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Archive for the ‘historic menus’ Category

There are five major chain grocery stores in my neighborhood
that I can easily reach by walking. Of course, some are closer
than others. The distances range from a mere (?!) six blocks
to more than a mile. They all vary in size, as well. And then
there are the numerous, albeit much smaller, specialty stores
and bodegas. Not to mention the weekly farmers markets,
of which there are two. I must say, this wealth of, and
accessibility to, such a wide range of food stuffs in my own
neck o’ the woods is quite amazing. HUZZAH!

So what does this have to do with historic cooking? Well, alot!
Because when I need to buy food for use during any hearth
cooking event, whether it’s a demonstration, a talk, or a class,

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I can go to one or more of the above stores. I know which
ones carry this or that particular ingredient and which don’t.
Or which offers it at a better price (aka cheaper). And most
importantly, which store or stores offer historically-accurate
ingredients, be it mace or quinces or unadulterated flour. Or
which sells the means for creating the same (i.e. pig fat so
that I can render my own lard). Sometimes when I decide
to cook a particular dish from this or that historic cookbook,
I’m able to procure all the necessary ingredients at just one
location, and at other times, I have to pay a visit to two or
more. I will say, though, that even I’m amazed at what I
can find relatively nearby. Even at the major so-called
“generic” mass-market chain stores such as Associated,
Key Food, and C-Town. And here in Brooklyn, no less. It’s
absolutely fantastic! HUZZAH, again!

However, a major glitch has reared its ugly head. The range
of historic dishes that I can prepare and cook, at any time
and at any historic site, may soon be sorely limited. In fact,
my ability to cook specific dishes may all but be eliminated
entirely, as my access to certain ingredients will be drastically
altered within just a few short months. You see, sadly, one
of the above-mentioned big chain stores, a 36,000 square
074foot freestanding supermarket,
with a similarly-sized parking
lot, the one that’s more than
a mile from my place, down
where Sterling Street meets
5th Avenue here in Park Slope,
namely the Key Food, will be
completely demolished. It’ll then be replaced by two shiny
new modern glass, concrete, and steel 165-unit apartment
buildings. Ain’t progress grand?! Bring in more people!
Destroy their major source of food! What a deal! lordy

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This particular Key Food is where I can acquire several ingredients
that are appropriate for replicating dishes from the 18th and early
19th centuries. And in some instances, the ONLY place. Sure,
there’s another Key Food that’s closer to me. Just seven blocks,
in fact. It’s quite a hike of more than a mile, downhill to and up
from, to arrive at this one. But believe me, being able to purchase
specific ingredients that are appropriate for countless historic
receipts makes it worth the trip.

For starters, the 5th Avenue Key Food, and ONLY this Key Food,
has a set of bookshelves that constitutes its British section…

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and there I can find treacle (aka treakle)…

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which, as you may know, is NOT the same as molasses (an
item most any store carries). It IS different! Yes, you can
switch the one for the other, but doing so affects the taste
of the end product. I frequently make Gingerbread Cakes
in accordance with Hannah Glasse’s receipt in her cookbook
The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy (1747), and she
specifies “treakle.” For me, nothing else will do!

Here’s the 5th Avenue Key Food’s wonderful and HUGE (in
comparison to so many other stores, even other Key Foods)
meat department, where I can find a plethora of items for use
in my various hearth cooking activities…

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It’s where I find marrow bones, containing that all-important
marrow specified in numerous historic receipts…

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and pig fat, so I can render my own lard, as well as salt pork,
otherwise known as smoked slab bacon…

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There’s also plain ol’ sausages…

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as you see, they’re called “Breakfast Sausage.” Yes, other stores
sell them, including the much-closer-to-me Key Food, but they’re
usually only the flavored varieties, those that contain herbs and
spices or cheese and tomato and so forth…which are too modern
and NOT what I need or want!

