Friday, December 16, 2016

Riversdale by Candlelight 2016: Baking for the Caraways

Caraway Seed Bread and Orange Peel Bread

Join Riversdale House Museum on On Friday, December 30, 2016 starting at 6 pm for a candlelit tour of this beautiful and historic Maryland home. This evening will showcase three eras of history. In addition to the candlelit tour, refreshments, live music, and children's activities can be found on this festive evening.

Refreshment Recipes:
While the main focus of Riversdale's interpretation is the first two decades of the 19th century when George and Rosalie Calvert were the master and mistress of this singular Maryland home, this year's  special holiday interpretation will span three different eras of its history. Click here to read about this year's 1850s interpretation of the dining room. The inspiration for the refreshments for this evening highlights the 1930s when the Caraways were in residence. In the late 1920s, U.S. Senator Thaddeus Caraway of Arkansas bought the house. Caraway died in office in 1931 and his widow, Hattie, was appointed by Arkansas governor, Harvey Parnell, to take her husband's place in the Senate. Hattie Caraway then went on to become the first woman elected to the Senate when she won a special election in January 1932.

The following two recipes are taken from the Boston Cooking School Cook Book by Fannie Merritt Farmer, 1936 edition:

Modern Recipe Adaptation: Orange Peel Bread
Yield: 2 Loaves or 36 Minis


4 Cups Flour (20 ounces)
4 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1/8 Teaspoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Butter
3/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Egg
2 Cups Milk
1 Cup Candied Orange Peel (6 ounces), Plus Extra for Garnish
Royal Icing (optional)

  1. Grease two oblong bread pans.
  2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar. Add the egg and milk. Beat for 1 minute, until well blended.
  4. Place the candied orange peel in a large bowl and sprinkle 1/4 cup of the flour mixture over it. Mix until all of the fruit is covered with the flour.
  5. Add the flour mixture to the wet mixture and beat until fluffy. Add the flour-coated orange peel and mix until all of the fruit is evenly mixed into the batter.
  6. Heat oven to 325º F. Allow the batter to rest 20 minutes while the oven is heating. Then, divide the batter evenly between the two prepared bread pans.
  7. Bake 40-50 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the center of each bread comes out clean.
  8. Optional: Cool cakes, cover with royal icing, and sprinkle orange peel on top.
Note: You can make mini-muffin size Orange Peel Breads by filling the muffin tin opening with a scant two tablespoons of batter. Bake for 20 minutes. Ice and garnish, if desired.

In honor of the Caraways, a caraway seed bread seems quite appropriate:

Note: You can make mini-muffin size Luncheon Caraway Bread by filling the muffin tin opening with a scant two tablespoons of batter. Bake for 17 minutes. Ice and garnish, if desired. Yields about 18 per batch.

Event Details:
Cost: Adult $5; Children 12 & under free with paid admission

Ages: All ages welcome
4811 Riverdale Road, Riverdale Park 20737
Contact: 301-864-0420; TTY 301-699-2544

Thursday, December 8, 2016

No Fuss Mini Christmas Cakes

These little fruitcake gems are very reminiscent of Caribbean style black cakes, meaning that they are very dark in color because they contain either burned sugar, brown sugar, and/or molasses along with lots of spices and rich fruits. This recipe is based on a recipe published in Jennie June's American Cookery Book published in New York in 1870. My recipe redaction is based on Christmas Cake - 2:

I changed the recipe a bit by using prunes instead of raisins or citron and by boiling all of the wet ingredients together. Both of these changes makes fruitcake moister and infuses all of the flavors very well without the need to "feed" the cake with spirits for weeks or months. However, you can still choose to add more spirits to the baked cakes to add extra holiday cheer--Enjoy!

