“The proof of the pudding is in the eating,” is a simpler statement than posterity has endowed. In her monograph, “Blessed be he that invented Puddings,” (2013) Dr. Clarissa Dillon explains that it’s just an instruction not to under cook the pudding. Too little time in the water bath results in a loose mass rather than the firm ball that signifies proper texture. Of course, she’s not writing about Jello-O instant pudding in this case.
Clarissa Dillon, Ph.D., professor emeritus at Bryn Mawr College and the foremost authority on 16th through 18th century English and colonial American cooking and household industries, tackles the often confusing interpretations of our shared culinary past. For centuries, puddings were virtually any mixture of ingredients from sweet to savory including meats, seafood, fruits, oats that were blended, wrapped in a casing and steamed. This included what we call today sausages. The casing could be sheep gut or heavy linen cloth.
Puddings were a major component of the English and American table during these centuries and often served as the foundation of a one dish meal in this age of cooking on an open wood fired hearth. In her monograph, Dr. Dillon covers the breadth of combinations that must have delighted an imaginative cook of the day. Puddings can also be seen as the casseroles of the era in so far as any leftover could be added to compliment ingredients creating a new dish.
In an age where few could afford to waste food, even blood from butchered animals combined with cream, eggs, oatmeal, herbs and spices created the famous Black Pudding, a sausage that still graces many a full English breakfast. Without preaching to the reader, Dr. Dillon’s “Blessed be he that invented Puddings” effectively dispels the myth that past diets were monotonous and tasteless. The recipes include a litany of herbs, spices and flavorings that many cooks today believe were either rare or reserved for the very rich – raisins, nutmeg, mace, oysters, anchovies, currents, gooseberries, almonds, saffron, sherry and, by the 18th century, New World Indian corn.
The genius of creating puddings to serve as the center piece of a one dish boiled meal proves that the cook of old was just as conscious of time management as any modern household. The recipe for a basic oatmeal pudding could serve as a savory carbohydrate for some meat and vegetables easily steamed in the same pot. Fortunately, we do not have to labor over the raisins today individually seeding them with a long needle.
An Oatmeal Pudding
This recipe in “Blessed be he that invented Puddings,” by Dr. Clarissa Dillon is from “The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy,” by Hannah Glasse, London 1747.
16 ounces good quality oatmeal such as Irish steel cut (not quick cooking)
16 ounces suet – edible suet from a butcher, not what one puts out for the birds.
16 ounces currents
8 ounces raisins
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large square of thick linen cloth at least 2’X2’
Finely shred the suit with a knife or the grater blade of a food processor.
Combine with the remaining ingredients.
Fill a large pot – 2 to 3 gallon size – with cold water and bring to a boil over high heat (or over a good fire if you have a cooking hearth).
Dip the linen cloth into the hot water and spread out onto the work counter. Coat the cloth with a handful of flour – this seals the fabric.
Place the oatmeal mixture in the center of the cloth and bring the corners up to encase the mixture into a ball and securely tie it with kitchen twine. Be careful not to make the ball to tight because there must be room for the oatmeal to expand.
Place the ball into the boiling water. When the water returns to a boil, lower the heat to maintain a steady simmer. Cook for 2 to 3 hours.
If desired, half way through cooking, add any meat you wish to the pot – pork butt, cubed beef, chicken – and root vegetables such as turnips, parsnips, carrots and potatoes. Continue to cook until the ball of pudding feels firm to the touch.
Remove from the water and let rest on a sheet pan for a few minutes. Unwrap the cloth and slice the pudding, surrounding it with the meat and vegetables.
As one 18th century author, William Ellis, put it, “if they cannot dine on this with good boiled beef, or with pork, or with bacon and roots, or herbs, they deserve to want (skip) dinner.”
