Cooking (and Contemplating) New England

"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.

Summer Pies II: “Peach Pie,” from Mrs. A. L. Webster’s The Improved Housewife (1844)

August 4, 2012

Tags: A. L. Webster, pie, peaches, dessert

A Peach of a Pie from the 1840s

It’s the Pits
Peaches in any form are one of summer’s greatest delights. That goes double for peaches in a pie, and doubled again for the peaches in this particular pie, for which we’re indebted to Mrs. A. L. Webster of Hartford, Connecticut. Webster’s The Improved Housewife first appeared in the 1840s, just as the American publishing industry was getting itself modernized and consolidated and was starting to issue cookbooks at a much faster and more furious rate. Webster’s book was extremely popular and was frequently revised and reissued.

What’s unique, or at least distinctive, about Webster’s recipe is that she says to use whole ripe peaches. In other words, the pie filling includes the peach pits. You can search high and low, but we bet you won’t find nowadays a pie plate deep enough for a bottom crust, whole peaches, and a top crust. We found one that was about a half an inch deeper than the pie plates that are most readily available. In this we could fit two layers of halved peaches-cum-pits.

But why go to such lengths to bake the pits along with the peaches? “The prussic acid of the stone imparts a most agreeable flavor to the pie,” Webster explains. But take care. This “agreeable flavor” is actually imparted by . . . cyanide! Yes, you heard us right—cyanide. One medical authority of Webster’s day informs us that the use “in cookery” of ingredients containing cyanide was becoming “a favorite instrument of suicide.”

No real need to worry though. The agreeable essence from a few measly peach pits isn’t going to kill you. We ourselves dispatched many pieces of peach-and-pit pie with great gusto, although the pits themselves we of course forebore to ingest, pushing them aside as we proceeded. We’re still here to tell the tale, and so are the friends and family members to whom we fed this splendid creation.

Makes 1 9-inch deep(er)-dish pie

2 9-inch pie crusts
7 peaches, washed, halved, and the pits retained
Sugar, enough to strew thickly over two layers of peach halves
2-3 tablespoons water
Flour, enough to sprinkle over two layers of peach halves

How We Made It
We preheated the oven to 450°, then lined our pie plate with one of the crusts.

We put 7 of the 14 peach halves, including the pits, pit side down, all around the bottom crust,

and covered them with a generous amount of sugar and a small amount of water and flour.

Then we put the remaining 7 peach halves, pit cavity side down, on top of the first 7 and covered them as well with a generous amount of sugar and a small amount of water and flour.

We covered our peach halves and pits with the top crust and pinched the bottom and top crusts together with a fork.

No doubt you can see why we sometimes call this our “Tennis Ball Pie.” It was now ready for the oven. We baked it at 450° for 15 minutes, reduced the temperature to 375° and baked it for another 45 minutes, and finally, in order to turn the top crust nice and golden, increased the temperature to 400° and baked it for another 5 minutes.

We cooled the pie for 30 minutes on a wire rack, overcame our fear of cyanide poisoning and helped ourselves to a piece of pie that was a piece of pie to die for.

We urge you to watch for our next post, in which we’ll tell you about the crust we actually made as part of this culinary masterpiece. It’s also from Mrs. Webster’s Improved Housewife.

Webster’s original recipe, with commentary, can be found in Northern Hospitality, p. 317.

Summer Pies I: “Cherry Pie” and “Pie Crust,” from Lydia Maria Child’s American Frugal Housewife (1833)

June 14, 2012

Tags: Lydia Maria Child, cherries, pie, crust, dessert

A Child (Lydia Maria, not Julia) cherry pie from 1829

New England is best known for pumpkin and apple pies, which makes sense since the season of pumpkins and apples, the fall, is considered New England’s best time of year. But the region’s historic cookbooks also offer lots of great recipes for summer fruit pies as well, and we’ll be telling you about some of them in this and upcoming posts.

We’ll start with a simple yet elegant recipe for cherry pie from the second cookbook ever written by a New Englander, The American Frugal Housewife (1829)

by Lydia Maria Child.