Modern Recipe Redaction: No Fuss Mini Christmas Cakes


  • 2 Cups Packed Brown Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup Molasses
  • 1/2 Cup Vegetable Shortening or Lard
  • 1 1/2 Cups Butter
  • 2 Teaspoons Ground Cloves
  • 1 Tablespoon Grated Nutmeg
  • 1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
  • 1 Pound Chopped Prunes
  • 1/2 Cup Apple Brandy
  • 1 Cup Milk
  • 4 Eggs
  • Five Cups/25 Ounces All Purpose Flour
  • 2 Teaspoons Baking Soda
  1. In a very large saucepan, mix together the brown sugar, molasses, butter, shortening, spices, prunes, and brandy. Set on medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes and stir frequently. Note: this can burn easily so keep your eyes on it!
  2. Remove from heat and allow to cool for about 30 minutes. 
  3. While the liquid mixture is cooling, heat the oven to 375º. During this time, line a mini muffin pan (I use the Calphalon brand where each muffin well holds about 1.5 ounces) with a regular size foil muffin liner. You want use a larger liner because you want the liner to reach higher than the tops of the muffin well and make sure to press the liners against the sides of the muffin wells.
  4. Use the saucepan in which you cooked the liquid ingredients and use it as a mixing to bowl to add all of the remaining ingredients. First, add the milk and stir in by hand. Then, stir in the eggs.
  5. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and baking soda. Add this to the liquid mixture. Stir by hand until all of the flour is absorbed by the liquid mixture.
  6. Fill each muffin liner about 2/3 of the way up the liner. Bake for about 15 minutes.
  7. Immediately after taking the cakes out of the oven, sprinkle them with either confectioner's sugar or holiday sanding sugars or sprinkles.  You can also choose to pour more apple brandy over the tops of the cakes while still hot, but do this before you decorate with the various sugars.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

An 1850s Festive Dessert Table at Riversdale House Museum and the Tradition of the Loving Cup

About Riversdale House Museum
Riversdale, an elegant Federal style manor house in Riverdale Park, Maryland, was constructed between 1801 and 1807 for Henri Stier, a Flemish aristocrat, and completed by his daughter, Rosalie, and her husband, George Calvert, grandson of the fifth Lord Baltimore. Today, this elegant architectural gem has been restored to reflect the lifestyle of the Calverts in Federal America. In addition, the journal of Adam Francis Plummer, an enslaved man owned by the Calverts, provides a rare first-person account of African American life in 19th century Maryland.

The Mistress of Riversdale, Rosalie Stier Calvert, died in 1821 and her husband, George Calvert, continued to live there until his death in 1838. Though the estate was divided between his sons George Henry and Charles Benedict Calvert, it was Charles Benedict who lived his whole life at Riversdale, until his death in 1864.

The house normally focuses on the time period when George and Rosalie Calvert were raising their children at Riversdale in the first two decades of the 19th century. However, the 2016 festive holiday table at Riversdale's dining room is being especially devoted this year to the era of the occupancy by their son, Charles Benedict Calvert, and his family in the 1850s. This is a great time period for interpreting Christmas because new dining styles and holiday traditions emerged.

Rationale for a c. 1850s Tabletop Christmas Tree:

American Christmas traditions draw from a variety of cultural influences. In the 19th century, German influences, both in America and via the British, brought about the love affair with the Christmas tree. 

In America, new waves of German immigrants came to America and brought with them the tradition of the Christmas tree. Maryland, in particular, received a great number of German immigrants and adopted many German traditions. This era of new German immigrants also reinforced Pennsylvania German traditions already in place in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Nineteenth century England also had its own series of German influences making a Christmas tree a common festive season tradition. It all started in year 1800 when King George III's wife, the German-born Queen Charlotte, started to include decorated Christmas trees for her parties for children at the Upper Lodge at Windsor Castle. This early British Christmas tree was a yew tree that was placed in a tub and decorated with sweets and candles.

The tradition of erecting a Christmas tree was taken up again in 1841 when German Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, set up a tree in Windsor Castle. In 1848, this tradition was highlighted in an issue of  The Illustrated London News when it published an engraving of Windsor Castle’s annual tree (below).

An American periodical, Godey’s Lady’s Book, reprinted this engraving for the American public. This firmly raised Americans' awareness of this delightful tradition and helped set the standard of having Christmas trees in American homes from that point forward.

In keeping with period tradition, the 1850s Christmas tree sits atop a table on the sideboard in the dining room at Riversdale House Museum. Sugar paste baskets filled with fruits and nuts are placed around the front of the tree:

Evolution of Dessert
The English word "dessert" actually translates from the French word “desservir” which means “to clear the table.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "dessert" was in use in this sense in the English language by 1539 as evidenced from a quote from the 16th century printer and scholar, Estienne, when he wrote the following: ‘removal of the dishes, dessert'. Historically, the word dessert referred to the final course of a meal, not necessarily a dedicated sweet course.--that would evolve over time but not until well into the 20th century. 

