Thursday, July 31, 2014

To Make a Cover Tart after the French Fashion, c. 1545

A "Cover" Tart, c. 1545

About the Recipe
  • This recipe, To make a couer tart after the French fashyan [To Make a Cover Tart after the French Fashion], comes from A Proper Newe Booke of Cookerye, published in 1545 in Tudor England. Source:
    • What is interesting about this cookbook is that it offers what is believed to be the first English cookery book that gives recipes for pie crusts that are actually meant to be eaten, not just used as cooking vessels.
  • According to Peter Brears in Cooking and Dining in Medieval England (Prospect Books, 2012), “With regard to cereals, wholemeal wheat flour should only be used where specified for, contrary to popular belief, medieval millers and bakers were highly skilled in extracting every grade of flour, from coarsest to the finest. Unbleached white flour is best for general purposes, but ordinary white also gives good results.” This recipe dates to 1545 so I followed this advice regarding the use of all-purpose white flour for the shortcrust.

The Recipe
Take a pynte of crème and the yolkes of tenne egges, and beat them all together, and put therto half a dyche of swete butter, and sugar, and boyle them till they be thicke, then take them up and coole them in a platter, and make a couple of cakes of fyne paste, and laye youre stuffe in one of them and couer it with the other, and cutte the vente aboue, and so bake it.

Modern Recipe Adaptation: To Make a Cover Tart After the French Fashion


  • Shortcrust recipe (see below)
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 6 egg yolks, large (save the whites for brushing on the top crust)
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • ¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp granulated sugar


  1. In a medium sized bowl, mix together the cream and the egg yolks. Add the butter and sugar.
  2. Pour mixture into a medium saucepan and set on medium heat until it just starts to simmer. Remove from the heat and pour through a sieve to remove any lumps of curdle egg, if necessary. Let the filling cool.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line a pie plate with the shortcrust pastry. Pour the cooled custard filling into the pastry. Roll out a top crust and cut a hole in the center of it. Cover the top of the pie. Brush the top crust with the remaining egg whites. Bake for 45 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the pie comes out clean.

To make short paste for tarte. (also from A Proper Newe Booke of Cookerye, published in 1545)
Take fine floure and a cursey of fayre water and a dysche of swete butter and a lyttel saffron, and the yolckes of two egges and make it thynne and as tender as ye maye.

Modern Recipe Adaptation: Shortcrust
Makes enough for one standard-sized thinly rolled covered pie (bottom and top).


  • 2 egg yolks
  • Pinch of saffron
  • 8oz unbleached all-purpose flour[i], about 1½ cups (plus some extra for flouring the board)
  • 4oz unsalted cold butter, diced
  • 2-3 tbsp cold water


  1. Mix together the egg yolks and the saffron and set aside.
  2. Measure the flour into a mixing bowl. Add the butter and work the butter into the flour using your hands so that the butter is no larger than the size of peas. 
  3. Add the egg/saffron mixture and stir with a spoon. 
  4. Add enough water to make dough come together in a ball of soft dough. 
  5. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before using.
  6. When ready to use, roll out on a well-floured board. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

White Potato Pie: A Maryland Tradition

Maryland White Potato Pie

A very interesting recipe that crops up often in local Maryland cook books on the Eastern Shore, in Southern Maryland, and even in Baltimore is for sweet White Potato Pie, or, as it would have been called in the old days, White Potato Pudding in a Paste.  This recipe is very similar to ones for sweet potato pie or pumpkin pie wherein mashed potatoes or pumpkin are mixed with eggs, butter, milk, and sweet spices to make a pudding which is baked in a pie crust (or paste).

Here is an advertisement for commercially baked Potato Puddings from Geo. W. Arnold on West Fayette St. in Baltimore, found in Wood’s Baltimore Directory, 1856:

Why would a white potato pie be popular in Maryland?  It seems obvious that Maryland, one of the most agricultural states in the US would have an abundance of potatoes necessitating diverse ways to use this most versatile crop.  In addition, frugality also plays a role in the popularity of a recipe that uses leftovers in a new and delicious way.  These pies are also very easy to make, can stand up to a hot Maryland summer, and are easy to transport to gatherings and dinners.

