Soup, Spring, Vegetable

Asparagus Soup

The first recipe in Randolph’s collection is a recipe for Asparagus Soup. This is fitting since asparagus (Asparagus officinalis), a perennial flowering plant, is one of the first spring vegetables. Cultivated since ancient times, asparagus traveled to North America with the earliest colonists. In 1685, Pennsylvania colony founder William Penn included asparagus in a comprehensive list of crops that grew well in the colony. However, asparagus was not widespread in the United States until the latter half of the nineteenth century.

Asparagus frequently appears in both printed and manuscript recipe collections compiled in the eastern U.S. from the first half of the nineteenth century. In The American Frugal Housewife, Lydia Maria Child recommended boiling the vegetable for “fifteen to twenty minutes; half an hour if old.”[1] Eliza Leslie included a recipe for Asparagus Soup very similar to Randolph’s in Directions for Cookery. Based on Leslie’s instructions, it appears a green color to the soup was highly desirable, and Leslie advises adding “a handful of spinach” pounded in a mortar “about a quarter hour before the soup is done boiling.”[2] Catharine Beecher suggested serving boiled asparagus on buttered toast in Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book, still an excellent light, spring supper.[3] I like to serve it with hollandaise.

This design drawing shows asparagus spears as well as the ferny growth with red berries that appears after harvesting. Van Wagnener, G. M., Mrs., Artist. Design for Asparagus Set, 1890. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2004662404/.

Asparagus season in Virginia lasts from April to June. While these first green vegetables are welcome in the early days of spring, the palate longs for variety by the end of often prolific the season. In 1763, Mary Holyoke of Salem, Massachusetts, recorded the first asparagus harvest in her diary as May 10th. By the end of the season in mid-June, she had harvested “1836 heads in all.”[4] Recipes for asparagus soup are the most common in printed and manuscript recipe collections alike. Perhaps as a respite for boiled asparagus on toast.

This recipe, the first from Randolph’s collection I attempted, we enjoyed last spring when we were thoroughly sick of the asparagus that kept appearing in our farm box. It was a welcome respite from our usual methods of preparing asparagus: steamed, roasted, or baked into a frittata. It makes a satisfying light lunch or supper paired with a salad and a bit of good bread if, as hard as it may be to imagine now, we find ourselves inundated with asparagus in the future.

Asparagus Soup

Mary Randolph, The Virginia House-wife (1838), p. 13.

Adapted by RA Snell

Ingredients

  • One bunch of asparagus
  • Slice of bacon
  • Small onion, diced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup water or broth
  • 1 cup chopped or shredded cooked chicken
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • ½  cup milk

Method

1. Peel the outer layer from your asparagus with a vegetable peeler or knife. Cut one inch off the top of each stalk and place the tops in cool water. Chop the reminder of the asparagus into small pieces.

2. Place a slice of bacon in a small sauce pan, once it has started to cook add the diced onion. Cook together until the onion is soft, remove the bacon and add one cup of water or broth and the chopped asparagus. Simmer together until the asparagus is soft.

3. Place the simmered mixture in a blender and blend until combined. Return to the sauce pan and simmer gently with the asparagus tops and chicken.

4. Melt butter in a small saucepan and add the flour. Mix well and cook together for one minute. Add the milk a little at a time stirring well after each addition. After all the milk is added, combine with the asparagus mixture.

5. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Chop the reserved bacon and use as a garnish.

Serves: 2


[1] Lydia Maria Child, The American Frugal Housewife (New York: Samuel Wood, 1838), 34.

[2] Eliza Leslie, Directions for Cookery (Philadelphia: Cary & Hart, 1840), 35.

[3] Catharine E. Beecher, Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1836), 75.

[4] Mary Holyoke Diary, 58, 59, quoted inSarah F. McMahon, “All Things in Their Proper Season”: Seasonal Rhythms of Diet in Nineteenth Century New England,” Agricultural History, Vol. 63, No. 2, Climate, Agriculture, and History (Spring, 1989), pp. 150.