The 5th Avenue Key Food has a HUGE fresh produce section,
with nearly every vegetable and fruit you can imagine…

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This is where I find small packaged bundles of herbs for only
99 cents! You can’t beat that. It’s just enough for the dishes
that require them…

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and if I need more, they also have a larger size for $1.99…

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The smaller Key Food has had neither. Since a recent remodeling,
however, it now offers the larger bundles…at the higher price
of 2 for $5. So in my book, it’s worth it to walk farther in order
to save a few coins (besides, it’s good exercise! LOL). And if I
need something else that only this Key Food offers, or really
just any other item, all the better.

On a personal note, this is the only store (at least, of which
I’m aware) that sells bags (not boxes) of Kit ‘n Kaboodle, one
of my kitty’s favorite dry foods…

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And here’s the frozen food section, where I can find my beloved
Stouffer’s frozen entrees. When all was said and done, the other
Key Food eliminated eight frozen food cases upon finishing its
remodeling project. Which meant that several items had to be
jettisoned, including the entire range of Stouffer’s that had
been previously offered. Sacre bleu!

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A few more interior shots of this soon-to-be-gone good-sized
supermarket. It’s just expansive! In both space, layout, and
variety and diversity of products offered.

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In case anyone’s interested, here’s what’s possibly going
to be built soon to replace this neighborhood’s beloved
5th Avenue Key Food supermarket…

(c) 2016 Avery Hall Investments

(c) 2016 Avery Hall Investments

Incidentally, at a recent Community Meeting about the project,
the rep from Avery Hall Investment (AHI) made a big deal of that
“pedestrian-only” walkway. or “piazza,” where people “will be able
to sit and chat, and have a cup of coffee.” My immediate thought
was, “HA! Have you seen the nearly 600-acre green space just up
a few blocks? It’s quite lovely, with trees, a lake, and everything!
It’s been there for more than a century. Hello! Prospect Park?!
Not to mention popular Washington Park, just down 5th Avenue.”
Golly. Don’t give us what we need, but give us something we don’t.
So ridiculous.

Speaking of that Community Meeting, here’s one report. As it
mentions, I, too, thought I was attending a meeting where
the possibility of the 5th Avenue Key Food being sold and
replaced with new development would be merely discussed.
And ONLY discussed. Boy, was I wrong! It soon became clear,
not only from the meeting’s outcome, but also from a discussion
I had immediately afterward with a current Key Food employee,
that it’s a done deal. Apparently, the owner has been looking
to sell for some time; he was just waiting for the right deal,
and this is it. So the property’s been sold, finances secured,
the developer/investor chosen, moneys exchanged…it’s final…
the end is near. I must say, it was extremely disheartening
to learn that the current store owner seems to have moved
quietly, securing his deal without considering for a moment
how it might affect any of his loyal customers. Let alone
without seeking their input. It’s too bad. Like it or not,
we’ll just have to shop elsewhere. Or do without.

Alas, so it goes. Sorry to see you go, 5th Avenue Key Food!
I’ll certainly miss you and those items that only you offer.

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I spent a good chunk of time earlier this year developing menus for two different hearth cooking classes at The Israel Crane House (including one that never materialized…ahh, well, so it goes). It’s always an interesting journey when I search for dishes that might have made up a typical mid-day meal at the Crane family table. I usually begin by making a general list of what I’d like to include, along with specific dishes and cooking techniques that I think class IMG_9597 participants might like to try. I consider what foods would’ve been in season at the time, and what was likely available to a family such as the Cranes, who lived so close (relatively!) to Manhattan. I often simply skim the table of contents and indexes of assorted historic cookbooks for ideas. Frequently, I’ll open one at random and just start reading, which can be fascinating, as I never know what I’ll find! If nothing else, creating menus for these classes is always a fascinating and educational experience. And so, my recent search for receipts (recipes) followed this same basic path. However, as I went along my merry way, I suddenly discovered some shocking, good-golly-miss-molly, eye poppin’ and jaw-droppin’ information. As I perused the vegetable section of the Index in Mrs. Lettice Bryan’s The Kentucky Housewife (1839), I came upon these two little words:

Potatoe pumpkin.