Inspiration for making these pies surely must have been passed down from the generations.  There is a recipe called To Make a Potato Pie from a British Cook Book called The Whole Body of Cookery, Dissected by William Rabisha dating back to 1661 in which the potatoes (albeit they were probably referring to sweet potatoes) are baked in a crust with what you might expect such as sweet spices, sugar, raisins, citron, eggs, and butter, but also bone marrow and vinegar!  This kind of a pie, mixing sweet and savory, would have been typical for its day.  The Maryland White Potato Pie is just sweet, more typical in modern times.

Importantly, it should be stated that White Potato Pies that are sweet may not be unique to Maryland, but they have a long-standing tradition in the Free State.  An internet search reveals that many recipes can be found but most seem to be associated with Maryland.  

If you have a recipe for White Potato Pie, please share it with me and tell me where you found it!

Recipes for Potato Pudding in a Paste/Potato Pie:

(My recipe version is at the bottom of this page)

This first recipe was published in Baltimore in 1869; there several others from around Maryland and across time.

Potato Pudding
Domestic Cookery, Useful Receipts, and Hints to Young Housekeepers by  Elizabeth E.Lea, Baltimore: Cushings and Bailey, 1869.

Take a pound and a half of well mashed potatoes; while they are warm put in three-quarters of a pound of butter; beat six eggs with three-quarters of a pound of sugar, rolled fine, mix all well together, and put in a glass of brandy; season with nutmeg, mace or essence of lemon, and bake in paste.

White Potato Pie
Maryland’s Way, The Hammond Harwood House Cook Book, 1963.  13th publication in 1966.
Submitted by Mrs. John Owens, Sr., Harwood, Anne Arundel

1 pound Irish potatoes
2/3 cup country butter
¾ cup sugar (good measure)
Salt to taste
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup milk
½ tsp baking powder
Juice and grated rind of 1 lemon
Seasoning to taste with grated nutmeg, vanilla or ¼ cup sherry wine
4 eggs

Cook potatoes, mashing them through a ricer when done.  Add butter to hot potatoes and mix well; stir in sugar, salt, cream, and milk, then baking powder, lemon juice and rind, nutmeg and vanilla or sherry.  Beat eggs well and stir into potato mixture.  Line a pie pan with thin pastry and fill with the mixture.  Bake in a moderate oven until firm and brown.  This pie has been a favorite for many years at All Hallows Thanksgiving Dinner.

White Potato Pie
Timeless Treasures from St. Paul’s, A Collection of Recipes by the Members and Friends of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Prince Frederick, Maryland, 1998. Submitted by Sally Lancaster Skinner, Annie Skinner Bond, Nina Bonds Digges, Annie D. Vaughan

2 lbs. cooked mashed potatoes
2 lbs. sugar
½ lb. butter
6 eggs
1 whole nutmeg, grated
2 cups milk
Pastry for 3-4 pies, bottoms only
Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Pour into pie plates lined with uncooked pastry. Bake in a moderate oven until firm and delicately browned. Makes 3-4 pies.

Potato Pie
Welcome to the Kitchen of Galesville United Methodist Church, 1998
Submitted by Marti Woodfield

2 c. mashed potatoes
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp butter
7/8 c. milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking powder

Before filling put crust in refrigerator to chill.  Combine ingredients.  Put in chilled crust.  Bake at 350° until done.

Eastern Shore White Potato Pie
Aunt Mary Moran, Shafer Family Recipes, (from member of Essex Senior Center, submitted 2014)

Preheat oven to 37

3 cups mashed white potatoes
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups light cream (half and half)
1 tsp. lemon extract
4 eggs
1 tsp of nutmeg
2 cups sugar
½ tsp. cinnamon

Combine potatoes~ cream and eggs and sugar. Beat at a high speed until well blended.  Add flavorings and spices. Pour into two 9" prepared pastry shells. Bake 1 hour or until silver knife
inserted in center comes out clean.

