Thursday, February 23, 2017

Coconut Pudding in a Paste and Sourcing Coconuts in 19th Century Maryland

Recipe Provenance
The following 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!).

Cocoanut Pudding
1 lb. of cocoanut grated, 1 lb. sugar, 12 oz.’s of Butter beat to a cream. the whites of 16 eggs beat to a high froth. Wine glass of rose water, wine & Brandy.

About Coconut

Coconut comes from Cocos nuclear (coconut palms) which are native to tropical areas of Asia. 

Coconut Palm (Florida Keys)
source: wikimedia commons

The exact knowledge of how coconuts reached areas outside its native Asia is unclear. Dum, a type of palm coconut tree, is documented as a food source going back to ancient Egypt.  Venetian trader Marco Polo (1254-1324) brought coconuts with him on his travels to serve as both food and drink. This may be one of the earliest documented accounts of the movement of coconuts outside of Asia. However, coconuts can float and may have traveled on their own to new and distant lands long before Polo took them to new lands. 

There is further debate as to when coconuts reached the Americas. One theory is that the Spanish introduced coconuts to Puerto Rico; another theory claims that the Portuguese introduced them to Brazil in the 16th-century. While coconuts were being imported into North America by the middle of the nineteenth-century, if not earlier, it was not until the late nineteenth-century until coconut cultivation reached Florida. Anecdotally, Palm Beach, Florida supposedly received its name in 1878 when a vessel called Providencia bound from Havana to Europe washed ashore with its load of coconuts. 

25 April 1890 Los Angeles Herald
(source: wikimedia commons)

Coconut in American Recipes
Though coconuts may have not been cultivated in the USA until the late 19th century, they were available earlier to American cooks. Coconuts (or cocoanuts as they were often spelled in the 19th century cookery books) were widely used in North America as early as 1850 and possibly earlier. Nineteenth century recipes that use coconut exist for ice cream, cakes, puddings/custards, pies, cheesecakes, cookies, and creams. 

Here is a recipe from Miss Beecher's Domestic Receipt Book by Catherine Beecher (New York, 1850) for a cake with grated coconut:

Here are two more 19th century recipes that use coconut:

The Great Western Cook Book or Table Receipts Adapted to Western Housewifery by Angelina Maria Collins (New York, 1857)

Domestic Cookery by Elizabeth Ellicott Lea (Baltimore, 1869)
Here are some advertisements from 19th Century Maryland publications that advertise imports of coconuts and palm nuts, which very well may have been coconuts:

1837-8 Matchett's Baltimore Directory
Notice that Palm Nuts and Cocoa Nuts are both listed; it is possible the Palm Nuts are actually coconuts and the Cocoa Nuts (written as two words) are actually the raw cocoa beans used for making chocolate. I am still investigating this.
3 September 1840 American and Commercial
Daily Advertiser, Baltimore
12 November 1864 Easton Gazette

Modern Recipe Adaptation: Coconut Pudding in a Paste

I chose to make this recipe as a pudding in a paste (coconut custard pie) but you can bake it in individual custard ramekins without a pastry bottom. Note that the custard has no dairy in it so it is not creamy; instead, it has a fluffy texture.

  • One Sheet of Puff Pastry, Thawed
  • 6 Tablespoons Butter, Softened
  • 1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • Whites of Four Large Eggs
  • 1 Teaspoon Rosewater
  • 1 Tablespoon White Wine
  • 1 Tablespoon Brandy
  • 4 Ounces Grated Coconut (About 1-1/2 Cups)
  1. Heat oven to 350ยบ F.
  2. Line a pie plate with pastry crust dough and place on a parchment lines baking sheet. Set aside.
  3. Using an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar until creamy.
  4. Add the egg whites, rosewater, wine, and brandy. Beat until well-blended and frothy.
  5. Using a runner spatula, gently mix in the coconut.
  6. Pour the pudding mixture into the prepared pie dish.
  7. Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until the pudding is set in the middle and lightly golden brown on top.

  • Davidson, Alan, ed.. The Penguin Companion to Food, 2002.
  • Flandrin, Jean-Louis and Massimo Montanari. eds., Food, A Culinary History, 1999.
  • Smith, Andrew, ed. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, 2013.

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