Preserves, Summer


Cherries are beginning to appear at the grocery store which means they will soon materialize at farmer’s markets and orchards. There are few things better than a fresh, ripe cherries in summer. Randolph’s instructions reveal the exacting methods and attention to detail required to preserve fruits during her day. She notes, “the process is a tedious one,” but necessary if one wished to serve fruits outside their season. As discussed with the recipe for peach marmalade, during the early modern period preserves, especially those produced with sugar, were luxury items. Rather than preserving a bounty of cherries for later consumption, Randolph’s instructions for preserved cherries results in whole fruits that could be used to decorate a cake or pudding. She begins the recipe with the observation, “the most beautiful cherries to preserve, are the carnation and common light red, with short stems.” In her Directions for Making Preserves, she further specifies, “fruit for preserving should be in full perfection, but not too ripe.” Clearly, appearance is paramount for this recipe.

The Jefferson Memorial surrounded by cherry trees in full blossom. Northern Virginia Magazine.

Randolph spent the last nine years of her life in Washington, D.C. The new capital, formed in 1790 and significantly damaged during the War of 1812, bore little resemblance to today’s thriving seat of government while Randolph resided in the city. Likewise, the cherry tree, had not yet become a symbol of Washington, D.C. although surely cherry trees existed within the District in Randolph’s day. The cherry tree’s association with Washington, D.C. began in the early twentieth century when the Japanese government gifted thousands of flowering cherry trees to the city. The first successfully transplanted cherry trees arrived in 1912 as a gift of friendship to the People of the United States from the People of Japan. The trees transplanted in Washington D.C. are ornamental and do not bear fruit, however, they provide the opportunity to explore the history of strong-minded and innovative women in American history, much like Randolph herself.

Undated portrait of Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore as a young woman. Wisconsin Historical Society.

The idea to plant cherry trees on land reclaimed from the Potomac River originated with an extraordinary woman, Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore (1856-1828). Born in Clinton, Iowa, Scidmore was an author, geographer, photographer, and the first woman to sit on the board of trustees of the National Geographic Society. Eliza accompanied her brother George Hawthorne Scidmore, a career diplomat who served in the Far East from 1884-1922, and fell in love with the history, culture, and natural beauty of Japan, especially the flowering ornamental cherry trees. Anyone who has attended the Cherry Blossom Festival in D.C. will agree with Eliza that “It is “the most ideally, wonderfully beautiful tree that nature has to show.” Upon her return in 1885, Eliza championed Japanese cherry trees in the capital, however, city planners ignored her suggestion. Eliza continued to advocate for planting cherry trees in the capital without success until she found a supported in incoming First Lady Helen Taft in 1909. With the First Lady’s enthusiastic support and gifts of trees from the Japanese government, plans create groves of cherry trees in West Potomac Park and the Tidal Basin began to move forward.

This map from a November 1938 article published in The Washington Herald illustrates the impact of the Jefferson Memorial construction on existing cherry trees along the Tidal Basin. National Park Service.

On November 10, 1938, a National Park Service press conference announcing plans for the memorial insinuated the destruction of “approximately 600 trees of various kinds” to make way for the building. Among these were the famous cherry trees and local women quickly organized to save them. The leader of the Cherry Tree Rebellion, Eleanor “Cissy” Patterson, owner of two Washington newspapers, the Times and the Herald, and longtime critic of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, published front-page articles decrying the destruction of the Japanese cherry trees and criticizing President Roosevelt.

Participants in Patterson’s Cherry Tree Rebellion chained to a cherry tree. National Park Service.