My Recipe Redaction

  • Pastry for 3-4 Pies
  • 2 lbs. Cooked Mashed Potatoes
  • 2 lbs. Granulated Sugar 
  • ½ lb. Butter, Softened
  • 6 Large Eggs 
  • 2 Teaspoons Ground Nutmeg
  • 1 Tablespoon Lemon Extract 
  • 2 cups milk

1. Preheat the oven to 350º F.

2. Line pie plate bottoms with pie crusts, homemade or store bought.

3. Run the mashed potatoes through a food mill or ricer to remove all of the lumps.

4. Place the mashed potatoes in a large bowl. Then, add the sugar, butter, eggs, nutmeg, lemon extract, and milk. Mix together with an electric mixer until well-blended and frothy.

5. Pour into the prepared pie plates.

6. Bake until firm and delicately browned, about 1 hour. 

7. Remove from oven when the center is firm. Allow the pies to cool before slicing into them. Refrigerate uneaten portion.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Kossuth Cakes: An Historic Maryland Dessert?

Kossuth Cake with Chocolate Icing
Kossuth Cake with Strawberry Icing

Are you a Marylander but have never heard of a Kossuth Cake?  Don't worry, you are not alone in your ignorance of this delectable dessert!

A quick look at Louis Kossuth, the Man: 

  • Hungarian revolutionary, Louis Kossuth, led a revolt against Austrian rule in 1848. 
  • For a time, Hungary achieved its independence and Kossuth was its governor; however, with the aid of imperial Russia, Austria regained control of Hungary. 
  • Kossuth was imprisoned temporarily and, upon his release, accepted an invitation to visit the United States in 1851. He was hailed as a popular hero and champion of freedom. 
  • Kossuth visited the US, particularly Baltimore, to raise both awareness for his cause and to raise money to return to Hungary and stage a new revolt.  Kossuth only raised $25.00 on his American trip.
  • This dessert was created in 1851 by an East Baltimore Street confectioner on the occasion of Kossuth's visit to Baltimore.
  • While Kossuth did not complete the goals he set for himself for his visit to the US, raising awareness and funds for his cause, he did gain the support of one Baltimore baker who endowed a delicious confection with his name! 
Kossuth, The Cake:
  • The Kossuth Cake is supposedly a version of a Charlotte Russe. 
  • What's a Charlotte Russe, you ask?
    • A moulded dessert made of lady fingers and Bavarian cream.
    • Attributed to French chef Antonin Careme in 1802.
    • Growing up near New York City, I knew it as a sponge cake layered with whipped cream and topped with a cherry or sprinkles; it was served in a paper cup with a bottom that could be pushed up to expose more of the cake.  I think this cup is why I really liked this cake as a kid!
Here is an early 19th c. recipe for a Charlotte Russe:

A Charlotte a la Parisienne. [1845]
This dish is sometimes called in England a Vienna cake; and it is known here also, we believe, as a Gateaux de Bordeax. Cut horizontally into half-inch slices a savoy or sponge cake, and cover each slice with a different kind of preserve; replace them in their original form, and spread equally over the cake an icing made with whites of three eggs, and four ounces of the finest pounded sugar; sift more sugar over it in every part, and put it into a very gentle oven to dry. The eggs should be whisked to snow before they are used. One kind of preserve, instead of several, can be used for this dish; and a rice or a pound cake may supply the place of the Savoy or sponge biscuit.
---Modern Cookery for Private Families. Eliza Acton, facsimile 1845 
reprint with an introduction by Elizabeth Ray [Southover Press:East Sussex] 1993 (p. 405-6)

So, what type of Charlotte Russe is a Kossuth Cake?
There is very little information about how the original Kossuth Cake was made because few recipes were recorded. Luckily, the author of The Amiable Baltimoreans, Francis Beirne, gives a good description of the Kossuth Cake.  He describes it as a sponge cake about three inches in diameter and two inches high that was hallowed out and filled with thick whipped cream. The whipped cream was topped off with chocolate or strawberry icing. Each Kossuth cake was made to sit in a pleated paper cup and was served slightly chilled. This clearly sounds more like the New York style Charlotte Russe as opposed to the original 19th c. style one made with lady fingers and Bavarian cream or the 1845 Charlotte a la Parisienne referenced above. 

