Friday, December 13, 2013

Plain Family Dinners for December

How to Dine,  dinners & dining. Isabella Beeton, 1866
Mince, pies, plum-pudding, apple tart!! Christmas must be getting close!!! I think even our 19th century counterparts enjoyed the lovely food of the season all month long!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Mrs. M. E. Hite's Sally Lunn

Sally Lunn has been around, well, forever? I have always seen this recipe constantly repeated in almost anything referencing period cookery (18th & 19th Century) and yet I have never tried it! It seems Sally Lunn may or may not have been a real person- a few legends of her namesake are around, and you can even visit her Bakery in Bath!
A few months ago I was "gifted" with Hearthside Cooking by Nancy Carter Crump, I have soaked in her knowledge! I highly recommend this book. She gives an overview of tools & techniques, followed by a slew of period recipes & hints! Inlcuded in the book is Mrs. M. E. Hite's Sally Lunn- which is actually Eliza Leslie's recipe from Directions for Cookery, in Its Various Branches, 1844.

Luckily, Crump already did all of the hard work for and 'converted' the recipe to a modern measurement. Crump says to bake the bread/cake in a tube pan, though Leslie says a square tin pan. I went with the tube thinking this would be more of a cake batter....nope. Very much a dough, after rising for 2 hours,  it was hard to form in the tube pan, next time I will use a regular bread pan for it. I completely forgot to get any photos of the mixing process. But did manage to get an after shot out of the oven.
Fresh Sally Lunn

Mine does look a bit uneven- but I did say it was hard to get around in that tube pan!! Maybe next time will result in a prettier bread. This was excellent served fresh out of the oven with some butter- just as Eliza Leslie suggests. DH was even a fan! It was not a "cake" as some recipes suggest- or at least not a cake for our 21st Century tastes. It is not sweet, since there is no sugar, but a savory, buttery bread!
While this will not replace my ever-popular & loved white bread at events, I think it will make an appearance on the menu occasionally.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

You have been weighed, you have been measured....

Well, not exactly, but I love that movie!  If you are like me, you find it almost impossible to bake a cake or make bread without proper measuring cups & spoons.  But we are certain that this plastic, aluminum and silicone devices did not exist to our 19th century ancestors. Or did they?

When we encounter original recipes- it can go something like this- add butter the size of a hens egg to a tea cup of milk.   Really.... a hens egg....really!

Graduated Tin Measures
Standard measures were not common until Fanny Farmer published here lovely book in 1869. I do thank her for this revolutionary thought of standard measures, but what did our ancestors do before? Measuring cups were around, in a since.

Liquids could be measured in tin cups. Cups, Pints, Quarts. Cups could be bought in graduated sets like these or cups had rings around them to designate the amount of liquid (very similar to today's modern measuring cups).

These tin measuring cups are still available for purchase from many sutlers & tinsmiths. Occasionally you can find an "original". I do try to prevent people from using originals, but some of these tine cups were used up until the 1950s for bulk orders, so some may still be safe to use.  Make sure they are clean & rust free, if they are tin keep a light coat of oil on them to keep rust away.  You can also buy tin reproductions from Old Sturbridge Village .

Dry goods, such as flour, sugar, indian meal, etc. were most likely measured in pounds rather than cups. Just as modern bakers recommend, weighing ingredients gives a better product. Miss Beecher gives an illustration for Balances for Cake.
Miss Beechers Domestic Receipt-book, 1871. 
Balances would have one side for the good to be measured and another pan for the weight to be placed. Weighing loose dry goods, such as flour, helps to give a more exact measurement rather than packing flour into a cup to be mixed which can result in too much flour- and dry baked goods.
Pan Balance with weights 

Measuring small amounts- teaspoons & tablespoons may have been a bit more tricky. It seems that spoons of different sizes were used before the standardized measures.
Apothecary spoon of Horn

 This seems to be the only "measuring spoon" I can find so far. ( I did not search the globe) It is horn, used to measure goods at an apothecary. Such spoons would have been handy in the kitchen- and who is to say they weren't? I did manage to find a company that reproduces a spoon similar to this in copper as well- find it here.  This company has lots of other cool 19th Century copper gadgets as well!

