Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A Festive Evening Repast at Riversdale House Museum

The 2017 dining room display at Riversdale House Museum in Riverdale Park, Maryland is now complete. The theme this year is a "festive evening repast" which could have been served at a ball, a card party, or an evening with family and friends.

Here is the schematic for the items on the table:

If you live in the area, stop by Riversdale House Museum on Friday, December 29, 2017 from 6-9 pm for Riversdale by Candlelight and make merry in the candlelit museum with tours, refreshments, live music, and children's activities. Enjoy a slice of Martha Washington's Great Cake which will be making a command reappearance!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Gingerbread Cookie History & a 19th C. Baltimore Recipe

About Gingerbread Cookies
Gingerbread baked into figures dates to the Medieval days in Europe. In addition, fascination with gingerbread reached the literary world in several important instances such as  William Shakespeare's professed line,“An I had but one penny in the world, thou shouldst have it to buy gingerbread,” from Love's Labour's Lost during the 16th century Tudor period. Second, an 18th century American advertisement in a 1768 edition of the Virginia Gazette for a then popular children’s book called Giles Gingerbread is evidence that Americans in Virginia were well aware of the delectable treat. Third, the emergence of the literary fairy tale powerhouse publication by the German brothers Grimm in the early 19th century placed the spotlight on gingerbread. Who can forget that Grimms' well-known characters if Hansel and Gretel came upon every child's dream, a house made of gingerbread covered in candy? Despite Hansel & and Gretel's horrifying experience in the gingerbread house, the story helped ignite a trend to make mini candy-covered gingerbread houses at Christmas.

The gingerbread tradition was brought to America by English, German, and other Northern European immigrant groups and became a fixture in the America culinary tradition, especially around the festive holiday season. At Christmas, gingerbread cookie ornaments hung on America’s first Christmas trees in the 19th century, and American children often received gingerbread animals and other figures as gifts. Even during the bleak days of the Civil War, children could expect gingerbread at Christmas. Obviously, every gingerbread cookie enjoyed today bridges modern-day life with a taste of history.

Recipe Provenance
This recipe is 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. 

 recipe was difficult to decipher because the amount of butter was illegible and the amount of molasses was just not right. I do hope you enjoy my efforts to unravel this very 19th century recipe.

The Recipe: Ginger Bread
3 lbs. of flour, [illegible] lb. butter cut up in the flour, ½ oz. cinnamon, 4 dozen cloves, 18 Doz. allspice, 1 Pint molasses, ½ lb. sugar & 1 oz. ginger.

Modern Recipe Adaptation: Gingerbread Cookies

  • 5 cups Stone-Ground Pastry Flour
  • 5 Teaspoons Ground Ceylon Cinnamon
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cloves 
  • 1 Tablespoon Ground Allspice
  • 3 Tablespoons Ground Ginger 
  • 12 Tablespoons Butter, Slightly Softened
  • 1 12-Ounce Jar Unsulphured Molasses
  1. In a large bowl, mix together the flour and spices. Set aside.
  2. Add the butter in small chunks and work into the flour using your fingers until the butter is the size of peas and well distributed throughout the flour. Then, add the molasses and stir with a spoon or spatula until all of the flour is moistened.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and gently knead to incorporate all of the flour into the dough.
  4. Divide the dough in thirds and wrap each portion in plastic film and allow to rest for two hours at room temperature. 
  5. When ready to roll out, heat the oven to 375º F and line cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  6. On a floured board, roll the dough out to about 1/10" thickness. Cut dough out in whatever shape you prefer. I like hearts because they were popular in the 19th century. 
  7. Bake for no more than 7 minutes.
  8. Cool and ice or keep plain.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Sweet Potato Pie with a Touch of Lemon

The Recipe: Sweet Potato Pudding

About the Recipe

Sweet Potatoes and Maryland
In the nineteenth-century, sweet potatoes were an important part of the Maryland diet but were particularly integral to the diet of enslaved African-Americans. Michael Twitty asserts that the sweet potato was “second in importance to corn as a starch,” and they were stored in the floors of the cabins of the enslaved and acted as “a telltale sign in many parts of the Chesapeake of the presence of the enslaved.” The rationale explaining the importance of sweet potatoes to the African-American diet could be, in part, that they are similar to the edible tuber known as the African yam (genus Dioscorea; family Dioscoreaceae). However, they are completely different species. This confusion is further compounded by the fact that in America sweet potatoes are often called yams. The other reason sweet potatoes may have become central to the diet of African-Americans, particularly those who were enslaved in the south, is because they grow well in warm climates and are easy to cultivate which makes them an efficient and reliable plant to tend when time is limited (which was often the case for people who were forced to do work for others before they could tend to their own needs). 

