Baking, Fruit, Winter

To Make Carolina Snow-Balls

For most readers, snowballs likely conjure memories of childhood winter games or, perhaps, the small, rounded cookies covered with shaved coconut or powdered sugar often prepared around the winter holidays. There is also the Sno-Ball snack cake (cream-filled chocolate cakes covered with marshmallow frosting and colored coconut flakes), first introduced to American supermarkets in 1947. We cannot forget the Baltimore Snowball, an iconic concoction of shaved ice and sweet syrup often topped with marshmallow cream. The association between snowball named treats and coconut is a decidedly mid-twentieth century convention, likely due to the increased affordability, availability, and accessibility (dehydrated flakes) of this tropical fruit. In the nineteenth century and today, region determined the form of this dessert.

A pink Hostess Snoballs snack cake. https://www.hostesscakes.com/products/snoballs/pink/

Research into printed and manuscript recipe collections suggests several versions of Snowballs circulated within the Anglo-American world during Mary Randolph’s lifetime. These recipes consisted of apple dumplings served with a sauce or icing. One of the earliest references to Snow-Balls occurs in Elizabeth Raffald’s classic cookery text, The Experienced English Housekeeper, first published in London in 1760. A particularly sumptuous version from Colin Mackenzie’s Five Thousand Receipts, first published in England in 1823 with several expanded American editions between 1829-1860, consisted of whole apples, cored and filled with orange or quince marmalade, covered in pastry and baked. Once removed from the oven, the Snowballs were covered in icing and set near the fire to harden.[1] It is easy to imagine the source of the name; these balls of boiled rice covered with sugar glistening in the candlelight likely bore a striking resemblance to the snowballs manufactured by local children. This recipe’s comparative extravagance is unsurprising considering the middle-class or higher audience for Mackenzie’s recipes.

A Carolina Snow Ball. https://savoringthepast.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/001snowball.jpg

American versions of this recipe, appearing in several sources such as an entry for Snowballs in Caroline Hayward’s manuscript recipe collection and a clipping pasted into an edition of Catharine Beecher’s Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book, alter the recipe to maintain the appearance but reduce the cost of the dish. These variations consist of peeled and cored apples, flavored with lemon peel, cinnamon, and cloves, and tightly wrapped in cooked rice. Hayward’s recipe instructs the cook to tie each apple “up in a cloth like dumplings.”[2] These recipes are sometimes labeled Carolina Snow Balls, a reference to the use of rice. The finished product would resemble Mackenzie’s Snowballs, but with rice in the place of pastry. Since this version did not require the butter and refined wheat flour required for pastry or the costly marmalade, it may have been more economical to produce for family suppers or those with limited means.

Elizabeth Raffald, The Experienced English Housekeeper (London: T. Wilson and R. Spence, 1806), 263.

There is no evidence whether Mary Randolph prepared or enjoyed these apple dumplings. However, the recipe circulated widely during her lifetime and she certainly had access to the ingredients and, as a recipe for rice to serve with curry attests, was familiar with preparing rice. Nineteenth-century cooks used rice for a number of innovative purposes, “they molded the rice in tea-cups, making a cavity in the centre and filling it with brightly coloured jelly; they layered individual rice puddings with cooked fruit, they folded custard or stiffly beaten egg whites into rice puddings before baking them; some topped puddings with meringue.”[3] While Randolph did not include a rice-based dessert recipe in her cookbook, she was likely familiar with these dishes.

Carolina Snowballs are a unique variation on apple dumplings. Naturally gluten-free, these intriguing little dumplings are reminiscent of winter-time fun!

To Make Carolina Snow-Balls

Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (London: 1788)

Adapted by R.A. Snell

Ingredients

Pudding:

Half a pound of medium grain rice

Six apples, peeled and cored

Lemon peel

Sauce:

Quarter pound butter, melted

A glass of white wine or apple juice

Nutmeg and cinnamon, to taste

Sugar, to taste

Special equipment:

Six Pudding cloths (a clean piece of unbleached muslin works well)

Method

1. Place a pot of water to boil, be sure there is sufficient room for six apple-sized dumplings.

2. Divide the rice into six equal parts and place each portion of rice in a pudding cloth.

3. Place one apple on top of the rice in each pudding cloth. Placed finely shredded lemon peel in the core of each apple.

