oven!

10.  Bake for 45 minutes.  Cool 15 minutes before slicing.

Date/Year and Region
American (Ohio)/Late 19th century

How Did You Make It?
Because I had no prior experience with making a strudel dough, I did a lot of research to see the best proportions of ingredients and to find a good procedure. I tried to follow the recipe as much as I could based on the research that I found. You can follow the steps I took as described above. Of course, I used a modern electric stand-up mixer and oven. Therefore, not quite the most historic procedure.

Time to Complete
This is where the patience factor came into play.  It took all morning (about three hours) to make the strudel.  But the smells wafting from the oven made it worth it!

Total Cost
About $6 for the apples; I had everything else.

How Successful Was It?
While  the filling tastes really good, the crust was a bit tough and the dough could have been a lot thinner. I would definitely try this recipe again using a modern recipe, and I would try to make the dough even thinner, if possible!  I would also cook it for less time; I cooked it for 1 hour but I think 45 minutes would be better to prevent the outer crust from getting too crunchy.

How Accurate is it? 
I really have no idea as I have never had homemade strudel before!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Sugar Plums Demystified: A Historic Look at a Beloved Christmas Confection

If you are thinking that those sugar plums dancing around in your head must be sugar-coated pieces of fruit, then I must inform you that you are wrong!

So, What is a Sugar Plum?
Once the cost of sugar began to decline in England in the 16th century, people could preserve all sorts of fruits with sugar.  Cookery books going back to that time period are full of recipes for preserving apricots, plums, cherries, apples, gooseberries among others. However, in those days neither plums nor any fruits preserved with sugar were ever actually referred to as "sugar plums."

A sugar plum is something completely different.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a sugar plum is "a small round or oval sweetmeat, made of boiled sugar and variously flavoured and coloured; a comfit."  Now you're asking, "what's a comfit?," right?

Georg Flegel (1566-1638)
Still Life with Candy, Dutch, 17th century

(image from Wikimedia Commons)

Comfits, and similarly dragees, are simply seeds, spices, and nuts that have been coated in several layers of sugar and colored with all sorts of things, such as gold leaf or silver. According to Alan Davidson in the Penguin Companion to Food, "confectioners as early as the 17th century recognized that by varying the proportions of sugar in the syrup they could change the final texture, making 'pearled' comfits or 'crisp and ragged' comfits." The Flegel painting above depicts a bowl of comfits that would have been referred to as sugar plums.

Here are some close-up images of what these little sweet gems really look like:

Sugar-Coated Almonds - Real Sugar Plums
(image from Wikimedia Commons)
OR . . .
Also Bonafide Sugar Plums - Sugar-Coated Fennel Seeds

In the painting below, the white sticks near the mouse and walnuts are probably sugar-coated cinnamon comfits made in the ragged fashion along with the round comfits that look like sugar-coated seeds:

Georg Flegel (1566-1638)
Still Life with Chestnuts and Hazelnuts in a Porcelain Bowl, etc.; 

Dutch, date unknown 
(image from Wikimedia Commons)

What Modern Day Candy Could Be Called Sugar Plums?
Modern day sprinkles (also known as jimmies or "hundreds and thousands") and licorice candies are also forms of comfits:

Licorice Comfits

Why Call Them Plums?
Clearly, there are no plums involved in the whole sugar plum conundrum; therefore, why were these sugared sweets referred to as plums?  According to Merriam-Webster's dictionary, a plum could be defined as "something superior or very desirable; especially : something desirable given in return for a favor."  Similarly, the Oxford English Dictionary gives the definition of a plum as "any desirable thing, a coveted prize; the pick of a collection of things; one of the best things in a book, piece of music, etc.; (also) a choice job or appointment" going back to 1825. Because the term "sugar plum" can be traced as far back as 1608, it is possible the word plum has been in use meaning "any desirable thing, etc" since that time.  While the history of this word may be murky, if you have ever eaten a sugar-coated nut, seed or spice you would agree that it should be considered quite a desirable and superior treat! 

