My article on the history of waffles is in the current issue of Early American Life. The magazine is available from Firelands Publishing or online if you are unable to find it at your favorite news-stand. Martin and I enjoyed making waffles in the July heat in the deep south (smile). We are very thankful to Buena Vista Mansion for allowing us to use the home for the photo shoot, and to Kim McKinley for taking the photos.
My article will eventually end up somewhere so I can’t share too much here, but needless to say Ketchup was not always what we see today. It was most often made of mushrooms, followed by young green walnuts, etc., but by 1795 tomato ketchup is documented. It is not thick, not sweet, and absolutely nothing like modern ketchup. It did appear on tables in caster sets, but was primarily used to season foods while cooking, much as we use Worcestershire sauce today.
A gentleman in Philadelphia, born in 1756, claimed to have on many occasions caught 3000 catfish in a night by dipping them up with a net. They were so plentiful he sold them for two shillings per hundred. Much of his catch went to the Fishing Company of St. David where as many as 40 dozen fish were cooked at a time.
The house belonging to that Company was described as, “neat and tasteful”, made of wood, 70 feet long by 20 feet wide, and set against the butt of a hill side on a stone foundation. The sides of the house consisted solely of folding or moveable doors and windows which were carried off by the Hessians for use in building huts during the Revolution. The man claimed that they so damaged the place that it was never again used for a fish camp afterward. – Watson, John Fanning. Annals of Philadelphia: Being a Collection of Memoirs, Anecdotes, and Incidents of the City and its Inhabitants. 1830. Philadelphia.
In the early days, rations were never enough food for armies without the need of adding to the larders whatever foods could be found. Washington’s army and explorers in the party of Lewis and Clark were no exceptions.
A diary entry penned by a soldier in Washington’s army discussed throwing out lines and catching large catfish in 1770 while on a tour to the Ohio River.– Sparks, Jared. The Life of George Washington. 1839. London.
While the diarist left no hint as to how the catfish was cooked, another diary entry from roughly the same time period specified their party had fried catfish, freshly caught. – Dillon, John Brown. Oddities of Colonial Legislation in America. 1879. Indianapolis.
A member of the Lewis and Clark expedition documented their fine catch of fish also.
Two of our men last night caught nine catfish that would together weigh three hundred pounds. The large catfish are caught in the Missouri with hook and line…We are generally well supplied with Catfish, the best I have ever seen. Some large ones were taken last night. – Gass, Patrick. Lewis and Clarke’s Journal to the Rocky Mountains: In the Years 1804-5-6. 1847. Dayton, Ohio.
The Lewis and Clark expedition again left no account of how the catfish were prepared, but given they were rarely well supplied with provisions, it is a good bet they were roasted over hot coals. The size of the fish they described was rather commonplace for the time, accounts abound of catfish weighing 80 to 100 lbs. or more.
“An Alabama paper says that a gentleman by the name of Richardson, lately caught in the Tennessee River, a cat fish that weighed one hundred and eighteen pounds—and measured five feet two inches in length, four feet round the middle of its body, and 12 inches between the eyes”. – Niles’ Weekly Register. April 22, 1837.
Hunters often resorted to fishing with line, seine, net, or trap when efforts failed at bringing down game. Since many such parties took little provisions with them, the fish were cooked very simply. In this instance, the writer told us how they cooked their catch.
In a little while they caught twelve catfish, fat yellow fellows, which proved to be of excellent flavor. They made a fire on the spot, and proceeded to roast one on the coals, and though they had no seasoning the meal was a very grateful one. – Hazard’s United States Commercial and Statistical Register, Volume 1. Dec. 4, 1839. Philadelphia.
Those who did have more ingredients prepared the catfish more traditionally. A party in Texas left accounts both from when provisions were low and when they had been replenished. The methods used in preparing the fish were more traditional when they had ingredients to use in preparing the fish.
The first account said there was no seasoning of any kind, not even salt, available yet the men ate, “pound after pound of the coarse fish”. After two months they were able to obtain some basic supplies at which point they noted, “that even fried fish was a rare dainty”. This is indicative of the preference of old Southern cooks of using a frying pan whenever possible. – Kendall, George Wilkins. Narrative of the Texan Santa Fe Expedition. 1844. London.