4. Wrap the pudding cloth around each apple so that the rice is evenly distributed around the apple. This is the most challenging part! Once the cloth is tied, gently massage the dumpling until the rice surrounds the apple. Be sure the cloth is firmly noted and there is space for the rice to expand.

5. Boil the puddings for 75 minutes.

6. When the puddings are nearly done (after about one hour of boiling), prepare the sauce by boiling all ingredients together.

7. After 75 minutes, carefully remove the puddings from the boiling water. Before unwrapping, dunk the puddings in cold water and squeeze out any excess water.

8. Carefully remove the pudding cloth and serve alongside the sauce.

Yield: six dumplings


Sources

[1] Colin Mackenzie, Five Thousand Receipts in all the useful and domestic arts (Philadelphia: James Kay, Jun. & Co., 1831), 182.

[1]Caroline Hayward Recipe Book, 1815-1834, Joseph H. Hayward Family Papers, s. N-2368. Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, MA 02215. 

[1] Jeri Quinzio, Pudding: A Global History (London: Reaktion Books Ltd., 2012), 92.

Catharine E. Beecher, Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book, designed as a supplement to her treatise on domestic economy (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1857), Library Company of Philadelphia, Am 1857 Beecher 102993.D;

New England Cookbook 1825-1870 and Jane E. Hassler Cookbook, June 1857, Szathmary Culinary Manuscripts and Cookbooks, The University of Iowa Libraries.

Elizabeth Raffald, The Experienced English Housekeeper (London: T. Wilson and R. Spence, 1806), 263.

Baking, Vegetable, Winter

Sweet Potato Buns

Each time I attempt a new recipe from Randolph’s collection, I always do a bit of googling to see if anyone has attempted the dish before. The experiences of others help me plan my approach to the recipe. In the case of Randolph’s Sweet Potato Buns, I was surprised to find nearly universal disappointing results (please note, I am not maligning my fellow historical recipe testers, this is a summary of their descriptions of the dish). The recipe looks straightforward enough but is deceptively challenging. Randolph’s Sweet Potato Buns provide a good example of two of the primary challenges of using historical recipes: format and assumed knowledge. (Of course, there are numerous other challenges and many rewards, I’ve chosen to focus on just two challenges in this post.)

First, format. Anyone who has perused a recipe collection or published cookbook created before 1900 has noted the differing format of the recipes. In the twenty-first century, we are conditioned to expect recipes to appear in a particular format: a list of ingredients with amounts followed by step-by-step instructions to produce the dish. The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook pioneered this format in an effort to write recipes that could be reliably reproduced by anyone, anywhere. As part of the beginning of the home economics movement, the Boston Cooking School and its leaders, Mary Lincoln and Fannie Merritt Farmer, advocated modifications in measuring, recipe format, and standardized ingredients that transformed the process of cookery. Before the late nineteenth century, recipes, including those in published cookbooks and newspaper columns, appeared in a narrative format with ingredients, amounts, and instructions appearing together. This format made Mary Berry’s famed advice absolutely critical.

The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook also popularized level cup measures. Contrary to popular belief, Fannie Farmer did not invent cup and spoon measures.[1] Recipes using cup and spoon measures appear as early as the 1830s, and Catharine Beecher advised readers to convert their recipes because “it saves much trouble to have your receipt book so arranged that you can measure instead of weighing.”[2]  Rather, she created an efficient system for ensuring consistent results by spooning and leveling measured ingredients (of course, all serious bakers realize that weighing ingredients is much more accurate and can be just as efficient). Prior to the widespread acceptance of cup and spoon measures, recipes relied on various methods to convey amounts. A set of scales and weights was a necessary piece of equipment for kitchens, and many recipes relied on weights. Standard units of measure such as pints, gills, bushels, etc. were also common. References to familiar objects such as the size of an egg, a silver dollar, a walnut, or one’s thumb to determine the amount of an ingredient were also common. Finally, many recipes relied on the maker’s experience with instructions to add enough flour, season to taste, and cook until done.

This image of the kitchen in the Telfair Academy, restored to c. 1819, provides a sense of the type of workspace Mary Randolph and her enslaved cooks may have used. The cooks at the Telfair home enjoyed the luxury of a large, raised hearth and a double-oven. The other furnishings are simple, marking this space as a strictly utilitarian area. Courtesy of Telfair Academy.

