Baking, Fall, Vegetable

Sweet Potato Pudding

Last week’s recipe for Baked Apple Pudding provides a sense of the evolution of American favorites pumpkin and sweet potato pie. These dishes, frequently enjoyed at Thanksgiving, combine New World ingredients with Old World culinary techniques. Food historians theorize pumpkin pie and sweet potato pie developed when innovative cooks used these ingredients in dishes that typically relied on apples or root vegetables.[1] Pie, defined as a sweet or savory filling encased between pastry, descended from an English cookery practice of baking a filling between two crusts to preserve it for a short time. Also called coffins, these somewhat edible storage containers were a dense combination of suet or lard and flour. Over time, influences from other cuisines transformed pastry into the flaky encasement we enjoy today. Randolph generally uses the term “pudding” in her recipes (except for an apple pie recipe). Still, we would define her dishes as pies today.

Sweet Potato from John Gerard’s Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes (1597). Library of Congress.

There is considerable regional variation in the flavors of pie enjoyed by Americans. Of the many divides between North and South is a preference for pumpkin or sweet potato pie. While both groups appreciate pumpkin pie (Randolph includes a recipe for Pumpkin Pudding), sweet potato is a rare ingredient in northern cookbooks. Sweet potatoes, native to Central and South America, were among the first New World crops embraced in Europe. One reason for the enthusiasm was the purported aphrodisiac qualities of the tuber. Sweet potatoes were grown commercially in Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia beginning in the mid-1600s. Sweet potatoes appeared on the tables of white southerners in various forms; Randolph includes recipes for broiled, stewed, boiled sweet potatoes. However, they were also a vital source of nutrition for enslaved black Americans. The tuber was a typical food and frequently appeared on the tables of the less well-off in the south. The vegetable was a luxury item in the North before 1830. With just a few decades to become a part of northern diets before the establishment of the Thanksgiving holiday, it’s unsurprising the more familiar (and more easily grown) flavors of apple, pumpkin, and squash dominated the dessert table for northerners.

The similarities between Randolph’s Baked Apple Pudding and Sweet Potato Pudding suggest how the tuber was incorporated into Anglo-Southern diets. The recipes are nearly identical. The most significant differences are the pureed sweet potatoes in place of the pureed apples and the addition of a spice, nutmeg. The sweet potato-based pudding also includes more sugar than the apple. In addition to apple pudding, British cuisine imported to North America with the colonists included a variety of root vegetable puddings. Cooks produced these dishes by boiling and mashing the vegetable, mixing it with butter, eggs, sugar, and spices, and baking in an open-faced pie shell. Before the introduction of New World ingredients, English cooks prepared parsnips, carrots, and other root vegetables this way. One interpretation is that lacking apples and familiar with root vegetable puddings cooks substituted sweet potatoes in the recipe and liked the results enough to adapt the seasoning to highlight the tuber’s sweet flavor. Further experimentation produced satisfactory results with pumpkins and sweet potatoes. However, Randolph notes in a postscript to the recipe, “Irish potato pudding is made in the same manner, but is not so good.”

Enslaved workers plant sweet potatoes at Hopkinson’s plantation, Edisto Island, South Carolina, c. 1862. Library of Congress.

An alternative explanation for the origins of sweet potato pie focuses on the similarities between yams and sweet potatoes. Yams, often mistaken for the sweet potato and vice-versa, are an edible, starchy tuber native to Africa, South America, the Caribbean, Asia, and Oceania. Enslaved cooks, familiar with yams from African culinary traditions, may have incorporated sweet potatoes into dishes requested for the master’s table. When cooking for themselves and their families, the sweet potato could serve as a stand-in for the unavailable tropical yam. Adrian Miller, James Beard award-winning author, chronicles the history of the sweet potato and other soul food staples in Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time.  Miller argues the earliest desserts enjoyed by enslaved people were

Roasted sweet potatoes cooked in the embers of the fire or they started eating mashed up sweet potatoes that were spiced. As [they] got access to cooking technology and equipment, like ovens, that’s when they started to add pie shells.

Adrian Miller quoted in Ryan Shepard, “For many African-Americans, sweet potato pie isn’t just a dessert, it’s about family,” Southern Kitchen (October, 29, 2018), accessed 3 Nov. 2020,

From these simple origins, sweet potato pie became an essential part of soul food cuisine. From its roots as a mixing pot of American, European, African, and even Asian (source of the nutmeg) culinary techniques and ingredients, the sweet potato pie is a fixture in southern cuisine. With a New England background stretching back generations, I had never sampled sweet potato pie. Although my partner has Southern roots, his dislike of sweet potatoes prevented him from ever digging into a slice. Through preparing Randolph’s recipe, we both discovered sweet potato pie is delicious! My partner even asserted a preference for sweet potato over pumpkin pie (sacrilege!). While I still prefer pumpkin, we’re looking forward to adding a sweet potato pie to our Thanksgiving dessert table this year.

Sweet Potato Pudding

Mary Randolph, The Virginia House-wife (1838), p. 120-1.

Adapted by RA Snell


  • 1 lb sweet potatoes
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • ¾ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon brandy, optional


1. Peel and cube sweet potatoes into roughly equal pieces. Boil until tender.

2. While hot, pass the sweet potatoes through a food mill or puree in a blender or food processor.

3. Add sugar, butter, nutmeg, lemon zest, and brandy. This is a good moment to taste the puree and make any adjustments to the seasoning.

4. Cover a 9-inch pie plate with a crust. While preparing the pie crust, allow the apple mixture to cool and preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

5. Add the beaten eggs to the sweet potato mixture and mix well. Pour into the prepared pie crust.

6. Bake 45 minutes. I recommend covering your pie with aluminum foil for the first thirty minutes of baking to prevent burning your pastry.

Serve warm or cold. Whipped cream is an excellent addition!

Note: a can of sweet potatoes may be substituted for the whole sweet potatoes. Skip to step 2 and be sure to have about two cups of pureed sweet potatoes before moving on with the recipe.


[1] Abigail Carroll, Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal (New York: Basic Books, 2013), 17; Sandra L. Oliver, Food in Colonial and Federal America (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005), 23.

Food History Timeline

Adrian Miller, “How sweet potato pie became African Americans’ Thanksgiving dessert” The Washington Post (Nov. 24, 2015), accessed 3 Nov. 2020,

Ryan Shepard, “For many African-Americans, sweet potato pie isn’t just a dessert, it’s about family,” Southern Kitchen (October, 29, 2018), accessed 3 Nov. 2020,

Andrew F. Smith, “Sweet Potatoes,” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, vol. II (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 574-5.

