Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Seasoning Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs Before There Was Old Bay

Maryland Blue Crab

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.

The Recipe: To Boil Hard Crabs – from Mrs. Harris
Wash quickly in an open basket one or two dozen crabs, put them in an iron pot with half a pint of vinegar, two tables spoonfuls salt, one ground pepper cover the pot tight and do
not let the steam escape—

About the Recipe
No self-repecting Marylander would ever, ever boil their crabs!! Fear not, while Morris's recipe is named "to boil hard crabs" you will notice that the directions actually instruct the cook to steam them. I am not offering a recipe adaptation because this recipe is easy enough to follow in its original form.

About Crabs and Crab Seasoning
The classic culinary crab available in the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and in other regions along the Eastern Seaboard of the USA is the Blue Crab (Callinectes sapidus). Its range extends from the Delaware Bay to Florida.  Though indigenous to this particular area, it was introduced abroad to the Eastern Mediterranean and is now common there, as well. 

This recipe is way too early in time to use a commercial crab seasoning such as Old Bay. Instead, the crabs are seasoned much more simply in vinegar, salt, and pepper. Old Bay was not offered for sale until 1939 when it was developed by a German immigrant, Gustav Brunn, who came to Maryland  when he fled Germany. This recipe for this iconic crab seasoning mix contains mustard, paprika, celery salt, bay leaf, black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, mace, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom, and ginger. This is a classic "kitchen pepper" which includes both savory and sweet spices. These mixtures were designed to be used to flavor savory dishes and were very common for centuries. Without Old Bay, crabs were clearly seasoned in a much less complex way, though good crabmeat hardly needs any seasoning at all!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Spring Historic Dining Room Display at Riversdale House Museum, 2017

Today I created the 2017 Spring Dining Room display for the c. 1801 Riversdale House Museum in Riverdale Park, Maryland.  Riversdale is an elegant Federal era manor house that was constructed between 1801-1807. It was home to George Calvert, grandson of the fifth Lord Baltimore and Rosalie Stier Calvert, member of a wealthy Flemish aristocratic family who were forced to flee Belgium to escape the French Revolution.  You can click here to read more about this wonderful historic treasure in Prince George's County.

The dining room display recreates the second course of very elegant meal worthy of a family as wealthy and genteel as the Calverts and their equally esteemed guests.

Here is the schematic for the dishes on the table:

The dishes chosen are all based on spring menus from historic cookbooks and are seasonal to spring which is indicated by the inclusion of asparagus, new potatoes, green goose (goose available in spring), and ham. Raised pies are also included in this scenario. Click here to read all about these artistic and very historic types of pies.

In addition, there are some dessert selections on the sideboard which include cheese and seasonally-appropriate strawberry blanc manges,, which are a type of jellied milk pudding.

Strawberry Blanc Manges

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Steak & Ale Pies for the 2017 Riversdale House Museum Tavern Night

Steak & Ale Pies

Every time I go to the United Kingdom I look forward to my first pub meal, and that meal must include a Steak & Ale Pie, preferably paired with a good ale to wash it down. My most recent trip brought me to the Hung Drawn & Quartered, an appropriately named pub given its location on London's infamously bloody Tower Hill! This pub offers a sampler of three pies paired with different ales:

Needless to say, I was very happy with this meal!

Steak & Ale Pies at the 2017 Tavern Night at Riversdale House Museum
As a food historian who is always curious about recipes, I decided to try to find out more about the history of these pies and serve them at the annual Tavern Night held in the spring at Riversdale House Museum, Riverdale Park, Maryland. 

Pies, in general, date back to the Medieval days and probably even earlier. Over the course of many years of researching various types of pies, I have found many historic recipes for raised pies, game pies, fruit-filled pies, cheese-filled pies, vegetable-filled pies, and even meat-filled pies and pasties. However, I have not been able to find a pre-20th century recipe for a beef pie prepared with ale.

Examples of pre-20th century recipes for beef pies do, indeed, exist. The ones listed below reveal that prior to the 20th century, the pies were made simply by just cooking beef with some fat, onion, seasoning, and water in a pastry crust. Mason's 1777 recipe, Rundell's 1824 recipe, and the 1831 recipe from The Cook Not Mad  are perfect examples of taking this simple approach. The 1812 Clermont recipe and the 1845 Acton recipe offer a bit more variety and flavor to the beef. Clermont suggests flavoring with brandy and Acton suggests the addition of mushrooms, if desired. 