“Wow!” I thought. “Is this another, a second, receipt for the dish that I know so well and have made multiple times? If so, how cool is that?! I’ve gotta check this out.” You see, there’s a “Potato Pumpkin” in The Virginia Housewife (1824), by Mary Randolph. I was first introduced to it during the 18th Century Historic Foodways Conference back in 2009 at Colonial Williamsburg. The Historic Foodways folks there had made one that played a major role in various displays and “live” presentations. It was a most unique dish, and I was just fascinated with it. I vowed then and there to try it when I got home. And, indeed I did, both for use at the Crane House and at my own celebratory meals. Many of my fellow hearth cooks have prepared it, as well, and I’ve seen a wide range of photos posted online that showcase their efforts. Of course, I’ve also shown off my handiwork here on my blog. One made for use at the Crane House: and another, eaten at home: And although I’d shared Randolph’s receipt for “Potato Pumpkin” often, I admit I’d never paid too much attention to the specifics contained therein. I mean, I’d read it and re-read it, and there was that one puzzling sentence, but, golly, I’d seen it, and heard its preparation discussed, at Colonial Williamsburg, and thus had a clear idea of what it was and how it went together. Certainly, the foodways folks at CW must’ve known what they were doing and what was up and what was correct, yes? There was no need to question their efforts! So, in accordance with everything that I’d witnessed, making a “Potato Pumpkin” appeared to simply involve cutting off the top of a regular (pie or sugar) pumpkin, paring and gutting it, filling the cavity with forcemeat (which typically consists of sausage or other meat mixed with herbs, bread crumbs, and other ingredients), baking it, and then, finally, eating the entire thing. Yeah, well…no! There’s one part of those basic instructions that’s completely wrong! How do I know? Well, remember when I stated previously that I’d discovered another “Potato Pumpkin” receipt in The Kentucky Housewife? Turns out, not only is it NOT the same as Randolph’s (HUZZAH! no stealing, er, “borrowing” here!), but it’s also much, MUCH different. Here’s what I found in Mrs. Bryan’s book:

POTATO PUMPKIN. Potato pumpkin when large and ripe, is very good, tasting much like the sweet potato, and can be kept well through the winter, put up in a dry place, and covered securely with fodder or shucks. They may be dressed by the various receipts I have just given for winter squash.

A-HA!!! It’s a squash! A specific squash. And it’s a food item unto itself, one that’s wholly distinct and separate from a regular pumpkin. And it’s called a “POTATO pumpkin” because it TASTES like a SWEET POTATO. [emphasis mine] Good golly, miss molly. After reading this, I turned again to the receipt in Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife:

POTATO PUMPKIN. Get one of a good colour, and seven or eight inches in diameter; cut a piece off the top, take out all the seeds, wash and wipe the cavity, pare the rind off, and fill the hollow with good forcemeat—put the top on, and set it in a deep pan, to protect the sides; bake it in a moderate oven, put it carefully in the dish without breaking, and it will look like a handsome mould. Another way of cooking potato pumpkin is to cut it in slices, pare off the rind, and make a puree as directed for turnips.

“Get one of a good colour,” as in one of the specific vegetables that’re known as potato pumpkins. And, again, NOT a REGULAR pumpkin! Then that last line, which greatly puzzled me: “another way of cooking potato pumpkin….” Well, seeing as it’s referring to a specific type of squash, cutting IT into slices, cooking and making IT into “a puree as directed for turnips,” I understand better now. But golly, I’d always wondered how you were supposed to cut a regular ol’ pumpkin filled with forcemeat into slices and then puree them all together. It just didn’t make any sense! Now, though, it does. HUZZAH! Then, as I was reading these two different receipts, I suddenly recalled seeing the words “potato pumpkin” in another section of my facsimile of Randolph’s 1824 book. Ahhh, yes, it was in the “Historical Glossary”! So I looked, and sure enough, there it says, in part:

POTATO PUMPKIN—I take this to be calabaza or West Indian pumpkin. In a letter to Samuel Vaughn, Jr., in 1790, Jefferson speaks of the potatoe-pumpkin, calling it thus ‘on account of the extreme resemblance of its taste to that of the sweet-potatoe’…

Good golly. Wow, WOW, WOW! One good part of all this is we may FINALLY be rid of that constantly-asked and annoying, but unanswerable question, “Why is the dish called a potato pumpkin, when there’s no potato in it?!” I don’t know about anyone else, but it sure made me uncomfortable. There I’d be, putting it all together with relative ease, and yet I couldn’t offer up an explanation for the name of it. THAT didn’t make any sense, either! Of course, after this major discovery, I wanted to know more and to get as much information as I could about this squash called a potato pumpkin. So, first I turned to my facsimile of Noah Webster’s 1828 edition of his American Dictionary of the English Language. Nothing was given for potato pumpkin, but under “Calabash,” I found:

[Sp. calabaza, a pumpkin….] (In case you’re wondering, “Sp.” is the abbreviation for Spanish)

Next, I consulted that well-known source for definitions of all “odd” and unfamiliar words, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Again, there was no potato pumpkin. However, I did find:

calabaza Chiefly West Indies Known as West Indian or green pumpkin…not to be confused with pie pumpkin… (emphasis mine)

Wow. There you have it. What more need I say?! Nothing. Other than the fact that I now have LOTS of questions about the research (or lack thereof?!) done on this dish by members of the Historic Foodways staff down at Colonial Williamsburg. I mean…really?!? It’s bad enough that they insist on using a 19th century cookbook (The Virginia Housewife), one that wasn’t to be published for another half century (50 years!) after the time period the site is portraying. Golly, what’s up with that?!? Furthermore, which edition of Randolph’s are they using? Indeed, there are several, from its 1824 original to those of 1828, 1836…even 1860 (incidentally, she died in 1828). If theirs is the facsimile of the original of 1824, is it the one with notes and commentaries by the late Karen Hess? And, if yes, haven’t they ever found and READ her “Historical Glossary”?! And if they have, well, so…what? They forgot what’s in it? Or they purposely chose to ignore it? And if, indeed, they’re aware they’ve used the wrong squash, did IMG_3656 they do so because they couldn’t find the correct one? So why haven’t they ever said as much? Substitutions occasionally must be made, for one reason or another, so why not share that bit of information? Particularly during the 2009 Conference. When all their fellow hearth cooks and food historians were present?! You know, saying something along the lines of “A potato pumpkin is a specific type of squash, but we’ve been unable to procure one, so we’re substituting a regular pumpkin”?! I mean, golly, don’t they think they’re obligated to tell us the truth?! And I’m fully aware that CW gives adapted receipts to the general public, particularly on its “History is Served” pages, but, come on, that ain’t us! We’re striving to closely follow historic receipts, too, and to make every dish as correctly as possible. Besides, being workers in the various kitchens at Colonial Williamsburg, they’re at the center of the 18th century living history world. We look to them to provide us with solid, factual information, and NOT namby-pamby “enh, we’ll just fudge it” shenanigans like this. On a personal level, I feel duped and betrayed, like I’ve been led astray and sent down the wrong path. I expected better, so it’s rather disappointing. Alas, I guess it highlights the fact that it’s best to do your own experimentation and conduct your own research. Don’t rely on anyone else, no matter who they are or where they work. It reminds me of what the woman told me as she led a group of us on a tour of CW’s Costume Design Center awhile back. She said, “Don’t copy us. We don’t always get things right.” Okay, good to know! Guess maybe that sentiment also applies to Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Foodways, ay?! In any event, I’ll end here with two items I found of interest online. One is an image of a potato pumpkin, the other a video of a chef creating a potato pumpkin soup. Be sure to note the colors, texture, and shape of the squash in both. Courtesy of Wikibooks: image of calabaza from wikibooks And then check out this video for making Calabaza Soup. It offers a good idea of what a calabaza looks like, inside and out. Note especially when he peels it. The rind is much thinner than that of our everyday pumpkin. Oh, and one other thing. There’s a large Caribbean population here in NYC/Brooklyn. I’ve asked around, and I should be able to find a calabaza, a potato pumpkin, at a market somewhere! My plan is to buy one and make an actual, true “Potato Pumpkin.” When I do, I’ll be sure to post an update, complete with photos. Can’t wait! HUZZAH!!! IMG_1934

