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Cooking (and Contemplating) New England

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

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  Read More 
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Boston Refried Beans

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. Read More 
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"Boston Cream Cakes" from "Miss Beecher's Domestic Receipt Book" (1846)

Catharine Beecher's Take on a “Boston Cream” Dessert That Predates Boston Cream Pie


Let Them Eat Creamy Boston Cakes
Nowadays Americans think the only word that can possibly complete the phrase "Boston Cream" is "Pie." But in fact the BostonCream Pie—a notoriously misnamed yellow sponge cake with cream filling and chocolate icing—did not appear in print until the 1870s, long after Catharine Beecher’s 1846 cookbook made Boston Cream Cakes popular with those of a mind to imitate the dining fashions of New England’s metropolis. To confuse matters further, Beechers’s recipe wasn’t the only one circulating at the time under the stylish name of Boston Cream Cakes. But in our opinion those other recipes, relying on heavier, scone-like dough, aren’t nearly as good as Beecher’s éclair-like concoctions. Her recipe produces a light, flaky pastry, which she suggests filling with cream (meaning pastry cream) or custard. It seems highly likely that she got the idea—and most of the details—for these elegant little cakes from the famous French chef Antonin Carême, who in his Royal Parisian Pastrycook and Confectioner (1834) gives extensive instruction on making choux pastry of this type. Beecher's recipe is to all intents and purposes Carême's recipe, so she might just as well have called hers "Boston Carême Puffs.” (Pardon our punning but we just couldn’t resist that one!)  Read More 

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Beef, or Veal Stewed with Apples (Very Good) by 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. Read More 

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Puff Pastry

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. Read More 

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