Child (no relation to Julia, as far as we know) was one of the most prominent American women of the nineteenth century. She was renowned as an abolitionist and as the author of novels, biographies, essays, histories, and stories and poems for children. Today, she’s remembered primarily as the author of the poem, "The New-England Boy's Song about Thanksgiving Day," which has become our national Thanksgiving song, “Over the River and Through the Woods.” The American Frugal Housewife, written when Child was a young woman, is the only cookbook among her vast output.

If you’d like to learn more about both Child and her cookbook, and also how we made the crust

and the filling

for her cherry pie, click on over to one of our columns on All Things New England.

The original recipe, with commentary, can be found in Northern Hospitality, pp. 314-15.

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.

Mrs. Gardiner's "An Ham Pie," ca. 1770

September 6, 2011

Tags: Mrs. Gardiner, ham, chicken, gravy, puff paste, pie

1770 Ham Pie with Kale and Butternut Squash for Dinner!

In Northern Hospitality, we point out that Mrs. Gardiner's "An Ham Pie" is moved toward the mixed-pie category by its liberal inclusion of chicken. She instructs the cook to "lay whole chickens" all around the ham, which has been made "handsome" by cutting it to "rather of a roundish Form." The ham and chicken are seasoned with mace, pepper, and a few pounded cloves. To further enhance the chickens, she advises "putting into the Bellies of each a little piece of butter." Gardiner's quaint turns of phrase remind us that whether or not you cook them, historic recipes are fun to read.

Our Smaller Version of Mrs. Gardiner's Ham Pie
Serves 6

We decided that a whole leg of ham, together with several whole chickens, would make a larger pie than we wanted to have on hand—and a larger pie than our oven could handle! So we reduced the recipe by using a small, boneless ham and one chicken, cut up.

The Ham and Seasoning

We found an excellent quality, locally produced boneless smoked ham with a weight of just under 3 lbs. We chose a ham that was already rather round, so there was no need for the trimming that Gardiner recommends. We did, however, heat our ham in a 300º F oven until warm, for about 10 minutes, before seasoning it with the following:

½ teaspoon ground mace
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground cloves

After seasoning it, we cut our ham in half to fit our baking dish (left whole, it would have protruded too far above the sides of the dish to be covered nicely with a crust). Then we placed the two halves toward the center of the dish.

The Chicken
In order to preserve Gardiner's idea of using whole (that is, bone-in) chicken, while opting for less chicken meat overall, we cut up one chicken (4 ½ lbs.), seasoned it with some of the same mixture used on the ham (¼ teaspoon each of ground mace, ground black pepper, and ground cloves), then tucked bits of butter under the chicken pieces before arranging them around the ham in our pie dish.

The Crust and the Gravy
Gardiner leaves vague several elements of the recipe, namely how to make "good Crust" and how to make "good Gravy." As hers is a manuscript cookbook, she undoubtedly knew what crust and gravy she intended to use. But not being privy to her thoughts, we had to wing it!

For the crust, we used a combination of two 1846 paste recipes from Catharine Beecher (see the previous post on how to make this scrumptious "Puff Paste"). If you're not up to making puff paste, ready-made puff paste, which can be found in the frozen foods section of most supermarkets, works well. Or use your own favorite pie crust. Just be sure it's sufficiently large to cover your baking dish.

On to the gravy. We found that two meaty pork shanks, a little water, an onion, a little seasoning, some flour, and a bit of butter were all we needed to make a rich gravy that complemented the ham and chicken.

What follows is how we made our pork gravy.

The gravy ingredients:
1½ lbs. meaty pork shanks (we used 2 shanks)
10 cups of cold water
1 onion, peeled
scant ½ teaspoon dried sage
2 bay leaves
1 bouquet garni (dried leaves of thyme, marjoram, and rosemary, about ½ teaspoon each, wrapped in a bit of cheesecloth and tied with string)
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon sea salt

Everything went into a stock pot and simmered for 2 ½ hours, until the liquid was reduced to approximately 4 cups. We removed the pork shanks, saving them to eat separately. We removed and discarded the onion, the bay leaves, and the bouquet garni. Then we skimmed the remaining stock and set aside about 3 tablespoons of the skimmed pork fat. We put the pork fat in a saucepan, adding 3 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of flour, and stirring the mixture together until it thickened and turned light brown. To this roux, we added the warm stock, a ladle at a time, stirring after each addition over medium heat. We stopped stirrring only when the gravy bubbled nicely and had become creamy and slightly thickened.