With construction scheduled to begin after Thanksgiving, Patterson had little time to save the trees. On Thursday, November 17, 1938, Patterson rallied D.C. society women opposed to the destruction of the cherry trees at her Dupont Circle mansion. From Patterson’s home, 80 women marched to the White House to deliver a petition to save the trees. The next day, a group of 150 women disrupted efforts to transplant the trees by wrestling shovels away from Civilian Conservation Corps workers and symbolically chaining themselves (and a U.S. Park Police sergeant) to the trees. The women’s efforts temporarily suspended work, however, President Roosevelt, determined to move forward with the memorial, dismissed the women’s actions and opposition faded away. The short-lived Cherry Tree Rebellion failed to halt construction but their efforts were not in vain. In addition to transplanting many trees in the construction zone, more trees were planted along the south side of the Tidal Basin. The resulting springtime view of the Jefferson Memorial framed by flowering cherry trees is one of the most iconic in the Capitol.

Randolph’s preserved cherries is a straightforward recipe calling for sugar, water, and cherries. Preserved whole in a sweet syrup, the cherries are excellent for decorating baked goods and the syrup, reduced slightly to thicken, is a wonderful addition to ice cream.


Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife (1838), p. 159.

Adapted by RA Snell using “Cherries in Syrup” from Complete Book of Home Preserving (2006, 2012), p. 148.


  • ½ lb fresh cherries
  • ½ lb sugar
  • 5 cups water

Additional Equipment

  • 1-pint glass canning jar with lid and ring, sterilized
  • Boiling water canner
  • Jar lifter


1. Thoroughly wash your fruit and set aside. Leave the stems and pits intact.

2. Combine the sugar and water in a large stainless steel pot. Heat over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved.

3. Carefully add the cherries and simmer gently in the syrup for 4-5 minutes.

4. Carefully transfer the cherries to the sterilized jar. Add hot syrup to cover the cherries leaving ½ inch headspace.

5. To can: Wipe rims, remove air bubbles, and adjust headspace as necessary. Center lid on jar and screw on ring until secure but not tight. Place jar in canner, be sure the jar is completely covered with water, and bring to a boil. Process for 25 minutes. Remove canner lid and allow the jar to sit for five minutes. Carefully remove the jars, cool, and store.

Yield: 1 pint cherries in syrup

To serve: Use the cherries as decorations for baked goods such as cakes. They could also be a sweet addition to a cheese board.


This recipe has been scaled down to make it more approachable. If you are a seasoned home canner and wish to increase the recipe, it can be easily doubled, tripled, etc.

There’s no need to purchase special equipment to create this recipe. If you don’t wish to can the cherries, you may simply allow them to cool in the syrup and store them in the refrigerator. I would expect them to last a couple weeks. If you do wish to can the cherries, you must and I cannot stress this enough purchase jars specifically designed for canning. I’m partial to Ball jars but there are a number of reputable brands available. You do not, however, need to purchase a boiling water canner. A pot big enough to fit your jar(s) with at least an inch of water above the lid and a tight fitting lid may easily be used instead. You will need to find a rack or a substitute to lift the jars off the bottom of the pot to allow the water to fully circulate during the water bath. A cake cooling rack works well for this task.


“The Cherry Tree Rebellion,” National Park Service,

“History of the Cherry Trees,” National Park Service,

Michael E. Reune, “Cherry blossoms’ champion, Eliza Scidmore, led a life of adventure,” The Washington Post (March 13, 2012),

For more on Eliza Scidmore, visit:

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


  • 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


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


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

Mincemeat Pie


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


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


[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),

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),

Ben Panko, “The History of Mincemeat Pies, from the Crusades to Christmas,” Smithsonian Magazine 22 Oct. 2017 (accessed 11 Dec 2020),

Linda Stradley,“Mincemeat Pie History,” What’s Cooking America (accessed 11 Dec 2020),

Preserves, Vegetable

To Pickle Onions

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

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

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

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

To Pickle Onions

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

Adapted by RA Snell


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

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

  • 4 cups water
  • 4 tablespoons salt


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

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

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

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

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

6. Thinly slice the onions and enjoy!


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

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

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

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

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

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

Fruit, Preserves, Summer

Tomato Catsup

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

Mushroom Catsup from the Greenwich Historical Society

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

Heinz octagonal glass bottle, c. 1890

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

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

Tomato Catsup

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

Adapted by RA Snell


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Yield: ~8 oz


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Senator John Heinz History Center

