Archive for November, 2010

If I’m home on a Sunday afternoon, I always enjoy watching
the various cooking shows on PBS. Even though the line-up
seems to always be in perpetual rotation (in fact, a couple
of my favorites have been inexplicably moved to Saturday
night…what’s up with that?!), it’s fun to see what’s cooking.
Besides, I figure I can always learn a useful tip every now
and then, even if it’s a modern one.

In any event, a week ago yesterday I turned on the TV, and
soon “America’s Test Kitchen” began. Only this time, it was
a bit different. There was Christopher Kimball, but instead
of testing recipes, he was discussing his two-year project
whereby a 12-course late 1800s dinner was recreated in his
19th century Boston home. Dubbed “Fannie’s Last Supper,”
it was comprised of assorted recipes from The Boston School
of Cooking Cookbook
, as rewritten by female entrepreneur,
and the School’s eventual director, Fannie Merritt Farmer. Of
course, it’s a later time period than the one in which I’m
usually buried. And yet, so much of it was oh-so-very-familiar,
from the mock-turtle soup to larding the meat to calves-foot
jelly. Not to mention the gaps in recipe instructions, the strange
ingredients, cooking over a wood fire, and dealing with a cast
iron cookstove and the heat within. I know it all so well. It was
absolutely fascinating! I urge everyone to look for this special
on their local PBS station. It’s fun to watch.

Read more and see the show’s trailer here.


P.S. Kimball’s also written a book about the experience.
Look for Fannie’s Last Supper, by Chris Kimball.

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Thanksgiving is upon us



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As we’ve seen, according to
James and Patricia Scott Deetz,
authors of The Times of Their Lives;
Life, Love, and Death in Plymouth
(2000), the food served
at that now famous feast in the
fall of 1621 was perhaps not quite
what we’ve been taught to believe.
In fact, they state it rather bluntly:

Ducks, geese, and venison are
the three things of which we
are absolutely certain.

The Deetzes are also firmly convinced that two other
traditional dishes were absent on that day: cranberry
sauce and pumpkin pie. They say that the latter didn’t
“come along until much later,” and the former just
wasn’t eaten (although, like turkeys, the berries
were abundant). On a personal level, however,
there may’ve not been any pumpkin pie, per se,
but having made a few pumpkin and squash puddings,
I’d say, well…not necessarily. The make-up of the
two are similar enough that it could have, possibly,
been on the feast’s roster. It would’ve appeared in
a different form, though, as it would’ve been boiled,
and not baked, with no paste (crust), just like many
other puddings of that time. I imagine the early female
colonists knew how to knock out some killer puddings!

In any event, back to the two Deetz authors. What
else do they think might have been served during that
feast of long ago? Once again, they look to what was
mentioned by colonist Edward Winslow in that letter he
sent to a friend back in England in December, 1621. Thus
their list of “more than likely foods” include the following:

–various kinds of fish, including eels, mussels (but, surprisingly,
not oysters as “we have none near,” but they could be “brought by the Indians” upon request), and lobster;
–wheat and maize (corn);
–sallet (salad) herbs;
–fruit such as grapes, strawberries, raspberries, plums;
–beer, wine, and possibly, spirits.

Not your typical Thanksgiving meal. Yet, it sounds pretty decent, yes?


Next: the people and purpose of the fall 1621 feast

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Okay, so geese, duck, and
various other wild fowl were
probably on the table at that
now famous feast in the fall
of 1621. At least, according
to James and Patricia Scott
Deetz, authors of The Times
of Their Lives; Life, Love, and
Death in Plymouth Colony

It’s also possible, but highly unlikely, they say, that there may’ve
been a wild turkey or two. However, the Deetzes think not, partly
because the early colonists would’ve used lightweight firearms
known as fowling pieces, and not the heavier matchlock muskets,
for their hunting activities. According to the two authors, fowling
pieces were the all-around weapon of choice. Now, I’m not exactly
sure why this matters, but there it is. Bottom line, however, as
they point out, is that turkeys were not explicitly mentioned by
anyone who wrote of the feast, either soon after or years later.

Having said that, you might be wondering, “Well, what WAS
‘explicitly mentioned’ in writings about the event?” Let’s look
again at Edward Winslow’s passage. He writes:

many of the Indians

joined the party, along with

their greatest king Massasoit…and
they went out and killed five deer,
which they brought to the plantation
and bestowed on our governor…

A-Ha! So, we can be absolutely, positively, correct and say,
without a doubt, that venison was on the menu. HUZZAH!

And so, dear readers, if you really, truly want to feast next
Thursday just like the early Plymouth colonists, then you’ll
need to serve up some deer meat. Time is passing quickly,
so better contact your butcher, or your favorite hunter, and
order up that haunch of venison now!