Sources

https://www.foodtimeline.org/foodfaq.html#asparagus

Fall, Vegetable

Winter Squash

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

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

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

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

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

Winter Squash

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

Adapted by RA Snell

Ingredients

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

Method

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

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

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

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


Sources

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

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

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

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

Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife, or Methodical Cook, ed. Karen Hess (Washington, D.C., 1824; repr., Columbia: S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1984), 110, 267.

Andrew F. Smith, ed., The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 561.

Images:

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

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

Fall, Vegetable

Carrots

Boiled carrots, a side dish so uncomplicated, few would consult a recipe to prepare them. Mary Randolph’s recipe for cooking carrots draws into question her prowess as a cook. Further, it reveals who likely did most of the cooking at her renowned boarding house. The recipe also shows how Randolph viewed her recipes and her editorial process.

Mary Randolph’s The Virginia House-wife, first published in 1824, was republished at least nineteen times before 1861. The rate of new editions is a testament to the popularity of Randolph’s work. Changes between editions and Randolph’s descriptions of her work suggest how the recipes were compiled. In the preface to the 1824 edition, Randolph declared, “the greater part of the following recipes have been written from memory, where they were impressed from long continued practice.”[1] This statement infers that Randolph herself did not keep a collection of written recipes to reference as she prepared The Virginia House-wife. Rather, she wrote the recipes from memory. Writing from memory could explain the imperfections in the text. Randolph recognized the flaws in her work. In March 1825, she wrote to James Madison:

“I did not offer you a copy of the first edition of my cookery book because it was exceedingly defective. The second is more correct and I have the pleasure of asking you to accept one.”

Mary Randolph to James Madison, 1825. Manuscript/Mixed Material. https://www.loc.gov/item/mjm019536/.
Instructions to cook carrots from the 1824 edition of The Virginia House-wife.

Her instructions to boil carrots in the 1824 first edition are curious. Much of the method for cooking carrots relies on the preceding recipe for parsnips. In this recipe, Randolph reveals boiling as the cooking method. In the carrot recipe, she focuses on preparing the carrots to be cooked and instructs on the reader on checking the vegetables for doneness. She writes, “let [the carrots] be well washed and brushed, but not scrapped.” Once cooked, she commands the reader to “rub off the peels with a clean coarse cloth.” Reading Randolph’s directions raised an eyebrow, but I gamely followed along, boiling my carrots without removing the outer layer. I simmered the carrots until tender, strained them, and rubbed them with a clean cloth. The results confirmed my suspicions that this was a terrible method for preparing carrots.

First, the hot carrots were difficult to handle. Second, the peels did not easily remove. Hard rubbing broke or squished the carrots. At the same time, soft rubbing did not remove the outer layer. A bowl of lukewarm carrots with the peels mainly intact appeared on the table. I simply did not have the time or patience to fiddle with rubbing more peel of hot carrots. Bemused, I consulted the 1838 edition. These instructions could not be correct; would Randolph correct them in later editions? I discovered in the 1838 edition revised instructions: “let [the carrots] be well washed and scrapped.”

Why would Randolph include such strange instructions for cooking carrots in her cookbook? Even if writing from memory, the instructions are too specific to be accidental. Surely anyone who attempted to rub the peels of hot boiled carrots will realize the folly of their ways? My theory is that Randolph did not cook many carrots. In fact, she likely did little cooking despite her reputation as the best cook in Virginia. She may have produced showpiece dishes like cakes and puddings. She may also have made recipes that used rare or expensive ingredients like preserves. Who did the everyday cooking in Randolph’s home, you ask?

“The Cook”, Slavery Images: A Visual Record of the African Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Early African Diaspora, accessed October 21, 2020, http://www.slaveryimages.org/s/slaveryimages/item/520

Enslaved persons, likely women, cooked, cleaned, and performed other duties related to maintaining the home. Randolph, as the mistress, managed and oversaw their labor. In 1810, two years after the advertisement for her boarding house ran in The Richmond Virginia Gazette and General Advertiser, the Census listed Mary Randolph (husband David was in England at the time) as the head of a household that included a total of twenty-six people – twelve of whom were enslaved.