“A Bill of Fare for Christmas Day, and how to set the Meat in Order.: Oysters. 1. A collar of brawn. 2. Stewed Broth of Mutton marrow bones. 3. A grand Sallet. 4. A pottage of caponets. 5. A breast of veal in stoffado. 6. A boil’d partridge. 7. A chine of beef, or surloin roast. 8. Minced pies. 9. A Jegote of mutton with anchove sauce. 10. A made dish of sweet-bread. 11. A swan roast. 12. A pasty of venison. 13. A kid with a pudding in his belly. 14. A steak pie. 15. A hanch of venison roasted. 16. A turkey roast and stuck with cloves. 17. A made dish of chickens in puff paste. 18. Two bran geese roasted, one larded. 19. Two large capons, one larded. 20. A Custard.
“The second course for the same Mess. Oranges and Lemons. 1. A Young lamb or kid. 2. Two couple of rabbits, two larded. 3. A pig souc’t with tongues. 4. Three ducks, one larded. 5. Three pheasants, 1 larded. 6. A Swan Pye. 7. Three brace of partridge, three larded. 8. Made dish in puff paste. 9. Bolonia sausages, and anChoves, mushrooms, and Cavieate, and pickled oysters in a dish. 10. Six teels, three larded. 11. A Gammon of Westphalia Bacon. 12. Ten plovers, five larded. 13. A quince Pye, or warden pye. 14. Six woodcocks, 3 larded. 15. A standing Tart in puff-paste, preserved fruits, Pippins &c. 16. A dish of Larks. 17. Six dried neats tongues. 18. Sturgeon. 19. Powdered Geese. Jellies.”
—The Accomplisht Cook, Robert May, facsimile 1685 edition [Prospect Books:Devon] 2000 (pages unnumbered)
In the later 1700’s George Washington would have finished his dinner at Mount Vernon with his own recipe for eggnog:
1 quart of cream, 1 quart of milk, 12 eggs, some sugar, 2 cups brandy, 1 cup rye whiskey, 1/2 cup rum, 1/2 cup sherry.
And we thought all our founding fathers were Puritans?
Thomas Massey House (1696 brick section)
Anglican and Catholic Southerners did celebrate Christmas with considerable feasting, unlike the Puritan, Congregationalist, Quaker, and Mennonite Northern colonists but both traditions blended in the keystone colony of Pennsylvania. The prior history of the Delaware Valley and William Penn’s inclusive policies created an ethnic and religious mix not found in the other twelve colonies. Swedes, Germans, French Huguenots, Welsh among others settled and celebrated their traditions next to their simple Quaker neighbors. The prosperity of Pennsylvania led even Quaker families to decorate their homes with greens and dine on the bounty of the colonies. Thirty and forty course dinners in wealthy Philadelphia homes were not uncommon by the 1770’s.
Thomas Massey, a prosperous self-made Quaker farmer with over 300 acres,would have celebrated Christmas in a restrained manner in these early years (17th century) of the colony. At the recent (11 December 2010) Christmas reception at the Thomas Massey House – a Pennsylvania Historic Site – the variety of holiday traditions in colonial Pennsylvania was celebrated – minus the thirty course dinner.
Quaker simplicity is evident in the sparsely furnished and decorated sitting room. Dried fruits and gingerbread were both seasonal luxuries and celebratory foods.
Swedish settlement in the Delaware Valley preceded William Penn, and they remained an important part of the colony. They brought over their pre-Christmas festival of St. Lucia (above left) its saffron bun (Lussekatter) and simple woven decorations (lower right). Although there is no evidence that the Christmas tree was used by Germans in the colonial period, they did decorate with boughs of greens, made pretzels (praying hands – see center picture) and a number of cookies that have become American traditions – Lebkuchen, Pfeffernusse, Anisplatzchen.