So, if you ever find yourself dreaming of sugar plums, now you know what to imagine in those dreams! 

Monday, December 8, 2014

An Early American Christmas Cookie Recipe

Hearts, Diamonds, Spades and Clubs were popular
biscuit/cookie shapes in the 18th-19th centuries.

Bake Christmas cookies from the past with this 18th century cookie recipe by Amelia Simmons from American Cookery, the first cookbook ever published by an American, in 1796! 

Seeds such as coriander, caraway, anise or fennel were commonly paired with sweets in the 18th-19th century recipes. Try this recipe and enjoy a taste from the past!  

Another Christmas Cookey
Amelia Simmons, American Cookery, 1796

To three pounds of flour, sprinkle a tea cup of fine powdered coriander seed, rub in one pound of butter, and one and half pound sugar, dissolve one tea spoonful of pearlash in a tea cup of milk, kneed all together well, roll three-quarters of an inch thick, and cut or stamp into shape and size you please, bake slowly fifteen or twenty minutes; tho' hard and dry at first, if put in an earthen pot, and dry cellar, or damp room, they will be finer, softer and better when six months old.

Modern Recipe Adaptation
Yield: 8 1/2 dozen 3-inch cookies

5 1/4 Cups All-Purpose Flour Plus Extra for the Board
1/2 Cup Ground Coriander Seeds (or more, if you like a lot)
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Pound (2 Sticks) Butter, Softened
1  1/2 Cups Granulated Sugar
3/4 Cup Buttermilk or Soured Milk

  1. Preheat oven to 375º F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, ground coriander seed, and baking soda.  Set aside.
  3. In large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until well-blended.  Add the milk and the flour mixture alternately.  The dough should be moist and pliable but not sticky.
  4. On a well-floured board, knead the dough just enough to keep it from sticking while rolling.  Roll the dough out and cut with your favorite cutters.  I like these to be on the thin side but the recipes calls for 3/4 inch thick cookies, so you can decide what you prefer. 
  5. Place cookie cut-outs on cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes.
  6. Using the parchment paper on which the cookies were baked, slide the whole sheet of cookies off the cookie tin.
  7. Cool 5 minutes before eating.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Christmas Pies at Riversdale House Museum

c. 1801 Dining Room Tablescape for a Christmas Ball Supper with Raised Pies, Riversdale House Museum (December, 2014)

For the 2014 Christmas dining room display at the c. 1801 Riversdale House Museum in Riverdale Park, Md, I decided to make Yorkshire Christmas Raised/Standing Pies the centerpiece of the Christmas Ball Supper design.  

I used an 1809 recipe by Frederick Nutt (below) as the inspiration for the dining room display of raised pies at Riversdale House Museum.  I liked that the directions included making small raised pies for ball suppers and that the pastry could be ornamented "according to fancy."  Of course, the pies I make are faux salt dough versions of these beautiful culinary delights. The large pie in the center of the table was made by faux food artist Henri Gadbois at Real Faux Foods. I hope you enjoy the display which will be available to see until the middle of January.

These pies are no longer fashionable so you may not know too much about them. Here is some information and history about raised/standing pies to help you understand their place at the Christmas table:

How Did These Pies Get Their Name?

From Isabella Beeton's, Mrs. Beeton's Household Management. Originally published in London: 1861

These pies were known by many different names, all with good reason:

First, Yorkshire, England was best known as the historic focal point for the production of these huge raised standing pies. Therefore, they became known as Yorkshire Pies. 

Second, the pies were often shipped from Yorkshire throughout all parts of England, particularly during the Christmas holiday season; therefore, they were often called Christmas Pies or Yorkshire Christmas Pies (sometimes the Christmas version of the pies contains a different filling from pies made at other times of the year). 

Yorkshire may be have been the figurative capital of the raised pie food tradition; however, people who had the time, money, and inclination could make their own raised pies for Christmas or anytime even if they did not live in Yorkshire, England. Numerous recipes for raised  pies are found in many 18th and 19th century cookbooks that were popular throughout England and in America, as well. Therefore, it is completely valid to assume that the Calvert Family who lived at Riversdale in the early 19th century would have these pies during the Christmas holiday season.