Pat Willard, “Pies and Tarts” in Andrew F. Smith, ed., The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, vol. II (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 272-3


Moore, Henry P, photographer. Sweet potato planting, Hopkinson’s Plantation. Edisto Island South Carolina, 1862. [April 8] Photograph.

Baking, Fall, Fruit

Baked Apple Pudding

Randolph’s recipe for Baked Apple Pudding is reminiscent of an applesauce pie, calling for apples to be baked, pureed, mixed with other ingredients, and baked in a pie shell. At first glance, the recipe appears to include a familiar component: powdered sugar. In Randolph’s day, powdered sugar held a different meaning than it does in today’s recipes.

Until the late nineteenth century, sugar was available as loaf sugar: a cone of concentrated refined white sugar that required special tools to prepare it for baking and other uses. Every well-stocked kitchen included a pair of sugar nips for breaking the sugar cone into smaller pieces and a mortar and pestle for pounding the sugar. If you’ve never touched a sugar loaf, the sugar is rock hard. Before the invention of a vacuum system of evaporation and the centrifuge made the production in the mid-nineteenth century, refining white sugar required a series of boiling and filtering processes. When complete, the sugar mixture and additives like white clay to improve the whiteness of the final product were poured into inverted conical molds. Over a few days, the dark syrup and other matter drained away, leaving a concentrated cone of pure white sugar. Once removed from the mold, the sugar cones were dried, trimmed, and wrapped. The selection of blue paper for wrapping sugar cones emphasized their whiteness.

Sugar refiner c. 1624 (

Purchased by the cone, the cone’s size signaled the quality of the sugar: the smaller the cone, the higher the quality. Before using the sugar in recipes, cooks would need to pound their sugar in a mortar with a pedestal. A recipe for preserved apricots in Emma Bloomfield Schreiber’s recipe collection suggests the potentially laborious process of using sugar in a recipe, calling for “1 lb of white sugar pound[ed] in a mortar” for every pound of apricots.[1] In her reference to powdered sugar, Randolph refers to sugar that has already been pounded in a mortar to prepare for baking rather than the confectioner’s sugar that is sometimes called powdered sugar today. By 1871, the granulated sugar we purchase today at the grocery replaced loaf sugar store saving women from the labor of grinding their sugar.

Sugar loaves, nippers, and storage box. (

For me, apple pie means chunks of apples sweetened with sugar and spices. Randolph’s recipe is a departure from the usual and an enjoyable change of pace. As Thanksgiving nears, Randolph’s Baked Apple Pudding is a good reminder of how fall favorites sweet potato and pumpkin pie evolved from British apple puddings. Stay tuned for those recipes in the coming weeks!  

Baked Apple Pudding

Baked Apple Pudding

Mary Randolph, The Virginia House-wife (1838), p. 125.

Adapted by RA Snell


  • 1 lb apples (about 4 large apples)
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • Pastry for one crust pie (your favorite recipe or store bought)

Note: The recipe requires enough apples to produce one pound of apple puree after cooking the apples. For me, four large apples yielded a sufficient amount for the recipe.


1. Cut the apples into equally sized pieces, about one inch in diameter. Place the apples in an oven-proof container and bake until tender 30-45 minutes. Stir the apples occasionally to check doneness and prevent burning. If you plan to use a blender or food processor to puree your apples, be sure to peel before cooking.

2. Run the apples through a food mill or puree in a blender or food processor.

3. While the apple puree is hot, add butter, sugar, and lemon zest.

4. Cover a 9-inch pie plate with a crust. While preparing the pie crust, allow the apple mixture to cool and preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

5. Add the beaten eggs to the apple mixture and mix well. Pour into the prepared pie crust.

6. Bake 25 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake an additional 30-40 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the apple mixture jiggles very slightly when gentle shaken. Sift sugar over the filling once removed from the oven.


Randolph instructions specify “well flavored apples.” Without any spices to bring out the flavor of the apples, it is essential to select flavorful apples.

The second time I made this recipe, I put my apples in the crockpot to avoid having to carefully watch them in the oven to prevent burning.

I recommend covering your pie with aluminum foil for the first thirty minutes of baking to prevent burning your pastry.


[1] Recipe book of Emma Blomfield Schreiber, 1856-7, Una Abrahamson Collection, Special Collections, McLaughlin Library, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario.

Elizabeth Abbott, Sugar: A Bittersweet History (London: Duckworth Overlook, 2009).

Sidney W. Mintz, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History (New York: Viking Penguin, Inc., 1985).

Susan Williams, Food in the United States, 1820s-1890 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2006).

Wendy A. Woloson, “Sugar” in Andrew W. Smith, ed., The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink, 570-571.

Baking, Fall

Chicken Pudding, A Favourite Virginia Dish

Today, pudding, in the United States, is firmly associated with sweetness and dessert. However, in Early America, the forms and tastes of pudding were much more wide-ranging. Most readers will define puddings as a milk-based dessert with a custard-like consistency, something like the puddings pictured in the 1950s advertisement for Jell-well pudding below. The earliest puddings and food historians agree puddings are very ancient, were similar to sausages. The English word pudding reflects this origin, deriving from the French “boudin” and the Latin “botellus” meaning a small sausage. The ancestors of the most recognized pudding, the plum or Christmas pudding served during the holidays, were savory dishes concocted from meat and other ingredients, moistened, encased, and steamed or boiled. Present day examples include black pudding and haggis.

Mary Randolph’s Chicken Pudding is an example of the simple, even rustic, recipes that dominated early American cooking. Boiled meats, baked or boiled puddings, a variety of pies, baked fish, and fresh bread would provide wholesome and filling family meals. A dish like Randolph’s Chicken Pudding was a simple, easy dish for early American cooks. Housewives could simmer the chicken and bake the pudding while completing other tasks around their homes. Unlike other recipes, the hands-on time to prepare this dish is relatively limited. Perhaps this Chicken Pudding was a favorite of Virginians for its ease of preparation?

Randolph advises serving the pudding with a “nice white gravy.” As this dish is rather bland, the fresh thyme and parsley do little to flavor the boiled chicken, and the only spices included in the pudding batter are salt and pepper, some sort of seasoning at the table is essential. Since Randolph does not provide a white gravy recipe (instructions for a brown gravy are provided), the cook would need to pull from their repertoire for the accompanying sauce. The final result is somewhat reminiscent of the British favorite, Toad-in-the-hole, with chicken instead of sausage and a different texture for the pudding. Contrasted with the lightness of a Yorkshire pudding, the lack of eggs in this pudding makes for a stodgier bake. However, the butter and milk add richness and flavor. We found it to be an enjoyable dish, but not one we’re adding to our list of favorites.

