Monday, September 10, 2018

A Fall Meal on Display at Riversdale House Museum

Visit the c. 1801 Riversdale House Museum, the original home of George Calvert and Rosalie Stir Calvert and their children, this fall and stumble upon the dining room tables set-up to look as if the Calvert family is just about to sit down to dine. Here is the menu for the first course: pea soup, roast chicken with sweet potatoes, roast pork with winter squash, oysters on the half-shell, stuffed cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. 

Fruit displayed in a piece of the Tucker porcelain set; the c. 1839 china that originally belonged to the Calvert family.

The star of this meal is the Tucker Porcelain. Charles Benedict (C.B.) Calvert (1808-1864), son of George and Rosalie Calvert, married Charlotte Augusta Norris (1816 - 1876) in Baltimore on June 6, 1839. Possibly to commemorate a new era at Riversdale with the installation of Charlotte as the new mistress of Riversdale, C.B. purchased a very expensive set of China in 1839. Through the generosity of surviving Calvert family members, much of the Tucker Porcelain in back home at Riversdale and on display. 

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Gnocchi alla Romana

Gnocchi all Romana

About the Recipe
I made this dish as part of a food challenge to find and make an historic recipe with a “foreign” bent. The dish could either have a loose connection to foreign lands, be named after a faraway place, or be attributed to foreigners. Basically, the challenge was meant to investigate how one culture interprets the cuisine of another culture. I chose to make Gnocchi alla Romana, an "Italian" recipe found in a very American cookbook, Foods of the Foreign Born in Relation to Health by Bertha M. Wood, Boston: 1922. I am an Italian-American, so this was a good fit for me.

I altered the recipe a bit to make sure it would work; some of the directions were missing and some of the ingredients were not quite right. First, there were no directions for how to cook the polenta. Luckily, I regularly made polenta for my Italian grandmother, Vincenza Ginaguzzi, so I had a good idea of how to handle cooking it. Second, the original recipe calls for using a whole egg, as opposed to using just an egg yolk. This made the polenta too thin, so I altered the recipe to just using one egg yolk. 

My Interpretation of Gnocchi alla Romana

  • 1 Pint Milk, or Half Milk/Half Water
  • Salt to Taste
  • 1/2 Cup Farina (Cream of Wheat) or Polenta (cornmeal)
  • 8 Tablespoons Butter, Divided
  • 1 1/4 Cup Grated Pecorino Romano, Divided
  • 1 Egg Yolk, Slightly Beaten

  1. Let the milk come to a boil. Add the salt.
  2. Gradually add the farina or polenta, stirring briskly and constantly so that no lumps can form. Cook on low for 10-15 minutes.
  3. Remove from the fie and add 1 tablespoon of the butter and 1/4 cup of the grated cheese. Then add the egg and mix well.
  4. Place a large sheet of parchment paper on your work surface. Pour out the polenta onto the paper and spread to out until it is about three-quarters inch thick. 
  5. While the polenta is cooling ad firming up, heat the oven to 425º F and butter a gratin dish and set aside.
  6. When the polenta is firm, cut it into squares or diamonds.
  7. In the gratin dish, put a layer of the polenta pieces. Sprinkle with some of the remaining cheese and dot with some of the remaining butter. Make another layer, and so on, until the dish is filled. 
  8. Bake for 12 minutes and then broil for an additional 3 minutes.

Cooking the Polenta and Adding the Cheese

Cooling the Polenta

Uncooked Gratin

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Verjuice Vinaigrette Recipe

Fabrication du verjus (Making Verjuice) 

Grünernte von Weintrauben. Aus dem Handbuch der Familie Corutti in Verona um 1375
Source: Wikimedia Commons

About Verjuice
Verjuice actually means "green juice." It is an acidic liquid made from unripe sour grapes or crabapples. Verjuice is a good substitute for lemon juice or vinegar. It has a sour taste but is much fruitier and more mild than vinegar.

Verjuice was used in Roman cookery and as a medicine and was very popular in Middle Eastern cookery and European cooking, from the Medieval days to well into the 19th century. American recipes in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries also sometimes contained verjuice. 

Verjuice was mostly found in recipes for salad dressing, soups, stews, and sauces. For example, the recipe for Mutton with Yellow Sauce from Le Menagier de Paris, a French medieval book written in the late 14th c. contains verjuice:

Mutton with Yellow Sauce
The Good Wife's Guide,  Le Menagier de Paris, A Medieval Household Book.  Translated, with Critical Introduction, by Gina L. Greco & Christine M. Rose, Cornell University Press, 2009.