The Georgian Dessert Course:  

By the time the German Hanover family took over the British throne in 1714 with King George I, the idea of dining in the service a la francaise style was firmly entrenched among the nobility. This dining style consisted of 2-3 broad courses of multiple dishes placed on the table family-style. The food was laid out on the dining table in beautiful symmetrical patterns and diners served themselves and their seat-mates by carving at table and passing dishes to one another. Savory and sweet dishes were served within the same course, usually the second course.

If a third course was offered, it would usually be the official dessert course. However, the modern idea of dessert would not necessarily apply. Offerings such as pies, cakes, or any other elaborate sweet concoctions were usually served in the second course as part of the main meal. The official dessert course actually included fresh fruit, flower or chocolate flavored drops/pastils/"cakes" /bonbons or "bomboons"as they were sometimes known then, nuts, ices, creams, fritters, jellies, conserves, and/or other such sweet delights.

Dessert in Mid 19th Century America
Upperclass Americans followed the dining styles set by the British gentry. Therefore, French service was just as popular in 18th century and early 19th century American households as it was in England. Furthermore, by the middle of the 19th century, British and fashionable American people could choose between two dining styles because, along with French service a new dining style, Russian Service, emerged in the 1850s. Importantly, while this service was known, it did not really become the favored style until closer to the end of the 19th century.

Service a la Russe (Russian Service)
In Russian service, the food is served temporally – each dish served in its own separate course, one after the other. This is the type of service that is still employed in restaurants and at special dining events such as weddings. The food is not laid out on the table family-style, rather it is served by a waiter already plated to each diner. 

This dining style builds up the course from light to heavy and then back down again to light. The dessert course would just be a final light course of fresh fruits, fruit compotes, nuts, biscuits, sponge cakes, jellies, and creams. Heavier pies, cakes, and complicated entremets would be in the penultimate sweet entremets course, not the final dessert course.

Dessert at Riversdale in the 1850s
The 1850s was a time-period where people could choose between the avant garde Russian service and the more traditional French service. However, there were also other variations of these services. For example, hot foods were plated in the Russian style but items that could remain at room temperature were displayed elegantly on the table in the French style. Some dishes, such as vegetables and sauces, were "butlered", or offered to each guest from a cart or dish by a butler or waiter, therefore evoking elements of Russian service in a traditional French style meal. Obviously, there were many dining options open to hosts/hostesses in the 1850s.

In keeping with the older traditional style, French service is being used to depict a c.1850s Christmas dessert scenario at Riversdale House Museum. The table features fresh fruit, apple compote (very popular in the 1850s), chocolate cream pots, almond cream pots, Savoy Sponge Cakes, Christmas Pudding, and a cheese plate. Here is a schematic showing the arrangement of the dishes:

Here is a photo of the table display:

Here are some close-ups of the dishes:

The Tradition of the Loving Cup
According to 19th c. cookbook author and domestic advice guru, Alexis Soyer, in his 1850 publication of The Modern Housewife (New York), a new Christmas tradition emerged in the city that "gentlemen seem very much to like". Soyer explains the tradition of the Loving Cup which begins "when the cheese is put on", meaning with the start of the final meal, dessert. According to Soyer, the host starts by pouring the contents of the Loving Cup into the glasses of each of the ladies sitting  on either side of him. Then, the host rises and drinks to their health and to health of all at table. He then passes the Loving Cup to the gentleman on the left who fills the glass of the lady to his left, drinks to her health and the the rest of the diners. The Loving Cup ritual passes to each gentleman at table.