This assumed knowledge, the ability to know from experience how much seasoning to add, the feel of a sufficiently heated oven, the proper amount of flour, or the appearance of “doneness” is the primary challenge of historical recipes. Before the nineteenth century brought tremendous change to how people lived and worked, most women learned to cook by watching and assisting their mothers and other female relatives. Therefore, an experienced hand taught them the feel of bread dough, what sufficiently risen bread looks like, and how long to bake various items. Randolph’s recipe for Sweet Potato Buns assumes a fair amount of experience working with yeast and making bread.

Charles and Maximillian Fleischmann, immigrants from Austria-Hungary, were among the first producers of commercial yeast in the United States. Source: https://www.sciencehistory.org/distillations/the-healing-power-of-compressed-yeast

First, Randolph instructs the reader to mix mashed sweet potato with “as much flour as will make it like bread.” This is subjective, to put things mildly, depending on the size of one’s potato and one’s opinion on the texture of bread dough. The instructions to add “a spoonful of yeast” not only does not specify the amount (what size spoonful?) but also obscures the difference between yeast in the past and today. While we purchase our yeast in packages or jars, women carefully saved and cultivated yeast from bread baking and beer brewing in the past. Louis Pasteur’s identification of yeast as living organisms in the 1850s paved the way for commercially produced yeast, with the first cakes of compressed yeast appearing in U.S. markets in the 1860s. Therefore, Randolph does not mean to add a scoop of baker’s yeast but rather a spoonful of a yeast starter. Finally, like nearly all recipes from the period, Randolph does not provide instructions on temperature or length of baking for the practical reason that these measures did not exist. Instead, women relied on their experience to determine how long and in what sort of oven to bake the rolls.

Mary Randolph’s Sweet Potato Buns were delectable! Sweet and tender with a hint of spice, they are perfect alone for breakfast or tea, as Randolph notes. They would also make a delicious sandwich with Thanksgiving leftovers or with pulled pork (I would use ½ teaspoon of spice for these purposes). I used a recipe for Sweet Potato Rolls from King Arthur Flour to guide my adaptation of this recipe. My keys to success were, I believe, proving the yeast with a small amount of water and sugar and melting the butter and adding at the beginning. With a full cup of sweet potato, these are a delicious way to slip vegetables into your baked goods.

Sweet Potato Buns

Mary Randolph, The Virginia House-wife (1838), p. 141.

Adapted by RA Snell

Ingredients

  • 1 sweet potato boiled and mashed (about 1 cup)
  • ½ cup warm water (between 100-110°F, 38-43°C)
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 ½ tablespoons yeast
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • ½ – 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon*
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 460 grams (3 2/3 cups) all-purpose flour

* When fresh from the oven, one teaspoon of spice was overpowering. However, the next day the buns were perfectly spiced. If you plan to serve these immediately, I would reduce the spice to ½ teaspoon. If cooling to serve later, use the full teaspoon.

Method

1. Combine the water, yeast, and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Cover and rest for five minutes.

2. To the yeast mixture, add the remaining ingredients and mix well. A stand mixer works ideally for this task, however, the ingredients may also be mixed by hand.

3. If using a stand mixer, beat on low speed with a bread hook for 5-8 minutes until the dough is soft. Or knead by hand until the dough slowly bounces back when poked with the finger.

4. Place the dough in a large bowl lightly greased with olive oil or cooking spray (I like to use the same bowl because I am a firm believer in not creating more dishes than absolutely necessary). Cover and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 60 minutes.

5. Grease a 9×13 baking dish (or other dish that will accommodate your buns). Divide the risen dough into fifteen equal-sized pieces and shape into a ball with your hand. Place the dough into the greased dish, cover, and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 30-45 minutes.

6. When the rising time is nearly finished, preheat your oven to 350°F.

7. Bake buns until golden brown on top and baked through, about 20 minutes.

Yield: fifteen buns

Consulted recipe: Sweet Potato Rolls, King Arthur Flour


[1] Farmer’s contribution to cup measures was the introduction of the level-cup measure. Her predecessor at the Boston Cooking School, Mary Lincoln, referred to “rounded” and “heaping” spoonfuls and cupfuls. Feeling this method of measure was too open to interpretation and, consequently, could lead to differing results, Farmer instructed her students and readers to use a knife to level-off their cup measures. This, she maintained, allowed students and home cooks to reproduce her recipes.