Cut the meat--it must be flank--into pieces when completely raw.  Cook it in water, then grind a piece of ginger and some saffron and thin it with verjuice, wine, and vinegar.

Here is another recipe that uses verjuice, from a cookbook published in New York about 400 years later:

No.12 To Make a Sauce for a Sweet Pie
The Frugal Housewife, or Complete Woman Cook; Also The Making of English Wines. 
by Sussannah Carter. New York: 1803. 

Take some white wine, a little lemon juice, or verjuice, and some sugar; boil it, then beat two eggs, and mix them well together; then open your pie, and pour it in. This may be used for veal or lamb pies.

Verjuice Vinaigrette
I was experimenting with verjuice and came up with this recipe for a salad dressing. I really like it because the verjuice imparts a lot of flavor and sweetness without the need to add any sugar. 


  • 1/2 Cup Verjuice 
  • 2 Teaspoons Dijon Mustard
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • Salt and pepper, to Taste

  1. Mix altogether and shake.  
  2. Serve on a salad of your choice. 

You can order verjuice

Friday, April 27, 2018

A Rich Cake by Amelia Simmons, C. 1796

A Delicious and Historic Cake!

About the Recipe

This is a sweet and flavorful yeast-risen cake. It was first published in 1796 in the first American cookbook ever to be  published that was written by an American, as opposed to American reprints of  British cookbooks. American Cookery by Amelia Simmons contains a very good example of a typical 18th c. type of cake that was yeast-risen and contains the essential flavorings of the time period: raisins, cinnamon, white wine, brandy, and rosewater. 

The Recipe: A Rich Cake
American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, 1796

Rub 2 pound of butter into 5 pound of flour, add 15 eggs (not much beaten) 1 pint of emptins [a form of yeast], 1 pint of wine, kneed up stiff like biscuit, cover well and put by and let rise over night.

To 2 and a half pound raisins, add 1 gill brandy, to soak over night, or if new half an hour in the morning, add them with 1 gill rose-water and 2 and half pound of loaf sugar, 1 ounce cinnamon, work well and bake as loaf cake.

Modern Recipe Adaptation: A Rich Cake


  • ½ pound raisins
  • ½ cup brandy
  • 1 package (1/4 ounce) Active Dry Yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water (about 110°F)
  • ½ pound of butter (2 sticks), softened
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • ½ cup sweet white wine
  • 2 Tbsp rosewater (you can order this online or it can be found at Lebanese or Indian markets or restaurants)
  • 4 eggs
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp cinnamon

  1. Heat the brandy in a saucepan and then add the raisins when it starts to simmer.  Remove from the heat and let cool.
  2. Sprinkle the yeast into the warm water.  Let it rest for at least 5 minutes until it gets foamy.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter and sugar.  Add the white wine and the rosewater.  Then add the eggs.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour and the cinnamon.
  5. Add the flour and yeast mixture, alternately.
  6. Drain the raisins and then add to the dough. 
  7.  Place dough in a greased bowl and cover.  Let the dough rest (about 1-2 hours; the longer the better).  It will not rise a lot (that’s normal).  
  8. Heat oven to 375° F and grease a large tube pan. 
  9. Turn dough into the greased tube pan. 
  10. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until a stick inserted in the center comes out clean.  
  11. You can cover the baked cake in a lemon or almond flavored royal icing, or just dust with powdered sugar.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Puffets: 19th c. Maryland Small Cakes

The Original Recipe

Recipe Provenance
This recipe comes from The Sarah D. Griffen, Clyde Griffen, and Margaret Thibault Collection of Goldsborough Family Papers at the Maryland State Archives. It dates to the mid-19th century.

Recipe Transcription
2 pints of flour, 1 pint of milk, 2 eggs, a piece of butter the size of an egg, 1 teaspoon of soda in the milk, two of cream of tartar in the flour.  Beat the butter and eggs together, add the milk and flour.

About the Recipe
For some reason, I have been drawn to recipes that puff lately. Maybe it's because I enjoy science in the kitchen. The name of this recipe, puffets, indicates that these small cakes were meant to puff up during the baking process, and they do thanks to chemical leavening agents which revolutionized baking in the 19th century. 

