Fall, Vegetable

Winter Squash

Randolph’s scant two recipes for squash, one for summer and one for winter squash, conceals how essential the family Cucurbita was for early American diets. An excellent source of vitamin C, winter squashes, those members of the Cucurbita family allowed to mature on the vine, were an important crop for Native Americans before contact with Europeans. Southeastern Native American tribes grew winter crooknecks (the squash Randolph refers to in her recipe), cushaws, and sweet potato squashes. Anyone who has grown squash knows these plants are prolific.  A 50-foot row of winter squash can yield 80 pounds or more. Native Americans enjoyed squash broiled and roasted as wells as preserving the flesh in syrup. Winter squash’s tough outer rind allowed the vegetables to be stored, providing an essential store of vitamins in the lean winter months. Native Americans enjoyed squash broiled and roasted as wells as preserving the flesh in syrup.

This variety of winter squash includes a winter crookneck squash in the foreground. MOFGA.

Newly arrived Europeans were initially lukewarm about squashes. However, once they experienced a harsh winter, the hardy and prolific squashes won them over. Early Americans enjoyed squashes stewed, baked with animal fat, honey, or maple syrup, and incorporated into European-style dishes.

A girl poses with a display of winter squash at the Custer County Fair in Broken Bow, Nebraska in 1886. Library of Congress.

Randolph’s recipe for cooking winter squash is a straightforward preparation of a dietary staple and bares some similarities to her instructions for preparing summer squash. Her instructions refer specifically to winter crookneck squash, “the crooked neck of this squash is the best part.” Since I couldn’t source a crookneck, I substituted butternut and followed the instructions for stewing the large part containing the seeds. Randolph notes the squash is “excellent when stewed with pork chops,” however, I noticed no change in flavor from adding the meat.

Winter Squash

Mary Randolph, The Virginia House-wife (1838), p. 110.

Adapted by RA Snell

Ingredients

  • ½ winter crooked neck or butternut squash
  • 1 – ½ bone-in pork chop
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • salt & pepper, to taste

Method

1. Peel and cube your squash. Save half for another time in the freezer or double the recipe to use an entire squash.

2. Place the squash in a saucepan with the pork chop. Add water to cover and simmer until squash is soft, about 25 minutes.

3. Remove pork chop (remove the bone and this would be an excellent treat for your dog!) and drain the squash. Mash thoroughly or run through a food mill.

4. Return the squash to the pot and add the butter, salt, and pepper. Stew, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is cooked away. Take care that the squash does not burn.


Sources

Sarah Dickert, “From the Victory Garden: American history told through squash,” Oh Say Can You See?: Stories from the Museum, National Museum of American History, 3 Nov. 2011 (Accessed 5 Dec. 2020) https://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/2011/11/from-the-victory-garden-american-history-told-through-squash.html.

Jean English and Eric Sideman, “Winter Squash: Big Yields From Spectacular Plants,” Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association, May 2009 (Accessed 5 Dec. 2020) https://www.mofga.org/Publications/Articles-for-Reprinting/Winter-Squash-Big-Yields-From-Spectacular-Plants.

“How did the squash get its name?” Every Day Mysteries, Library of Congress (Accessed 5 Dec. 2020) https://www.loc.gov/everyday-mysteries/item/how-did-squash-get-its-name/.

Sandra L. Oliver, Food in Colonial and Federal America (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005), 10, 60-61.

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), 561.

Images:

Squash image by Jean English: https://www.mofga.org/Publications/Articles-for-Reprinting/Winter-Squash-Big-Yields-From-Spectacular-Plants

Small girl standing by vegetable exhibit at Custer County fair, Broken Bow, Nebraska. Solomon D. Butcher, photographer, 1886. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

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

Fall, Vegetable

Carrots

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. https://www.loc.gov/item/mjm019536/.
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, http://www.slaveryimages.org/s/slaveryimages/item/520

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]

Carrots

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

Adapted by RA Snell

Ingredients

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

Method

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.

Sources

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.

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.