Because our pie was smaller than Gardiner's, we poured only about half of this "good Gravy" directly into the pie, reserving the rest to spoon warm over individual servings or to reheat for use with any leftovers.

Now for the application of the crust. We carefully unfolded the Beecher puff paste we had made previously, placed it over the pie, pinched the sides of the paste to the pie dish, and decorated the top of the pie with bits of paste in the shape of leaves. Pretty!

We baked our ham pie at 425º F for 1 hour and 35 minutes. Ours is rather a slow oven. If yours isn't, you may want to start out at 400º F, or even 375º F, and turn up the heat if you think it necessary after an hour or so. The oven needs to be hot enough to cook the chicken pieces, obviously, but not so hot as to burn the crust before the chicken is cooked.

We then removed the pie from the oven, placed it on a cooling rack, and brushed the crust with an egg yolk beaten in about ¼ cup of cold water. We returned the pie to the oven and baked it until the crust was golden brown, about 10 minutes longer at 425º F.


We allowed the baked pie to cool on a rack for about 10 minutes before serving it directly from its baking dish. Mrs. Gardiner's Ham Pie, in the quantities we used, makes a delightful main course for six. For accompaniment, we baked (during the last 50 minutes the pie was in the oven) a mixed dish of chunks of butternut squash and chopped kale. Just before serving, we garnished the vegetable dish simply with melted butter and a squeeze of lemon juice. With Mrs. Gardiner's spectacular pie as our centerpiece, we dined in elegant, eighteenth-century style.

Note: Use an attractive—and sufficiently large—baking or pie dish for this recipe, so that you can bring the finished pie to the table to wow your guests. Then cut the pie open at the table to reveal the surprises of ham, chicken, and gravy inside! We used a 3.75 quart oval stoneware baking dish, dark blue exterior and beige interior, made by Le Creuset. It made a beautiful presentation, if we may say so.

The original recipe, with commentary, can be found in Northern Hospitality, p. 270.

Puff Pastry

August 17, 2011

Tags: puff pastry, dough, Catharine Beecher, pie, tart

Puff Pastry Graces a Ham Pie

Puff pastry is that light, multilayered, buttery dough that rises impressively when it is baked and causes your guests to say "Oooooh!" It can be used as a pie dough, baked as a shell for sweet fillings such as ice cream or strawberries and whipped cream, or stuffed with lobster or chicken salad for an elegant lunch. Or it can simply be rolled and twisted into shapes such as twigs or pinwheels, sprinkled with a bit of sugar and cinnamon, and baked for a hand-held treat. In other words, puff pastry can be used in any number of ways to enhance both savory and sweet dishes.

Despite their deceptively plain recipe titles, Catharine Beecher's 1846 "Pastes Made with Butter" and "Directions for Making Paste" combine to offer both a great basic puff pastry recipe and an equally terrific technique for an easy way to make this impressive dough.

Here's a summary of the basic procedure, along with the ingredients and quantities needed to make one good-sized sheet of dough (enough for a single 9-inch pie crust): First make the foundation dough from Beecher's "Pastes Made with Butter" by using 1 stick of butter crumbled into pea-sized pieces in 2 cups of flour; moisten with ¼ cup or so of ice water and press into a ragged ball. Then following her "Directions for Making Paste," cut up the remaining butter (3 sticks) into ½-inch pieces, form them into rectangles (about 10 inches by 16 inches) on a floured board, dredge them lightly with flour, and roll them into thin sheets. Next roll out the foundation dough into a rectangle about 12 inches by 18 inches. Put a sheet of butter on the dough, dredge it lightly with flour, fold the dough in thirds like a letter, give it a 90˚ turn, and roll it out again. Then repeat the process until all the butter sheets are used up. It's that easy.

For those who prefer more detailed instructions, what follows is the process given step by step. But the preceding recipe snapshot illustrates that puff paste, made according to Catharine Beecher's method, is (almost) a cinch. Beecher's original recipes, along with comments by us, can be found in Northern Hospitality (page 252).

Here's what we did to make one sheet of puff pastry (enough for a single 9-inch pie crust).