The Cake Seem Delicious, So Why Isn't the Kossuth Cake More Popular Today?
Beirne wrote "No local cookbooks mention Kossuth cakes which obviously have been the monopoly of the confectioners and caterers." As a Maryland food historian who has searched dozens of Maryland cookbooks and recipe manuscripts, I agree, with one exception which I will get to soon, that recipes for these cakes are hard to find. Furthermore, Beirne goes on to say that even in his day (writing in 1951), Kossuth Cakes could only be found in a couple of Baltimore bakeries. Therefore, even on a commercial level, it seems that the popularity of the cake may have been on the wane even by the middle of the 20th c.  It is very hard to know why the cakes did not continue to sell well enough for bakeries to keep making them. Without the bakeries making them, and with few recipes floating around for them, it's not hard to see how they fell out of fashion.

While Kossuth Cakes may not be a common confection around Maryland, there are a few instances where they can still be found:
  • There is a mid 20th c. recipe for Kossuth Cakes in Maryland’s Way, The Hammond Harwood House Cook Book, 1963. (see recipe below)
  • Internet searches reveal a few recipes for variations of the cakes, but not many.
  • It has been a long-standing 20th century tradition to eat Kossuth Cakes at St. Timothy’s School in Baltimore after the annual Basketball competition against the girls of the Bryn Mawr school.  However, it no longer appears that this is a functioning tradition there anymore.
  • In 2014, the University of Maryland commissioned a custom Maryland ice cream to commemorate the school's entrance into the Big 10 Conference.  The ice cream included pieces of Kossuth Cake.
Kossuth Cake Batter

Kossuth Cakes, The Recipe:

This recipe, found in Maryland’s Way, The Hammond Harwood House Cook Book, 1963 reflects Beirne's description of the dessert. The recipe makes enough for 12 regular cupcake sized cakes.

Here it is:

Ingredients for the Cake:
½ cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 ¾ cups pastry flour
 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ cup milk
½ tsp vanilla

(Have everything at room temperature)

Cream butter and sugar well, add beaten eggs, and fold in flour, baking powder and salt (sifted together), alternately with the milk. Add the vanilla. Bake at 350° in muffin pans [for 16-18 minutes]. When done, cool, cut almost in half, fill with sweetened whipped cream and ice top of cakes.

Chocolate Icing: 
Mixing Chocolate Icing

2 ½ squares [ounces] of chocolate
¼ cup butter
½ pound confectioner’s sugar
2 egg yolks

Melt chocolate and butter, add sugar and a little hot water until just soft enough to spread, then beat in egg yolks and add a pinch of salt and a little vanilla. Makes a soft icing.

Strawberry Icing

10 ripe strawberries
½ tsp lemon juice
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
Mixing Strawberry Icing

Mash berries with a fork, add lemon juice. Gradually add sugar until stiff enough to spread, yet soft enough to run over top of cream-filled cakes which have been placed in low compotes or on individual dessert plates, ready to serve. [I found this recipe to be too thin so I added more sugar]

Whether you've heard of Kossuth Cake or not, if you try the recipe you will undoubtedly agree that it is a confection that should be given a second look, and a dessert any Marylander would be proud to claim.  Bon Appetit!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sea Pye, Grog, and Salt Junk: Food on an 18th c. Transatlantic Journey

Journal of Charlotte Browne, Excerpt, January 27, 1754*
(See below for a 1739 recipe for a fish pie.)