On an original William Penn land grant, Richard Wall began construction on his house in 1682. Like all surviving houses from this era, additions were numerous. Even though both the Wall and Massey houses remained private residences for over 250 years, major structural renovations seem to have ceased by the early 19th century. As a house museum, the Cheltenham Historical Society interprets the interior of the Wall House to reflect the changing taste in furnishings and fashion during 250 years as a home and the events that shaped the lives of the residence.
The parlor is Victorian with early crocheted decorations (center). A room devoted to World War II memories displays a field hospital “tree” decorated with blue and white ribbon, paper and painted tongue depressors (left). The entrance tree is aglow with 19th and early 20th century German glass ornaments (right).
The Wall House kitchen contains an extraordinary collection of 18th and 19th century tools and well as a well restored hearth. In honor of the season, the table was set for Christmas dinner in true 18th century fashion – all the dishes on the table at once.
Having served as a Quaker Meeting House in its very early years, a stop on the Underground Railroad, and the home center of the Shoemaker-Bosler Mill complex until the 1920’s, the Wall House reflects the human stories that are history and displays with great care the objects of everyday life.
Today, toys are always Christmas, although not in Colonial times. Among the many everyday treasures at the Wall House is a stunning 5 foot tall, 9 room doll house. Constructed in 1915, furnishings were painstakingly assembled over the next forty years.
Nearly everything within the house was hand-made or adapted. Miniature electrified chandeliers glow, a sub-miniature electric train operates and even an attic is appropriately cluttered including a discarded toilet. It’s awesome whimsy – just the spirit Christmas is supposed to generate. The Wall and Massey Houses prove that in Pennsylvania we have been enjoying that spirit for centuries.
The fire’s roaring in the kitchen of the 1696 Thomas Massey House, trying to take the chill out of the beautiful autumn morning in this 17th century stone house. Eight of us are gathered around a colonial cooking icon – Clarissa Dillon, Ph.D. I’ll refrain from using the word “legend” since I heard one well known Philadelphia chef recently reject that term when applied to him saying, “I can’t be a legend; I’m not dead yet.” Neither is Dr. Dillon, an octogenarian who next year on her annual trip to the British Isles will study whiskey distilling in Scotland.
Clarissa is one of the foremost authorities – and she’ll freely say still a “student”- of 18th century American Colonial cooking, farming, gardening and household activities. I’ll leave all the details to your exploration of her web site. Needless to say, she’s a stickler on authenticity – writing, editing and traveling extensively to get the facts and set the history books straight.
A life-long teacher, she conducts seminars, cooking and gardening classes at many 18th century historic homes that are the legacy of William Penn’s Pennsylvania colony – Pennsbury Manor, the Wyck and Morris Mansions, Pottsgrove Manor, Anselma Mills, Ephrata Cloister just to name a few.
On this Saturday morning we are learning about, and preparing, an autumn dinner on an open hearth using 18th century utensils with vegetables and herbs from the Massey House garden.
Stewed duck with bacon and veal forcemeat
It’s confusing at first when I hear the word “receipt” used instead of recipe, but our modern word is, well, 20th century. For years, receipt meant cooking preparation instructions as well as accounts, and even Dr. Dillion says it’s often confusing until she sees the actual document.
Colonial American receipts were, for the most part, English, which makes perfect sense. After all, we were English colonies with very English sensibilities. Catherine Brooks, The Complete English Cook, 1762, was one of the popular sources for Colonial kitchens.
Brooks’ receipt for Stewing Ducks Whole: (all receipts are written in 18th century format)
Draw your ducks (pluck the feathers, etc.) and wash them clean, then put them into a stew-pan, with strong Broth, Anchovy, Lemon-peel, whole Pepper, and Onion, Mace and red Wine; when well stewed, put one piece of butter and some grated bread to thicken it; lay force Meatballs and crisped bacon round them and garnish with Shallots.
