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).

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

Ingredients

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

Method

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.

Notes

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.

Sources

[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

Ingredients

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

Method

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.