In 1753, Charlotte Browne, a widow of almost two years, left her home in England and her family (a daughter, Charlotte, and a Brother) and began an exciting, adventurous, dangerous, and unpredictable phase of her life as a camp follower for what would become known as the French & Indian War.
Charlotte Brown left England on the HMS London bound for America in the late Fall of 1753 with a Captain Browne (presumably her brother-in-law as she refers to him as "brother") and a servant named, Betty. Captain Browne appears to have been commissioned to be the supply officer for a mobile army hospital charged with following the British troops as they traveled in the American colonies. What Mrs. Browne doesn't explain is specifically why she chose to undertake this journey in the first place.  Family duty to Captain Browne to serve as his "helper" (as so many women did) seems to have been the only reason for her to have left her seemingly comfortable life in England.  
Mrs. Browne wrote a journal documenting her experiences and in so doing paints a story of her experiences crossing the Atlantic, landing in Virginia, preparing to follow the British army as they were about to march inland, her daily occurrences marching, and her life at the many stopovers they made at places such as Wills Creek, Fort Cumberland, Frederick, Philadelphia, and, finally, New York where on August 4, 1757 she wrote: “There end my Journal having so much Business on my Hands that I cannot spare time to write it.”  
 As a food historian, I am particularly taken with references she makes to the food she eats along her journey: where it comes from, how she reacts to it, and how she handles hunger and deprivation. Below are excerpts from her journal regarding the food and drink she experienced during the transatlantic voyage she made on the HMS London.  Of particular note are the references to the alcoholic drinks consumed by the men (especially the ship’s pastor), her dinners with the Captain, and the “flying fish” that land on deck!  There is also mention of a "sea pye" for which I have included a period recipe for a turbot pie that may have served as a guideline for making a version of one (albeit probably made with less available items) on board ship. 

Here are the excerpts from the Journal of Charlotte Browne during her 1754 transatlantic voyage:

Jan. 16
On going into the Hold of the Ship a sad discovery was made 30 gallons of Brandy ran out that was for our sea store all the sailors lamenting that all the __.   Was out no more Grog to be had  . . . they should have good Grog the next time that they pump’d the Ship.

Jan 21
We lost a Sheep and Mr. Cherrington 2 Pigs 8 Turkeys and 6 Ducks.  There was a great Dispute with Mr. Cherrington and my Brother. Mr. Cherrington said it was not clear to him why so many of his should die and not one of ours.

[Date Covered]
A great squall on Deck, with Mr. Lash the mate and Mr. Black the Clerk of the Hospitall about the tapping of some beer.  Mr. Lash order’d it to be tap’d . . .

Jan. 27
Saw a sail to the East, a fair wind Mrs. Barbut's up and making a sea Pye the first she ever made.

Feb. 4
Being Sunday had Prayers saw __. Of this fleet Flying fish[1] came on board, it was 2 foot from the tip of the wing to the other and 20 inches long.  We eat it for dinner, it eats like a young sturgeon.

Feb. 6
Received an Invitation from the Director to dine with him, had for dinner a ham & fowls and a Pudding but the weather was so bad the Director went to bed. __ Barbut very ill and did the same.

Feb. 14
Mrs. Barbut up but not able to work.  Mr. Black came to see us in our Lower regions stay’d  so long and drank so much Grog that he was at a loss how to go to bed, he was invisible all the next day.

Feb. 17
Sunday had Prayers.  Mrs. Barbut up but not able to go to Prayers not being dress’d we had a present of a __ of Pork from the bobbin ___.

Feb. 20
 A fair wind but very Hot Capt. Browne at Breakfast on Tea and Cheshire Cheese his equipage a stone jar a tin pot a pewter basin a can one saucer and an old rusty canister.

Feb. 24
Mrs. Barbut 4 hours making a Cake bak’d it 6 [hours] In a rusty Pudding pan.  It eat like a pancake.

Feb. 27
Mrs. Barbut both day had the Captains Mess to dine with us on Ham, a turkey, and fowls and for Drink French Wine and Bristol Beer.