By the turn of the century it seems that many cooks were buying into the standard measuring system. Standard measuring cups & spoons were more readily available, and cookery books, such as Fanny Farmer began publishing their receipts using this new system.
Measuring spoons c. 1900. 

For more on period measurments & conversions please read "When a cup is not a cup?" by V. Mescher- I keep this chart on my wall for constant reference!

What I Do

If I am going to an event where I know I will be baking or need a specific amounts of an ingredient I pre- measure at home!! Yes, this saves the hassle of trying to find a "proper" measuring cups & spoons. I package the items in bags or boxes and then its hassle-free baking as well! I  have an absent mind at times, and if I am interpreting to the public while cooking, I often for get if that was my third or fourth cup of sugar! 

I have also measured out a few of my spoons, cups & bottles that I use. For instance I have a small white tea-cup that holds one gill (half- cup) it is perfect!! I use it all the time!! 

So, get whether or not you can afford the wonderful reproduction tin ware or not- you can still get accurate measures for your foodstuffs at events! Experiment at home with your supplies on hand & see which ones are "standard" cups or tumblers, teaspoons are gills. 

As always- Happy cooking!! 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Thanksgiving- A look into the 19th Century meal!

"The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth" Jennie A. Brownscombe, 1914
     Once a year we all sit down and enjoy a great feast with our friends and family in November. This national holiday is often a time to be grateful for all that we have. In recent years however, it has become cluttered with the stress of setting the meal out on a massive table topped with manicured centerpieces and the looming cloud of Black Friday shoppers. The images of Pilgrims & Indians dance in our heads as we sit down to eat the traditional meal of Turkey, dressing, potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pie- you know just what they had in 1621! Okay, so maybe I am painting a false picture. Let's take a look back.
     Thanksgiving was made a national holiday in 1863 by Abraham Lincoln, not 1621! We have one lady to thank- Sarah J. Hale. While Thanksgiving had been celebrated sporadically before the 1863 proclamation, it was not an annual occurrence. Hale had lobbied for years to get a day for national Thanksgiving, in the midst of the Civil War, after the victories in Gettysburg & Vicksburg, Lincoln conceded and made the proclamation for an annual national holiday.
     Traditional foods have been served for centuries, but where our "menu" comes from is a bit sketchy. I would assume that a lot of the first thanksgivings used what was available, usually meaning wild game & seasonal vegetables. Some of the first "pilgrims" list fowl, venison & fish for the meal, and not much else is mentioned. It could be that the sides were a common staple and not worth the mention.
     When Sara J. Hale wrote Northwood in 1827 she included an entire chapter about the Thanksgiving Meal, giving detailed information about the food that was included- with the turkey taking the center stage. She also references a chicken pie that should be as large as the host's gratitude for the party. Another reference to a Thanksgiving menu can be found in Buckeye Cookery in 1877.

     You can see that many of our traditional favorites are mentioned including roast turkey, baked sweet potatoes, macaroni & cheese, and  pumpkin pie!   There are other references to what should be served at a Thanksgiving meal that include chicken pie, pork loin, pickles & sweetmeats! There seemed to be a lot of variety in the meal, much like there is today from table to table.
     Meat pies were common in the 19th Century, as I have tried on here, there are many varieties for each meat pie, chicken, pork, mincemeat, etc. the possibilities seems almost endless. The chicken pie seems to be a staple on the 19th century kitchen table. Sara Hale describes a simple pie made from the best parts of the chicken then flavored with butter & put into a puff paste- like a pumpkin pie. The dish below taken from  Jennie June's American Cookery Book, 1870 is more complex- including three meats & boiled eggs.