About this Recipe
The recipe for this early 19th century recipe for a sweet potato pudding comes from The Virginia Housewife by Mary Randolph (1824). Randolph was born into Virginia aristocracy and was a distant cousin of Thomas Jefferson. She married a first cousin once removed, named David Meade Randolph, and together in 1807 they opened a boardinghouse in Richmond known as ‘the Queen’ to supplement their income. The Randolph’s built a reputation for being great hosts, and it became the most popular places in the city. They closed the boardinghouse in 1820, moved to Washington, DC where Mary wrote her cookbook which was published just four years later.

Historically, pies that were filled with custard of any flavor and made with a bottom crust only were called puddings in a paste. Pumpkin, sweet potato, white potato, applesauce, etc. are all well-known versions of these types of puddings cooked in pastry cases. In this recipe, the sweet potatoes are scented with classic flavors typical of that time-period, including nutmeg, brandy, and lemon.

Modern Recipe Adaptation: Sweet Potato Pie

  • 1 Sheet Puff Pastry Dough
  • 1 1/2 Pounds  Sweet Potatoes
  • 1 Cup Butter (2 Sticks), Softened
  • 2 ¾ Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
  • ½ Teaspoon Grated Nutmeg
  • Grated Peel of One Lemon
  • ¼ Cup Brandy
  • 6 Large Eggs
  • 2 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
  • ¼ Cup Candied Lemon Peel

  1. Peel the sweet potatoes, place in a medium pot, and cove with cold water. Bring to a boil uncovered, reduce heat to low, cover and cook until soft but not mushy. 
  2. While the potatoes are cooking, line a deep-dish pie plate with the puff pastry dough and refrigerate until needed. 
  3.  Then, heat the oven to 350º F.
  4. When the potatoes are done, drain the water and place back in the cooking pot. If you have a food mill, pass the potatoes through the insert with the smallest holes. If not, mash until no lumps remain.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, place the butter and the hot mashed sweet potatoes. Add the butter and mix until it melts into the potatoes. Then add the confectioner's sugar, nutmeg, lemon peel, and brandy. Whisk together well. Finally, add the eggs and whisk until the eggs are completely incorporated.
  6. Pour the potato mixture into the prepared pie plate. Place the pie on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
  7. Bake one hour or until the pudding is set and does not jiggle when lightly shaken.
  8. Immediately after the pie is removed from the oven, sprinkle it with the granulated sugar and candied lemon peel.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Discover the First Thanksgiving and a Recipe for a 17th-Century Style Berry Cornbread

Narragansett Berry Cornbread

The First Thanksgiving
The first Thanksgiving was an English-based special celebration of thanks celebrated by Protestant Sectarians who called themselves Separatists, Saints, Calvinists, Planters, or Englishmen but never Pilgrims (that is a Victorian term applied to them).  Interestingly, of the 102 passengers plus about 30 crew who sailed on the Mayflower, only about 37 were Separatists.  These people were separating themselves from the Church of England to create their own pure form of the Protestant religion based on the teachings of John Calvin in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  The Mayflower landed at Plymouth in the Fall of 1620 but the people remained on board ship throughout the winter.

Contact with the Local Wampanoags
The settlers did not come into direct contact with the local natives, the Wampanoags, until  March 16, 1621, when a Wampanoag Indian from Maine, Samoset, visited the village. He had learned some English from prior contact with English near his home in Maine. He returned with Tisquantum (aka Squanto) who knew English very well from his previous captivity in England. Together they taught the English about local berries, nuts, and fish and taught them how to farm Indian corn, beans, and squash. In that same month, the settlers and the Wampanoags, represented by their leader, Massasoit, entered into a treaty of mutual protection.

Harvest Home

The First Thanksgiving was actually based on a British tradition called Harvest Home.  It was held when it was felt that God had bestowed his providence on the people in an extraordinary way.  It occurred at some point in the early fall of 1621, no exact date is known.  Harvest Home was only meant to be celebrated at special times, not annually. The second was held in 1623.  There are very few first-hand accounts of the first celebration and/or about food in the early days of Plymouth Plantation.   One account was written by Edward Winslow to a Friend in England and appears in Mourt’s Relations, 1621; another source about food comes from a letter written by William Hilton of Plimoth; and, finally, William Bradford's Of Plimoth Plantation, written in 1647, discusses some of the food available.