[2] Beecher, Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book, 130.

Sources

Catharine E. Beecher, Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book: Designed as a Supplement to the Treatise on Domestic Economy (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1848), 131.

Fannie Merritt Farmer, The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1896), 28.

Andrew Smith, ed., Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 652.

Merril D. Smith, History of American Cooking (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO Inc., 2013), 6.

Helen Zoe Veit, Modern Food, Moral Food: Self-Control, Science, and the Rise of Modern American Eating in the Early Twentieth Century (Raleigh, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2013).

Baking, Holiday, Preserves, Winter

Mincemeat for Pies

Mincemeat, currently firmly associated with the winter holidays, is simultaneously exotic and ordinary. The technique of mincing, chopping food into tiny pieces, has existed since ancient times. Mincing meat was practical on several fronts: it repurposed leftover meat, stretched a potentially limited protein supply, and preserved meat for later consumption. In Britain, mince pie is most often enjoyed around Christmas time and consists of a miniature round pie filled with mincemeat: a mixture of dried fruits, chopped nuts and apples, suet, spices, brandy, and other flavorings.  In North America, mincemeat pie is typically larger, 8-9 inches, and serves a gathering of people. In her 1853 cookbook, Domestic Cookery, Elizabeth Ellicott Lea noted in her recipe for Farmers’ Mince Pies, “Where persons have a large family, and workmen on a farm, these pies are very useful.”[1] Lea’s recipe yield forty pies that could be kept two months in a cold place and placed on the table when the housewife something filling for her family and workers.

Lea’s recipe starts with a beef head and two hog’s heads chopped fine with suet and combined with raisins, chopped apples, molasses, cider, currant wine, brandy, cinnamon, orange peel, mace, and nutmeg. The spices in mincemeat harken to the Crusades when English soldiers encountered the Middle Eastern practice of using spices to produce sweet and savory meat dishes. When they returned home, they brought aspects of this new cuisine with them, including spices. The association between mince pie and Christmas emerged very early as the three spices (typically cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg) represented the Magi’s three gifts to the Christ Child. Early mince pies were oblong intended to cradle a representation of the baby Jesus. It was believed lucky to eat a mince pie on each of the twelve days of Christmas as this 1920 advertisement from Robertson’s, a popular British brand of prepared mincemeat, encourages.

The meat in mincemeat slowly disappeared over time. Gervase Markham’s The English Huswife (1615) called for an entire leg of mutton and three pounds of suet; however, by 1747, Hannah Glasse’s Art of Cookery Made Easy suggests the meat could be optional. She instructs the reader to blend the sweet components then notes, “If you chuse[sic] meat in your pies parboil a neat’s tongue, peel it, and chop the meat as fine as possible and mix with the rest.” As the price of sugar fell during the nineteenth century, sweet mincemeat pies slowly supplanted the savory version. In 1861, Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management provided a meat-filled and a meat-less version. Within a few decades, meat was a rarity in mincemeat.

Today, in the United States, mincemeat pie frequently receives the same derision as fruit cake. However, not too long ago, Americans numbered it among the most popular pies. An editorialist in the Washington Post opined in 1907:

Mince pie is mince pie. There is no other pie to take its place. Custard pie is good and so is apple pie, but neither has the uplifting power and the soothing, gratifying flavor possessed by mince pie when served hot, with a crisp brown crust.

While for most Americans, apple pie has deposed mincemeat as an American culinary institution, in Britain, the enjoyment of mince pies remains firmly associated with Christmas celebrations.

Mary Randolph’s recipe is my first serious foray into mincemeat. Growing up, every Thanksgiving, we traveled from Maine to Massachusetts to celebrate at my grandparents’ home. There was always a huge amount and variety of pies. Apple, pumpkin, squash, cherry, and my great aunt would always bring a mincemeat pie. As a child, mincemeat held no allure. I never sought confirmation but, based on the name and appearance, assumed it was comprised of meat and nondescript lumps. Until attempting this recipe, I had been in the vicinity of mincemeat pie but had never actually sampled it. I was pleasantly surprised.

Randolph’s mincemeat pies are spicy, sweet, and, surprisingly, since I lack food memory connecting the two, Christmasy. Randolph’s recipe is a meat-based pie; however, in order to include the pies in our bags of Christmas goodies for friends and neighbors, I opted to leave out the hog’s feet and substitute vegetable suet. The result is a mincemeat pie ready for sharing.