An early version of baking powder (where the acid and the alkaline are mixed together in one product) is represented in this recipe by the inclusion of baking soda (the alkaline) and cream of tartar (the acid). An early version of this type of chemical leavening agent combination was sold in sets of the ingredients and were called "yeast powders." These sets were accompanied by instructions for how to use them. Interestingly, in these recipes, the soda is mixed with the milk. This is a carry-over from the days when pearlash and saleratus, the potassium-based alkaline products that preceded sodium-based alkaline products, were required to be mixed with the milk to reduce their bitterness. When using sodium bicarbonate, this step can be skipped and the soda can be whisked into the flour; however, I kept the recipe as is.

While the puffets are very rich and moist, they could use a little flavoring. You can add any spice or flavoring, such as lemon zest, to give them a more interesting flavor. Or, make them as is and serve them warm with lots of butter, jam, or honey. 

Modern Recipe Adaptation: Puffets
Yield: 24 Cakes

  • 16 Ounces Stone-Ground Whole Wheat Flour or Any Cake Flour, About 3½ Cups
  • 2 Teaspoons Cream of Tartar
  • 2 Cups Milk
  • 1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 4 Ounces Salted Butter, Melted
  • 2 Eggs
  • Grated Zest from 1 Lemon, Optional 

  1. Heat oven to 375º F.
  2. Grease two 12-cup muffin pans.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour and cream of tartar.
  4. In another bowl, mix together the milk and baking soda, and then add the melted butter, eggs and lemon zest.
  5. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin pans.
  6. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean when removed.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Creamy Corn Muffins from a c.1897 Maryland Recipe

The Recipe
I found this recipe for Corn Muffins in The Up-to-Date Cook Book published in 1897 by St. John's Church, Montgomery County, Maryland. Though up-to-date in 1897, this recipe still passes muster. The batter is creamy and smooth, and the texture follows suit. I always use organic stone-ground fine-grained cornmeal for recipes like this; I especially like to use locally milled cornmeal from Wye Mills or even from out-of-state Anson Mills in South Carolina. These types of cornmeal are more nutritious and have a more flavorful taste, very much like what they would have had prior to the introduction of roller mills in the mid-19th century. Period recipes for corn muffins that do not contain sugar are meant to be made with naturally more flavorful stone-ground cornmeal; sugar started to be added when roller-milled cornmeal was used to add back flavor that was depleted by the roller milling process that creates flavor-dulling heat and strips the naturally tasty germ and bran from the corn kernels.

Modern Recipe Adaptation: Creamy Corn Muffins
Yield: 24 Muffins

  • 5 1/2 Cups Stone-Ground Cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 3/4 Teaspoon Salt
  • 2 Cups Buttermilk or Soured Milk (Scant 2 Cups Whole Milk with 1 Teaspoon Distilled Vinegar)
  • 3/4 Cup Heavy Cream
  • 4 Tablespoons Salted Butter, Melted
  • 3 Large Eggs

  1. Heat the oven to 400º F.
  2. Grease two regular-size muffin tins.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, which together the cornmeal, soda, and salt. Set aside.
  4. In a larger mixing bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, cream, melted butter, and eggs.
  5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients.
  6. Pour batter into each muffin cavity until about 2/3 filled.
  7. Bake 13-15 minutes, or until golden and firm.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Puff Puddings: An Early 19th c. Maryland Recipe for a Sweet Entremet

Puff Puddings: An Early 19th c. Maryland Recipe

The Recipe: Puff Puddings
This recipe is a type of batter pudding. Of course, as was typical with historic recipes, the ingredient amounts to be used are vague, so I had to use experience and estimation to get a good balance of ingredients that actually made the pudding puff. 

This type of pudding was designed to be eaten as a sweet because it states is should be served with butter, sugar and nutmeg, which works very well. I also experimented with honey and cinnamon-sugar, which is very tasty, too. 

In the early 19th c., this type of dish would have been known as a sweet entremet and would have been served typically in the second course of a French service meal (where 2-3 broad courses of multiple dishes were served family-style). Entremets were less important dishes, or smaller versions of entrees, designed to surround the more central entrees and releves (usually roasts). Importantly, sweet entremets were often served with savory dishes and not relegated to the final dessert course, as they are now.