Chicken Pudding, A Favourite Virginia Dish

Mary Randolph, The Virginia House-wife (1838), p. 85.

Adapted by RA Snell


  • One 3 to 4 pound chicken, cut into 8 parts (2 breasts, 2 thighs, 2 legs, 2 wings), excluding the back
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh parsley
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • 1 ¼ cup flour
  • Salt & pepper


1. Boil chicken pieces with salt and thyme until nearly cooked through, 30-25 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Grease a deep dish with butter or cooking spray and add the chicken. Randolph likely left her chicken piece intact, I opted to remove the chicken from the bones and cut into bite-sized pieces.

3. Prepare the pudding batter: beat three eggs until very light. Add milk and butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add flour and whisk to make a thin batter.

4. Bake for 70 minutes or until pudding is cooked through and golden brown.

Yield: 5-6 servings


Food Timeline

Fall, Vegetable


Boiled carrots, a side dish so uncomplicated, few would consult a recipe to prepare them. Mary Randolph’s recipe for cooking carrots draws into question her prowess as a cook. Further, it reveals who likely did most of the cooking at her renowned boarding house. The recipe also shows how Randolph viewed her recipes and her editorial process.

Mary Randolph’s The Virginia House-wife, first published in 1824, was republished at least nineteen times before 1861. The rate of new editions is a testament to the popularity of Randolph’s work. Changes between editions and Randolph’s descriptions of her work suggest how the recipes were compiled. In the preface to the 1824 edition, Randolph declared, “the greater part of the following recipes have been written from memory, where they were impressed from long continued practice.”[1] This statement infers that Randolph herself did not keep a collection of written recipes to reference as she prepared The Virginia House-wife. Rather, she wrote the recipes from memory. Writing from memory could explain the imperfections in the text. Randolph recognized the flaws in her work. In March 1825, she wrote to James Madison:

“I did not offer you a copy of the first edition of my cookery book because it was exceedingly defective. The second is more correct and I have the pleasure of asking you to accept one.”

Mary Randolph to James Madison, 1825. Manuscript/Mixed Material.
Instructions to cook carrots from the 1824 edition of The Virginia House-wife.

Her instructions to boil carrots in the 1824 first edition are curious. Much of the method for cooking carrots relies on the preceding recipe for parsnips. In this recipe, Randolph reveals boiling as the cooking method. In the carrot recipe, she focuses on preparing the carrots to be cooked and instructs on the reader on checking the vegetables for doneness. She writes, “let [the carrots] be well washed and brushed, but not scrapped.” Once cooked, she commands the reader to “rub off the peels with a clean coarse cloth.” Reading Randolph’s directions raised an eyebrow, but I gamely followed along, boiling my carrots without removing the outer layer. I simmered the carrots until tender, strained them, and rubbed them with a clean cloth. The results confirmed my suspicions that this was a terrible method for preparing carrots.

First, the hot carrots were difficult to handle. Second, the peels did not easily remove. Hard rubbing broke or squished the carrots. At the same time, soft rubbing did not remove the outer layer. A bowl of lukewarm carrots with the peels mainly intact appeared on the table. I simply did not have the time or patience to fiddle with rubbing more peel of hot carrots. Bemused, I consulted the 1838 edition. These instructions could not be correct; would Randolph correct them in later editions? I discovered in the 1838 edition revised instructions: “let [the carrots] be well washed and scrapped.”

Why would Randolph include such strange instructions for cooking carrots in her cookbook? Even if writing from memory, the instructions are too specific to be accidental. Surely anyone who attempted to rub the peels of hot boiled carrots will realize the folly of their ways? My theory is that Randolph did not cook many carrots. In fact, she likely did little cooking despite her reputation as the best cook in Virginia. She may have produced showpiece dishes like cakes and puddings. She may also have made recipes that used rare or expensive ingredients like preserves. Who did the everyday cooking in Randolph’s home, you ask?

“The Cook”, Slavery Images: A Visual Record of the African Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Early African Diaspora, accessed October 21, 2020,

Enslaved persons, likely women, cooked, cleaned, and performed other duties related to maintaining the home. Randolph, as the mistress, managed and oversaw their labor. In 1810, two years after the advertisement for her boarding house ran in The Richmond Virginia Gazette and General Advertiser, the Census listed Mary Randolph (husband David was in England at the time) as the head of a household that included a total of twenty-six people – twelve of whom were enslaved.

1810 Census for Richmond, Virginia with entry for Mary Randolph highlighted. Ancestry Library.

Celebrations of Randolph’s work focus on the melding of Native American, African, and European cuisines displayed in her recipes. However, we must also recognize a long history of white women appropriating black women’s labor and expertise in the domestic and public realms.  Randolph’s cookbook is part of this history. Like other southern cookbooks, The Virginia House-wife “give[s] instructions on how to cook, but [it] also expose[s] this more complicated history of conflict and culinary adaptation.”[2]


Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife (1838), p. 103.

Adapted by RA Snell


  • 1 lb carrots
  • Butter, salt, and pepper, to taste


1. Wash and peel the carrots. While Randolph boiled her carrots whole, cutting the carrots into roughly equal sizes will accelerate the cooking process.

2. Place the carrots in boiling water. Reduce the heat and simmer until tender. The amount of time will depend on the size of your carrots and, as Randolph notes, whether they are young or fully grown. Test for doneness by “thrusting a fork into them while they are in the water; when this goes easily through, they are done enough.”[3]

3. Season to your taste with butter, salt, and pepper.

Yield: four servings

[1] Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife, or Methodical Cook, ed. Karen Hess (Washington, D.C., 1824; repr., Columbia: S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1984), x.

[2] Christopher Farrish, “Food in the Antebellum South and the Confederacy,” in Helen Zoe Veit, Food in the Civil War (East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 2015), 1.

[3] Mrs. Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife, or Methodical Cook, (Baltimore: Plaskitt & Cugle, 1838), 102.


Beth A. Latshaw, “The Soul of the South: Race, Food, and Identity in the American South” in John T. Edge, Elizabeth S.D. Engelhardt, and Ted Ownby, eds., The Larder: Food Studies Methods in the American South (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2013).

Michael W. Twitty, The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South (New York: Harper Collins, 2017).