Roast turkey- the center piece of every meal- including a nice stuffing & gravy from the  Practical Cook Book-1850. Suggested sides include boiled ham & cranberry sauce.

Cranberry sauce is often served with roast turkey & other fowl.
Directions for Cookery, in Its Various Branches- 1844
The side items seem to be an endless list of potatoes, squash, salads, pickles, breads, and relishes. Almost any in season vegetable could be dressed and sent to the table to accompany the meats.

Desserts were plenty to chose from as well- the lists of cakes, pies and puddings could meet the need of any sweet tooth.
There are many- almost too many- reference to pumpkin pies & puddings- check out this post for pumpkin goodies.
 Indian Pudding- a dish made with corn meal and molasses- was an item most tables had seen throughout the year, and of course was brought out on Thanksgiving as well.
Directions for Cookery, in Its Various Branches, 1844
Mince pies are often thought of as a traditional Christmas dish but seemed to have been served around Thanksgiving as well. This is a common recipe combining beef & apples with raisins and spices to make a great savory pie!
The New England Economical Housekeeper, 1845
So on this Thanksgiving, sit aside the Sales ads & the Christmas ornaments & make a delectable meal for the family- enjoy it with the ones you love! Maybe take the time to read Thank You, Sarah: The Woman that Saved Thanksgiving ! Remember, Thanksgiving would not be the holiday that it is today without a great influence from the 19th Century!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Plain Family Dinners for November

Another menu for great November dinners!! They look great, although I think I will skip the stewed Eel!

How to Dine, Dinners & Dining, Isabella Beeton, 1866

Coming soon, historic references to your Thanksgiving favorites!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Rainy Day with Great Friends!

Saturday started gray & rainy. It was a great window into the past, since I could hardly see anything in the dark kitchen that morning, even with the fire going.  I had chosen to make Eliza Leslie's "To Stew Beef".
I had a pretty large hunk of beef too! It was put in the pot early, around 9:30am & covered with water.
It was great to have fun in the kitchen with some of my dearest friends! We mostly enjoyed watching the kids run around in the morning, in the midst of peeling potatoes & cutting carrots. 
Morning fun in the Kitchen

 The day turned out to be busy, despite the gray skies, and periods of light rain. Visitors could take wagon rides, play period games of townball, tour the Harper House, or visit with us in the demonstration area.
Speaking to visitors about period cookery. 
 The stew turned out wonderfully!! The broth was some of the best I had ever tasted, I had only seasoned the stew with salt & some kitchen pepper!  I cooked some carrots & onions on the side, but I added them into my bowl of wonderful beef!  There was also fresh bread & butter to go along with the wonderful meal!
A Stew of Beef

The girls playing

All of the toys neatly lined up on the well. 
For even more photos of the event:

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

To Stew Beef

I always get excited when I get to cook on an open fire! It's something about the cool air, the crackle of the fire, the smell of cider! The fact that fall is my favorite season probably has a lot to do with it as well.  
This year for Bentonville's Fall Festival (yes, I have the best job) I will be cooking once again in our lovely kitchen. I have decided that a meal of "Stewed Beef" with some veggies is perhaps one of the most wholesome meals I could make & all of those veggies are so pretty sitting in baskets waiting to be cut up!

I have pulled a few different receipts from the books. I am sure that I will be following one of them this weekend! Stay tuned to see the finished meal! 