This manuscript recipe can be found at the Maryland State Archives in the Griffen/Goldsborough Collection of Family Papers. It dates to c. 1832.

Modern Recipe Adaptation: Puff Puddings

Batter Ingredients:

  • Butter
  • 6 Eggs
  • 6 Tablespoons Whole Milk
  • 6 Tablespoons All-Purpose Flour
  • Pinch of Salt, optional
  • Optional Toppings: Butter, Sugar & Nutmeg Sauce, or Honey, or Cinnamon-Sugar


  1. Heat oven to 400º F.
  2. Butter 6 ramekins and place them on a baking sheet.
  3. Whisk together the eggs, milk, and flour. 
  4. While the oven is still heating, place the buttered ramekins in the oven for about 4-5 minutes. Then, remove them from the oven and place about 5-6 tablespoons of the batter into each one.
  5. When the oven is fully heated to 400º, return the filled ramekins to the oven and bake for about 12-14 minutes, until the puddings are puffed up and completely firm to the touch but not dried out.
  6. Serve immediately with a sauce made with butter, sugar, and nutmeg to taste, or with honey and/or cinnamon-sugar.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Recipes from the Maryland Rural Carriers Ladies Auxiliary

About the Cookbook
I collect Maryland cookbooks. Some are more interesting than others. One of my favorites is Recipes from Maryland compiled by the Ladies Auxiliary to the Rural Letter Carriers Association (1970). This is a fantastic local cookbook for many reasons. 

First, I never knew there even was a Rural Letter Carriers Association nor that it had a Ladies Auxiliary! 

Second, the recipes span the length and breath of rural Maryland, from the Eastern Shore/Southern Maryland regions to the areas further west where Pennsylvania Germans settled in the late 18th century:

Southern Maryland/Eastern Shore:

Pennsylvania Dutch:

Third, the book is a bit tongue in cheek because it contains humorous recipes such as How to Cook a Husband and Wacky Cake:

Fourth and finally, it is chock full of platitudes, sayings, and advice such as:
  • "If you are kicking up a storm, don't expect clear sailing."
  • "Some family trees bear an enormous crop of nuts." 
  • "We treat this world of ours as though we had a spare in the trunk." 
  • "Success is relative, the more success, the more relatives."
  • And many other all too true sentiments . . .

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Springtime Strawberries at Riversdale House Museum

Springtime Dessert with a Focus on Strawberries

The spring 2018 season's dining room "tablescape" at Riversdale House Museum depicts a lavish dessert course which includes classic dessert service items such as cake, orange and lemon creams, olives, braised celery, Cheshire cheese, and an array of confections devoted to a classic springtime favorite, the strawberry (strawberry blancmange, strawberry tarts, and strawberries & cream). You can tour Riversdale on Friday's and Sunday's on the quarter hour from 12:15 pm to 3:15 pm.

Strawberry History
Strawberries have been known since ancient times in temperate climates around the world. Ancient Greeks and Romans had wild strawberries, and Romans such as Ovid, Virgil, and Pliny all referred to strawberries in there writings. Significantly, before Maryland was settled by Europeans, strawberries were known to Native Americans. Two of the main ancestors of today’s large strawberries are the fragaria Virginia, from the US eastern seaboard and the Chilean strawberry (f.chiloensis). French and English botanists of the 18th and 19th c. experimented with cross-breeding different varieties of strawberries, but it was the Englishman, Michael Keens, who first marketed a large fruit strawberry on July 3, 1806 called the Keen Seedling.

Strawberries in Maryland's History
Maryland soil produced bumper crops of strawberries, and they became a profitable market berry in the nineteenth-century. By 1840, Maryland-grown strawberries were being shipped from Baltimore to New York. In 1857, there was a very large strawberry farm near Annapolis that reportedly covered about six hundred acres, employed 1200 people per season, and utilized 42 horse-drawn wagons to travel to the steamboat landings to Baltimore and Philadelphia every day to get the seasonal crop of about 20,000 bushels to market. 

