Preserves, Summer

Cherries

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.

Cherries

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.

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

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.

Notes:

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.


Sources

“The Cherry Tree Rebellion,” National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/articles/the-cherry-tree-rebellion.htm.

“History of the Cherry Trees,” National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/subjects/cherryblossom/history-of-the-cherry-trees.htm.

Michael E. Reune, “Cherry blossoms’ champion, Eliza Scidmore, led a life of adventure,” The Washington Post (March 13, 2012), https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/cherry-blossoms-champion-eliza-scidmore-led-a-life-of-adventure/2012/02/22/gIQAAzHEAS_story.html.

For more on Eliza Scidmore, visit: https://dianaparsell.com/book-eliza-scidmore-biography/

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.