Cooking (and Contemplating) New England

50 Things to Know about American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, the first American Cookbook: #11 and #12

June 7, 2017

Tags: windows, mirrors, chandeliers, candles, buttons, surfaces, shine, agriculture, horticulture, Boston, apples

Coming November, 2017, from University of Massachusetts Press!
According to historians of domestic interiors Elisabeth Donaghy Garrett and John E. Crowley, in the latter part of the eighteenth century, upper-class people coordinated their windows, mirrors, chandeliers, and candles so as to create an impression of "lustrous surfaces" wherever one looked. And according to clothing historian Aileen Ribeiro, this love of shininess was so comprehensive that the buttons on men's coats to be worn on formal occasions were "made of either diamond paste or marcasite (faceted crystalized iron pyrites)," so that they would "glitter in candlelight.”

Horticulture figured prominently in the efforts at agricultural improvement made by Boston gentlemen in the early years of American independence. But lingering Puritan attitudes meant that hothouses, ornamental flowers and trees, and even fruits and vegetables were viewed as potentially luxurious. Eventually, Boston gentlemen farmers concentrated on the apple. This was a fruit that, in the words of historian Tamara Plakins Thornton, “represented just the right combination of utility, still valued in a republican nation and a mercantile society, and beauty.”

These intimate details about life in the young republic--diverse forms of domestic refinement--paint a picture of early American society that we don't often see. How do such portraits of ordinary American life help us understand American Cookery by Amelia Simmons? Find out this November in our new book from University of Massachusetts Press, United Tastes: The Making of the First American Cookbook.

Map drawn by Kate Blackmer, Blackmer Maps

"A Pipin Tart," from Gervase Markham's Countrey Contentments (1623)

September 28, 2013

Tags: Gervase Markham, tart, pie, puff pastry, apples, pippins, rosewater, cinnamon, cloves, dessert

A Pip of a Tart from the Seventeenth Century

Piping Up about Pippins
The pippin was introduced into England in the sixteenth century from (where else?) France and quickly became the most popular variety of apple in that apple-loving nation. (The English preference for apples above all other fruits is suggested by the fact that when the English set out to make pies with an unfamiliar New World vegetable such as the pumpkin, they chose to swaddle the sliced pumpkin in sliced apples—see our post on "Pumpion Pye.") Though apples in general became at least as popular in New as in Old England, the pippin never made it into the front rank of New England pomological prestige. One can find occasional references in the historical record to orchards that grew, for example, the "Ribstone Pippin," and in the eighteenth century the American colonies acquired their own pippin, called the Newtown after the Long Island village where it originated. (more…)

Not Your Mother's Pumpkin Pie: "To Make a Pumpion Pye," from The Complete Cook (1658)

October 23, 2012

Tags: Compleat Cook, Queen Henrietta Maria, pie, pumpkins, apples, currants, dessert

Pumpkin Pie Fit for a Queen

Now that we're smack dab in the middle of the fall, New England's best time of year (as we noted in one of our summer posts), it's time to talk about one of the seasonal pies for which New England is best known—pumpkin pie. But the pumpkin pie we have in mind isn't your mother's pumpkin pie. Far from it. That pie—a pumpkin custard, gently spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, and a bit of ginger and allspice, and baked in a crust—didn’t come into existence until the late eighteenth century. A century and a half before that, the early settlers of New England weren't all that keen on pumpkins, or the pies that could be made from them. According to the region's first historian, writing in the 1650s, people ate "Pumpkin Pies" only because they had to, because pumpkins (like corn, another unfamiliar food) grew like weeds in the strange new world in which they found themselves. They came up with ways to cook pumpkins (and corn) so that they could survive, not so that they could enjoy what they were eating.

But their compatriots in England didn't feel the same way. To them, sitting pretty and comfortable back home, pumpkins were intriguing in their novelty, not displeasing. By the middle of the seventeenth century, pumpkins were fashionable enough that instructions on how “To Make a Pumpion Pye” were featured in a cookbook attributed to Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of the deposed and beheaded former King of England, Charles I:

In this queenly pie, the pumpkin is sliced, fried with beaten eggs, sugar, spices, and herbs,

and placed inside a pie crust with alternating layers of apples and currants.

And it was this pie

that New Englanders, as they became more secure and comfortable, adopted as their own for the next hundred years—until that plucky and ever-creative culinary heroine of the new nation, Amelia Simmons, gave us the pumpkin pie that we all know and love today.

