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Cooking (and Contemplating) New England

"Apple Pie," by Lydia Maria Child, as prepared by Keith Stavely and Kathleen Fitzgerald

Apple Pie, a classic version from 1833 by abolitionist, novelist, and children's writer Lydia Maria Child

 

In our book Northern Hospitality, we include a selection of apple pies from early New England, including some that originated in England. We've got recipes for "An Apple Pudding," by E. Smith from 1739 (a delightful custard pie), "An Apple Pye," by Hannah Glasse from 1747 (made in a dish, with no bottom crust and an elegant puff pastry topping), and even a poisonous one, Elizabeth Raffald's "A Codling Pye"(1769), in which the recommended method for cooking the codlings in a brass pan with vine leaves produced toxic verdigris! But let's leave those English cooks and their recipes be for now, and make a real American apple pie. Our all-time favorite early American version is a straightforward rendition by a great nineteenth-century American woman, Lydia Maria Child. Read our book--or just look around online--if you want to know more of Child's fascinating life. And after you do, may we suggest that in honor of her service to humanity, her personal integrity, her creativity--or simply because she was a great cook--you make her luscious apple pie? Read More 

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

American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, 1796

11
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.”

12
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.

 

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

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

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.  Read More 

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Marlborough Pudding (Pie) by 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.  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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