First Thanksgiving Facts:  
  • Four men were sent to hunt for wild fowl; turkeys may or may not have been hunted.
  • The celebration lasted three days. 
  • The men held shooting games. This may have alarmed the nearby Wampanoags who went to offer help thinking the settlers were under attack. 
  • 90 Wampanoags were this invited to join the celebration, and they secured five deer to add to the feast.

What Else Could They Have Eaten?
There were lots of food options available to the colonists to be had through farming, hunting, and gathering. It is not known the extent to which the colonists embraced the local produce but this list represents some of what was possible to eat.
  • The Three Sisters:  Corn, Beans & Squash (pumpkins, gourds, etc)
  • Sunflowers:  Seeds and Oil
  • Sunchokes, Jerusalem Artichokes from the plant, Helianthus tuberosus, which is a relative of the sunflower family.
  • Fish & Seafood
  • Nuts (walnuts, chestnuts, acorns)
  • Berries and Fruit (raspberries, strawberries, cloudberries, blueberries, blackberries, gooseberries, ground cherries, beach plums)
  • Cattails
  • Maple Sugar
  • Sumac Berries
  • Important:  There is no evidence that cranberries were embraced by the colonists at this early date of settlement.
  • Other possibilities from Seeds Brought From England or Leftover from the Voyage:
    • Salad herbs such as onions, leeks, sorrel, yarrow, watercress, flax, lettuce, carrots, cabbage, and other leafy greens.
    • English Peas, a small amount since they harvested very few that first year
    • Wheat, (a small amount remained from the voyage) 
    • Beer, Small Beer, or Cider (possibly left from the voyage)

About this Recipe
The following recipe for Narragansett Strawberry Cornbread was written by Loren Spears, executive director of the Tomaquag Museum located in Exeter, Rhode Island and included in the booklet called The Pleasure of the Taste, Recipes from 17th-Century Massachusetts published by The Partnership of Historic Bostons in 2015. You can order this book by clicking here. It contains a lot of very interesting recipes. This recipe has been published with permission given by Historic Bostons.

The Recipe: Narragansett Strawberry Cornbread
  • 1 ¼ cups stone ground yellow cornmeal or 1 ¼ cups stone ground white cornmeal 
  • 1 cup corn flour or all purpose flour 
  • 1 cup spring water or 1 cup milk 
  • ¼ cup oil or ¼ cup melted butter 
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup diced strawberries
  • ¼ cup maple syrup, honey, or sugar 
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Oil the bottom and sides of an 8-inch or 9-inch pie plate or round pan. Mix water or milk, oil or butter, and the egg in a large bowl with a wire whisk. Combine the remaining ingredients except the strawberries, stirring just until the flour is moistened (the batter will be lumpy). Add strawberries and mix gently. Pour into the pan.
Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Serve warm if desired. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

My Recipe Adaptation: Narragansett Berry Cornbread

While trying to find a 17th century recipe that could have been made by the early English settlers at Plimoth Plantation (Plymouth) in Massachusetts for their harvest celebrations, I found a Narragansett recipe that realistically could have been made by the settlers. The Narragansett people lived in what is now known as Rhode Island; therefore, this recipe represents one that could have been made been the Wampanoag further up the Eastern seaboard. I like this recipe because it offers options for making it either with or without dairy or chicken eggs, which were not available in Plimoth (Plymouth) until after 1624. My adaptation, which follows, the original recipe, does use dairy and eggs suggesting it would not have been possible for that first thanksgiving in 1621. In addition, I used a dried berry assortment rather than just fresh strawberries. If you prefer to make the cornbread without the introduction to European dairy and eggs, you can use water in place of the milk, a duck egg instead of a chicken egg, and sunflower oil instead of butter.

Makes 6 to 8 Servings:

  • 1/2 Cup Spring Water 
  • 1/2 Cup Milk
  • ¼ Cup Melted Butter
  • 1 Large Egg
  • ¼ Cup Maple Syrup
  • 1 ¼ Cups Stoneground White Cornmeal 
  • 1 Cup Stoneground Whole Grain Pastry Flour
  • 4 Ounces Dried Berry Blend 
  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. 
  2. Oil the bottom and sides of an 8-inch or 9-inch pie plate or round pan. 
  3. Mix water, milk, butter, egg, and maple syrup in a large bowl with a wire whisk. 
  4. In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients and whisk together. Add the dried berries and mix until they are all covered with the flours.
  5. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir just until the flour is moistened (the batter will be lumpy). Allow the batter to sit for about 30 minutes to soften the cornmeal.
  6. Pour into the prepared pan.
  7. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. 
  8. Serve warm if desired.