Greenwich Historical Society

Fruit, Preserves, Summer

To Stew Tomatos

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

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

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

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

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

To Stew Tomatos

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

Adapted by RA Snell


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


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

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

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

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

Yield: 2 cups stewed tomatoes

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


Another recipe that is easily scaled up or down.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fruit, Preserves, Summer

Peach Marmalade

When we produce homemade jams and jellies in our kitchens, we often pat ourselves on the back for being particularly frugal. In the early modern period, preserving with sugar was an especially luxurious, even pretentious, means of keeping the summer’s bounty for later enjoyment. Drying and pickling were far more economical in locales and eras where sugar was expensive and firewood scarce. Early National Virginia suffered neither of these scarcities. The number of preserve recipes (and their liberal use of sugar) in Randolph’s collection suggests that sugar preserves were a popular means of putting up fruits for colder months.

Nearly all the preserves in Randolph’s cookbook, except for a few pickles, rely on sugar to prevent spoiling and extend the shelf life of foods. During the eighteenth century, sugar transitioned from a luxury item to an everyday necessity within many European societies,  including England and, by extension, Canada and the United States. The establishment of sugar colonies in the West Indies and South America dramatically increased sugar’s availability in English and American markets. In 1660, England consumed one thousand hogsheads of sugar. By 1753, that number had ballooned to over one hundred thousand hogsheads.

As sugar production increased with enslaved labor on New World plantations, a mass market emerged. Before this explosion in availability, sugar was used in small quantities by an elite few as a medicine, spice, or decorative substance. The production and sharing of fruit preserves, such as Randolph’s marmalade, manifested status through women’s “associations with the fruits themselves and, second, in their extravagant use of sugar.”[1] Alongside the increase in sugar production, were new ways of consuming it. Historian Sidney W. Mintz traced growing uses for sugar within the English working class’s diets via increased consumption of “sucrose-heavy foods – treacle, jams, raw sugar for tea and baking, puddings, and baked goods.”[2] Similar transitions occurred in American diets with jam and jellies, cakes, pie, cookies, doughnuts, and many more sweet treats.

Randolph’s Peach Marmalade is an example of the sorts of simple jams produced for short-term use during the Early National period. Currently, we firmly associate marmalade with citrus fruits. However, historically the term refers to a simple jam employing few ingredients and little effort to refine the end product. Randolph’s chunky, delicious peach preserve fits this definition perfectly. It’s an easy jam to simmer on the stove while attending to other matters in the kitchen, and the results are scrumptious served over ice cream for a simple summer dessert.

Peach Marmalade

Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife (1838), p. 156.

Adapted by RA Snell


  • 2 pounds peaches
  • 1 pound light brown sugar


1. Peel and slices peaches. Randolph recommends paring the peaches, but a simpler method is to plunge the peaches in boiling water with an x cut into the skin. Remove after one minute and place in an ice bath.

2. Place the peaches in a pan with the sugar. Stir and allow the mixture to rest to pull out the juices (10-15 minutes).

3. Simmer the peaches over medium-low heat stirring frequently. Use the spoon to break up the peaches as they cook.

4. Simmer until the peaches become “a transparent pulp” or about thirty minutes. When the mixture thickens and no longer rushes to fill the space when you drag your spoon across the bottom of the pan, the marmalade is ready.

Yield: ~1 pint marmalade

Serving: Randolph notes, “Puffs made of this marmalade are very delicious.” My family enjoyed the marmalade stirred into plain yogurt, as a topping for ice cream, and with whipped cream on puff pastry. This final version, a take on Randolph’s suggestion to serve the marmalade with puffs, was delectable.


Store your marmalade in a tightly sealed jar and refrigerate. This recipe has not been tested for canning.

This marmalade can be made in virtually any amount following to 2:1 ratio of peaches to brown sugar.