Katharina Vester, A Taste of Power: Food and American Identities (Oakland: University of California Press, 2015).

Andrew Warnes, “‘Talking’ Recipes: What Mrs. Fisher Knows and the African –American Cookbook Tradition” in Janet Floyd and Laurel Forster, eds., The Recipe Reader: Narratives, Contexts, Traditions (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2003), 52-71.

Bring History into the Kitchen, Condiment

Bring History into the Kitchen: Tomato Catsup

Mary Randolph’s recipe for Tomato Catsup provides an excellent opportunity for bringing history into your kitchen and cooking with your kids. In our present moment, we’re all looking for ways to enrich our children’s education, engage with our families in meaningful ways, and get dinner on the table with minimal fuss and effort. This recipe achieves all these goals: it’s easy, it’s inexpensive, it’s highly likely your kids will at least try it (it is, after all, that beloved condiment of many children, ketchup), it can easily be incorporated into a regular meal, and its history the whole family can enjoy!

Tomato Catsup, Mary Randolph, The Virginia House-wife (1838)

Once the tomato mixture is on the stove, this recipe is relatively hands free. Since your kids are already in the kitchen with you, this is a perfect opportunity to include them in preparing the rest of the meal. Research shows including kids in preparing foods increases their willingness to try new foods and food they may be less enthusiastic about, like vegetables. There is also evidence that for picky eaters, participating in meal preparation results in children eating more at the table. (This is one of many strategies offered by Kids Eat in Color.) My kids (ages 1 and 5) enjoy this catsup with a variety of dippers. We recommend:

Homemade Chicken Nuggets with Sweet Potato

Spinach Egg Muffins

Tip:  Use a food processor to mix the ingredients. This will finely cut your greens and evenly distribute the yummy cheesy and salsa – key for a tasty and healthy muffin.

Learn more about the history of tomato ketchup in this post. From its exotic origins in attempts to recreate the flavor of k-tsiap, a sauce of fermented soybeans to John Henry Heinz’s ketchup-based empire. A simplified modernized recipe for Randolph’s Tomato Catsup is below as are downloadable lesson plans for Preschool-Kindergarten, Elementary School, and Middle School. Each lesson plan includes the recipe and activities to engage your children in food preparation and history.

Tomato Catsup

Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife (1838), p. 162.

Adapted by RA Snell


  • 15 oz tomato sauce
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 cup onion, diced
  • pepper & mace, to taste


1. Combine the tomato sauce and onion in a food processor or blender. Blend until the onion is fully incorporated into the tomato sauce and no chunks remain.

2. Combine the tomato sauce with the salt, pepper, and mace in a sauce pan. I recommend 1-2 grinds of pepper and the smallest pinch of mace (or other spice, see note on substitutions), approximately enough to just cover the bottom of a 1/8 teaspoon measuring spoon.

3. Simmer over medium-low heat, stirring often, until the mixture thickens. About 20-30 minutes.

4. Cool and serve. Refrigerate any leftovers.

Serving suggestion: Although much more savory than your favorite brand of ketchup, Randolph’s Tomato Catsup may be substituted for present-day ketchup as a dip or topping. Try it with chicken nuggets!

Note on Substitutions: Although a common spice in Randolph’s day, few home cooks regularly use mace (a spicier product of the nutmeg tree) today. In this recipe, cinnamon with an extra grind of pepper may be substituted for the mace.

Yield: ~8 oz

Baking, Fall

Baked or Boiled Indian Pudding

I’m not looking to lead anyone astray. The picture to the left of steamy Indian Pudding flavored with molasses and spices is not Mary Randolph’s recipe. Rather, it is a version of Indian Pudding I whipped up after Randolph’s recipe failed spectacularly. You see, I have fond memories of Indian Pudding. Growing up, we would almost always visit J.R. Maxwell’s in Bath, Maine, for any and all life cycle commemorations. Of course, by the time my parents moved away from the area, I was rather tired of Maxwell’s offerings. But now I harbor fond memories of the clam chowder, cheese sticks, escargot, prime rib, and other favorites. My first encounter with Indian Pudding was at Maxwell’s when my mother ordered Ed’s Indian Pudding for dessert. I was somewhat perplexed by the idea of a dessert based on cornmeal, but my mom shared a bite, and it was delicious! There was a slight bite from the cornmeal, the eggs and milk combined to form a custard, and the spices and molasses provided sweetness and excitement. Topped with melting vanilla ice cream, Indian Pudding is a tried and true New England staple.

Randolph’s recipe did not meet my expectations, which, admittedly, were high. When I gathered the ingredients (cornmeal, milk, eggs, and molasses), I suspected it would not. I was also nervous about my first foray into boiled pudding. When I unwrapped after the recommended boiling time, clearly a fair amount of water had seeped into the cloth. This wasn’t unexpected; I knew my tying method needed work. However, when I tasted the pudding I knew I would not be improving my method with another attempt at this recipe. The pudding tastes overwhelmingly of cornmeal with the faintest whisper of molasses. Below is the final result.

Attempt at Indian Pudding, The Virginia House-wife.

The result bore little resemblance to the Indian Pudding of my memories. Hence the need to create a different recipe to relieve my hankering for the dessert. Historical recipes don’t always come out. That’s part of the fun and frustration of working with them. While I don’t recommend trying Randolph’s Indian Pudding,* it still provides an opportunity to think more deeply about the dish’s origins.

The name might suggest Indian Pudding derived from Native foodways. Popular histories sometimes describe the dish’s origins as a combination of cornmeal and maple syrup baked in earth ovens and adapted by colonists. This was simply not the case. Rather, Indian Pudding is an example of Native-colonial collaboration. It connects with both British and Native foodways of the pre-colonial and colonial eras. The Indian Pudding contained in Randolph’s cookbook and others of the period and before is clearly an English culinary export: a baked or boiled pudding prepared with cornmeal (called Indian meal by English colonists who still used “corn” as a generic term for any grain) rather than the usual flour, oats, or breadcrumbs. Some nineteenth-century recipes make this origin clear by using the title “Indian Meal Pudding.”

There is a connection between Indian Pudding and Native American foodways. Many tribes produced cornmeal mushes, sometimes sweetened with maple syrup or fortified with fortified with fat, and occasionally baked before the fire. From a Native perspective, Indian Pudding could also be viewed as adapting newly available ingredients like milk, eggs, molasses, spices, and new cooking technology (ovens) to typical Native dishes. Native American cookbooks published in the twentieth century include versions of Indian Pudding combining traditional ingredients and European culinary imports. In truth both colonists and Natives were innovating with new ingredients by incorporating them into familiar dishes.