  • "Improving Maryland's Agriculture, 1840-1860" by Vivian Wiser in Maryland Historical Magazine, vol. 64, number 2 (Summer, 1969)
  • Oxford English Dictionary

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Homemade Yeast from Scratch

Top Left: Milk Yeast Recipe After Developing for 48 Hours; Top Right: Half-Meal Griddle Cakes Batter After Rising for Four Hours; Bottom: Finished Half-Meal Griddle Cakes

Much like the riddle, "What came first, the chicken or the egg?", historic recipes for yeast are notorious for including yeast as one of the ingredients in the recipe. Hop yeast, potato yeast, cornmeal yeast, common yeast, dry yeast, bran yeast, etc. all fall prey to this conundrum. These recipes are well and good but not helpful to the food historian trying to make yeast without actually needing to use yeast in the recipe. 

The Recipe
Domestic Cookery by Elizabeth Ellicott Lea (Baltimore, 1853) saves the day with her recipe for Milk Yeast in which she writes, "If you have no yeast, you may make some with milk, to rise." According to Lea, this yeast should be ready in one hour and was meant to be used immediately to make bread or to add to her Hop Yeast recipe. 

"Take a pint of new milk and stir in it two tea-spoonful of salt, and a half a tea-cup of flour; keep it moderately warm by the fire, and it will lighten in about an hour."

Recipe Results
I found it took 48 hours for the yeast to start activating enough to work. I used it in a recipe for Half-Meal Griddle Cakes in Mrs.  Charles H. Gibson's Maryland and Virginia Cook Book (Ratcliffe Manor, Talbot County, MD, 1894):

I found the griddle cakes batter needed to rise for four hours  to lighten. The final product contained a pleasant tang from the natural sourness inherent in this type of yeast. 

I made a really great tasting bread with the milk yeast, too:

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Early Nineteenth-Century Breakfast Display at Riversdale House Museum

About Riversdale
Riversdale House Museum, located in Riverdale Park, Maryland, is a five-part Georgian mansion whose construction was initiated by Flemish emigre, Henri Stier, in 1801. Stier, his wife, and their older children returned to Antwerp after the danger of the French Revolution no longer forced them to live in America as refugees.  However, their youngest daughter, Rosalie Stier Calvert (1778-1821), stayed in Maryland because she married a Marylander, George Calvert (1768-1838). The Stiers gave the property to Rosalie, and then she and her husband completed it by 1807.

The majority of the interpretation of Riversdale revolves around its earliest era, from about 1801 until Rosalie dies in 1821 when the George and Rosalie Calvert and their nine children (only five of which survived childhood) lived there. Another important era of interpretation is when the Calverts' younger son, Charles Benedict (1808-1864) took on the ownership and management of Riversdale and its vast acreage of farmland in 1838.

Interpreting the Meal: Breakfast
The winter 2018 dining room table display features a family breakfast. Inspiration for this meal comes from The Servants Guide and Family Manual, printed for John Limbird, London, 1831

According to this 1831 guide, breakfast was meant to be " . . . neat and simple, since the ladies breakfast in a simple negligé.” Obviously, breakfast dishes were meant to contain few stain-inducing sauces. However, rolls “differing in form as in taste” were to be included which could create lots of crumbs that could mar the perfection of a lady's negligé.

Because people rise at different times in the morning, breakfast was generally available whenever each person was ready for it; therefore, people could stroll down to breakfast at their leisure. The Riversdale breakfast scene has six place settings, but only three are being occupied be the early-risers. The others will enter in their own time.

With this in mind, a side table was laid with a variety of cold dishes such as fowls, pheasants, partridges, tongue, ham, cured/kippered fish, and cold patés. For this scenario at Riversdale, ham, beef tongue, and cheeses are on the sideboard. If hot dishes were to be served, they would be brought out for the diners when they were sat at table. Such items would be mutton kidneys, a la brochette (meats skewered and broiled over a small spit, possibly right in the dining room hearth), new laid eggs, eggs and bacon, broiled cutlets, lark a la minute, and deviled fowl. As you can see in the Riversdale scene, at each place setting eggs and bacon have been prepared to order and served hot to those seated at the table.

Breakfast drinks in the ninetieth-century were much as they are today and consisted of tea (green and black), coffee, and hot chocolate. What makes the Riversdale House Museum breakfast scenario special is that the teapots for black and green tea in the collection actually belonged to Rosalie Calvert. According to Riversdale Collections' Manager, Jenn Flood, "The teapots appear to be Swinton pottery from the late 18th century. Around 1770 Swinton developed the popular brown glaze that later became known as "Rockingham" glaze in the mid 19th century. Wares from this earlier period were often expensive teaware vessels decorated with gold gilding."