Mincemeat for Pies

Mary Randolph, The Virginia House-wife (1838), p. 115-6.

Adapted by RA Snell

Ingredients

  • 2 cups apples, peeled and chopped
  • 2 cups dried currants
  • 2 cups raisins, roughly chopped
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 cups suet, finely chopped
  • 2 cups cider
  • 1 cup brandy
  • ½ teaspoon of mace, cloves, and nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon salt and pepper, divided

Method

1. Combine the apples, raisins, currants, brown sugar, and cider in a saucepan. Simmer gently until the apple is tender.

2. Remove from the heat and add suet, brandy, mace, clove and nutmeg. Mix well (or as Randolph puts, “intimately”).

3. Divide into two quart jars. To each quart jar add ½ teaspoon salt and pepper. Mix well.

4. Store in the refrigerator until ready to make pies. It’s a good idea to let your mincemeat rest for the flavors to combine. At least 24 hours, but the longer the better.

Yield: two quarts of mincemeat filling

Notes

The easiest method for chopping suet is to freeze and grate using a box grater.

Mincemeat Pie

Ingredients

  • Prepared and rested mincemeat
  • Pastry for 36 mini pies ( I used Nancy Birtwhistle’s recipe, doubled)
  • Candied citron or lemon peel

Method

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Roll out your pastry and cut 9cm rounds to fill the holes of a muffin tin. Tip: Place strips of parchment paper under the pastry to easily remove the baked pies. If using a metal pan, grease well!

3. Fill pastry with mincemeat. Top each pie with a sprinkle of citron or lemon peel.

4. With the remaining pastry, roll out 7cm lids or top your pies with a star or snowflake shape. If lidded, cut a vent hole before baking.

5. Bake until the mincemeat is bubbling and the pastry is golden, about 40-45 minutes.

Yield: 36 miniature pies


Sources

[1] Elizabeth Ellicott Lea, Domestic Cookery: Useful Receipts, and Hints to Young Housekeepers (Bedford, MA: Applewood Books, 1859, reprint 2008), 86-7.

Isabella Beeton, Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861)

Hannah Glasse, Art of Cookery Made Easy (1747)

Gervase Markham, The English Huswife (1615)

 Cliff Doerksen, “The Real American Pie,” Chicago Reader, 17 Dec. 2009 (accessed 11 Dec 2020), https://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/mince-pie-the-real-american-pie/Content?oid=1267308.

Food History Timeline: Mincemeat

Veronique Greenwood, “The strange and twisted history of mince pies,” Taste of Tomorrow: BBC, 8 Dec. 2017 (accessed 11 Dec 2020), https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20171208-the-strange-and-twisted-history-of-mince-pies.

Ben Panko, “The History of Mincemeat Pies, from the Crusades to Christmas,” Smithsonian Magazine 22 Oct. 2017 (accessed 11 Dec 2020), https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/crusades-christmas-history-mincemeat-pies-180966981/.

Linda Stradley,“Mincemeat Pie History,” What’s Cooking America (accessed 11 Dec 2020), https://whatscookingamerica.net/History/PieHistory/MincemeatPie.htm.

Baking, Fall, Vegetable

Pumpkin Pudding

As with Sweet Potato Pudding, Pumpkin Pudding provides a sense of the evolution of Thanksgiving classics Sweet Potato and Pumpkin Pie from English baked puddings. As I’ve argued before, a more accurate expression for something quintessentially American would be “as American as pumpkin or sweet potato” pie rather than apple. Despite its prominent place in American food culture, there is very little uniquely “American” about apple pie. The popular dessert relies upon the English cookery technique of baking a filling between two crusts as a means of preserving food for a short time. While the sugar is New World, the other ingredients and the means of combining them are traditionally Old World: apples, lemon, and various combinations of spices. The 1852 edition of Sarah J. Hale’s The Ladies’ New Book of Cookery included two recipes for apple pie, one marked as English and the other as American. The two versions are, unsurprisingly, remarkably similar. Differences emerge on the next page, where Hale provides two recipes for pumpkin pie.

American and English Pumpkin Pie Recipes, The Ladies’ New Book of Cookery, Sarah J. Hale, H. Long & Brother, New York, 1852.