We made Queen Henrietta Maria's "Pumpion Pye," along with Amelia's custard-y pumpkin pie, for our family Thanksgiving dinner last year. Everyone around the table pronounced "Pumpion Pye" well worth reviving. So if you'd like to learn more about how we made "Pumpion Pye," click on over to our most recent column on All Things New England.

The original recipe, with commentary, can be found in Northern Hospitality, p. 301.

Marlborough Pudding (Pie) by Amelia Simmons

January 12, 2012

Tags: apples, custard, pudding, pie, dessert, Amelia Simmons

Marlborough Pudding, a custard apple pie from Amelia Simmons (1796)

In Amelia Simmons's day, "pudding in paste" was a common term for custard pie. Her "Marlborough Pudding" is just that, a custardized apple filling in a crust. For this pie, she recommends using her own paste No. 3, lining a deep dish, and filling it with a rich apple custard. Her paste no. 3 is a superb puff paste (we give it in Northern Hospitality, p. 247). But any good homemade pie crust will do nicely. The essence of this apple pie is the filling: luscious fresh apples, cooked down to a thick sauce, mixed with eggs, wine, butter, cream, spices, and sugar. It's a pity that Marlborough Pie is seldom seen on restaurant menus or in cookbooks today.

Marlborough Pie was a New England favorite throughout the nineteenth century. Jane Nylander, in Our Own Snug Fireside (pp. 274-75), describes a Thanksgiving feast enjoyed by the nineteenth-century literary luminary Edward Everett Hale and his wife. The meal featured "mince pie, squash pie, Marlborough pie, cranberry tart, and plum pudding" along with chicken pie and roast turkey.

Our Version of Amelia Simmons's Marlborough Pudding
Makes 2 9-inch pies

8 medium-sized apples
4 large eggs
12 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons butter, melted
3/4 cup Madeira (sherry)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 partially-baked 9-inch pie crusts

To make Simmons's "Marlborough Pudding," we used eight Liberty apples (a relative of the Macoun) obtained from an orchard near us in Rhode Island. The Liberty is sweet with firm flesh, perfect for this recipe, but any good, fresh apple can be used.

We peeled, cored, and cut each Liberty into about sixteen pieces.

Then we cooked the pieces down until soft (about 20 minutes). We lightly mashed the cooked apples. This made enough applesauce to fill two 9-inch pie crusts.

We interpreted Simmons's "spoons" as tablespoons, and used 12 tablespoons of beaten egg (4 large eggs). We used 12 tablespoons of sugar dissolved in the same amount of melted butter. We then mixed 3/4 cup (12 tablespoons) of Madeira into the butter and sugar. We added spices (¼ teaspoon each of cinnamon, nutmeg, and mace) to the apple, added the butter-sugar-wine mixture to the apple-spice mixture, then added ¼ cup heavy cream to the beaten eggs.

Finally, we mixed all the ingredients together and poured the custard into the two pie crusts that had been blind-baked at convect 375° F. (roughly 400° F. in a conventional oven) for 15 minutes. We baked the two pies at convect 375° F. for 30 min., then at convect 350° F. for 20 min., then at convect 325° F. for 25 min. (Add about 25° F. to each oven temperature for a conventional oven.)

We cooled the pies on racks for about 30 minutes to allow the custard to set before serving.

What's in a Name?
The name Marlborough might lead us to think that this pie is an English import, perhaps something from the 1st Duke of Marlborough's own kitchen. Indeed, there are similar recipes in English sources. For instance, E. Smith in The Compleat Housewife (1739) gives "An Apple Pudding" that calls for boiling down into apple sauce eight peeled and quartered golden runnets (more often called rennets) or twelve golden pippins. (About pippins, see the blog post on "Beef or Veal Stewed with Apples.") Smith then sweetens her apple sauce with loaf sugar, flavors it with the juice and grated peel of two lemons, and adds eight beaten eggs before covering it with puff paste and baking. We give this recipe in Northern Hospitality, p. 310. Hannah Glasse also has an apple pudding recipe. It's similar to Smith's, but Glasse adds butter and omits the egg whites. (If you're of a mind to pursue apple pudding recipes, this one is also cited in Northern Hospitality, p. 310.)

But the first time the name "Marlborough" is associated with the dish is, as far as we can determine, in an American source, namely Simmons's American Cookery. In other words, the invented name is a nod to the dish's English pedigree. It's also an indication that the American fondness for British aristocracy didn't begin with the first season of Downton Abbey.