To translate: for 8 servings – 2 to 3 whole ducks covered with water or chicken stock. Add 5 to 6 chopped anchovy filets, peel of one lemon, 12 – 15 whole pepper corns, and one large onion chopped, 1 t. ground mace, and 1-1/2 cups red wine. Simmer until ducks register 165 degrees with a meat thermometer. Remove the ducks from the stock and keep warm. Strain the stock. Skim as much fat as possible. (If you prepare in advance, refrigerate both the ducks and the stock overnight. All the duck fat will solidify on the top and you can simply remove it.) Return to the fire, or stove, and add 1 to 2 cups of bread crumbs and ¼ pound of butter. Simmer until thickened.
Anchovy fillets, and other small salted fish, had been used since pre-Roman days as a salt substitute. Until the 19th century, salt was an expensive item commonly used for food preservation, not in a bowl on the dining table unless you were very rich!
Catharine Brooks’ Veal Force-meat Balls:
Take half a pound of suet, as much veal cut fine, and beat them in a marble Mortar or wooden bowl; have a few sweet Herbs shred fine, and a little Mace dried and beat fine, a little lemon-peel cut very fine, a small Nutmeg grated, or half a large one, a little pepper and salt, and the Yolks of two eggs; mix all these well together, then roll them into little round balls, and some in long ones; roll them in flour, and fry them brown.
To translate: for 8 servings – I’d use 3/4th pound each suet and ground veal. Buy suet from a butcher or good grocery store (DO NOT use suet for birds!!!) and chop very fine in a food processor. Add 1t. crushed dried thyme, 1 T. fresh minced parsley, 1/2 t. nutmeg, ¼ t. mace, ½ t. grated fresh lemon peel, ¼ t. each salt and pepper and the egg yolks. Roll into balls and coat with flour or bread crumbs. Fry in butter.
Bacon: Cut half a pound of sliced bacon into thirds and fry until crisp.
Presentation: Arrange the ducks on a platter, arrange the meatballs and bacon around the ducks and sprinkle with 2 sliced shallots. Serve the gravy in a separate bowl.
In the 18th century, pies were generally thought of as savory dishes whether made from beef and kidneys or fruit. Ann Peckham’s 18th century Cranberry Pie was meant to be served as a side dish. As a counter point to the richness of the Duck dish, the tart cranberries and flakey crust were terrific. In the 18th century, the crust was frequently so thick it was not meant to be eaten. It served as the “dish” from which the filling was spooned out.
Ann Peckham’s Cranberry Tart:
Roll a sheet of tart paste, put it into your dish, boil up some cranberries with loaf sugar; when cold put them in, and trellis them over with the puff paste, cut a border out to lie round your dish, and bake it.
To make the paste for tarts: Take a pound of flour, and half a pound of butter, rub the butter into the flour, two eggs, and a little water, and make it into a paste.
To translate: Make the filling by combining 1-½ pounds of fresh cranberries and 1 to 1-½ pounds of sugar. Place on the fire, or the stove, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Drain through a colander. (Reserve the liquid, if you wish, adding ½ to 1 pound more sugar. Bring to a boil until reduced by half, and you have a cranberry syrup to use on pancakes, etc.)
For the crust: Cut the butter into the flour either with two knives, a pastry blender or in a food processor. In the bowl, using clean hands, lightly rub the flour and butter together to coat the flour with the fat, BUT don’t knead it together like bread. The heat in your hands will melt the butter and toughen the dough. Add the eggs and combine with a fork. If the mixture is not combining into a ball sprinkle in a little ice cold water just until the dough forms. Roll out 2/3’s of the dough and line a deep pie pan. After the cranberries have cooled to room temperature, pour into the crust. With the remaining 1/3 of the crust, roll out and cut into strips making a lattice design on top of the pie. Place into an oven at 375 degrees for 45 minutes until the crust is golden brown.
If baking on an open fire, place the pie pan into a cast iron Dutch oven and cover with the lid. Place on the coals of the fire, or better, on a cast iron trivet above the fire, and cover the top of the lid with coals. Rotate the Dutch oven after 20 minutes. Check the pie after 40 minutes by removing the coals from the top of the lid and checking to see the color of the crust.