The addition of finely chopped suet in Howland’s recipe connects with Native American recipes for fortified cornmeal mush. Howland, American Economical Housekeeper (1845), p. 39.

The failure of early wheat crops in the New World forced colonists to embrace corn. While corn was a staple in Chesapeake diets, wheat production developed much earlier in this region of the United States than in New England. Here the prevalence of mildew rust on wheat crops and the expense of transporting wheat meant wheat flour was costly. Sandy Oliver reports that in the Chesapeake region, “the gentry ate wheat bread, and the poor and slaves ate corn in various forms.”[1] Although cornmeal was a cornerstone of American diets during this period, Randolph offers just four recipes to prepare it: baked and boiled Indian Pudding, Corn Meal Bread, and Mush. Randolph’s privileged background could offer an explanation for her flavorless Indian Pudding recipes. It likely was not a dish she frequently served and, therefore, did not take the time to perfect.

Looking at her contemporaries, there appears to be evidence Indian Pudding was already something of a regional dish. Sarah Josepha Hale and Eliza Leslie, two influential cookbook authors of the period, both hailing from Philadelphia, did not include recipes for Indian Pudding in their cookbooks. However, cookbooks published in Boston and Worcester by Lydia Maria Child, Esther Allen Howland, and N.K.M Lee contain versions much closer to the Indian Pudding of my memories. Since wheat was costly in New England, most cooks saved it for fine cakes and pastry for special occasions. Everyday baking relied on proprietary blends of rye flour, Indian (corn) meal, and small amounts of wheat flour. The widespread use of the grain possibly provided greater impetus to turn the simple cornmeal pudding into something delicious, and explains the larger allowance of molasses and the addition of spice in the New England versions.

Baked Indian Pudding, Child, The American Frugal Housewife (1838), p. 61.

In this instance, I have chosen not to modernize Randolph’s recipe since merely updating the ingredients and method would result in a tasteless pudding. Making the pudding flavorful would require too many changes and would not be a modernized version of a historical recipe. Instead, I offer you a modernized version of Indian Pudding from The American Frugal Housewife. This recipe provides a better sense of how Indian Pudding was enjoyed in the nineteenth century. It contains a hefty serving of molasses along with salt and spice to add interest. Try it with melted butter as was the common topping in the nineteenth century, or follow the lead of present-day Indian Pudding lovers and top it with vanilla ice cream.

Baked Indian Pudding

Lydia Maria Child, The American Frugal Housewife (1838), p. 61.

Adapted by RA Snell


  • 4 cups milk
  • 2/3 cup cornmeal
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1 ½ teaspoon ground ginger or cinnamon


1. Preheat the oven to 325°F and grease a 1 ½ – 2 quart baking dish.

2. Heat the milk until simmering. Stir in the cornmeal, slowly to prevent lumps.

3. Bring to a boil and, stirring constantly, cook until thick. About five minutes.

4. Add the salt, molasses, and spice. Stir well. (If you would like a custard-like top on your pudding, pour a little cold milk over the pudding before baking.)

5. Turn into the prepared pan and bake until the center is firm (the pudding should still quiver slightly when the dish is shaken).

Serve warm or cold. Historically, it was served with melted butter. I recommend warm with vanilla ice cream.

Yield: 6-8 servings

For a version making use of that modern convenience, the slow cooker, try this recipe from Plimouth Plantation.

* It’s doubtful to me this recipe would work. Perhaps someone with more experience with boiled puddings could get a better result, but I suspect there is too much liquid in the batter. Most other nineteenth-century recipes for boiled pudding call for a much stiffer batter. Equally important, there is too little flavoring for the pudding to taste good. Cornmeal is bland. It needs molasses, spices, and salt to make the dish tasty.


[1] Sandra L. Oliver, Food in Colonial and Federal America (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005), 145.

Lydia Maria Child, The American Frugal Housewife (New York: Samuel S. and William Wood, 1838).

Mrs. S.J. Hale, The Good Housekeeper, or The Way to Live Well and Be Well While We Live (Boston: Weeks, Jordan and Company, 1839).

Mrs. E.A. Howland, The New England Economical Housekeeper and Family Receipt Book (Worcester: W. Allen, 1845. Worcester: S.A. Howland, 1847).

Miss Eliza Leslie, Directions for Cookery, in Its Various Branches (Philadelphia: E.L. Carey & A. Hart, 1840),

Sandra L. Oliver, Food in Colonial and Federal America (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005), 33, 39-40

Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife, or Methodical Cook, ed. Karen Hess (Washington, D.C., 1824; repr., Columbia: S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1984), 206-7.

Andrew F. Smith, ed., The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 317-318.

Preserves, Vegetable

To Pickle Onions

Mary Randolph included a handful of recipes for pickling in The Virginia House-wife. While sugar fulfilled an essential function to prevent spoiling and extend the shelf life of foods in the form of jams, jellies, and whole fruit preserves, vinegar also performed a critical role in the fight against food spoilage. Pickling in vinegar was the preferred method for preserving vegetables until the invention of safe and reliable canning methods. Vinegar pickles allowed for the preservation of vegetables unsuitable for drying or cold storage, such as green beans, asparagus, and cucumbers. Peaches, apples, plums, oysters, mussels, and clams were also preserved as pickles. Kept in a cool place in earthenware jars and crocks, pickled food preserved foods from one season to the next. Sealing options were limited. Until the invention of home canning equipment, beginning with the patenting of the screw-on zinc lid in 1858, home preserving was limited by unreliable methods to seal preserved food from bacteria. Prior to 1858, sealing methods were imperfect with domestic advisors recommending queensware pots or glass jars or tumblers covered with tissue paper, writing paper dipped in brandy, or oiled paper. Pickles could be kept by keeping the food submerged in the pickling liquid. With these imperfect methods, the housewife had to be constantly vigilant for signs of decay amongst the family’s food stores. Lydia Maria Child advised her readers to regularly, “examine preserves, to see that they are not contracting mold; and your pickles, to see that they are not growing soft and tasteless.”[1]

For rural women, especially those growing their own food, preservation was essential. Living in an urban area, food preservation likely was not among Randolph’s chief domestic concerns. Her pickle recipes make evident that Randolph pickled for flavor or substitutes for hard to find items. Among the small number of pickle recipes are cucumber pickles and a couple of relishes, accompaniments to meat dishes in an era before ketchup. Randolph’s recipes for Oil Mangos and To Make the Stuffing for Forty Mellons were popular substitutes for mango in early American cookery. Another popular substitute was pickled green peaches. British Cookbook author Dr. William Kitchener opined these were “the best imitation of the Indian mango.”[2] Pickled nasturtium served as a stand-in for capers.