Up next: Okay, venison, but no turkey. dagnabit. What else?!

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Ahh, Thanksgiving, our national holiday,
will soon be here. It’s a time when people
get together with family and friends to
share the day. Talk began awhile back
about the holiday and its turkey ‘n stuffing,
mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, gravy,
pumpkin pie, and a host of other delectable
dishes. It’s to be a day of good ol’ fashioned
feasting, mixed with the giving of thanks,
just like those brave and noble early settlers
did all those centuries ago.

Or did they?

Well, not exactly. In fact, hardly at all!
That is, according to James and Patricia
Scott Deetz. They’re the authors of The
Times of Their Lives; Life, Love, and Death
in Plymouth Colony
(2000), a book that sets out to bust all those
lies, er, myths, that we hold so dear about our national turkey-day.
In fact, they achieve their myth-busting goal by page 9, where they
state plainly:

So it is that Thanksgiving as we
think of it today is largely a myth.

Sacre bleu! How can this be?

Well, dear reader, I shall tell you. During the course of the next
few days, I’ll share a few little tidbits from this fascinating book.
Of course, I won’t be copying it word for word or anything; if you
really want to know the whole story, you’ll have to get your own
copy, and read it for yourself. You can also check out Plimoth
Plantation’s website
for excellent additional material. After all,
this subject IS that site’s baliwick.*

So, where to start? In their book, the Deetzes begin with the one
and only known eyewitness account of the now-famous event on
which Thanksgiving is based. They then go on to compare portions
of it with what is currently believed. Interestingly, it’s just a mere
paragraph, comprised of only four sentences. Amazing how just
a few words can create an entire cultural phenomenon! In any event,
the piece was written near the end of 1621 in a letter from Mayflower
passenger and colonist Edward Winslow to a friend back in England.
Now, I’m not going to re-type the entire passage (again, you can look
it up or buy the book), just certain parts. When all is said and done,
though, hopefully you’ll gain a new perspective on The Big Day. You’ll
also have a few fun facts to tell all your guests next week!

Let’s start with the food. A big ol’ turkey was on the menu, right?

Maybe. Maybe not. With an emphasis on the latter. Yep, more
than likely, there was no turkey. Now there was plenty of other
fowl, such as ducks, geese, and others, which were abundant
at the time and were thus readily available (the whole heading
South thing). The turkey, however, was not mentioned at all in
Winslow’s letter. What he did write was:

…our governor sent four men on
fowling…The four in one day killed
as much fowl as…served the company
almost a week.
(cool…the first leftovers!)

Besides, any turkeys would’ve been hiding amongst all the trees.
Bagging some duck or other winged creature that’s landed on
one of the many ponds or lakes would’ve been much easier.

Okay, so there were probably no turkeys, just a few ducks, geese,
and such. What else? Any other meat? Or how about cranberries,
perhaps, or a pumpkin pie?

Hmmm…stay tuned.


*Another very informative book is Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving Recipes and
History, from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie
, by Kathleen Curtin, Sandra L. Oliver,
and The Plimoth Plantation (2005).

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A week ago Sunday, I was prepping
a squash pudding that was then to
be cooked at the hearth of the Israel
Crane House
. A good-sized crowd of
folks came to watch, and, in fact,
for quite awhile it was wall to wall
people. HUZZAH! I think everyone
had a fantastic time. I know I did!
And I can’t wait to be there, cooking,
again early next month (December 5 – – come join us!).

As to the squash pudding…I chose it because there is a receipt
in Fanny Pierson Crane’s (Israel’s wife) manuscript cookbook.
And that was the “theme,” if you will, of the day’s hearth activities:
preparing and cooking dishes from Fanny’s receipt book. However,
I’ve never seen her book; at least, not the actual original (although
I hope to at some point). What I have seen, and possess a copy of,
is a published booklet containing modern adaptations of Fanny’s
receipts. And, as frequent readers can attest, I don’t care for such
modern re-writes of historic works. I want to know what the original
is, what Fanny herself (or any other author of such a book) wrote.
Too often, the process is re-arranged and/or ingredients are added
that either weren’t available or “invented” yet or are contrary to the
make-up of the dish as a whole. In my view, it’s difficult enough
to approximate how a dish looked and tasted in centuries past,
so why make it worse by adding, deleting, or otherwise altering
specific components? Plus, as an historian, I want to view, and
to preserve, the bona-fide originals. Including a modern version
is fine, as long as the actual, written-on-a-page-by-the-hand-
of- -, well, of whomever, is there right beside it.