[Date Covered]
Killed a pig and very busy making Black Puddings
March 2
Sunday but had no prayers till after noon Parson being indispos’d by drinking too much grog the night before.

March 3
Mr. Cherrington came down into our lower Regions and say’d he would do himself the honour to treat me with the dish of Turkey, coffee. Stay’d  to supper on Black Puddings  all  of us in great fears about Cape Hatteras till 12 at Night and then was clear of it.

March 6
The storm abated saw one of the Fleet Mr. Lash at breakfast on salt junk[2] and tea.

Here is a period recipe from E. Smith's 1739 cookery book, The Compleat Housewife, for a fish pie that could have been the basis for the "sea pye" made on board ship on January 27, 1754:

[1] Probably a winged fish of the species Family Exocoetidae.
[2] 3. transf. orig. Naut. The salt meat used as food on long voyages, compared to pieces of rope; usually with epithet, as old, salt, tough junk. (from OED Online, second edition, 1989)

*A photocopy of the original Journal of Charlotte Browne is located at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.  The original journal is believed to be lost.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Medieval Chicken

Medieval Chicken
Based on this Recipe:

Chicken Pie
One should take a shell of dough and put into it a hen, cut into pieces; and add bacon diced the size of peas; pepper, cumin; and egg yolks beaten with saffron. Then, take the shell and bake it in an oven.

(Recipe from Libellus de Arte Coquinaria, dating from the 12th c.; from Food: A Cultural Culinary History by Prof. Ken Albala for the Great Courses)

Amendment to Earlier Post: I have been told I need to try the recipe as written as it will be AMAZING!  I will post my results to the blog when I do!

The recipe above for Chicken Pie is a good example of the interesting way spices were used in a simple chicken dish.  This recipe comes from Libellus de Arte Coquinaria, the earliest Medieval cookbook, dating from the late Middle Ages, around the early 13th century (or possibly even earlier). The collection includes 35 recipes from four different manuscripts written in Danish, Icelandic, and low Germanic languages.

I have loosely recreated a version of this recipe for you to try in your kitchen.  I was more interested in how the spices and the egg yolk sauce would work with the chicken and bacon so I have made the pie contents without the pie crust.  It is very possible that the pie crust would have been used just as a disposable bland flour and water vessel in which the meat would have been cooked; therefore, I didn't feel it was necessary to use it (my daughter is also gluten free and I wanted her to be able to enjoy this, too).

I truly enjoyed the flavors in this dish.  Feel free to adjust the strength of the spices to suit your own tastes and enjoy a taste of the 12th century!

12th c. Chicken in Sauce:  A Modern Transcription

1/4 pound bacon, chopped in small pieces
1 1/2 pounds chicken breasts, boneless
3 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp black pepper, ground
1 cup chicken stock
6 egg yolks
1 tsp saffron

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place bacon in a Dutch oven over medium high heat and cook for about 10 minutes, until the bacon begins to brown and the fat starts to render. Chop up the chicken into 2 inch square pieces. Add the chicken to the bacon and stir.  Sprinkle the chicken and bacon with the cumin and black pepper.  Cook until the chicken sears.

Temper your eggs (to prevent the yolks from scrambling):  While the chicken is cooking, heat the chicken broth until it just starts to simmer.  Make sure your egg yolks are in a bowl nearby. Place a ladle full of broth into the egg yolks and whisk.  Then, add the yolk/broth mixture to the rest of the broth, add the saffron, and heat on medium for just a minute or so.

Then, add the yolks/broth mixture to the chicken and bacon in the Dutch Oven.  Stir and cover with a lid.  Place the Dutch Oven into the pre-heated oven and cook for 35-40 minutes.  You can serve with rice.

Serves 4.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Chocolate Wine: A Recipe Going on 300 Years

Think ChocoVino is a relatively new item in your local wine shop?  

Think again!  Chocolate Wine recipes are centuries' old, dating back at least to 1723 with the recipe below for Wine Chocolate published in 1723 by John Nott in England.