Catfish soup or chowder was much appreciated though most printed recipes are from the early 19th century. In closing I will leave the reader with two receipts – one for catfish soup from 1821, and the other from 1840.
CATFISH SOUP: Clean three or four catfish very carefully, washing them in cold water. Cut them into small pieces, bones and all. Take a knuckle of veal, and some bone or meat of gammon, break them, with a hammer, into fragments. Add any bones or scraps of meat, that are sweet and good; put all these into a stew pan, with a dessert spoonful of flour rolled in butter. Boil for four hours, adding hot water to make up your quantity. Scum it carefully when required. Then strain the whole through a hair sieve.
Boil for five minutes, three carrots, 1 turnip, a head of celery, 4 onions, and throw away this water; then cut your herbs and put them, with a bunch of sweet herbs and some chopped parsley into your soup, and boil them till they are tender; add half a pint of Tenerific [?] wine, four bruised cloves, a little mace, pepper and salt to your mind. Serve it with the carrots, turnip, and onions taking out the sweet herbs. A dozen oysters with their liquor strained will improve it. – Willich, Anthony Florian Madinger. The Domestic Encyclopedia, or, A Dictionary of Facts and Useful Knowledge. 1821. Philadelphia.
Catfish Soup. Cat-fish that have been caught near the middle of the river are much nicer than those that are taken near the shore where they have access to impure food. The small white ones are the best. Having cut off their heads, skin the fish, and clean them, and cut them in three. To twelve small catfish allow a pound and a half of ham. Cut the [salted, country] ham into small pieces, or slice it very thin, and scald it two or three times in boiling water, lest it be too salt. Chop together a bunch of parsley and some sweet marjoram stripped from the stalks. Put these ingredients into a soup kettle and season them with pepper: the ham will make it salt enough. Add a head of celery cut small, or a large bunch of celery seed tied up in a bit of clear muslin to prevent its dispersing. Put in two quarts of water, cover the kettle, and let it boil slowly till every thing is sufficiently done, and the fish and ham quite tender. Skim it frequently. Boil in another vessel a quart of rich milk, in which you have melted a quarter of a pound of butter divided into small bits and rolled in flour. Pour it hot to the soup, and stir in at the last the beaten yolks, of four eggs. Give it another boil, just to take off the rawness of the eggs, and then put it into a tureen, taking out the bag of celery seed before you send the soup to table, and adding some toasted bread cut into small squares. In making toast for soup, cut the bread thick, and pare of all the crust. – Leslie, Eliza. Directions for Cookery, in its Various Branches. 1840. Philadelphia.
– The Historic Foodie (a.k.a. Victoria Rumble)
Take a brief moment to think about every dish you serve which has been browned under the broiler to make it more visually appealing or to cook quickly under direct intense heat. Ask yourself would the mac and cheese with the nice buttery bread crumb topping look as good when you send it to table if you didn’t brown it first?
Next ask yourself how you might go about browning the top of any dish if your broiler suddenly went on the fritz.
The odd looking tool pictured above was used for browning the surfaces of such dishes. It was made of cast iron with a round, flat, but relatively thick plate attached to a long handle which made it possible to grasp the cooler end of the handle without getting so close to the heat of an open hearth fire. The plate could rest on the two short legs while pushed into the hot coals so that the cook did not have to hold up its ample weight during the heating process.
Less often the plates were square rather than round. This writer has found no illustration of a salamander with a square heating plate. – Norwak, Mary. Kitchen Antiques. 1975. Praeger Publishers.
Salamanders without legs somewhat resemble a metal bread or oven peel except that they are much smaller and shorter than a peel.
During use, the red-hot round plate could rest on the legs and the dish could be passed underneath it, or if, say the dish was taller than the plate while resting on the legs, the salamander could be turned over and held by the cook who passed it over and around the surface of the dish.
Salamanders were not as common in Colonial era kitchens as many other tools and finding an original today is a rare treat. A good blacksmith can make one that will rival a rare and expensive original.
Receipts which instructed the cook to brown the surface of a dish were being published by the early to mid 18th century, but for several decades yet the writers would not automatically assume the cook possessed a salamander. Some receipts told the reader to heat a shovel, meaning a hearth-side fire shovel, till it became red hot and toast the dish with it by passing it over and around. Other books called for a salamander to be used in the same manner, while still others told the cook to use whichever was available.
