Colonial Foodways 2011: Looking Back
During the winter of 2010, the National Colonial Farm began to reexamine what is known in the living history world as its “foodways” program. Many living history museums offer this type of program, which at its core demonstrates how our ancestors prepared food. Most living history sites develop programs that are consistent with their interpretation, which means that when you go to Mount Vernon you’ll see programs that discuss or demonstrate aspects of life peculiar to George Washington, his family, and slaves. You won’t go to learn about the culinary preferences of say…Thomas Edison. George Washington was a pretty successful chap and he was able to dine on whatever providence or pence offered him. But what about those people not as wealthy as George Washington? What did they dine on or cook with?
Not much, if you put stock in the study of probate inventories from the 18th century lower middling sort. What we do know is that in a study of more than 50 such inventories from the last quarter of the 18th century in Charles and Prince George’s counties most ordinary planters had little more than a frying pan and a pot. One pot meals do not make for the most exciting demonstrations in a foodways program, so the question was, “What can we do?”
It seems that no matter where you’re from in this country, or the world, you’re known for eating something that nobody else does. We began to ask ourselves why and the program took off from there. Rather than look solely at 18th century “receipts” we began to look at Maryland dishes in particular throughout our history. We wanted to create a program that not only demonstrated colonial cooking techniques, but one that also celebrated the many rich, diverse food traditions that we have in Maryland and how they, along with the food, have changed over time. We scoured primary and secondary resources, and searched the archeological record for any and all food references. We discovered a lot! Don’t worry, I’m not going to go on about all that here…..though I could!
On every third Saturday, from March of this year to November, we presented the various dishes as monthly themed presentations. On these days, we spent the better part of the morning to prepare the meal and then, at noon, we would go into a full-fledged discussion with our visitors about what we were preparing and more importantly, why. For example, in our “Bristles and Feathers” program we were able to show and talk about the differences between the chicken the colonists were eating and the ones we eat now. All in all it was a great success and we wanted to thank everyone who came out to each of our programs. Our one regret is that, due to health and safety concerns, no visitor was able to sample food prepared on site. Unfortunately that is the law at every living history site. I can promise you that we’ll keep looking into how that can be remedied, but until then the least we can do is provide you with the recipes of some of our favorites this year so that you can sample them at home! I hope you enjoy them as much as we did, and we can’t wait to see you for next year’s program!
Ham and Egg Pudding (A Spring Dish) Take some slices of boiled ham (both fat and lean) and sprinkle with pepper, lay them across a deep dish that has been buttered. Make a pudding batter of six eggs beaten very light, a light pint of flour, a pint of milk, a small piece of butter, and salt and pepper to the taste. Pour this pudding batter over the ham and bake quickly. (By quickly they mean a 375 to 400 degree oven.) Cook until it’s risen high and brown.
To make a pretty dish of a Breast of Venison (We really liked this one!) Take half a pound of butter, flour your venison, and fry it of a fine brown on both sides; then take it up, and keep it hot covered in the dish: take some flour and stir it in to the butter till it is quite thick and brown (but take great care it don’t burn). Stir in half a pound of lump sugar beat fine, and pour in as much red wine as will make it of the thickness of a ragoo; squeeze in the juice of a lemon, give it a boil up, and pour it over the venison. Don’t garnish your dish, but send it to table. (The Art of Cookery, made Plain and Easy, 1983)
Stewed Pease and Lettice Substitute the stock of your choice for the gravy. We had to add more than what the recipe called for in order for the dried peas to soften. For the sweet herbs or bouquet garni, we at the farm use; rosemary, thyme, sage, marjoram and savory.
Take a quart of green pease, two nice lettices clean, washed, and picked, cut them small across, put all into a saucepan, with a quarter pound butter, pepper and salt to your palate, cover them close and let them stew softly, shaking the pan often. Let them stew 10 minutes, then shake in a little flour, toss them around, pour in half a pint of good gravy; put in a little bundle of sweet herbs, and an onion, with three cloves and a blade of mace stuck in it. Cover it close and let them stew a quarter of an hour; then take out the sweet herbs and onion and turn it all into a dish. If you find the sauce not thick enough, shake in a little more flour and let it simmer, then take it up.