"Directions for Cookery, in its Various Branches" Eliza Leslie, 1844

"The Frugal Housewife: or, Complete Woman Cook" Susannah Carter, 1796

"The Kentucky Housewife" Lettice Bryan, 1839

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Kitchen Pepper

In order to get our period food to taste like it would have 100 years ago we need to season it like it was 100 years ago!  I have found that I have much more nutmeg in my cabinet than ever before, and I bought mace for the first time in my life- all because of period cookery.  This "recipe"  is a blend of spices to use in period kitchens. It comes from The Kentucky Housewife, 1839. 
This blend was pretty easy to put together, and I had everything already in the cabinet (except white pepper, which I grabbed from the Food Lion).   I threw everything into my mortar & pestle. The good thing about modern spices is that most of them are already ground up, making the work a little easier. The instructions say to use 12 blades of mace; mine was already ground, so I used about a tablespoon.  
Mix it together well with the mortar & pestle-it does become a nice fine powder. 
Kitchen Pepper mixed together. 
This does make quite a lot of seasoning.  I had extra that did not fit in by bottle. The extra was put in a modern spice container to use in my kitchen.  This is a spice that does have some heat to it. I am not one that likes hot & spicy foods, and this may be used sparingly in my kitchen. However, I do see where it will enhance the flavor of gravy & I can't wait to try it!

Bottled & Corked!
There is a reference to this pepper in another recipe in the Kentucky Housewife. It is one of the spices found in "Bread Sauce for a Pig".  It only calls for a teaspoon.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Aren't you hot in that? Pt. 2

Here are a few more period reference images of "working women". Notice all that their clothes have in common. Rolled-up sleeves & pinned up skirts!  Enjoy! 

The Sinews of Old England  George Edgar Hicks - 1857   Private collection   Painting - watercolor
"The Sinews of Old England" George Edgar Hicks, 1857
I have always loved this image. Although this particular one is from the outside looking in, we can see that this couple is probably just outside of their kitchen judging by the cupboard of dishes that can be seen through the door. 
"Rustic Courtship" Harpers c.1865
"Rustic Courtship" Harpers, c. 1865
"The Jolly Washwewoman", Lilly Martin Spencer, 1851
I just love all of the details that Lilly Martin Spencer includes in her paintings. They are like the snapshots of the 19th century! 
"Girl in a Brown Dress" Joshua Cristall (1768-1847), undated
I was so happy to find this image!! You can see how the skirt looks from the back!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Aren't you hot in that?

  There are upsides & downsides to historic cookery. I get to produce some of the best food that I have ever tasted, but I have to do it over a hot fire. A majority of us that do historic cooking demonstrations do so over open hearths in historic kitchens or in fire pits outside. Unless its really cold outside, the answer is yes, I am hot. But, I do so for my own safety. Very rarely do I cook when I am not "in costume", meaning I am fully dressed from the 19th century. Chemise, drawers, corset, petticoats, dress, apron, stockings, boots. Yes, 8 pieces of clothing, and yes it does get hot, but like food, I want to do it right. But sometimes, it can be hazardous with big skirts around open fires.

Fire safety is a real issue. There is always the threat of flames catching skirts at just the wrong time. In our historic kitchen at work we keep fire extinguishers nearby, in camps there are always buckets of water just in case. Some of the ways we can help keep such a thing from happening is to look at images from the past. 
"Shake Hands" Lilly Martin Spencer

CDV C. 1860s

What do we notice from both of these images? Both are ladies are in kitchen settings from the mid-19th century. They are wearing their clothing in a similar manner. We see that the skirt of the dress is pulled up and pinned/tucked behind the body (even the baby in the CDV, just like mom!).Pulling the skirt up has revealed that these ladies are wearing a "work petticoat", or a petticoat that is not white, probably made of wool. Both wearers have also shortened their sleeves. It is unclear in the Spencer painting if the sleeves are pushed up or indeed short sleeves like those seen in "Kiss Me and You'll Kiss the Lasses". In the CDV it is obvious that "mom" has unbuttoned her sleeves and pushed them up out of the way.  One thing we cannot really tell from these images is that "work" dresses usually had shorter skirts so that feet did not get tangled up in the hem.  This  look can be easily replicated.