1810 Census for Richmond, Virginia with entry for Mary Randolph highlighted. Ancestry Library.

Celebrations of Randolph’s work focus on the melding of Native American, African, and European cuisines displayed in her recipes. However, we must also recognize a long history of white women appropriating black women’s labor and expertise in the domestic and public realms.  Randolph’s cookbook is part of this history. Like other southern cookbooks, The Virginia House-wife “give[s] instructions on how to cook, but [it] also expose[s] this more complicated history of conflict and culinary adaptation.”[2]

Carrots

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

Adapted by RA Snell

Ingredients

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

Method

1. Wash and peel the carrots. While Randolph boiled her carrots whole, cutting the carrots into roughly equal sizes will accelerate the cooking process.

2. Place the carrots in boiling water. Reduce the heat and simmer until tender. The amount of time will depend on the size of your carrots and, as Randolph notes, whether they are young or fully grown. Test for doneness by “thrusting a fork into them while they are in the water; when this goes easily through, they are done enough.”[3]

3. Season to your taste with butter, salt, and pepper.

Yield: four servings


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

[2] Christopher Farrish, “Food in the Antebellum South and the Confederacy,” in Helen Zoe Veit, Food in the Civil War (East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 2015), 1.

[3] Mrs. Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife, or Methodical Cook, (Baltimore: Plaskitt & Cugle, 1838), 102.

Sources

Beth A. Latshaw, “The Soul of the South: Race, Food, and Identity in the American South” in John T. Edge, Elizabeth S.D. Engelhardt, and Ted Ownby, eds., The Larder: Food Studies Methods in the American South (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2013).

Michael W. Twitty, The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South (New York: Harper Collins, 2017).

Katharina Vester, A Taste of Power: Food and American Identities (Oakland: University of California Press, 2015).

Andrew Warnes, “‘Talking’ Recipes: What Mrs. Fisher Knows and the African –American Cookbook Tradition” in Janet Floyd and Laurel Forster, eds., The Recipe Reader: Narratives, Contexts, Traditions (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2003), 52-71.

Summer, Vegetable

Squash or Cimlin

Randolph’s recipes provide a sense of vegetable preparation in the Early National South. As a general rule, vegetables played a supporting role to a meat-centered main dish. In most recipes, vegetables were boiled and served with butter, salt, and pepper. While Randolph relies heavily on boiling for her vegetable recipes, she includes several variations.

Squash, like tomatoes, were relative newcomers to the diets of European colonists and their descendants. The name derives from the Algonquian word askut asquash, meaning eaten green or unripe. Introduced to the so-called Three Sisters (corn, squash, and beans) by their Native neighbors, colonists quickly adopted these reliable crops that could be used in European-style dishes. Squashes lent themselves to English puddings, pies, and simply baking or boiling. The squash family includes summer and winter varieties. Summer squashes are picked at an earlier stage while the seeds and skin are edible. Winter squashes have tougher skin and require peeling and seed removal before cooking. The thick skins of winter squashes provide a long shelf life when stored in a cool, dry place, making them a staple vegetable for long winters.

Shrewsbury Simnel Cake with pastry covering and crenelated decoration, 1869.

Randolph’s recipe uses the southern term for pattypan squash. The name of this summer squash (Cucurbita pepo) derives from its scalloped appearance and varies by region. Randolph spells it “cimlin,” but simlin, symbling, and cymling are common spelling variations. Robert Beverly, a historian of early Virginia, wrote, “They are sometimes call’d Cymnels . . . from the Lenten Cake of that name, which many of them very much resemble.”[1] Beverly refers to Simnel Cake, a light fruit cake layered with marzipan and capped with a circle of marzipan eggs or crenelated decoration, traditionally served on the fourth Sunday in Lent in Great Britain, Ireland, and other European countries. The cake has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years thanks to a technical challenge on The Great British Bake Off.