This is not a quick-pickle recipe. Randolph’s recipe includes a two-week brine for the onions, a step that draws moisture out of the onions and softens them. This step allows the onions to fully absorb the vinegar and be preserved (or pickled) all the way through. Most modern recipes for pickled onions are a two-day process. One day for brining and pickling on the second day.  

Randolph’s pickled onions, simply flavored with a small amount of turmeric, were crunchy with a sharp bite from the onion and vinegar. Her instructions advise, “with a little turmeric. If the vinegar is not very pale, the onion will not be a good color.” Presumably, the tiny amount of spice is to preserve the onions’ color rather than dye them yellow with too much turmeric. I may have erred on the side of too much turmeric, as the onions were slightly yellow on the outsides even though the vinegar they steeped in was a very pale yellow. Nevertheless, the turmeric flavor was imperceptible. I thinly sliced the onions and enjoyed them on a burger. They could also be chopped and used as a taco or hotdog topping. Randolph likely served them alongside roasted meats.

To Pickle Onions

Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife (1838), p. 167.

Adapted by RA Snell


  • 2-3 medium white onions (enough to fit in a 1 quart wide-mouthed mason jar)
  • 4 cups white vinegar
  • 1/8 teaspoon turmeric

Brine (Note: the brine is prepared four times for the recipe.)

  • 4 cups water
  • 4 tablespoons salt


1. Wash your onions and cut the stem close to the root (onions purchased from the grocery store are usually already trimmed). Place the onions in the jar.

2. Prepare the brine: bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Once boiling, add the 4 tablespoons of salt. Stir and boil until the salt is dissolved.

3. Pour the brine into the jar with the onions, ensure all the onions are covered by the brine.

4. Allow the onions to stand for two weeks. During this time, shake the jar daily to ensure all the onions are brining evenly. Every three days, change the brine.

5. After two weeks, remove the skin and outer shell from each onion. Place the onions in a new jar and add 4 cups white vinegar and 1/8 teaspoon turmeric. Shake well and leave the jar in a cool, dry place for at least two weeks.

6. Thinly slice the onions and enjoy!


[1] Mrs. (Lydia Maria) Child, The American Frugal Housewife (New York: Samuel S. & William Wood, 1838), 8.

[2] William Kitchener, M.D., The Cook’s Oracle; And Housekeeper’s Manual (New York: J. & J. Harper, 1830), 404.

Anna Hinds, “How to Pickle Onions,” Storing and Freezing, (accessed 23 September 2020),

Sandra L. Oliver, Food in Colonial and Federal America (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005), 120.

Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife, or Methodical Cook, ed. Karen Hess (Washington, D.C., 1824; repr., Columbia: S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1984), 206-7.

Sue Shephard, Pickled, Potted, and Canned: How the Art and Science of Food Preserving Changed the World (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000).


Ginger Wine

In urban areas in the early nineteenth century, many drank beer, cider, and other alcoholic beverages as alternates to water sources that were unreliable, dirty, or harbored disease. Most of these refreshments were homemade, produced by women. In 1825, the year after the publication of Randolph’s recipes, the estimated annual per capita consumption of alcohol in the United States was 5.0 gallons of ninety-proof spirits and 15 gallons of twenty-proof cider per person. Further, many alcoholic beverages were inexpensive. The settlement of fertile lands in the Midwest produced a grain glut that brought whiskey’s price to $.25 a gallon, far cheaper than many other beverages. Pervasive apple orchards in the northeast allowed families to mill and store cider for their own use. Finally, Americans consumed prodigious amounts of intoxicating beverages because they enjoyed the effect. Over the course of the next one hundred years, the Temperance Movement would strive to transform American attitudes about drinking and alcohol.[1]

Nineteenth century wine growing in the Hudson River Valley.

Wine consumption remained low throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Many hoped to establish a thriving and profitable wine-making industry in the early days of English colonization. Reports from early explorers, such a this one recorded by historian Robert Beverly buoyed hopes of thriving vineyards in the American south:

“There they also found Grapes so prodigiously large, that they seem’d more like Bullace than Grapes.”

Robert Beverly, The History and Present State of Virginia, In Four Parts (London: R. Parker, 1705), 64.

In Virginia, efforts to establish a winemaking industry were particularly fierce. The Virginia Company, sponsor of the earliest settlements, sought experienced winegrowers to help tame the region’s native grapes. A 1619 law required every householder to

“Yearly plant and maintain ten vines until they have attained to the art and experience of dressing a vineyard either by their own industry or by the instruction of some vigneron.”

S. M. Kingsbury, ed., The Records of the Virginia Company of London (Washington, D.C., 1906-35) 3: 166.
The Norton grape, originally found in Virginia. One of the few native grapes that produces an acceptable red wine.

However, would-be vintners soon discovered the wine produced from native grapes was an acquired taste, to put it kindly. Beverly, a proponent of New World wine-making, kindly described the flavor as “curious” in his account. Gov. De La Warr frankly described wine produced in early Virginia as “sour.” Despite the profusion of native grapes, imported European grapes (V. vinifera) mysteriously would not grow. For two centuries, Americans, including such notable names as Governor William Bradford, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson, attempted and failed to establish vineyards. Unbeknownst to the cultivators, New World pests and diseases were lethal to European grape varieties. Not until the early nineteenth century would accidental hybrids of American and European grape varieties allow wine-making to flourish and spread in the United States. Virginia’s present flourish wine industry traces its roots to these discoveries.

Consequently, during Mary Randolph’s day, most wines were imported and expensive. Wine imported from Europe was a luxury reserved for the wealthy. Housewives produced homemade wines from dandelions, blackberries, currants, persimmons, and wild and cultivated grapes. Based on her recipes, Randolph favored cordials produced by steeping fruits and other flavorings in brandy. However, she also provides recipes for fruit-based wines, shrubs, mead, and beer – allowing her readers to supply guests with various bracing beverages. Randolph includes two variations of homemade wines created from ginger and currants.