Photo Credit: Leslie Macon

If you will be cooking on an open fire, I strongly recommend a wool work petticoat & a wool work apron. Wool will smolder rather than catch the flame. There are constant reminders in living history circles about the importance of natural fibers. Not only are they accurate, but they are safer. Modern fibers such as rayon and polyester burn quicker than cotton, linen & wool. Chemically enhanced fabrics also melt, and can melt to the skin causing worse injuries. No fabric itself is fire retardant, so be careful with whatever you wear

Want more:  Part 2  Part 3

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Pumpkin this, pumpkin that

Now that fall is here I have pulled a compilation of pumpkin reciept's to try! I have found a variety of pie & pudding reciept's over the past few days. Here is a sampling of what I have found from a few go-to books.

Confederate Receipt Book, 1863
I did make this pumpkin bread a few years ago for a shortages program. I used canned pumpkin & not fresh. The result was a heavy, "gummy" bread that received mixed reviews. 

The Housekeeper's Encyclopedia, 1861

The Virginia Housewife, 1838

The Practical Cookbook, 1850

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Plain Family Dinners for September

Meal planning is a popular go-to these days with hectic schedules fore everyone in the house. However, we see that they may not be that much of a new idea. Check out this week of  family dinners from How to Dine, Dinners & Dining, 1866. 

Check out all of those soups!! I think we may need to try some soups & stews soon!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Indian Pound Cake

So I recently acquired Hearthside Cooking by Nancy Carter Crump. It is a book that I have had my eye on for a while, and would you know that WAHLAH it was on my shelf at work (a perk of the system I must admit).  I perused the pages for days soaking in what Crump has to say; and as one who is constantly trying to find better, more accurate ways to do things, this was a wealthy of knowledge and I highly recommend it to anyone.
Back to the food- where this particular recipe comes from I am not too sure. Crump credits Eliza Leslie with the recipie for Indian Pound Cake on pg. 202. I have found at least two references to such a cake- in Seventy-five receipts for pastry, cakes, and sweetmeats, 1836, under "Indian batter cakes". Also found in Directions for Cookery, in Its Various Branches, 1844. 
Recipe as seen in Directions for Cookery, 1844.
The cake does have a simple list of ingredients; flour, cornmeal, sugar, butter, eggs, etc. This is a great option for making a cake when you don't have a chance to run to the store, most of these items are pantry staples. I warn you, make sure you have enough time to put this cake together (about 30 minutes). I try to do everything manually- not using electric mixers, etc.- so that I can get more accurate time if it is something I want to try in a camp setting. This cake also took about 4 bowls to mix- but I am a messy baker!

Start by combining your dry ingredients. The recipe suggest 2 tsp of grated nutmeg, I tend to think it is a bit overpowering, so I only used about half of a nutmeg.

Beating the eggs "until foamy" will take some time. You can use an electric mixer if making this at home- if not, pull out your trusty whisk and get to it....then when you get tired- make your husband whisk as well! Remember the eggs are the leavening for this recipe so this is a vital step.
Check out his lovely Regency Sideburns! 
When those eggs are nice and foamy- start creaming your butter, adding a little sugar at a time until well incorporated, beat until  nice and fluffy.
Now, there are three different elements to the cake- dry ingredients, eggs, and sugar/butter. Time to combine these.  Add about one third of the dry mix to the butter, incorporate well, then add about one third of the eggs, combine well- continued until well mixed.  This will be a very thick batter, more like a dough, but don't worry!
Put batter into a well buttered tube pan-
Cake batter in my great-grandmothers pan. 
Place in a 325* oven- this cake will take about a hour and half to bake.  During this time, sit, rest your arms, this has been a workout of a cake!
Check your cake- when a knife comes out clean, it is ready. Turn it out of the pan, and TA-DA...CAKE! I am amazed every time my cake falls right out of that pan perfectly.
This cake turns out to have a great flavor! It tastes like very sweet corn-bread. It is a nice cake when it is fresh out of the oven. But, as Eliza Leslie suggests, its does become very dry and hard and almost like sawdust if left sitting out. I made this particular cake for an event I was attending, and forgot it :(, and when we got home it was too dry to eat.

I must say that I think this has been my most successful cake to date, good flavor, not too heavy.

Happy Cooking!!