Today, pudding, in the United States, is firmly associated with sweetness and dessert. However, in Early America, the forms and tastes of pudding were much more wide-ranging. Most readers will define puddings as a milk-based dessert with a custard-like consistency, something like the puddings pictured in the 1950s advertisement for Jell-well pudding below. The earliest puddings and food historians agree puddings are very ancient, were similar to sausages. The English word pudding reflects this origin, deriving from the French “boudin” and the Latin “botellus” meaning a small sausage. The ancestors of the most recognized pudding, the plum or Christmas pudding served during the holidays, were savory dishes concocted from meat and other ingredients, moistened, encased, and steamed or boiled. Present day examples include black pudding and haggis.
Mary Randolph’s Chicken Pudding is an example of the simple, even rustic, recipes that dominated early American cooking. Boiled meats, baked or boiled puddings, a variety of pies, baked fish, and fresh bread would provide wholesome and filling family meals. A dish like Randolph’s Chicken Pudding was a simple, easy dish for early American cooks. Housewives could simmer the chicken and bake the pudding while completing other tasks around their homes. Unlike other recipes, the hands-on time to prepare this dish is relatively limited. Perhaps this Chicken Pudding was a favorite of Virginians for its ease of preparation?
Randolph advises serving the pudding with a “nice white gravy.” As this dish is rather bland, the fresh thyme and parsley do little to flavor the boiled chicken, and the only spices included in the pudding batter are salt and pepper, some sort of seasoning at the table is essential. Since Randolph does not provide a white gravy recipe (instructions for a brown gravy are provided), the cook would need to pull from their repertoire for the accompanying sauce. The final result is somewhat reminiscent of the British favorite, Toad-in-the-hole, with chicken instead of sausage and a different texture for the pudding. Contrasted with the lightness of a Yorkshire pudding, the lack of eggs in this pudding makes for a stodgier bake. However, the butter and milk add richness and flavor. We found it to be an enjoyable dish, but not one we’re adding to our list of favorites.
Chicken Pudding, A Favourite Virginia Dish
Mary Randolph, The Virginia House-wife (1838), p. 85.
Adapted by RA Snell
One 3 to 4 pound chicken, cut into 8 parts (2 breasts, 2 thighs, 2 legs, 2 wings), excluding the back
1 teaspoon salt
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
3-4 sprigs fresh parsley
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 ¼ cup flour
Salt & pepper
1. Boil chicken pieces with salt and thyme until nearly cooked through, 30-25 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Grease a deep dish with butter or cooking spray and add the chicken. Randolph likely left her chicken piece intact, I opted to remove the chicken from the bones and cut into bite-sized pieces.
3. Prepare the pudding batter: beat three eggs until very light. Add milk and butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add flour and whisk to make a thin batter.
4. Bake for 70 minutes or until pudding is cooked through and golden brown.
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.” 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.”
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?
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.
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.”
Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife (1838), p. 103.
Adapted by RA Snell
1 lb carrots
Butter, salt, and pepper, to taste
1. Wash and peel the carrots. While Randolph boiled her carrots whole, cutting the carrots into roughly equal sizes will accelerate the cooking process.
2. Place the carrots in boiling water. Reduce the heat and simmer until tender. The amount of time will depend on the size of your carrots and, as Randolph notes, whether they are young or fully grown. Test for doneness by “thrusting a fork into them while they are in the water; when this goes easily through, they are done enough.”
3. Season to your taste with butter, salt, and pepper.
Yield: four servings
 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.
 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.
 Mrs. Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife, or Methodical Cook, (Baltimore: Plaskitt & Cugle, 1838), 102.
Beth A. Latshaw, “The Soul of the South: Race, Food, and Identity in the American South” in John T. Edge, Elizabeth S.D. Engelhardt, and Ted Ownby, eds., The Larder: Food Studies Methods in the American South (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2013).
Michael W. Twitty, The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South (New York: Harper Collins, 2017).
Katharina Vester, A Taste of Power: Food and American Identities (Oakland: University of California Press, 2015).
Andrew Warnes, “‘Talking’ Recipes: What Mrs. Fisher Knows and the African –American Cookbook Tradition” in Janet Floyd and Laurel Forster, eds., The Recipe Reader: Narratives, Contexts, Traditions (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2003), 52-71.
Mary Randolph’s recipe for Tomato Catsup provides an excellent opportunity for bringing history into your kitchen and cooking with your kids. In our present moment, we’re all looking for ways to enrich our children’s education, engage with our families in meaningful ways, and get dinner on the table with minimal fuss and effort. This recipe achieves all these goals: it’s easy, it’s inexpensive, it’s highly likely your kids will at least try it (it is, after all, that beloved condiment of many children, ketchup), it can easily be incorporated into a regular meal, and its history the whole family can enjoy!