In any case, for my squash pudding, instead of using a modern
version, I followed Amelia Simmons’ receipt from her cookbook,
American Cookery. Which, incidentally, was published in 1796,
the same year that Fanny supposedly began hers:

A Crookneck, or Winter Squash Pudding.
Core, boil and skin a good squash,
and bruize it well; take 6 large apples,
pared, cored, and stewed tender, mix
together; add 6 or 7 spoonfuls of dry
bread or biscuit, rendered fine as meal,
one pint milk or cream, 2 spoons of
rose-water, 2 do. wine, 5 or 6 eggs
beaten and strained, nutmeg, salt
and sugar to your taste, one spoon
flour, beat all smartly together,
bake one hour.

The above is a good receipt for Pompkins,
Potatoes or Yams, adding more moistening
or milk and rose-water, and to the two
latter a few black or Lisbon currants, or
dry whortleberries scattered in, will
make it better.

Now, Israel, Fanny’s husband, owned and operated a mercantile, and
it’s quite possible that he stocked Amelia’s book. So perhaps Fanny
copied her receipt? Or at least, based it on Amelia’s? Of course, I’ll
be better able to determine whether or not she did either, when
I see Fanny’s original manuscript. And believe me, this whole
experience makes me even more eager to study it!

For comparison, here’s the modern version from Fanny Pierson Crane,
Her Receipts 1796
, compiled, illustrated, and adapted by Amy Hatrak,
Frances Mills, Elizabeth Shull, and Sally Williams (1974). When I first
saw this, my initial reaction was, “Why is there CHEDDAR CHEESE
in a squash pudding?!” Nevertheless, here it is:

2 pounds winter squash
1/2 pound cheddar cheese
2 eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper

Pare squash, remove seeds, and cut
into small pieces. Boil until tender,
drain well, and put into a deep
baking dish. Add cheese cut
into small pieces; saving a little
to sprinkle on top. Saute the onion
in butter. Mix into squash and cheese,
and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Beat
eggs to blend, add milk, then pour over
the squash. Sprinkle remaining cheese
on top. Dot with fresh bread crumbs
and butter. Grate nutmeg on top. Bake
slowly for 30 minutes or until top is
delicately browned and set. Serve
at once.


BTW…I used a buttercup squash

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Well, I thought I had the whole goofer/gofer wafer and regular
wafer dilemma all sorted out. You know, that basically, they’re
one and the same. But then I discovered a twist to the puzzle.
You see, in The Experienced English Housekeeper (1769), by
Britisher Elizabeth Raffald, there’s not only a receipt entitled
“To make Gofers,” but there’s also “To make Wafers.”

dagnabit. What’s up with that?! And no, the two receipts are
only slightly similar. Take a look:

To make Gofers
Beat three eggs well with three
spoonfuls of flour and a little
salt. Then mix them with a pint
of milk, an ounce of sugar and
half a nutmeg grated. Beat them
well together. Then make your
gofer tongs hot, rub them with
fresh butter, fill the bottom part
of your tongs and clap the top on.
Then turn them, and when a fine
brown on both sides put them in
a dish and pour white wine sauce
over them. Five is enough for a dish.
Don’t lay them one upon another,
it will make them soft. You may
put in currants if you please.

And then:

To Make Wafers
Take two spoonfuls of cream, two
of sugar, the same of flour, and
one spoonful of orange flower
water, beat them well together
for half an hour. Then make your
wafer tongs hot and pour a little
of your batter in to cover your
irons. Bake them on a stove fire.
As they are baked roll them round
a stick like a spiggard. As soon as
they are cold they will be very crisp.

They are proper for tea, or to put
upon a salver to eat with jellies.

Interesting. Note that one says to “make your gofer tongs hot,”
while the other “your wafer tongs.” So, does that mean they
are NOT the same piece of equipment? And if so, how are
they different? Does it have anything to do with the shape?
Is a round one for gofers and the rectangular for wafers?
Or vice versa? Then the one states to cook them “on a stove
fire.” Does that mean NOT over an open fire? Does it mean
a stew stove? And then, the wafer, but not the gofer, is to
be rolled “round a stick.” So, like a cannoli? And what does
“like a spiggard” mean? I checked my OED (Oxford English
), modern versions, and online…nothing. Although
I did discover Spiggard as a family’s name. Of course, then I
tried different spellings, so it’s possible it’s a version of spigot,
which would’ve been commonly used in the 18th century on
beer and wine casks. So…maybe? Or…maybe not?!

Ahh, more food forensics. Gotta love it! In any event, again,
there are more questions than answers. dagnabit.
Another pair of wafer, er gofer (?), tongs:

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