Summer Squash (Cucurbita pepo), 1857.

The persistence in names for this squash, pattypan in the northern United States and cymling in the southern, is a legacy of the earliest colonists’ religious affiliations. In New England, the first colonists to encounter squash and adopt the vegetable into their foodways were Pilgrims and Puritans, members of separatist faiths who eschewed the Anglican tradition’s pomp and circumstance. These colonists consequently named the squash for its resemblance to a pan for baking a patty. In the southern colonies, first populated by Anglican and Catholic colonists, a cake connected to a Lenten celebration inspired the squash’s name.

Randolph’s recipe for summer squash follows Beverley’s recommendation for preparing the vegetable in The History and Present State of Virginia. Beverley advised,

These being boil’d whole, when the Apple is young, and the Shell tender, and dished with Cream or Butter, relish very well with all sorts of Butcher’s Meat, either fresh or salt.

Robert Beverly, The History and Present State of Virginia, In Four Parts (London: R. Parker, 1705), 27.

Randolph elevates the dish by pureeing the squash by passing it through a colander before cooking it with the cream and butter. Randolph describes this preparation as “the most delicate way of preparing squashes.” Since the butter and cream mask the subtle flavor of summer squash, if you’re overrun with squashes and absolutely tired of them but compelled to eat as many as possible, this recipe could be a welcome change in flavor and texture.


Squash or Cimlin

Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife (1838), p. 110.

Adapted by RA Snell

Ingredients

  • 2 medium summer squashes
  • 4 tablespoons cream
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • salt & pepper

Method

1. Peel your squashes, cut them in half, and remove the seeds. Cut into smaller pieces, roughly uniform in size.

2. Boil until tender, about 25-30 minutes. Drain the squash well allowing the squash to sit in the colander for 5-10 minutes to drain all the liquid.

3. Run through a food mill on the medium texture grinding disc.

4. Place the squash puree in a small pan with the cream and butter. Cook over medium heat until the liquid has cooked off and the puree is, as Randolph describes it, “dry.”

5. Season with salt and pepper.

Yield: ~ ½ cup (a dismally sad amount)

Notes:

Randolph describes her recipe as “the most delicate way of preparing squashes,” but I’m skeptical squashes were regularly prepared in this manner. First, my two medium squashes yielded a parsimonious ½ cup of squash. Squash are abundant in the summer months, but it would still require a large number of squash to feed an average sized family for the early nineteenth-century, even as a side dish. Secondly, the method is labor intensive. Before I pulled out the food mill, I attempted Randolph’s method of rubbing the squash through a colander with a spoon – it was difficult bordering on impossible. Too much work for too little result, in my opinion.

I’ve used straight neck squash for this recipe as that is what I had available. This recipe will work with any summer squash. When using a thin-skinned squash like straight neck or zucchini, peeling is unnecessary.


Sources

[1] Robert Beverly, The History and Present State of Virginia, In Four Parts (London: R. Parker, 1705), 27.

Kay K. Moss, Seeking the Historical Cook: Exploring Eighteenth-Century Southern Foodways (Columbia: S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 2013), 120, 148.

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

Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife, or Methodical Cook, ed. Karen Hess (Washington, D.C., 1824; repr., Columbia: S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1984), 110, 267.

Andrew F. Smith, ed., The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 561.

Images

Shrewsbury Simnel Cake with pastry covering and crenulated decoration, 1869

Unknown author – Chamber’s Book of Days, 1869 (http://www.foodsofengland.co.uk/shrewsburysimnelcake.htm)

Summer Squash (Cucurbita pepo), 1857

Flore des serres et des jardins de l’Europe v.12 (1857)

From the Swallowtail Garden Seeds collection of botanical photographs and illustrations. We hope you will enjoy these images as much as we do.