Pumpkin pie possibly emerged from early American cooks making do with the ingredients available to them. Since pumpkins have a similar consistency to apples, some food historians have suggested cooks substituted them in traditional apple dishes.[1] In Hale’s cookbook, the English version is reminiscent of the earliest versions of pumpkin pie composed of sweetened and flavored pumpkin baked in a single pie shell. The American version is closer to the item that traditionally graces the Thanksgiving dessert table, a pumpkin custard flavored with molasses, cinnamon, and ginger. In The Female Emigrant’s Guide and Hints on Canadian Housekeeping, Catherine Parr Traill discussed the differences between English and North American versions of pumpkin pie, “Now I must tell you, that an English pumpkin-pie, and a Canadian one, are very differently made, and I must give preference, most decidedly, to the American dish; which is something between a custard and a cheese-cake in taste and appearance.”[2]

This 1903 cover of Puck magazine shows a women preparing a pie, possibly a pumpkin pie as there is a pumpkin on the floor by her feet. Library of Congress.

The pumpkin pie described by Traill was not merely the adaptation of American ingredients to an English dish. It also benefited from the culinary melting pot that brought together numerous world cuisines in North American kitchens. The waves of immigrants of the nineteenth century brought new culinary influences to the United States, and recipes reflected these increasingly multinational influences. The influence of German and French immigrants transformed North American pie making from a pragmatic means of food preservation to the decadent desserts enjoyed today. These immigrants revolutionized pie fillings with their use of spices, sweeteners, and native ingredients to create fillings of fruit, preserves, and custards. French practices notably transformed the dense suet and flour crust of English pies by introducing butter into piecrusts. The pumpkin pie, featuring a New World crop, prized by Native cultures, prepared in an Old World manner influenced by several national cuisines, makes a better candidate for an iconic North American dessert. Further, the inclusion of exotic spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and mace in the filling connects pumpkin pie to the commonly recognized discovery of the Americas, the abortive search for a western route to the East Indies.[3]

Pies wait on the sideboard as a family gathers for Thanksgiving dinner in Ledyard, Connecticut in 1940.

Food and cultural identity are inextricably linked. We are not only what we eat, but how, where, when, and why we eat it. In creating national culture, as many scholars have argued, cookbooks play an essential role in transforming regionalized cuisines and peoples into a unified whole.[4] These texts, compilations of practical receipts, special occasion cooking, and housekeeping advice, “are an expression of the values and aspirations of the people who produced them.”[5] What appears on your Thanksgiving table says a great deal about your family’s identity. As the ongoing pandemic forces us to gather in smaller groups this year, many find ourselves preparing the Thanksgiving feast solo for the first time. While the task of preparing family favorites like mom or grandma is a daunting one, this is also a priceless opportunity to record those recipes and a reminder of all we have to be thankful for this year.

Randolph’s Pumpkin Pudding is a close cousin to present-day recipes. While I prefer brown sugar or molasses in pumpkin pie, granulated white sugar preserves the color of the pumpkin – in my case a deep yellow. The ginger and nutmeg complement the pumpkin flavor but I did miss the usual cinnamon and cloves. Slightly less milk than current recipes results in a texture that preserves the texture of the pumpkin puree (as a opposed to a present-day pumpkin pie that has a more custardy texture). My son gobbled it up and my husband reported he liked it better than my usual recipe.

Pumpkin Pudding

Mary Randolph, The Virginia House-wife (1838), p. 127.

Adapted by RA Snell

Ingredients

  • 1 pie pumpkin (can substitute one can of pureed pumpkin, skip to step 3)
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon brandy, optional
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • Pastry for one 9-inch one crust pie

Method

1. Cut the pumpkin in half, scoop out seeds, and peel. Slice the pumpkin into equal sized pieces and place in a saucepan. Add enough water to cover the pumpkin and boil gently, stirring occasionally, for 1.5-2 hours until the water is cooked off and the pumpkin is fully cooked. For the last thirty minutes, be sure to keep a close eye on the pumpkin and stir more frequently to prevent burning.

2. Run the cooked pumpkin through a food mill or puree in a blender or food processor. Place the pureed pumpkin in a fine mesh strainer and allow the liquid to drain for about thirty minutes or until the pumpkin is sufficiently dry (it should resemble canned pumpkin).

3. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and prepare the pastry and place in a 9

4. Add the remaining ingredients except for the eggs. Taste the mixture to ensure it is sweetened and spiced to your taste. Mix in the eggs.