This is a really simple recipe, so give it a try!

Wine Chocolate
John Nott, The Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary, 1723

Take a pint of Sherry, or a Pint and half of red Port, four ounces and a half of Chocolate, six Ounces of fine sugar, and half an Ounce of white Starch, or fine flour; mix, dissolve, and boil all these as before.  But if your Chocolate be with Sugar, take double the quantity of Chocolate, and half the Quantity of Sugar, and do in all.

2 cups Sherry or 3 cups Port
4 ½ ounces unsweetened chocolate (Baker’s brand is good)
6 ounces sugar
2 Tablespoons rice flour

Mix all ingredients together and place on the stove over a medium high heat.  Bring to a boil, making sure all of the flour is dissolved.  Serve at room temperature.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Tarragon Mustard Salad Dressing, An Old Recipe Worth a New Look

I've been making this c.1824 historic salad dressing for years at events at the c. 1801 Riversdale House Museum (Calvert Mansion) in Riverdale, MD where I am the food historian. It comes from the iconic period cookbook, The Virginia Housewife, by Mary Randolph.  The combination of flavors (mustard, cooked egg yolk, tarragon vinegar, and apple cider vinegar) are truly historic so that each bite is like taking a step back in time.  You can enjoy this dressing on a variety of lettuce greens, herbs, and onions.

To Dress Salad
The Virginia Housewife by Mary Randolph, 1824

To have this delicate dish in perfection, the lettuce, pepper grass, chervil, cress, &c. should be gathered early in the morning, nicely picked, washed, and laid in cold water, which will be improved by adding ice; just before dinner is ready to be served, drain the water from your salad, cut it into a bowl, giving the proper proportions of each plant; prepare the following mixture to pour over it; boil two fresh eggs ten minutes, put them in water to cool, then take the yolks in a soup plate, pour on them a table spoonful of cold water, rub them with a wooden spoon until they are perfectly dissolved, then add two table spoonfuls of oil; when well mixed, put in a teaspoonful of salt, one of powdered sugar, and one of made mustard; when all these are united and quite smooth, stir in two table spoonsful of common and two of tarragon vinegar; put it over the salad and garnish the top with the whites of the eggs cut into rings, and lay around the edge of the bowl young scallions, they being the most delicate of the onion tribe.

Modern Transcription
Assorted salad greens—washed, picked
2 eggs
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons tarragon vinegar
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon powdered sugar
1 teaspoon mustard
2 tablespoons oil
5-6 scallions

Boil two eggs for 10 minutes.  Set aside to cool (place in cool water).  Just before you are ready to serve dinner, peel the eggs, slice in rings.  Set the whites aside and place the yolks in a shallow dish.  Mash the yolks with a tablespoon of water.  When mixture is smooth, add 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of powdered sugar, and one teaspoon of prepared mustard.  When all are mixed well and smooth, add 1 tablespoon of cider vinegar and 2 tablespoons of tarragon vinegar.  Pour over salad greens and toss together.  Garnish with rings of egg whites and scallions.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

July 3, 1806, The Introduction of the Cultivated Strawberry

About Strawberries
  • They have been known since ancient times in temperate climates around the world. 
  • Ancient Greeks and Romans had wild strawberries. 
  • Romans such as Ovid, Virgil,and Pliny all referred to strawberries at some time. 
  • Strawberries were known to Native Americans before contact with Europeans. 
  • 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. 
  • Englishman, Michael Keens, was the first to market a large fruit strawberry on July 3, 1806 called the Keen Seedling.

The Recipe: No. 216. Strawberries, Whole, Wet. 
Source: Frederick Nutt, The Complete Confectioner, 1807

Observe to get the strawberries for this purpose in very dry weather, that if it had not rained for three or four days, pick the largest and finest you can get; put some syrup into a preserving pan, boil it over a brisk fire for half an hour and put your strawberries in while it boils, do not put many into the pan only one strawberry deep; let them boil twenty minutes and take off all the scum with paper very carefully; if you find they are like to break, take them off immediately and put them into your pots, when cold put apple jelly over, and be very careful that your pots are not the least damp.