Simmons differs from Smith in giving her pie a bottom crust, and omitting Smith's top crust, basically flipping the location of the crust from top to bottom. But this does not settle the matter once and for all, as New Englander Mrs. A. L. Mrs. Webster in The Improved Housewife (1844) gives a recipe for "Marlborough Pudding" with no crust (mentioned in Northern Hospitality, p. 318). Mrs. Webster also has a recipe for "Marlborough Tarts" (NH, p. 318) made with a plain bottom crust and a rim of puff paste around the edge. The filling is stewed tart apples, sugar, wine, melted butter, lemon juice and grated rind, eggs, and nutmeg. Can't get much better than that.

The original recipe for "Marlborough Pudding" by Amelia Simmons, with commentary, can be found in Northern Hospitality, p. 314.

Beef, or Veal Stewed with Apples (Very Good) by Catharine Beecher

January 2, 2012

Tags: beef, veal, apples, stew, braise, hash, Catharine Beecher

Beef Stewed with Apples--indeed very good! A dish from 1846.

Despite its title, this dish isn't much like a modern stew of pieces of meat, fowl, or fish simmered along with vegetables in a rich broth or gravy. It's more like a seventeenth- or eighteen-century hash, which, as we explain in Northern Hospitality, was an elegant preparation of thinly sliced meat. Beecher's recipe calls for beef or veal, cut "in thin slices," and apple "sliced fine."

We confess that we thought this might be a rather bland dish. It was a popular preparation right into the nineteenth century, which is why we included it in our book. But there is so little to it--just sliced beef or veal, apples, a bit of onion, salt, pepper, and some butter to coat the pan.

The ingredients

Our fears were unfounded. Cooked slowly together, these unassuming ingredients achieve unexpected flavor and complexity. The juices released by the apple slices as they cook (we used Granny Smiths) soften the beef perfectly while giving it character; the onion, salt, and pepper bring out the natural flavors of the ingredients. With the addition of some cooked white rice and steamed winter vegetables, we had a pleasing supper.

Our Version of Miss Beecher's Beef, or Veal Stewed with Apples (Very Good)
Serves 6

2 tablespoons butter
3.5 lbs. top round of beef, thinly sliced
6 Granny Smith Apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
Salt and pepper

To make our stewed beef and apples, we used a 10.5-inch (3 quart) stainless steel sauté pan with a lid. We began by coating the cold pan with two tablespoons of butter. We put in the slices of beef, apples, and onions in alternating layers. We sprinkled a bit of sea salt between each layer, along with some freshly ground black pepper.

We covered the pan and stewed the beef and apples on low heat. After the mixture had cooked for about 45 minutes, we uncovered it and stirred it once, then turned the burner up just a little to low medium. (Our electric stove offers minute gradations in burner temperature, such as low-medium. If yours does not, you can cook the entire dish slowly on low heat. The slower the better, actually.) We covered it again and simmered it for another hour and fifteen minutes. Keeping the dish covered and stirring only occasionally helps to retain the moisture that softens the beef. This long, slow, moist form of cooking is also called braising. After two hours, we uncovered the pan to find a mellow, appetizing blend of cooked apples and beef.

Total cooking time was two hours.

Slicing the beef

Slicing the apples and onions

Buttering the pan

Beef and apples in the pan

Adding a layer of onions

A full pan

After cooking on low heat for 45 minutes

After cooking on low to medium for the full 2 hours

In the serving dish

Served with simple accompaniments--rice, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and a piece of whole wheat bread (actually a bit of 17th century manchet, for which see the Oct. 21 blog post on "Of Baking Manchets")

Note: Any firm apple can be used in this dish.

(Recently, we deployed to great success a locally grown Pippin in another dish we were making. Pippins are slightly tart, firm apples that ripen in late fall in New England. They're still easy to find in the UK, but harder to find here. We hope they'll become popular again here as they're delicious to eat and great to cook with. Look for them at farmers' markets and local orchards. Ask your local orchard to consider growing them.)

The Pippin would have held up perfectly in this beef and apple dish too. But a softer eating apple, such as the MacIntosh, would not have worked so well--the meat must stew gently for a long time, and the apple must be able to hold up to this length of cooking without becoming pure liquid.

As for choosing the piece of beef or veal, we recommend using a relatively inexpensive cut, such as the top round. It is perfectly suited to being cooked slowly with moist heat.

Finally, be sure your pan is large enough to hold all of the raw ingredients easily. It should have a thick, sturdy bottom so that hot spots don't develop during the long cooking process.

The original recipe, with commentary, can be found in Northern Hospitality, p. 237.