Friday, January 24, 2014

Exploring 18th Century Cooking

 Whether you are merely exploring early American cooking out of curiosity, a seasoned historical interpreter or a history buff that cooks, 21st century cooks need to keep in mind varying the recipe too much will lose the charactor and authenticity of  the dish.  I find this also to be true of more modern recipes, and as a rule I cook it exactly to the recipe the first time.  I want my Osso Buco to taste like Osso Buco.  Or what's the point? So it is for the historical cook.  You want to experience the flavors and cooking styles of that time period.   If you are cooking as part of a historical demonstration, this is even more important.
   Recipes in historical cookbooks can be difficult to read, "is that an 'f'' or an 's'?"  You may find the voice in your head begins talking in a French, Dutch or Old English accent. This is a good sign, it means your are becoming 'one' with your cookbook. The seasonings, cooking methods and presentation are very different than what we perceive as appealing and this can be challenging to the modern cook.  You may find yourself having nightmares on how to construct a complicated recipe. In which case you may need to disconnect from being 'one' with your cookbook or stop reading scary books by Neil Gaiman before bed.

I have included a couple of recipes I have made over the years, close adaptations from Hanna Glasse, Mary Randolf and Ameila Simmons.  Forcemeat (ground meat) recipes are easy enough for anyone and I have plenty of venison, lamb and beef in the freezer.   The term "forced" is a version of the French cooking term "farci" which means stuffed. Forcemeat was used to stuff turkeys, chickens, pigeons, pumpkins, cabbage and more.  It also gives an interesting presentation at the table.
Good Reading...
    I would never claim to be an expert in historical cooking but I have incredible friends who I think are! I simply love reading, history and food. Myself, I work from several found cookbooks, with several more floating in my Amazon shopping cart. Some are inaccurate attempts at what was perceived to have been eaten in the 18th century, some are actually by 18th Century authors and one is a tourist-geared cookbook from Williamsburg.
   American Cookery by Amelia Simmons 1796,and Mary Randolph's 1824 the Virginia Housewife, and The Art of Cooking made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse 1747, are all charming,  interesting reads. Many of the recipes are for large groups of people and not feasible for the average home cook without downsizing. Recipes from that time also use weight measurements which make it difficult to translate speedily. Lots of butter and eggs, lemons, nutmeg, mace and whats referred to as 'sweet herbs" are used.
   Chef Walter Staib's, The City Tavern Cookbook published in 2009, attempts to recreate many recipes but they often seem only reminiscent of foods from that period than actual recipes. Often the recipes do not turn out well, I feel the ingredients are off a bit. Such as the Pound cake that calls for 4 cups of sugar to only 1 stk of butter and 2 1/2 cups flour. This was a disaster my bundt pan still remembers.
   Years ago I picked up The Williamsburg Cookbook published in 1971 at a used bookstore. Eager to try out the recipes I was disappointed on the obvious inaccuracies. It mostly featured canned soups, canned veggies, and recipes that seemed more out of an old Betty Crocker cookbook.
The Internet is now an excellent source for researching recipes. Several sites are dedicated to historical cooking.

   In the Virginia Housewife, Mary Randolph describes the use of forcemeat to fill a hollowed pumpkin. She calls it a Potato Pumpkin, in which there are no potatoes.  Her recipe is very simple, very direct, and no specific ingredient amounts are listed. Except that she directs us to fill a 7 - 8 inch diameter pumpkin.  It is my guess that she is using a small pie pumpkin.
Potato Pumpkin (Adaptation)
1 pie pumpkin (any winter squash)
1 lb. ground meat (venison, lamb, pork, beef or a combination)
1 large egg
1 cup dry bread crumbs (could use oatmeal etc...)
1/2 of a small nutmeg grated (mircoplane works good)
Zest from a small Lemon
1/4 dried thyme
1 Tbs. dried parsley
1/2 tea. Sea Salt
Black pepper, fresh, several generous grinds.

Preheat oven to 350°.  Cut off the top of the pumpkin (I cut this late ripening variety pumpkin lengthwise), remove seeds and pith. Sprinkle inside lightly with salt. Set aside.  Make forcemeat by mixing ground meat, spices, egg, zest and bread crumbs in a bowl. Mix well using your hands, a spoon or a potato masher works well. Fill the cavity of the pumpkin with the mixture and replace the top, place in a baking dish or dutch oven.  Bake for 1 hour and 30 mins, up to 1 hour and 45 mins.   Allow to rest a few minutes before serving. Slice carefully and plate. Serve with melted butter and slices of lemon.