Preparing the Berries
Single Layer of Berries in Simple Syrup
Berry Scum!

The Finished Product

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Book Review: Food in the Civil War Era, The North

Edited by Helen Zoe Veit
American Food in History Series
Michigan State University Press:  East Lansing, 2014

Food in the Civil War Era, The North is part of a series of books on the history American food from the Michigan State University Press.  Other books in the series highlight topics such as Civil War food in the south, food during the Great Depression, Eating Ethnic in the Age of Globalization, and Food and Health Fads, among other topics.

The contents of this book include an historic overview of the food in the north during the antebellum period leading up to the Civil War.  Descriptive evidence of the state of the northern economy and how it influenced the northern diet is given alongside a catalog of specific crops that were commonly raised in the north.  The influence of technology on the mid-19th c. northern food supply is also discussed with a specific emphasis on the impact the Erie Canal, railroads, and refrigeration had on food of that time period.  In addition, wartime transformation of the diet is discussed from two very different perspectives:  Scarcity and the need to conserve and economize in the kitchen set against the progressive development of technological advances to preserve food to feed the Union army.

The main focus of the book is an examination of excerpts from five period cookbooks to give “a compelling portrait of cooking and eating in the urban North of the 1860s United States.”  The five cookbooks are:

  1. Mary Hooker Cornelius. The Young Housekeeper’s Friend. Boston: Taggard & Thompson, 1863.
  2. Mrs. S.G. Knight. Tit-Bits; Or, How to Prepare a Nice Dish at a Moderate Expense. Boston: Crosby and Nichols, 1864.  
  3. P.K.S.What to Do with the Cold Mutton: A Book of Réchauffés, Together with Many Other Approved Recipets for the Kitchen of a Gentleman of Moderate Income. New York: Bunce and Huntington, Publishers, 1865
  4. Ann Howe. The American Kitchen Directory and Housewife. Cincinnati: Howe’s Subscription Book Concern, 1868.
  5. What Shall We Eat? A Manual for Housekeepers, Comprising a Bill of Fare for Breakfast, Dinner, and Tea, for Every Day in the Year. New York: G.P. Putnam & Son, 1868.
The range of books gives an interesting look at the culinary transformations that occurred over the course of the war and pointed cooks toward a new culinary direction after the war’s end.  Significantly, the cookbooks offer a juxtaposition of sorts to wartime cooks.  First, they tended to remind cooks that there were facing wartime shortages which demanded great frugality and creativity in the kitchen.  In fact, What to Do with the Cold Mutton:  A Book of  Réchauffés, Together with Many Other Approved Reciepts for the Kitchen of a Gentleman of Moderate Income replaces the mundane word for leftovers with the more elegant sound of the French word réchauffés, meaning the same thing!  Ironically, this need for wartime modesty is set against the fact that all of these cookbooks make prodigious use of ingredients that would have been considered exotic, requiring that they be imported into the north.  This may have been a way to prove that while bothered by the war, the northern economy was not broken, as it was in the South.  Finally, the last book, What Shall We Eat?  A Manual for Housekeepers, Comprising a Bill of Fare for Breakfast, Dinner, and Tea, for Every Day in the Year, was made to show the post-war housewife where the new and elaborate culinary landscape of the soon-to-be Gilded Age future was headed.   

As for the recipes themselves, the excerpts are printed alongside lovely images taken from a variety of period cookbooks and other contemporary printed material.  The range of recipes offered in the book cover a classic 19th c.  repertoire such as pickling, preserving, meats, fish, beverages, wild game, baked goods, puddings, breads, and cooking for invalids.  Overall, this compendium of five cookbooks offers readers a thorough look at the cooking styles, products, technology, frugality, and transformations that occurred during the war beleaguered years of the North during American War Between the States.