Here is the recipe for the contents of Soyer's Loving Cup:
  • 1/2 teacup of capillaire (a syrup flavored with orange flower water)
  • Dissolved lump sugar with a few drops of orange-flower water
  • 1 Pint Brown Sherry
  • 1 bottle of Edinburgh Ale
  • 1 bottle of soda water

Here is the "Loving Cup" pitcher depicted in the Riversdale festive dessert table:

Come visit Riversdale House Museum on Friday, December 30, 2016 for a candlelit holiday open house. Click here for more details.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Mrs. Tawes' "Delicious Applesauce Cake"

Harvest by Levi Wells Prentice
Source: Wikimedia Commons

About the Recipe Author
This recipe is taken from My Favorite Maryland Recipes published in 1964 and written by Helen Avalynne Tawes, also known as Mrs. J. Millard Tawes, a former first lady of Maryland, from 1959-1967.  Mrs. Tawes was fascinated with Maryland's rich food traditions and experimented with modernizing vintage recipes for the mid-20th century kitchen. According to Mrs. Tawes, writing in the 1960s, Marylanders are "aware that we have inherited some traditions that make our lives distinctively agreeable. One of these is our Maryland foods." According to Mrs. Tawes, another agreeable aspect of living in Maryland is enjoying the distinct pleasure of living along the Chesapeake Bay.

Mrs. Tawes' first compilation of recipes was created while her husband was on the gubernatorial campaign trail. It was a cookbook that contained just twenty-two recipes and was just about food, not politics. However, it was touted as a "piece of campaign literature" that, according to friends, was very helpful in winning the office of governor for her husband.

About Apples in Maryland
Apples, from the Rosaceae family in the genus of Malus, originated in Asia Minor. According to The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, Second Edition (Andrew Smith, ed., 2013), apples made their way to Europe and then to North America with the colonists. By the middle of the 17th century, apples were being cultivate in North America mainly for their use in the production of cider, that alcoholic beverage that has become so fashionable once again in America, particularly in Maryland. 

Here is an 18th century advertisement for a plantation in Baltimore County, along the Gunpowder River, that contains an apple orchard consisting of "230 bearing apple trees":
6 September 1764, Maryland Gazette
By 1820, apple cider was the national beverage and vast orchards dotted the landscape. When a tree would produce a fruit with a quality that lent itself to good eating, grafting and experimentations ensued.  By about 1850, this resulted in thousands of apple varieties available that were suitable for many different culinary and feasting purposes.  This, by no means, implies that apples were only used for cider prior to the 19th century (as numerous recipes can attest); rather, this was simply when a great commercial boom occurred in the "eating apple" market. 

Here are some Maryland advertisement from that time period:

27 May 1840, American and Commercial Daily Advertiser, Baltimore
24 September 1861, Maryland News Sheet

Maryland has a long history of growing apples to produce cider apples and fantastic tasting eating apples. A simple google search can direct you to the numerous farms and orchards specializing in the crop. Maryland growers offer pick-your-own apples and a variety of products such as apple cider donuts, applesauce, apple butter, pies, cakes, sweet cider, and delicious and potent hard apple cider. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

From the Pages of Jane Austen's Emma: Routs and Rout-Cakes

Rout-Cakes -
Hopefully, These are Good Enough for Mrs. Elton

Mrs. Elton was very shocked at the lack of sophistication displayed by her new neighbors  in Highbury and she particularly expressed her dismay at the “poor attempt at routcakes, and there being no ice in the Highbury card-parties.”

Emma, Chapter 34

Fans of Jane Austen's Emma know that the character of Mrs. Elton is high maintenance, persnickety, and difficult to please, even at the best of times. So it is no shock that she found fault with the fare served at the card parties she attended at her new home as a married lady in Highbury. Oh well, dear hostesses of Highbury . . . better luck next time at pleasing Mrs. Elton.

What is a Rout?
  • The word rout is an English word that comes from the French word route, meaning company.
  • According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a rout is "fashionable gathering; a large evening party or soirée of a type fashionable in the 18th and early 19th centuries." 
  • The earliest reference to the word rout with this definition going back to 1745 in E. Haywood Female Spectator II. xii. 328: "She told me, that when the Number of Company for Play exceeded ten Tables, it was called a Racquet, if under it was only a Rout." 
    • Similarly, a 1771 reference confirms the relative smallness of a rout party: "She keeps a small rout at her own house, never exceeding ten or a dozen card-tables." 