* As for my review of the finished recipe, I found the combination of nutmeg and lemon with the venison very pleasant. It passed the household taste-test.  Twelve years ago I ruined my first attempt at baking a pie in a dutch oven by adding too much nutmeg. Nutmeg, like cloves can be overwhelming in recipes.
** To easily make bread crumbs, rub dry bread on a box grater

A Forced Cabbage (Adaptation)
Forced Cabbage, though filled with a similar forcemeat is cooked in an entirely different method.  It is wrapped in butter muslin (a finer, tighter weave than the cheesecloth sold in grocery stores), tied up and boiled in a large kettle of water or broth.  When I am not cooking this in an entirely 18th century style, I like to bake it over a bed of sauerkraut and a sprinkle of paprika.

1 large head of green cabbage (preferably Organic)
1 lb. ground meat (venison, lamb, beef, pork, or a combination)
4 slices bacon, cut up into small cubes
4 hard boiled eggs, cooled, peeled and chopped (optional)
2 anchovies chopped (optional)
1/4 tea. ground Mace or Nutmeg
Zest from 1/2 lemon
1 Tbs. dried parsley (more if using fresh)
1/4 dried thyme
1 cup dried bread crumbs
fresh black pepper, ground
1/2 tea. sea salt
1 egg
One large square of butter muslin

Bring a dutch oven or large kettle of water to boil. Trim the cabbage of dried or discolored outer leaves. Stick the cabbage in the core end with a carving fork.  You will use this to support the cabbage as you boil it whole to wilt and soften the outer leaves.

Have a colander ready over a large bowl to cool the cabbage in.  Dunk the cabbage into the boiling water for several minutes, the leaves will begin to change color.  Remove it and cool in the colander.  Carefully peel back a layer of leaves taking care not to tear or break them from the core.  Repeat this several times until you  have at least 4 layers peeled back. Cool enough to handle and then carefully cut out the small inner cabbage. Set aside.
   Make the forcemeat by mixing the rest of the ingredients together with a large wooden spoon, your hands or a potato masher. Form into a ball and fill the cavity in the empty cabbage leaves.

Form into a ball and fill the cavity in the empty cabbage leaves.

Carefully replace the leaves in the correct order so it looks like a complete cabbage again.  Set in the center of your fabric and  twist so it snugs up the cabbage around the forcemeat. Tie with butcher string.

 Carefully replace the leaves in the correct order

 Tie with butcher string.  

carefully submerge the cabbage
 Take care to keep the slice together when serving.

Bring your kettle of water to a boil again and carefully submerge the cabbage, cover, bring to a boil again, turn heat down a bit and simmer for 2 hours (the original recipe adds course ground beef, bacon on the bottom, an onion stuck with cloves, broth and seasoning, your choice).
 When it is done, carefully remove it from pot into the colander again. Allow to cool a bit.  Remove the cloth and plate up. Take care to keep the slice together when serving.

To Stew Cucumbers (Adaptation from Hannah Glasse's cookbook 1747)
This just looked too interesting. Only a matter of time before I tried the recipe.  The word 'stew' is used as a verb in the 18th century.
 6 large cucumber sliced thin, peeled optional( I prefer to use the English cucumbers)
1 large onion sliced thin
Oil or bacon grease for frying
6 Tbs. butter
1/4 tea. mustard powder (or seed ground in a mortar and pestle)
salt and pepper to taste

Fry cucumber and onion slices in grease or oil until well browned. Pour out any excess grease. Add three spoonfuls (?) of water. Roll the butter in flour and add to the water mixture to thicken. Add mustard, season with salt and pepper. The recommended cooking time was 15 min. Stir often, then dish them up.

Dessert?  Something quick because this cook is done for today.  Here is a simple dessert/beverage called Syllabub.  There are all kinds of recipes out there for Syllabub, basically it is a frothy beverage made with heavy cream, sugar, a sweet wine and brandy or rum, sometimes a little zest of lemon, or fruit juice. There are many historical versions of the cylindrical Syllabub maker. It is rather like a butter churn.  I once found a more modern version in an antique shop that used a tall clear glass jar with a tin plunger.  Well, after some use, the jar ended up broken in our porcelain farm kitchen sink. Darn.  Since then I have discovered that a simple "Frother" works beautifully for smaller batches of Syllabub. These can be found in coffee houses or ordered online. They are easy to clean stainless steel, not something you could use at camp.

Small batch Syllabub (adaptation)

1 c. heavy cream
1 1/2 c. sweet wine (port, Madeira, I used a sweet blackberry wine from Forgotten Fire winery)
1/2 c Rum
Handful of brown sugar
Nutmeg, a few grates

Put all ingredients into Frother or Syllabub maker and whip for a minute or more. Pour into glasses and serve. Makes 4 wine glasses.

* Being a lover of Eggnog, this same method works good for a small batch in the Frother.

Happy cooking, and remain let me drink my Syllabub.


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