Serve the pie as a side dish to the duck.
Carrots are carrots and even in this very late October day, they were still fresh in the garden. Scorzonera though is something else and you’ll not find it in any market. You have to grow it yourself. Known in England as Viper grass, its root is the only edible part, but it’s a very thin root. After scraping the skin off, what you have are very thin pieces of a root vegetable which was fried or steamed and frequently cream and butter were added. Its flavor is akin to a mild carrot. In the 19th century it fell out of the general cooking repertoire and was replaced by parsnips. Since the amount was so small we simply added them to the carrots and simmerd both over the fire for about one hour.
Hard apple cider was the beverage of choice for the common English/Colonial person for most meals and the major reason for cultivating apple trees in the first place.
As delicious as this dinner was, more fascinating were the tidbits of knowledge I was able to absorb at this first class.
The green tops of the carrots were used as a wool dye. After boiling, the wool turns yellow.
Claret, a common wine in English receipts, is French Bordeaux.
Suet for all recipes is the thick layer of creamy white fat that cushions the kidneys.
Kitchen gardens were first created by the Dutch and not adopted in England until the 16th century, even then only the affluent had extra land around their houses for a garden. Most kitchen gardens were for medicinal purposes – sage, turnips and potatoes being among the many forms of produce used for medicine. The average person gathered wild herbs, green onions in the spring, nuts etc. for cooking until the 19th century.
American colonial cooking was not in any way influenced by the Native American diet – with the exception of common vegetables such as corn. Native Americans, considered savages, were ignored and condemned. John Bartram, the famous 18th century Philadelphia medicinal gardener grudgingly served as a go-between with the Onondaga in order to increase his knowledge.
The Colonial diet was as far from organic, vegetarian and low-fat as one can imagine. Human manure was commonly used as fertilizer. Meat was devoured especially in winter and copious amounts of fat were used in all dishes.
Cheese was a summer substitute for meat since cattle was not slaughtered until winter – they needed the summer to fatten. Cheese and butter were made in late spring and summer when the grass the cows were munching on were free from spring onions and other weeds that would taint the milk sour. Most cheeses were of the soft, fresh variety. Obviously the wealthy could afford to preserve or import high quality, and harder, English cheeses such as cheddar.
Because hearth cooking made it difficult to keep food hot while waiting for the remainder of the meal to cook, dishes were frequently eaten at room temperature which often does not detract from the flavors. All dishes would be placed on the table at once – even those deemed “sweets.”
A very wealthy household with many servants frequently served three courses with an average of 20 – 25 different dishes per course – “buffet style.” Meats, fish, seafood, vegetables, pies and puddings would all be part of each course. The first course would be “hardy” – beef, etc. Second course lighter – chicken, small birds, etc. The dessert course usually consisted of fresh and dried fruits, nuts and chocolate coated nuts.
Wine was made from everything including turnips and parsnips and brewing beer was part of every houshold and farm. “Fresh water” for drinking was an anomaly. Wherever there were towns and farms, lakes and streams were polluted with human and animal waste.
This is just the proverbial “tip of the ice berg” when it comes to my knowledge of 18th century food preparation, but it was sufficient to make me desire more!
The Thomas Massey House hosts authentic Colonial dinners, by candlelight, several times during the year, check their web site, and will host a Christmas house event on 11 December 2010 highlighting the food of the various ethnic groups that comprised Penn’s colony. Pat Martin is the very capable, and overly modest, chef of these dinners.
Oh…the church key. Clarissa said it soon will cease to be manufactured because few liquids these days are canned that necessitate the punch section of the opener. Except that in Colonial cooking, items such as canned milk are necessary. She urged that we all stock up on this simple and effective tool. Nothing, including Dr. Clarissa Dillon, ever loses its usefulness!
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