What is a Rout-Cake?
  • A rout-cake is basically a rich small cake (cookie to Americans) served at the above-stated routs. 
  • The earliest reference to these cakes goes back to 1782 from an advertisement in the Morning Post on 5 November: "Fruits, Ices, Jellies, Rout-cakes, and all sorts of Confectionary, &c.” 
  • Rout-cakes are usually a drop biscuit (cookie) made with orange zest, orange-flower water or rose water, currants, and often spirits such as brandy.
  • The earliest published reference to the recipe goes back only to about 1824, but its existence is clearly earlier. 
Here is the 1824 recipe from Maria Rundell's, A New System of Domestic Cookery (London):

Rout-Cakes: Modern Recipe Adaptation

  • 1 Pound Butter, Softened
  • 2 1/4 Cups Sugar
  • 2 Large Eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon Orange-Flower Water
  • 1 Tablespoon Rose-Water
  • 2 Tablespoons Sweet White wine
  • 2 Tablespoons Brandy
  • 6 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
  • One Pound Zante Currants
  1. Using an electric mixer, mix together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs. Then, add the remaining liquids.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and zante currants. 
  3. Add the flour/currants to the liquid mixture and blend until all of the flour is incorporated into the mixture.
  4. Divide the dough into four equal portions and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. This is important because you will be able to roll the dough more easily when it's cold and it will prevent the cookies from spreading too much in the oven.
  5. While the dough is cooling, heat the oven to 375º and line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  6. Wet your hands and roll the dough into small balls, about 3/4 of an ounce in weight (about 1 1/2 teaspoons).
  7. Bake for 13-15 minutes, or until they are firm and slightly golden brown.

  • Oxford English Dictionary

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Ginger Infused Preserved Watermelon Rind in Fun Shapes

Watermelon Rind Preserves Cut in Fun Shapes

To Preserve Watermelon Rind

Boil the rind until soft & put it in a dish to cool, boil ¾ lb. of sugar for a first sirrup, while hot stir in fine ginger enough to flavour it, when both are cold put them in a pot and keep it tied until the rind absorb the sugar. then strain the sirrup & with it wash the ginger from the rind. ¾ lb. sugar boild & cooled, then put in the rind & tie it up tight.

Recipe Provenance
This recipe comes from a collection of recipes found in a manuscript journal located in the H. Furlong Baldwin Library at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore. The manuscript is attributed to Ann Maria Morris and the date of 1824 is written on the inside cover. The recipe below is one of many from the manuscript that will be included in a book I am writing. The book will contain biographical information about Mrs. Morris, an annotated transcript of the entire manuscript as it was written, and a section of modern recipe adaptations (including this one!).

About Watermelon
Watermelon, Citrullus lanatus, is native to Africa and has a very long history of cultivation, as seen in wall paintings in ancient Egypt that date back to before 2000 BC. By the 10th -12th centuries AD, watermelons had spread to the Mediterranean and to India and China. However, the historic record shows no signs that the Ancient Greeks and Romans knew about watermelons until after the fall of the Roman Empire. In addition, because watermelons grow better in hot climates they did better in southern Europe than in the colder northern climates.

Watermelons reached the New World in 1613 when slave traders brought them first to Brazil and then to Massachusetts. Watermelon cultivation in the Americas really took off and over the years many new varieties have been produced. As a result, watermelons today can come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors.

Watermelons in 19th Century Maryland
Commercial watermelon sales are hard to track in the 19th century because advertisements for them in local papers and city directories are hard to find, suggesting they were locally grown and sold. However, because Morris includes this recipe in her journal, we do know that watermelons played a role in the diet of the 19th century white Baltimore elite. Furthermore, according to food historian, Michael Twitty, watermelons played a part in the diet of enslaved Afro-Marylanders, as well. He writes, "Just as in West and Central Africa, the women here cultivate small fenced in gardens around their homes, thatched much as they would have been back home. She sees corn, peppers, okra, watermelons, squashes, pumpkins, black eyed peas, muskmelons, eggplants, onions, and tomatoes growing--much as she would in any of the gardens she once kept in her home compound."

About Watermelon Rind Preserves
All watermelon rind can be preserved in sugar and/or vinegar; however, there is one variety, Citrullus lanatus var. citroides, or the Citron Watermelon, that is good for preserving the flesh as well as the rind. These melons are naturally bitter so they are not good for eating raw and are therefore always preserved. Interestingly, these melons are also considered the ancestor of the modern sweet watermelon. You can read more about them by clicking here.

About the Recipe
As has been typical with Mrs. Morris's recipes, this one is another example of an aide memoire, not an actual detailed recipe with step-by-step instructions. Morris assumed the recipe reader would have a certain level of knowledge and therefore she did not feel obliged to be too specific. As a result, I have had to look to other period recipes to get some more information.

