Cooking (and Contemplating) New England

Of Citrons and Amelia Simmons (with an Aside about Emily Dickinson)

January 26, 2017

Tags: Citron, Amelia Simmons, Emily Dickinson, Catharine Beecher, Hannah Glasse, black cake, fruitcake

How Are These Two Alike? Find Out Below

Black Cake
In working on our next book, due out from University of Massachusetts Press this fall, we had some correspondence with the staff of Harvard's Houghton Library on the subject of citron, a fruit that, in candied form, is included in many fruitcakes. Some of the Houghton staff had gotten together and baked a "black cake,"


from a recipe used by (more…)

An Election Baking Selection

October 24, 2016

Tags: cake, election

Elect to Celebrate Elections

With this bitter election campaign dragging along to its conclusion, we thought we would try to sweeten the experience of the final couple of weeks before November 8th by reminding our readers of an earlier post of ours: Election Cake. We're moved to do this partly because of a recent post about Election Cake on the NPR website, brought to our attention by Tony Stavely: A History of Election Cake.

This NPR "history" of the famous cake is unfortunately (more…)

Boston Refried Beans

August 16, 2016

Tags: Immigrants, Nativism, Holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Foods, Boston Baked Beans, Boston Brown Bread, Catharine Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Sarah Josepha Hale, Lydia Maria Child

Vetting Immigrants Once Upon a Time

The New Nativism--An Old Story
It has become almost a cliche to say that the present period of American history, beginning around 1975, is similar in many important ways to the period beginning roughly a hundred years earlier. We are living now, it appears, in a second Gilded Age, with pronounced inequalities of wealth and income and with transformative changes in our technology, economy, and the demographic profile of our society.

The last of the trends on this list—the arrival of lots of new people—has received much attention in the past few years from political commentators and is in the headlines almost every day in the coverage of the current presidential campaign, because of the xenophobia that constitutes the primary plank in the platform of the Republican candidate. (more…)

Brexit? Doubt It

June 28, 2016

Tags: Culinary exchange, Culinary influence

Breakin' Up Is Hard to Do

Immigrant Foods
With this post, we start an occasional series on some of the myriad ways that New England foods are connected to the region's broader culture and its place in the world. In the past few days, the headlines have been dominated by the startling news that the people of the United Kingdom have voted to leave the European Union. There has been, and will continue to be, as there must, much discussion of the many still largely unknown implications and consequences of this decision. (more…)

"Mince Pies," from Lydia Maria Child's "American Frugal Housewife" (1833)

December 27, 2015

Tags: Lydia Maria Child, pies, mincemeat, beef

Where's the Beef? In 1832, it was in the pie!

Mincing Medievalism
Mincemeat pie is a relic of the time centuries ago when two things were true of European food: one, that until Shakespeare's day pies were made more often with meat, poultry, or fish than with fruit or vegetables as the primary ingredient; and two, that very few dishes of any kind, including pies, tasted primarily sweet or primarily savory. Most dishes, including pies, offered what we would consider a blend of sweet and savory tastes, something like the sweet-and-sour items on a Chinese restaurant menu. Or like that American classic of the Betty Crocker era--ham baked with brown sugar and pineapple. (more…)

"To Smother a Fowl in Oysters," from Amelia Simmons's "American Cookery" (1796)

May 3, 2015

Tags: Amelia Simmons, chicken, oysters

An "Oystered" Fowl That Makes Excellent Fare

The Oyster: Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor
In our last post, the oyster had the featured role. As we mention there, the oyster has also performed admirably in historic New England cuisine in supporting parts. This time we offer oysters in such a supporting role from our old friend Amelia Simmons and the book by her that's considered "the first American cookbook." (more…)

"Escaloped Oysters," from Lydia Maria Child's "American Frugal Housewife" (1833)

April 3, 2015

Tags: Lydia Maria Child, oysters

Escaloped and Elegant, in 1833 or 2015

Oys . . . Oys . . . Oysters!
In a couple of our previous posts—about Hannah Woolley's "To rost a Capon" and Hannah Glasse's "Cod Chowder"—oysters appear in supporting roles. It's high time to put them in the spotlight. Among all the shellfish enjoyed today, oysters alone have a history of continuous popularity and prestige that stretches back to Roman times. In the ancient world, in medieval Europe, in colonial and nineteenth century America, oysters were beloved by people in all walks of life. "Oys . . . Oys . . . Oysters!" is close to the cry used by oyster peddlers in the streets of Boston in the 1830s. Around the same time, America's first freestanding restaurants, not affiliated with inns or hotels, emerged, and these were almost all establishments that specialized in oysters. Some catered mainly to working people who stood at wooden bars at lunchtime, knocking back their oysters. Others were outfitted with booths and tables to appeal to a more well-heeled clientele. (more…)

"Ginger Nuts," from Mrs. Bliss's "Practical Cook Book" (1850)

November 25, 2014

Tags: Mrs. Bliss, ginger, molasses, rosewater, cookies

Gingery, Nutty, Blissful

Don't Make It Snappy
In the middle of the nineteenth century (before chocolate invaded and displaced all other sweet flavorings), Americans were partial to the zippy combination of ginger and molasses, which they used as the basis for untold varieties of treats. The spicy-sweet flavor duo lent itself to both "soft" gingerbread (like modern shortbread) and denser forms of hand-held treats. Toward the solid end of the spectrum were ginger snaps and a kind of ginger cookie that, sadly and inexplicably, has fallen by the wayside—ginger nuts. Our goal today is to entice you to bake up a batch of these long-forgotten Victorian chews so that you too can experience the deep, glorious taste of a really gingery cookie. (more…)

"Lobster Fricassee," from Mrs. N. K. M. Lee's "Cook's Own Book" (1832)

August 23, 2014

Tags: Mrs. N. K. M. Lee, Catherine Dalgairns, lobster, fricassee

Lobster à la Lee

Lobster, Literary Larceny Linked!
"Mrs. N. K. M. Lee" is described on the title page of The Cook's Own Book: A Complete Culinary Encyclopedia (1832) as a "Boston Housekeeper." But nobody has ever been able to verify that an individual by that name, whether a Boston housekeeper or a zookeeper, ever existed. That's not all. The Cook's Own Book is more than 90% plagiarized from English cookbooks. The lobster fricassee recipe is lifted word for word from Catherine Dalgairns's The Practice of Cookery, Adapted to the Business of Every Day Life (1830). By the way, if you're wondering what a fricassee is, see our March, 2012 post on Eliza Leslie's recipe for "Fricasseed Rabbits." (more…)

"Election Cake," from Lydia Maria Child's American Frugal Housewife (1833)

May 7, 2014

Tags: Lydia Maria Child, cake, icing, frosting

Democracy, 1829 Style

Let Them Vote and Eat Cake
Believe it or not in our time of bitterly partisan politics, but Election Day used to be a holiday. In Massachusetts, for instance, in the colonial and early national periods, it took place in May, and, used as an occasion for the standing order to assert social dominance, it was planned to coincide with the Harvard Commencement and the annual meeting of the ministers of the Commonwealth's established churches. Grand processions, formal ceremonies such as the Election Sermon, an official counting of the vote, sumptuous dinners, and elegant afternoon and evening balls were highlights of the occasion. (more…)