Randolph recommends yellow peaches for this recipe and I concur. They make the prettiest and tastiest preserves.


[1] Amanda E. Herbert, Female Alliances: Gender, Identity, and Friendship in Early Modern Britain (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2014), 55-6.

[2] Sidney W. Mintz, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History (New York: Viking Penguin, Inc., 1985), 39, 96-102, 143.

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), 156.

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

Andrew F. Smith, ed., The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 477.

Fruit, Preserves, Summer

Raspberry Vinegar

Summer in the mid-Atlantic is hot. Any Virginia housewife would desire a recipe for a cool drink to offer their guests. The cordials section of The Virginia House-wife provides a number of possibilities, most alcoholic. Randolph’s Raspberry Vinegar is a relative to shrub, a colonial-era cordial composed of fruit juice, rum or brandy, and sugar. Citrus fruit appears most frequently as lemons and oranges, but raspberries and cherries were popular flavors. The drink is made by steeping the fruit in the liquor and served sweetened with sugar. Raspberry and other fruit-flavored vinegars remained a popular drink in many areas into the twentieth century.

Randolph recommends serving her Raspberry Vinegar cold, “it is a delicious beverage mixed with ice water.” Long before the era of refrigeration, ice was part of Virginia’s food culture from the earliest settlements with archeological evidence of ice pits at Jamestown dating to the seventeenth century. Those living in sufficiently cold climes, harvested ice from local ponds, lakes, and rivers during the winter. Saved in caves and underground cellars, the ice Stored in caves and underground cellars, the ice could be enjoyed during the warmer months. In the eighteenth century, ice houses, far more efficient than ice cellars, kept ice cold and allowed for chilling food and drink, and making ice cream. By the early nineteenth century, innovation brought cold storage into American homes with Thomas Moore’s 1802 invention of an insulated icebox. Randolph’s drawings for a refrigerator in the 1825 edition of The Virginia House-wife suggests American housewives were well aware of these innovations. Just a few years later, in the 1830s, these inventions were common in American homes.

The everyday use of iceboxes required a regular supply of ice. Starting in the 1790s and perhaps earlier, each winter, enterprising individuals would harvest a surplus of ice from local lakes, rivers, and ponds.[1] Operations in northern states, such as the one run by “Ice King” Fredric Tudor of Boston, dominated the trade. Tudor’s extensive ice shipping business eventually reached as far away as China. In the warmer months, this cargo, packed with sawdust to limit melting, was sent by ship and later train to urban Southern areas like Randolph’s home in Virginia. By 1866, the Richmond Ice Company offered Kennebec River ice to the citizens of Randolph’s longtime home for their ice boxes and other cooling needs. One of those needs could have been a refreshing glass of raspberry vinegar.

Randolph’s Raspberry Vinegar has a deep red color and, when sampled alone, a strong vinegar flavor with a hint of raspberry. When mixed with ice water, alchemy transforms the bitter vinegar into a sweet, refreshing beverage flavored mostly by raspberries, and the vinegar fades into the background. It’s especially delicious mixed with ice-cold sparkling water.

Raspberry Vinegar

Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife (1838), p. 173.

Adapted by RA Snell


  • 10 oz raspberries
  • 2 cups white vinegar
  • 2 ½ cups white granulated sugar


1. Place 3.25 oz of raspberries in a quart-sized jar. Pour over the berries 2 cups of vinegar. Seal and let stand for 24 hours.

2. Strain the berries from the vinegar. Return the vinegar to the jar with 3.25 oz of new raspberries. Seal and let stand for 24 hours.

3. Strain the berries from the vinegar. Return the vinegar to the jar with 3.25 oz of new raspberries. Seal and let stand for 24 hours.

4. On the fourth day, strain the raspberries and add the vinegar to a small sauce pan. Add 2 ½ cups of sugar and heat the mixture until the sugar is dissolved. Cool and pour the mixture into a jar.

To Serve: Place 3 tablespoons of raspberry vinegar in a pint glass. Pour in ice water to fill the glass. Stir.