Many 19th century recipes for preserved watermelon rind give directions to soak the rind in alum or lime to keep the rind crisp. Also, these recipes give directions to soak the rind with peach, grape, or vine leaves to impart a nice, green color to the rind. However, while watermelon rind preserves can be made green in this way they could also be dyed yellow with saffron or turmeric and lemon skins. Mrs. Morris's recipe does not specifically state that it should be dyed green with leaves, therefore I can assume she meant the rind to be yellow.

Additionally, many period watermelon rind preserve recipes give instructions to peel the outer skin off the rind and to cut the rind into either strips or pleasing shapes such as stars, diamonds, crescents, etc. Again, Morris left out this detail.

Here are two good period recipes to use as a guide to making Morris's version of preserved watermelon rind:

Favorite Dishes by Carrie Shuman (Chicago, 1893)

La Cuisine Creole by Lafcadio Hearn (New Orleans, 1885)

Because I do not have access to peach, grape, or vine leaves and because Morris does not mention it in the recipe, I am skipping this step. Instead, I am going to make a yellow preserve by boiling the rind with lemon skins and saffron because I can certainly get those at any market. I will add ginger too because Morris does include that in her recipe.

additionally, I decided to cut the rind into some fun shapes to add to the visual appeal of the dish.

Preserved Watermelon Rind: Modern Recipe Redaction

  • 1 Large Watermelon
  • 2 Lemons, Seeded and Cut in Large Chunks 
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoons Saffron, Indian Saffron or Turmeric
  • 3  3/4 Pounds of Granulated Sugar (about 8 1/2 cups)
  • 1 Tablespoon Ground Ginger
  1. Peel the outer green skin of the whole watermelon (it is easiest to do this before you cut into the melon). Discard the peel.
  2. Cut the watermelon into wide pieces. Cut out all of the red flesh. Some will remain on the rind, but get as much of it off as possible.
  3. Weigh your rind. You should have about 3 3/4 pounds of rind.
  4. Using cookie cutters, cut the rind into strips, starts, diamonds, flowers, crescents, etc. You will need to also use the edges from the cut-outs; you can just cut them up into small chunks.
  5. Place all of the rind, lemon chunks, and saffron (or other colorants) into a large stockpot and cover with water. Mix together. Set over high heat and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for about 40 minutes, or until the largest pieces of the rind are tender enough to be pierced with a sharp knife.
  6. About halfway through the simmering of the, place the sugar, ground ginger, and 3 3/4 cups water in a large stockpot. Mix together and bring to a boil over high heat. Stay near the syrup as it comes to a boil because it can easily start to boil over the edges of the pot. As soon as it starts to boil, reduce the heat to low, stir, and simmer for about 8-10 minutes, until it starts to thicken slightly. 
  7. While the syrup is simmering, drain the water from the rind are remove the lemons and any lemon seeds that may have worked into the mix.
  8. Place the drained rind into the sugar syrup and simmer on medium-low for about 60 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the rind looks translucent. You will know the rind is ready when the white spots that appear subsequently disappear. The cooking time for this will vary depending on the thickness of the rind.
  9. If you plan to use a water-bath canner, you can start sterilizing your jars while the rind is cooking in the syrup.
  10. Ladle the rind and syrup into the sterilized jars, seal, and process in a water-bath canner for the recommended amount of time for the jar size used.


  • Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food (Oxford University, 2014)
  • Twitty, Michael. Fighting Old Nep, The Foodways of Enslaved Afro-Marylanders 1634-1864 (2006).

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Sweet Pickled Plums: A Condiment for Duck and Game

Sweet Pickled Plums

To Pickle Damsons
To 5 lbs. ripe Damsons 2 ½ lbs. sugar 1 quart vinegar 2 oz. cloves—1 oz. cinnamon, ½ oz. mace—boil the sugar and all the spices in the vinegar, Pour it boiling hot on the fruit when cold, pour it off 6 times weigh your plum before you stone it—to be served with Ducks.

Recipe Provenance
This recipe comes from a collection of recipes found in a manuscript journal located in the H. Furlong Baldwin Library at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore. The manuscript is attributed to Ann Maria Morris and the date of 1824 is written on the inside cover. The recipe below is one of many from the manuscript that will be included in a book I am writing. The book will contain biographical information about Mrs. Morris, an annotated transcript of the entire manuscript as it was written, and a section of modern recipe adaptations (including this one!).