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Earlier this month, I presented another ‘straight-talk’ version
of my “Cook Like a Soldier” program to a group of lovely
ladies who make up the Fortnightly Club in Summit, NJ.

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The Club is a women’s social and philanthropic organization
dedicated to community service and outreach, which also
sponsors social activities for members and their families.
It meets regularly at the historic Twin Maples Mansion,
a spacious landmarked early 20th century former home.
Which, incidentally, was designed by an architect who
resided at the time in Israel Crane territory, otherwise
known as Montclair, NJ.

Now, as you may know, particularly if you’ve ever perused my
Portable Historic Programs page, this talk deals with soldier’s
fare during the American War for Independence. I discuss what
foods the troops ate, how they were prepared and cooked, who
did the cooking, how the rations were delivered, and so on. And
in an effort to not only tell the audience what specific food items
a soldier received on a daily and weekly (hopefully!) basis, but
to also show people what what they were, I have bags of each
on display. So, for instance, I set out a whole pound of flour,

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a pound of hard bisket, and three pints of peas. But what I’ve
struggled with is, how do I exhibit the flesh-y side of things?
As in the meat? The beef and the pork? Or the fish? Sure, I can
bring samples of each, and I have done that (taken a slab of salt
pork and made my own salt cod), but it’s a bit tricky, especially
if it’s a hot or warm day. It can get rather messy…and smelly!
And then, what do I do with them afterwards? Eat ’em? Well,
after it’s been dragged many miles and then man-handled by
various people, even I don’t care to do that!

Finally, I decided I would set out pictures of each ration meat.
Or rather, the source of it. Of course, I had to find some images,
and they had to be ones that’re period-appropriate for the Rev
War years. Then it hit me: use copies of 18th century woodcuts!
One for each animal! So I got out my copy of “Catchpenny Prints,”
and I found fantastic ones for the beef (a cow), the pork (a pig),

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and the fish (a, er, a fish!). I enlarged each one, then cut it out
and glued it to card stock. So now, each meat ration is represented
nicely on my table of soldier’s fare. I have it all, from the beef and
fish to the bread and peas to all the others. I think it looks pretty
good, yes?! HUZZAH!

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Before we move on to the baking of those wonderfully
delectable ‘n delightful hard biscuits that were a part
of every Rev War soldier’s rations, I’d like to announce
that I was recently on the radio!

“Oh, oh, oh, on the radio!”*

Yes, this past Thursday, November 21, I was invited
by Linda Pelaccio to be interviewed during her show,
“Taste of the Past,” which airs on the Heritage Radio
Network
. Naturally, the topic of our half-hour chat was
my all-time most-favorite activity, namely, open hearth
cooking. HUZZAH! It was great fun. And I had a blast!
It all went by so quickly, though. I could’ve talked
for hours and hours and hours and…!

Here’s the link to the show.

Enjoy!

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* My apologies to Regina Spektor! See the lyrics to her entire song HERE.