Once the tomato mixture is on the stove, this recipe is relatively hands free. Since your kids are already in the kitchen with you, this is a perfect opportunity to include them in preparing the rest of the meal. Research shows including kids in preparing foods increases their willingness to try new foods and food they may be less enthusiastic about, like vegetables. There is also evidence that for picky eaters, participating in meal preparation results in children eating more at the table. (This is one of many strategies offered by Kids Eat in Color.) My kids (ages 1 and 5) enjoy this catsup with a variety of dippers. We recommend:
Tip: Use a food processor to mix the ingredients. This will finely cut your greens and evenly distribute the yummy cheesy and salsa – key for a tasty and healthy muffin.
Learn more about the history of tomato ketchup in this post. From its exotic origins in attempts to recreate the flavor of k-tsiap, a sauce of fermented soybeans to John Henry Heinz’s ketchup-based empire. A simplified modernized recipe for Randolph’s Tomato Catsup is below as are downloadable lesson plans for Preschool-Kindergarten, Elementary School, and Middle School. Each lesson plan includes the recipe and activities to engage your children in food preparation and history.
Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife (1838), p. 162.
Adapted by RA Snell
15 oz tomato sauce
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 cup onion, diced
pepper & mace, to taste
1. Combine the tomato sauce and onion in a food processor or blender. Blend until the onion is fully incorporated into the tomato sauce and no chunks remain.
2. Combine the tomato sauce with the salt, pepper, and mace in a sauce pan. I recommend 1-2 grinds of pepper and the smallest pinch of mace (or other spice, see note on substitutions), approximately enough to just cover the bottom of a 1/8 teaspoon measuring spoon.
3. Simmer over medium-low heat, stirring often, until the mixture thickens. About 20-30 minutes.
4. Cool and serve. Refrigerate any leftovers.
Serving suggestion: Although much more savory than your favorite brand of ketchup, Randolph’s Tomato Catsup may be substituted for present-day ketchup as a dip or topping. Try it with chicken nuggets!
Note on Substitutions: Although a common spice in Randolph’s day, few home cooks regularly use mace (a spicier product of the nutmeg tree) today. In this recipe, cinnamon with an extra grind of pepper may be substituted for the mace.
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.
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 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.” 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.
In this instance, I have chosen not to modernize Randolph’s recipe since merely updating the ingredients and method would result in a tasteless pudding. Making the pudding flavorful would require too many changes and would not be a modernized version of a historical recipe. Instead, I offer you a modernized version of Indian Pudding from The American Frugal Housewife. This recipe provides a better sense of how Indian Pudding was enjoyed in the nineteenth century. It contains a hefty serving of molasses along with salt and spice to add interest. Try it with melted butter as was the common topping in the nineteenth century, or follow the lead of present-day Indian Pudding lovers and top it with vanilla ice cream.
Baked Indian Pudding
Lydia Maria Child, The American Frugal Housewife (1838), p. 61.
Adapted by RA Snell
4 cups milk
2/3 cup cornmeal
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup molasses
1 ½ teaspoon ground ginger or cinnamon
1. Preheat the oven to 325°F and grease a 1 ½ – 2 quart baking dish.
2. Heat the milk until simmering. Stir in the cornmeal, slowly to prevent lumps.
3. Bring to a boil and, stirring constantly, cook until thick. About five minutes.
4. Add the salt, molasses, and spice. Stir well. (If you would like a custard-like top on your pudding, pour a little cold milk over the pudding before baking.)
5. Turn into the prepared pan and bake until the center is firm (the pudding should still quiver slightly when the dish is shaken).
Serve warm or cold. Historically, it was served with melted butter. I recommend warm with vanilla ice cream.
Yield: 6-8 servings
For a version making use of that modern convenience, the slow cooker, try this recipe from Plimouth Plantation.
* It’s doubtful to me this recipe would work. Perhaps someone with more experience with boiled puddings could get a better result, but I suspect there is too much liquid in the batter. Most other nineteenth-century recipes for boiled pudding call for a much stiffer batter. Equally important, there is too little flavoring for the pudding to taste good. Cornmeal is bland. It needs molasses, spices, and salt to make the dish tasty.
 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.
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.”
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.” 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!
 Mrs. (Lydia Maria) Child, The American Frugal Housewife (New York: Samuel S. & William Wood, 1838), 8.
 William Kitchener, M.D., The Cook’s Oracle; And Housekeeper’s Manual (New York: J. & J. Harper, 1830), 404.