During Randolph’s time, women practiced home fermentation as a preservation technique to ensure safe refreshments for their families, for extra income, as home remedies, and to serve at social occasions. It is likely Randolph served this wine medicinally. Ginger, available as a powder and root is early America, had an established reputation as a digestive aid. However, Randolph’s Ginger Wine would certainly lubricate a social gathering. It is sweet with just a hint of ginger, effervescent, and strong.

Thoughts on the Recipe

I was lucky to have my partner, a seasoned homebrewer, assist with this recipe. Fortunately, Randolph provides descriptive instructions (not always the case!) to produce this recipe. Race ginger, refers to ginger root, readily available in most grocery stores. The lemons and sugar are also easily obtained, but the yeast will need to be purchased from a homebrew shop or order online.

My partner has been brewing beer and I’ve been enjoying the results for about ten years, this was our first foray into wine. Being familiar with the at-home wine-making process, we appreciated the nearly instant gratification this recipe provides: 2.5 weeks from boil to ready to drink is lightning fast in the homebrew world!

Ginger Wine

Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife (1838), p. 170.

Adapted by RA Snell


  • 1 ½ gallons water
  • 1 ½ pounds sugar
  • 2 oz fresh ginger root
  • 2 small lemons
  • 1 packet of ale yeast


1. Over medium-high heat, combine the water and sugar in a large pot.

2. Peel the ginger and add it to the pot when it reaches a boil.

3. Boil for one hour.

4. When the hour is up, cover the pot and let it sit until it reaches 90-95 degrees.

5. Strain the liquid into a glass carboy or other clear vessel that can be tightly sealed. Add the lemon slices and yeast.

6. Tightly seal the container and leave at room temperature (68-74 degrees) to ferment for one week.

7. After one week, prepare to bottle the wine. Sanitize 6-7 one-pint, glass bottles that can be securely closed (I recommend a flip-top bottle, but any securely fastened glass container, such as a mason jar, will work).

8. Carefully remove your wine from the fermentation container. Since you don’t want the sediment at the bottom of the fermentation container in your final product, you cannot simply pour your wine into the bottles. If you know someone with homebrew equipment, a siphon works quickly and easily. Otherwise, you could carefully ladle the wine from the fermentation container into the bottles.

9. Tightly seal your bottles and leave them in a cool, dry place to condition for at least ten days.

Yield: 6-7 pints


The final product is alcoholic. Enjoy responsibly.

[1] W.J. Rorabaugh, “Estimated U.S. alcoholic beverage consumption, 1790-1860,” Journal of Studies on Alcohol (March 1976), 357-364.


Sandra L. Oliver, Food in Colonial and Federal America (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005), 80-81; 69.

Thomas Pinney, A History of Wine in America: From the Beginnings to Prohibition (Berkeley:  University of California Press, 1989).

Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife, or Methodical Cook, ed. Karen Hess (Washington, D.C., 1824; repr., Columbia: S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1984), 110, 267.

Andrew F. Smith, ed., The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 628, 259.

Susan Williams,  Food in the United States, 1820s-1890 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2006), 46, 203.


Fruit, Preserves, Summer

Tomato Catsup

Ketchup, the thick, sweet, tomato-based condiment found on nearly every restaurant table and in nearly every American fridge, is more exotic than you might think. Ketchup or catsup, spellings were interchangeable and far from standardized, takes its name from the Mandarin name for a sauce of fermented soybeans, k-tsiap. When Europeans encountered this sauce in Southeast Asia, they returned with a taste for it. Lacking soybeans, they produced substitutes using anchovies, walnuts, mushrooms, and oysters. American colonists brought these recipes with them and experimented with sauces produced from apples and beans.

Mushroom Catsup from the Greenwich Historical Society

While ketchup was imported to America, tomato ketchup or American ketchup may be an American invention. As tomatoes spread through the United States [link to stewed tomatoes recipe], it is likely an enterprising ketchup-maker determined to try tomatoes as the base for the savory sauce. Tomato-based ketchup quickly gained popularity with Lydia Maria Child declaring in 1832, “the best sort of catsup is made from tomatoes.”[1] Child’s catsup combined tomatoes with mace, cloves, allspice, pepper, mustard, and cayenne into a thick, spicy sauce she recommended serving with roast meat or adding to a stew or soup to add richness. Over time, like most things in the American diet, ketchup became sweeter. As discussed in the recipe for Peach Marmalade, technological innovation and the spread of slavery in the nineteenth century combined to make sugar less expensive and more readily available. Consequently, sugar found its way into more recipes, including tomato ketchup.

Heinz octagonal glass bottle, c. 1890

By the end of the nineteenth century, tomato ketchup was mass-produced, bottled, and sold around the country, perhaps most famously by Henry John Heinz. Heinz founded the H.J. Heinz Company in 1876; one factor in Heinz’s success was his use of clear glass bottles for his products. [2] In an era of few regulations around the purity and safety of food, clear glass allowed the consumer to view the quality of Heinz’s merchandise. However, to become a requirement in American refrigerators and restaurant tables, ketchup needed the invention of three major host foods: hamburgers, hotdogs, and French fries. After introducing these foods in the early twentieth century to American diners, tomato ketchup became, as the New York Tribune declared in 1896, America’s national condiment.

Heinz’s recipe is proprietary, but it likely includes more spices and sugar than Randolph’s simple tomato-based sauce. Early nineteenth-century recipes for Catsup (also sometimes called Soy) were intended as an ingredient for other dishes. There is scant evidence that they appeared on early American tables for diners to apply to a dish. Nevertheless, we enjoyed Randolph’s Tomato Catsup as we would its present-day counterpoint as a dip for fries, chicken nuggets, and other dippers. Without any added sugar, just the tomatoes’ sweetness, it is much more savory than your favorite brand of ketchup, and the addition of mace gives it a little something different. 

Tomato Catsup

Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife (1838), p. 162.

Adapted by RA Snell


  • 3 lbs tomatoes
  • 1-2 teaspoons of salt, plus more for seasoning
  • 1/8 cup onion, diced
  • Pepper & mace, to taste


1. Core the tomatoes and cut into quarters. Place in a sauce pan and generously sprinkle with 1-2 teaspoons of salt.

3. Simmer over medium heat for 40 minutes stirring often, until the tomatoes have broken down and released all their juices.

4. Strain the tomatoes through a colander, pushing through all the juices with a spoon.

5. Combine the tomato juice, onion, and seasonings in a blender or food processer. Blend until the onion is incorporated into the tomato mixture.

6. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, until the mixture is thickened. About 30 minutes.