The ingredients:
1 stick (4 oz.) butter, chilled, plus 3 sticks (12 oz.) butter, chilled
2 cups flour plus 1 cup flour
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup ice water

The equipment:
1 rolling pin
1 large flat surface for rolling
1 mixing bowl plus two knives or a pastry blender, or a food processor with a multipurpose blade, or a standing mixer with a paddle attachment
2 sheets of plastic wrap (each about 18 inches long)

The steps:
Slice 1 stick of butter into pieces about 1 inch thick.

Measure the 2 cups flour into a bowl or the bowl of a food processor or standing mixer. Add the salt. (Catharine Beecher doesn't call for salt in her recipe, but because we used unsalted butter we added a little salt at this stage. If you use salted butter, omit this additional salt.)

Toss the butter with the flour until the butter is completely coated.

Cut the butter into the flour until the pieces are about the size of peas. You can accomplish this in a number of ways—by hand using two knives in a scissors motion or using a pastry blender, by pulsing the butter and flour in a food processor, or by mixing the ingredients together briefly in a standing mixer.

Slowly pour ¼ cup of the ice water into the flour mixture and gently work the dough with your hands (or mix the dough briefly with your machine), just until it comes together in a ball.

If the dough doesn't come together quickly, drizzle in a bit more water. Stop adding water as soon as the ball forms. You don't want wet dough, and you don't want overworked (and therefore tough) dough. (It's better if you've got ragged bits coming out of your ball--you can tuck them in later--than if you've got a smooth but overhandled ball.)

Once formed, place the ball of dough on a piece of plastic wrap, cover it, and chill it for 30 minutes. This allows the dough to rest—and chill out. After resting and chilling, the dough will be just the right firmness to take the added butter in the next steps. You can skip this step if you're in a hurry (Catharine Beecher omits it), but it will be easier to work with your dough if you take the time to let it rest and chill.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Lightly dredge your board with some of the 1 cup of flour and roll out the dough into a rectangle approximately 12 inches by 18 inches and about ¼-inch thick. The length and width don't have to be exact, but you should aim for a rectangular shape so that the butter sheets can easily fit on top. Set the rolled dough aside.

Cut the remaining ¾ lb. of cold butter into roughly ½-inch pieces. Dredge your board well with some of the remaining flour. Place pieces of butter on the board, enough to form a rectangle slightly smaller than your dough (about 10 inches by 16 inches). Spread a bit of flour on your rolling pin, and lightly dredge the top of the butter rectangle with flour. Now roll it into a thin sheet, trying to retain the shape of a rectangle as much as possible. Sprinkle on a bit more flour if the sheet sticks to your rolling pin. If the butter is too soft to roll out, chill it for 5 or 10 minutes and try again.

Once you have one butter sheet rolled out, place it on top of the rolled dough, fold it in thirds like a letter, turn the dough 90˚ and roll it out, again forming a rectangle. Continue with rolling in the butter sheets, placing them on top of the dough, folding the dough in thirds, turning 90˚, and rolling, until all the butter is used up. Work as quickly as possible so that the buttery dough remains cold. If any of the components gets warm, you can place them in the refrigerator for a few minutes to re-chill. After the last sheet of butter is rolled in, fold your dough again into thirds, cover it with the second sheet of plastic wrap, and place it in the refrigerator to rest for another 30 minutes of so.

That's it! Take out your dough, and get to work making pie crusts, tart shells, pastry twists, or whatever shape or purpose takes your fancy. And a tip for using the inevitable leftover bits: After you've cut your dough, you can gather the scraps together, roll them out one more time, sprinkle the circle of pastry with sugar and cinnamon, cut it into strips, and bake it on an ungreased baking sheet in a preheated 375˚ F. oven for about 15 minutes, or until the pastry begins to brown and the sugar melts. Remove and cool the pastry on a wire rack. Now serve these scrumptious cinnamon strips to your admiring family!

Makes a single 9-inch pie crust.

Note: Beecher's technique of making sheets of butter to place on the dough simplifies the most difficult part of making puff pastry--the sometimes messy step of getting all that extra butter (¾ lb. in this case) into a fairly small foundation dough. And while the butter sheets are being rolled in, the dough is getting its necessary, layer-forming series of turnings and rollings. Although there are many fine modern instructions to be found for making puff pastry, Catharine Beecher's 1846 "Directions," combined with her "Paste Made with Butter," tops our list.

The original recipe, with commentary, can be found in Northern Hospitality, p. 252.