Third, the pastry crust was often raised on a pie form or dolly (pictured below) to make it tall. Therefore, they were often called "Raised Pies."

Finally, they were called "Standing Pies" because they were made with pastry dough that was thick and strong enough for the finished pies to be able to stand without pie tins to support them. 

What Was in One of These Pies?
These pies were typically stuffed with cooked, boned fowl, game, hare and other wild game, and they could also contain beef, ham, bacon, and forcemeat (like a meatloaf or meatball mixture), and other things, such as truffles. The fillings were often layered one on top of the other. For example, boned turkey meat would line the bottom of the pie crust, then boned goose meat would be layered on top of that, then additional assorted fowl meat , partridge meat, pigeon meat, or game could be included. The mirror image would sit above the top of the pie dish, making each layer of meat a round casing for the one inside it. The inside would look a bit like a meat bomb!

How Were the Pies Constructed?
The pies are called raised or standing pies because the pastry dough needed to be strong enough to stand alone without the support of pie tins. One way to do this would be to use a pie dolly (form) to help form the shape of the pie. This picture shows the dough being shaped around the wooden pie dolly:

Raising the sides of the pie on a pie dolly.
Another way to make standing pies was to use large pie tins designed specifically for making the pies. These tins usually had very elaborate designs etched into them. After the pie was baked, the tin would be removed and the pie would be presented in a free-standing manner.

A pastry pie lid would cover the top and it could be decorated with pastry cut-outs "according to the fancy" of the chef. A hole would be made in the top center of the pastry to allow steam to vent and to allow a thick gelatin-rich stock or aspic to be poured into the center of the pie after baking to encase the meats once cooled.  This was done to keep the meats preserved for several days. After the pie cooled, it was ready for service, and, yes, it was meant to be served cold or at room temperature!
Small Raised Pie Ready for the Oven!

How to Serve a Raised Pie
Interestingly, a raised pie would not be cut into pie wedges.  Instead, the pie top was very carefully removed and set aside for later re-use. The meats were scooped out of the center of the pie. After service, the pie lid was replaced and the plug in the opening of the top would be removed to allow additional warmed gelatin or aspic to be poured into the pie to re-cover the meats inside. It would then be placed in a cool place so that the gelatin would solidify and re-seal the meats to keep them fresh for future consumption. The pie could be served in this manner several times until it was completely finished.

A Recipe from 1809
Source: The Imperial and Royal Cook by Frederick Nutt. London: 1809

The 1809 Nutt recipe for Christmas Pie (below) is based on his recipe for A Goose and Turkey Pie which is over 6 pages long!  The Christmas version follows this recipe and includes the addition of pheasants, partridges, and hare.  There are many things I like about this recipe; here are some of the the highlights:

The pie contains:
  • 2 geese (boned)
  • 2 turkeys (boned)
  • Truffles
  • Westphalia Ham
  • “Good Stock” (no type is mentioned but presumably one that is cooked down enough to be gelatin)
  • Filet of veal or rump-steaks line the bottom of the standing pie
  • Farce (forcemeat which is ground meat mixed with egg, breadcrumbs, seasonings - similar to meatballs or meatloaf)
  • Bacon

Some Interesting Directions Given in the Recipe:
· “. . .ornament it according to fancy”
· It will take “between four and twenty hours to get cold.”
· “It ought to be begun four days before the day on which it is wanted.”
· Before the pie is served the bacon should be taken off and replaced with chopped aspic.
· Small pies can be made for “ball suppers."
· The Christmas version of this pie has the addition of pheasants, partridges, and hares (all boned).

An 1851 American Recipe for a Standing Pie
Here is less daunting American version of a standing pie recipe from Eliza Leslie's Miss Leslie's Directions for Cookery, originally published in Philadelphia in 1851:

If you live in the Washington DC/Baltimore metropolitan area, take a trip to Riversdale to see the dining room and the rest of the house up close and in person!