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Cooking (and Contemplating) New England

Brexit? Doubt It

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. Read More 

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

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.  Read More 

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

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. Read More 

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

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. Read More 

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

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."

Pseudonymity and plagiarism didn't stop Read More 

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

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.

In Connecticut, according to one account from the late nineteenth century, Read More 

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"English Plum Pudding," from Mrs. A. L. Webster's The Improved Housewife (1844)

For Thanksgiving This Year, Pull Out a Plum


A Classic Yankee Thanksgiving Dish
In her novel Northwood, first published in 1827, Sarah Josepha Hale gives a description of a typical New England Thanksgiving and, as we would expect, turkey and pumpkin pie are duly noted. But along with these dishes, standards of the national feast to this day, Hale includes an array of foods no longer associated with the festival: "surloin of beef, flanked on either side by a leg of pork and joint of mutton . . . a goose and pair of ducklings, . . . [and] that rich burgomaster of the provisions, called a chicken pie."

We know we are in unfamiliar, if tantalizing, historical territory Read More 

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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. But otherwise, the pippin did not make its presence much felt.


This remains true today. Read More 

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"To Roast Venison," from Gervase Markham's The English Hus-wife (1615)

Roast Venison and All the Trimmings, from an Early Seventeenth-Century Recipe


Deer Me-at!
Deer-hunting season has been over for a month or two now, but for many hunters’ families there’s still plenty of deer (not to mention elk, moose, caribou, and antelope) venison in the freezer. And for the rest of us there is now available on the U.S. market a nice selection of both wild and farm-raised venison. The well-stocked Cambridge, MA market Savenor’s was the source of the gorgeous loin of venison we used in our recreation of Markham’s dish. The meat was pricey (about twenty dollars a pound), but far less expensive than a venison dinner for two in a fancy restaurant—and it provided enough meat for six to eight servings. For a special occasion meal, especially when company’s coming, this dish is an absolute knockout. It’s also quite easy to prepare.

Although Markham spit-roasts his meat over an open fire, 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, Read More 

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