7. Place in a tightly sealed jar. Keep refrigerated.

Yield: ~8 oz


Mace is a product of the nutmeg tree (Myristica fragrans), the tropical evergreen that also produces nutmeg. The yellowish-brown spice derives from the red lacy coating (aril) of the nutmeg seed. It is available ground or as dried blades (Randolph’s recipe refers to blades of mace) and was a common flavoring in colonial and early American foodways. Today, mace frequently appears in Asian, Caribbean, Indian, and Moroccan cuisines in both savory dishes and baked goods. The flavor of mace is similar to nutmeg but spicier than sweet. The flavor is often described as a combination of cinnamon and pepper. This recipe requires a tiny pinch of mace. Cinnamon, nutmeg, or allspice may be substituted but will all yield slightly different flavors than Randolph’s original recipe.

One 15oz can of tomato sauce may be substituted for the fresh tomatoes, skip to step 5. 


[1] Lydia Maria Child, The American Frugal Housewife  (Boston: Carter, Hendee & Co., 1832), 35.

[2] Heinz founded the company with his brother and cousin and it was originally called F & J Heinz. Heinz bought out his cofounders in 1888 and renamed the company H.J. Heinz.

Peggy Towbridge Filippone, “What is Mace? Uses, Benefits, Recipes,” The Spruce Eats (accessed Sept. 2, 2020),

Ketchup (Catsup), Food History Timeline (accessed Sept. 2, 2020),

Sandra L. Oliver, Food in Colonial and Federal America (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005), 76-7.

Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife, or Methodical Cook, ed. Karen Hess (Washington, D.C., 1824; repr., Columbia: S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1984), 162.

Andrew F. Smith, ed., The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 342-3.


Senator John Heinz History Center

Greenwich Historical Society

Fruit, Preserves, Summer

To Stew Tomatos

Randolph’s The Virginia House-wife includes a variety of ways to prepare vegetables, dispelling the myth that early Americans only ate vegetables boiled to an indistinguishable pulp. The vegetable section contains fourth-nine recipes ranging from salad to broiled mushrooms. These recipes are representative of the produce available to early nineteenth-century Virginians, and the number of recipes for tomatoes suggests tomatoes were a common and widely accepted fruit for the times. Perhaps more so than historians previously thought.

Randolph’s seventeen recipes, including tomatoes as a primary ingredient, including four Spanish recipes (Gaspacha – Spanish, Ropa Veija, Olla, Eggs and Tomatos (Piperade)), are evidence of the tomato’s use in Early National Virginia and the spread of the fruit in the United States. The introduction of tomatoes likely occurred through Spanish Florida or emigration between the low country and the West Indies. Randolph’s four Spanish recipes strongly suggest Spanish Florida’s influence in the adoption of tomatoes in the southern United States. Tomatoes were standard in the southern colonies by the mid-eighteenth century. Thomas Jefferson grew the fruit in his gardens in Monticello by 1782 and noted others in Virginia did the same for personal consumption. The tomato spread more slowly in the northern U.S. However, by 1832, Lydia Maria Child wrote in her collection of recipes, The American Frugal Housewife, that the tomato “is a delicious vegetable. It is easily cultivated, and yields a most abundant crop.” Child also noted that “the best sort of catsup is made from tomatoes.”[1]

Richard J. Hooker, Ed., A Colonial Plantation Cookbook: The Receipt Book of Harriot Pinckney Horry, 1770 (Columbia: S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1984), 89.

The earliest extant written culinary reference to tomatoes appears in Harriot Pinckney Horry’s manuscript recipe collection. Richard J. Hooker, the editor of the published version of her collection, A Colonial Plantation Cookbook, wrote her recipe To Keep Tomatoos for Winter Use, “could well be the earliest reference to tomatoes in any American cookbook” and likely dates to around 1770.[2] Like Horry’s recipe, Randolph’s To Stew Tomatos calls for peeled tomatoes simmered with salt and pepper. Horry specifies her recipe produces tomatoes for soup during the winter. She also includes instructions to preserve the stewed tomatoes for later use (poured into pint pots and sealed with butter). In comparison, Randolph does not provide a specific purpose for her recipe. The lack of this information suggests Randolph expected her audience to be familiar with uses for stewed tomatoes.

Randolph’s simple recipe for stewed tomatoes is a possible example of the types of tomato preparations enjoyed in early America. The recipe To Scollop Tomatos explores the fruit’s initial introduction to European foodways and the skepticism that accompanied it.

To Stew Tomatos

Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife (1838), p. 101.

Adapted by RA Snell


  • 5 medium tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • salt & pepper
  • ½ to 1 tablespoon sugar (optional)


1. Peel, core, and quarter the tomatoes. An easy method for peeling tomatoes is to cut an “X” on the bottom of each tomato and place them in a large bowl. Pour boiling water over the tomatoes and let them sit for one minute. Remove the tomatoes from the water and the skins should peel off easily.

2. Place in a pan with remaining ingredients except sugar over medium heat.

3. Once the mixture begins to boil, turn down the heat to low and simmer the mixture. Stir occasionally, and break up the tomatoes with your spoon as they cook.

4. Simmer 30 minutes. Once removed from the heat, taste your tomatoes and determine whether to add sugar.

Yield: 2 cups stewed tomatoes

Serving: For tomato lovers, these are excellent served as a side dish. The intense tomato flavor and juice would make a good accompaniment to a grilled meat. The dish can also be used in place of canned stewed tomatoes in recipes.


Another recipe that is easily scaled up or down.

My tomatoes were very sweet, if your tomatoes are more acidic you may find the addition of ½ to 1 tablespoon of sugar will balance the taste.


[1] Lydia Maria Child, The American Frugal Housewife  (Boston: Carter, Hendee & Co., 1832), 35.

[2] Richard J. Hooker, Ed., A Colonial Plantation Cookbook: The Receipt Book of Harriot Pinckney Horry, 1770 (Columbia: S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1984), 89.

Alan Davidson, The Penguin Companion to Food (New York: Penguin Books, 2002), 800-801.

Hooker, Richard J., Ed., A Colonial Plantation Cookbook: The Receipt Book of Harriot Pinckney Horry, 1770 (Columbia: S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1984).

Sandra L. Oliver, Food in Colonial and Federal America (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005), 61-62.

John F. Mariani, The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), 506.

Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife, or Methodical Cook, ed. Karen Hess (Washington, D.C., 1824; repr., Columbia: S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1984), 294-6.

Andrew F. Smith, ed., The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 590-1.

Andrew F. Smith, The Tomato in America: Early History, Culture, and Cookery (Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1994).