An Onion Soup (She isn’t kidding at the end–it was delicious!) Take half a pound of butter, put it into a stew-pan on the fire, let it all melt, and boil till it has done making any noise; then have ready ten or a dozen middling onions peeled, and cut small, throw them into the butter, and let them fry a quarter of an hour; then shake in a little flour, and sift them round; shake your pan, and let them do a few minutes longer, then pour in a quart or three pints of boiling water, stir them round, take a good piece of upper-crust, the stalest bread you have, about as big as the top of a penny-loaf cut small, and throw it in; season with salt to your palate; let it boil ten minutes, stirring it often; then take it off the fire, and have ready the yolks of two eggs beat fine, with half a spoonful of vinegar; mix some of the soup with them, then stir it into your soup, and mix well, and pour it into your dish. This is a delicious dish. (The Art of Cookery, made Plain and Easy, 1983)
Baked Indian Meal Pudding Boil one quart of milk, mix it in two gills and a half of corn meal very smoothly, seven eggs well beaten, a gill of molasses, and a good piece of butter; bake it two hours. (Colonial Virginia Cookery, 1985)
One quart = 4 cups Two gills and a half = one and a quarter cup One gill = one half cup
Some modern adaptations say 2 hours in a 250 degree oven. Some say 30 minutes at 400 degrees. Both worked fine.
Asparagus Forced in French Roll Take three French rolls, take out all the crumb, by first cutting a piece of the top-crust off; but be careful that the crust fits again the same place. Fry the rolls brown with fresh butter, then take a pint of cream, the yolk of six eggs beat fine, a little salt and nutmeg, stir them well together over a slow fire, till it begins to thick. Have ready a hundred of small grass boiled, then save tops before you fry the rolls, make holes thick in the top-crust to stick the grass in; then lay on the piece of crust, and stick the grass in, that it may look as if it was growing. It makes a pretty side dish at a second course. (The Art of Cookery, made Plain and Easy. 1983)
To Butter Crabs (The BEST!!) Take two crabs, or lobsters, being boiled, and cold, take all the meat out of the shells and bodies, mince it small, and put it all together into a sauce pan; add to it a glass of white wine, two spoonfuls of vinegar, a nutmeg grated, then let it boil up till it is thorough hot; then have ready half a pound of fresh butter, melted with an anchovy, and the yolks of two eggs beat up and mixed with the butter; then mix crab and butter all together, shaking the sauce pan constantly round till it is quite hot; then have ready the great shell, either of the crab or lobster, lay it in the middle of your dish, pour some into the shell, and the rest in little saucers round the shell, sticking three corner toasts between the saucers, and round the shell. This is a fine side dish at a second course. (The Art of Cookery, made Plain and Easy, 1983)
To Make Collups of Oysters: Put your oysters in to scallop shells for that purpose, set them on your gridiron over a good, clear fire, let them stew till you think your oysters are enough, then have ready some crumbs of bread rubbed in a clean napkin, fill your shells, and set them before a good fire, and baste them well with butter. Let them be affine brown, keep them turning, to be brown all over alike; but a tin oven does them best before the fire. They eat much the best done this way, though most people stew the oysters first in a sauce pan, with a blade of mace, thickened in a piece of butter, and fill the shell, and cover them with crumbs, and brown them with a hot iron —-But the bread has not the fine taste of the former.
Oyster Stew 2 tbs butter 2 tbs finely chopped celery 1 tbs finely chopped onion 1 quart freshly shucked oysters 1 quart milk, heated 1 tbs Worcestershire sauce 1 teaspoon salt 1/8 teaspoon cayenne Butter Paprika
Melt butter, add celery and onion and cook until tender. Drain oysters, add to mixture and cook slowly until edges curl slightly. Add milk and Worcestershire and heat until oysters are fully curled, being careful to not over cook. Add salt and cayenne and serve at once, placing a small lump of butter in each bowl. Garnish with paprika.