5. Pour the pumpkin mixture into the prepared pie shell. If desired, decorate with strips of twisted pastry across the top.

6. Bake 30-35 minutes until the pumpkin mixture is set and the crust is golden brown.


Sources

[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.

[2] Catharine Parr Traill, The Female Emigrant’s Guide and Hints on Canadian Housekeeping (Toronto: MacLear and Co., 1854), 127-8.

[3] 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; Carroll, Three Squares, 43.

[4] Arjun Appadurai, “How to Make a National Cuisine: Cookbooks in Contemporary India,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 30 (1988): 5; James E. McWilliams, A Revolution in Eating Habits: How the Quest for Food Shaped America (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), 8-9; Keith Stavely and Kathleen Fitzgerald, America’s Founding Food: The Story of New England Cooking (Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 278.

[5] Elizabeth Driver, Culinary Landmarks: A Bibliography of Canadian Cookbooks, 1825-1949 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008), xxix.

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, https://www.southernkitchen.com/articles/eat/african-american-history-sweet-potato-pie.

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

Ingredients

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

Method

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.


Sources

[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, https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/how-sweet-potato-pie-became-african-americans-favorite-dessert/2015/11/23/11da4216-9201-11e5-b5e4-279b4501e8a6_story.html.

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, https://www.southernkitchen.com/articles/eat/african-american-history-sweet-potato-pie.

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

Images

Moore, Henry P, photographer. Sweet potato planting, Hopkinson’s Plantation. Edisto Island South Carolina, 1862. [April 8] Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2010651644/.

https://blogs.loc.gov/inside_adams/2010/11/a-sweet-potato-history/

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 (http://www.angelfire.com/ca4/yourturf2/medievallifevob.html

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. (https://livesandlegaciesblog.org/2018/12/13/all-about-sugar-cones/)

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

Ingredients

  • 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.

Method

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.

Notes:

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.


Sources

[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

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

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


Sources:

Food Timeline

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

Ingredients

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

Method

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.


Sources

[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.

Baking, Summer

To Scollop Tomatos

Tomatoes are everywhere in present-day American diets. In fact, Americans eat 36 pounds of tomatoes each year, and many of our favorite foods (pizza, spaghetti, ketchup, etc.) rely heavily on the sweet flavor of the tomato. For home gardeners, tomatoes are the most popular crop.

Tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum) were not always among the most popular fruits in the American diet; however, historians’ assumptions about the presumed toxicity of the plant may be overblown. Tomatoes, native to South America and domesticated in Central America, were part of the Columbia Exchange, the trade of plants, animals, and pathogens between the New and Old Worlds during the Age of Discovery. Spanish and Italian foodways quickly adopted the tomato after the plant’s introduction to Europe. English cooks were more hesitant. The tomato is a member of the plant family Solanaceae along with the potato, eggplant or aubergine, chili and bell peppers, and the highly poisonous belladonna or deadly nightshade. This last member of the family is the likely source of reservations around the use of tomatoes. Concerns about the toxicity of tomatoes, perhaps spread by the smell emitted by the plant’s leaves and stalks, lead many in England to avoid the fruit using them only medicinally. Research by food scholar Andrew Smith suggests English cooks’ reticence to use tomatoes was relatively short-lived. By the 1750s, English cooks were using tomatoes as evidenced by a recipe for “piccalilli” in a supplement to the 1758 edition of Hannah Glasse’s classic The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy.[1]

Randolph’s simple recipe for tomatoes baked with butter and breadcrumbs is a possible example of the types of tomato preparations enjoyed in early America. The recipe To Stew Tomatos explores the fruit’s introduction to the United States.

To Scollop Tomatos

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

Adapted by RA Snell

Ingredients

  • 1 slice of bread grated fine on a box grater or in a food processor
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon butter, divided evenly between layers
  • salt & pepper

Method

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Peel and slice your 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.

3. Layer the tomatoes in a greased baking dish with the other ingredients thusly: layer of tomatoes, layer of breadcrumbs, sprinkle of salt and pepper, and bits of butter. Continue until all ingredients are used.

4. Bake 40 minutes until bubbly and the top is browned.

Yield: Two tomatoes yielded one generous main dish serving. If serving as a side dish, plan one tomato per person.

Note: Another recipe that is easily scaled up or down.


Sources

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

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

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

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).