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…was all that was necessary, and all that was likely
used, by Revolutionary War soldiers to create a simple
bread, particularly on those days when they received
a pound of flour as part of their individual rations. This
basic dough would’ve then been cooked by spreading
it on the flat side of a piece of firewood, on a rock or
a plank, or even just setting it amongst a fire’s ashes.
Whatever was available, whatever worked. No matter
how it was baked, it would’ve constituted a day’s
serving of bread.

Of course, in true soldier’s fashion, flour and water
were also all I needed, and used, this past summer

colonial_bread on a plank_DN_onderdonk

for my “Cook Like a Soldier” programs. And the same
combination was also employed earlier this month
when I participated in the first-ever Military Timeline
Event at Long Island’s Old Bethpage Village (OBV),
along with fellow members of the Huntington Militia.
Again, using a soldier’s potential flour ration, mixed
with a little water, I worked up dough for another
round of what I’ve fondly dubbed “soldier’s bread.”

I also cooked a pot of rations at OBV, which consisted
of beef, peas, and rice, with a few pieces of hard biscuit
thrown in for good measure. They make for some fairly
decent dumplings!

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Of course, hard biscuits could also be distributed as part
of a Rev War soldier’s daily ration. I’ve baked quite a few
batches in recent months. More on that is up next.

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NEXT: Those delightful ‘n delectable hard biscuits!

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The inaugural run of my “Cook Like a Soldier” program was
a HUGE success! HUZZAH! Held on Saturday, August 24,
at the Vander Ende-Onderdonk House in Queens, NY, it

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was one of many events and activities that made up the annual
commemoration of the Battle of Brooklyn known as Battle Week.
The program was well-received by all who participated. Together,
we chatted about the typical fare that soldiers received during
the Revolutionary War, including the specific foods, how the type
and quantities changed over time, the cooking equipment used,
distribution issues, and so on. Everyone was able to taste two
different soldiers’ meals, one of beef and peas, and another of
salt cod, carrots, and rice. Each “brew” also had a bit of hard
biscuit thrown in to create dumplings.

Overall, I had a fantastic time chatting with the visitors and
sharing my knowledge of the daily fare that was likely eaten
by colonial soldiers as they fought against the British in our
struggle for independence.

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COOK LIKE A SOLDIER at the Onderdonk House

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Several weeks before the program, I made a couple-three
batches of hard biscuits. Some were to be used in cooking,
and others were to be bundled together for demonstration
purposes. Since a soldier’s daily rations included one pound
of flour, bread, OR hard biscuits, I weighed out a pound’s
worth (or, in this shape and size, 17 individual biscuits):

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I made examples of different ration items by placing them
in cloth bags, including (L-R) the possible weekly allotment
of one pint of Indian meal, the weekly three pints of peas
(or beans or other vegetables), a daily ration of one pound
of flour, and a few hard biscuits (in wooden bowl), along
with another daily option of one pound of hard biscuits
(behind the bowl; a third option, bread-wise, being
a pound of actual bread, which I also had on display):

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Cast iron kettles were initially distributed to soldiers, but they
proved to be highly impractical. So a switch was made to tin
and then to sheet metal. Inside the reproduction pot below
is our mixture of a daily ration option of one pound of salt
cod, the weekly vegetable (in this case carrots), a portion of
the weekly option of half a pint of rice, and a few dumplings,
which were made by throwing in pieces of hard biscuit:

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The repro soldier’s kettle (L) hangs alongside a typical brass
household kettle (R). In the latter is the daily ration of one
pound of beef with half a pint of the weekly ration of peas:

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Rations for soldiers fighting during the Revolutionary War
typically included:

1 pound of beef or fish or ¾ pound of pork per day
1 pound of bread, hard biscuit, or flour per day
3 pints of peas, beans, or other root vegetables per week
½ pint rice or 1 pint Indian (corn) meal per week
________________

The specific contents of these “regular” rations changed
periodically throughout the War. However, at the very least,
an effort was made to make sure the troops always received
meat, flour (in one form or another), and root vegetables
of some sort.

_________________________

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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.

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

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