Yield: ~ 16 oz or 1 pint of vinegar.


Randolph advises “strong well-flavored” vinegar for this recipe. I selected white vinegar, but the substitution possibilities are endless. I’ve seen similar recipes with white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, and apple cider vinegar.

The “pickled” raspberries are edible. We did not find them enjoyable.

Sweeten the vinegar to your taste. After steeping, I had two cups of vinegar and added 2 ½ cups of vinegar. Your desired ratio may be smaller or larger. Randolph does advise to make the mixture “very sweet,” but I didn’t want to lose any raspberry flavor.


[1] The first recorded shipment of ice from New York to Charleston, South Carolina occurred in 1799.

A Gardener’s Table: Celebrating The Harvest

Food History Timeline

John F. Mariani, The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), 263 and 85.

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

Researching Food History

Andrew F. Smith, ed., The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 312.

Fruit, Preserves, Summer

Peach Chips

By Randolph’s day, sources suggest peaches and other stone fruits were plentiful in Virginia. Peaches (Prunus persica) originated in China. Traders spread the fruit into Persia, Greece, Italy, and parts of northern Europe. The earliest accounts of fruit growing in colonial Virginia suggest the first orchards dated to the 1630s. In 1633, a Dutch sea captain recorded peaches growing at George Minifie’s estate between Blunt Point and Jamestown. Of the first peaches he had seen in the Americas, the sea captain wrote, “Arrived at Littleton, where Menifit [sic] lives. He has a garden of two acres full of primrose, apple, pear, and cherry trees . . . Around the house there were plenty of peach trees, which were hardly in bloom.”[1] By the early eighteenth century, Robert Beverly recorded an abundance of stone fruits in Virginia, including peaches: “Peaches, nectarines, and apricots, as well as plumbs and cherries, grow there upon standard trees. They commonly bare in three years from the stone, and thrive so exceeding that they seem to have no need of grafting or inoculating.”[2] With this profusion, it is unsurprising The Virginia House-wife includes nine recipes for peaches. Aside from recipes for peach ice cream and pudding, all aim to preserve the sweet fruit for later enjoyment. In Virginia, peach varieties ripen from early June until mid-September, providing the enterprising housewife plenty of time to produce a few of Randolph’s recipes and enjoy peach flavor year-round.

One such recipe is “Peach Chips.” The recipe itself is straightforward with instructions to thinly slice the fruit, boil the slices until transparent in a simple syrup, and dry in the sun. The results are reminiscent of fruit leather, and a tasty, simple way to preserve some summer peaches for later enjoyment. Since I had raw, local honey on hand, I made mine with honey, and the combination of honey and peach was fantastic!

Peach Chips

Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife (1838), p. 156.

Adapted by RA Snell


  • 2 ripe peaches, any variety
  • 3 oz granulated white sugar or honey
  • 3 oz water


1. Thinly slice the peaches as uniformly as possible. A mandolin would work well here but is not required.

2. Mix together the sugar (or honey) and water. Simmer gently until the sweetener dissolves.

3. Add the thinly sliced peaches and boil gently until transparent (to check this simply slide your cooking utensil under a peach slice, if you can see the utensil, the slices are sufficiently transparent).

4. Carefully remove the peaches from the syrup and place them on a silicone baking mat or parchment paper-lined sheet (Don’t discard the simple syrup, save it for cocktails!).

5. Bake at 200 degrees for one hour. Gently flip the peaches and bake another hour.

Yield: ~15 peach chips

Storage: Randolph advises storing layered in jars with powdered sugar between the layers. Mine kept nicely in an airtight container without powdered sugar for one week.

Note: This recipe is easily scaled up or down. For testing purposes, I used just two yellow peaches; however, it’s worth the effort to make more.

[1] H.P. Gould, Peach-Growing (New York: Macmillan, 1918), 5.

[2] H.P. Gould, Peach-Growing (New York: Macmillan, 1918), 7.