About Plums
Though until the early 20th century, most plums cultivated in North America by settlers were European species, there are native American varieties that were harvested by Native Americans. Popular native American plum species are:
  • Beach Plum (Prunus maritima), native to the coastal northeast.
  • Sierra Plum (P. subcordata), native to northern California and Oregon
  • P. Americana, native to the central states
These plums are generally small, tart, and have astringent skins. Therefore, they are not good for eating raw but are much more suited for making into preserves, sauces, and wines.

Up until the late 19th century, these popular European species of plums were cultivated in America:
  • Prunes
  • Greengages
  • Egg Plums
  • P. institia (this species includes damsons and bullaces)
Though these species were popular, they were never well-suited to American soil and conditions. Therefore, starting in 1885, Luther Burbank, a California-based planter, introduced many varieties of Asian plums from Japan into America and cross-bred them with Eurasian and native American varieties. He yielded hundreds of new varieties of juicy, flavorful, and plump plums. Nowadays, most commercially produced plums have much less flavor than their antecedents but are nice and firm, have a deep purple color, and look great on the shelves of supermarkets. 

About Damsons
Mrs. Morris's recipe calls specifically for damsons (Prunus institia) which are small oval plums. The species is native to Eastern Europe and West Asia. This earliest varieties were sour and therefore only good for making jam. 

Later cultivated varieties were suited for other uses. In Morris's time, it is possible that she would have had access to Farleigh and/or Bradley's King varieties. However, even these later varieties were known for their astringency and were still  best cooked with lots of sugar.  

Morris recommends serving her pickled damsons with duck, and I found another 19th century recipe for a Damson Sauce for Meats in Miss Corson's Practical American Cookery (New York, 1886), which is almost exactly like Morris's recipe. Likewise, this recipe states that it is meant to be served with game, birds, and venison. The combination of sweet and sour, with the addition of the sweet spices, really does make this a perfect condiment for these types of meats. 

In addition, I found many recipes in 19th century American cookbooks for damsons to be made into jam/preserves, pies, puddings, and even water ice.

Damson Plums
source: wikimediacommons

A Substitute for Damsons: The Italian Prune Plum
Unfortunately, I do not have access to any variety of damson plums, so I am using an alternative variety, the Italian Prune Plum, available in late summer and early fall. Prune plums are generally designed to be dried; however, these plums are also really good for making jam or for preserving in vinegar. They are also really very cute little egg-shaped gems. While these prune plums do not taste exactly like damsons, they do look like them and are versatile enough to be used in the same ways as damsons. It's not a perfect substitute but it works.

Italian Prune Plums
source: wikimediacommons

Pickled Plums: Modern Recipe Adaptation
Yield: 4 Quarts 

  • 5 Pounds Plums (damson or prune varieties)
  • 1 Quart (4 cups) Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 5 1/2 Cups Sugar
  • 3/4 cup Whole Cloves (or to taste as this is a lot of cloves!)
  • 1/3 Cup Ground Cinnamon
  • 2 Tablespoons Ground Mace
  1. You will need to can these plums using the hot water bath method. Start by sterilizing in boiling water canning jars of the size of  your choice equaling 4 quarts.
  2. While the canning jars are sterilizing, wash the plums, remove the pits, and cut them up into large chunks. Set aside.
  3. In a large pot, place the vinegar, sugar, and spices. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to the lowest setting possible and simmer for 5 minutes. Note: this mixture will bubble up a lot so make sure to use a very large pot.
  4. Place the chunks of plums into the hot, sterilized jars. Pour the pickling liquid (including the whole cloves) into the jars, leaving about 1/2 inch of head space.
  5. Process the jars in the hot water canner for the number of minutes appropriate to your jar size and altitude. 
  6. Mrs. Morris recommends pouring off the pickling liquid "6 times" before eating. Presumably, she meant to rinse the plums six times. I would recommend pouring off the pickle and then giving the pickled plums a good wash  before serving, if you want to follow her directions. You can always serve the plums with the liquid, if you prefer. 

  • Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food (Oxford University Press, 2014)
  • Smith, Andrew F. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, Second Edition (Oxford University Press, 2013)