Charlotte Mason, The Lady’s Assistant (London, 1777)

Maria Rundell, A New System of Domestic Cookery (London, 1824)    

Author Unknown; Knowlton & Rice, Publishers, The Cook Not Mad (Watertown, NY, 1831)

Eliza Acton, Modern Cookery in All Its Branches (London, 1845)

Despite a lengthy search, I have not found a pre-20th century recipe for a classic pub-style Steak & Ale Pie with slow-cooked beef surrounded by a thick and rich ale-based gravy. While clearly based on a very long-standing pie tradition in Britain, I am at a loss as to discover how far back they go. Did they existed just in the oral tradition before they were written down in the 20th century? Were they brought over to England from someplace else, such as Ireland? Additionally, did pubs even serve food until the 20th century? Were the pies made in the 20th century by pubs looking to offer  simple, easy-to-eat fare that utilized a pub staple (ale or beer) in a traditional culinary British fixture (the pie)?

While I may not have all of the answers yet, I am determined to offer a version of this type of pie as the main course for the 2017 Tavern Night at Riversdale House Museum. The Tavern Night event is not strictly historic therefore I have a bit of leeway in creating the menu so please forgive this apparent anachronistic choice.

Here is my interpretation of this ubiquitous but historically dubious pub favorite:

Riversdale Steak & Ale Pies
Makes 15 Regular Muffin Pan Size Pies

Filling Ingredients:
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • Chuck Roast, About 1.5 Pounds
  • 1/2 Large Onion, Chopped
  • 2 Ribs Celery, Chopped
  • 1 Cup Carrots, Chopped
  • 1 1/2  Teaspoons Kitchen Pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons All-Purpose Flour
  • 12-Ounce Can Wheat Ale
  • 1 Cup Beef Stock
  • Fresh Rosemary, Parsley, Thyme, About 2-3 Sprigs Each
  • 1 Cup Yellow Potatoes, Chopped Very Small
Shortcrust Pastry Ingredients:
  • 24 Ounces All-Purpose Flour
  • 9 Ounces Butter, Chopped in Small Bits
  • 3 Ounce Lard or Vegetable Shortening
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Cup Milk
  • Egg Wash:  1 Egg Whisked with 1 Tablespoon Milk
  1. Heat oven to 325º F.
  2. In a heavy-bottom Dutch oven, heat the oil and sear the meat on both sides, about 3-4 minutes each side. Remove the meat to a plate and set aside. Reduce the heat to medium.
  3. Add the onions, celery and carrots. Cook on medium for about ten minutes, until the vegetable begin to soften and wilt.
  4. Sprinkle the kitchen pepper and flour over the vegetables. Stir well and cook for 3-4 minutes, or long enough to cook out the flavor of the flour.
  5. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the ale and beef stock and stir vigorously to release the bits of cooked meat and vegetables on the bottom of the pot. Bring to boil. Toss in the fresh herbs and stir. Remove from the heat and cover.
  6. Place the covered Dutch oven into the heated oven and cook/braise for 2 hours.
  7. While the meat is braising, make the pastry. In a food processor, pulse the flour and salt together. Then add the butter and lard/shortening and pulse until the butter is mixed into the flour and is the size of peas. Add the milk and pulse until the dough forms a ball. Wrap the pastry in plastic and refrigerate until needed.
  8. Remove the meat from the pot, shred and cool. Remove the herb twigs from the pot. Add the shredded meat back into the pot along with the potatoes. If the pot is a bit dry, add a bit more beef stock into the gravy.
  9. To Assemble the Pies:
    • Heat the oven to 375º F.
    • You need to decide what size they will be. You can use muffin pans, individual small pie pans, a popover pan, or specialty pans such as the Silverwood set
    • Roll out the pastry dough to about 1/4" thickness and cut out rounds large enough to line the bottoms of the chosen pie pans. 
      • Also, roll out enough dough to make pastry covers for each of the pies.
    • Line each pie pan with the pastry and then spoon in enough of the filling to reach to almost the top. 
    • Brush a bit of the egg wash along the top rim of the  exposed pastry and then top each pie with the pastry dough top. Pinch edges to seal the pies.
    • Decorate the tops of the pies with pastry cut-outs, if desired. Pierce the top of the pies to allow the steam to vent.
    • Brush the egg wash over the tops of the pies.
    • Bake for 25 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown.
    • Serve with mashed potatoes and gravy for the full pub experience!