The definition of a fire shovel from the 1770’s was, “an instrument to throw coals on a fire with”, nothing was said about the type of metal the shovel was made from. – A New Complete English Dictionary. 1770. Edinburgh.
Diligent research revealed, however, that fire shovels were made of iron, and therefore conducted heat as well for the job of browning as the salamander, accomplishing two tasks for the price of one tool. – Boswell, John. The Scot’s Magazine. Vol. 30. March 1768.
“They roast or parch it in a fire shovel, or such like iron instrument…”. – de Thévenot, Jean. The Travels of Monsieur De Thevenot Into the Levant. 1686. London.
In 1723, John Nott’s cookery book instructed the use of a red hot shovel in a dozen receipts, but made no mention of a salamander. – Nott, John. The Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary. 1723. London.
The following receipt is somewhat unique in that it offers the cook the option of cooking on a bread peel, also heated until red hot, and to brown the surface of the eggs with a red hot fire shovel. It does not mention a salamander.
To broil Eggs. After heating an Oven Peel red hot, blow off the Dust, break the Eggs on it, and put them into a hot Oven, or brown them on the Top with a red hot Fire-shovel: When they are done, put them into a Dish with some Gravy, Elder-Vinegar, and grated Nutmeg; or Vinegar, Pepper, Juice of Orange, and grated Nutmeg. – The Lady’s Companion. 1743. London.
In a book published in 1737, a dish of oysters was to be browned with either a salamander or a shovel.
Scallop-Shells of Oysters. Set and beard them, season them lightly with Pepper, Salt and minced Parsley: Butter the scallop-shells very well; then, when your Fish or Oysters are neatly laid in, pour their Liquor, thickened with grated Bread, over them, let them grill half an Hour and brown them with a red hot Salamander, or Fire-shovel: You may garnish a Dish of Fish with them, or serve them by themselves for the second Course. – The Whole Duty of a Woman. 1737. London.
Cookery books continued to instruct in the use of a red-hot salamander or shovel for browning a dish into the early 20th century. For example, Frederick Vine’s 1907 book contained nine receipts which used a red hot salamander, but there was no mention of using a shovel. – Vine, Frederick. Practical Pastry: A Handbook for Pastrybakers, Cooks, and Confectioners. 1907. London.
Next time a historic receipt speaks of a salamander you will have a visual to associate with the tool and an understanding of how it was used.
Blissful Meals, Yall, The Historic Foodie
The potato took an interesting route in getting on our dinner tables from South America. Personally, I don’t believe it is possible to pin point the first known consumption of a potato in Europe or in the U.S. There are numerous accounts referring to the first use, but they are simply the first use the writer was aware of. There may have been people who ate them much earlier and just didn’t have the ability or means to document it.
I don’t believe it is possible to label any one place outside their native habitat as the absolute first place someone ate a potato either. I do, however, think others with far more time to research the matter than I agree that the first known written word on potatoes was by the Spaniards ca. 1532.
Some unknown author peering at his paper through dim flickering candlelight once wrote that potatoes were first carried to Ireland by Sir Walter Raleigh (some say Sir Francis Drake), and one then another copied his account to the point it eventually became gospel.
Among such accounts is one from Sir Robert Southwell, President of the Royal Society, who declared the potato was introduced in Ireland by his grandfather on 3 December, 1693 after he had obtained it from Sir Walter Raleigh.
I have no doubt his grandfather may have gotten potatoes from Sir Walter Raleigh because why would someone need to lie about such a thing? His believing it to have been the first did not make it so, it was merely the first account he was aware of, or it was family legend which oftentimes can be quite tainted in its accuracy.
His information is flawed because several translators have placed the potato in the hands of the Spaniards who are said to have been growing it by around 1570 and from where it spread through Europe and Ireland. That’s a difference of 123 years.
We do know that the potato had so long been the major crop grown in Ireland that when blight wiped out the crops severe famine followed, the worst of which was in the 1840’s.
Some early references regarding potato culture give us some idea of its commonality in Europe and from there it made its way into the U.S. with the European immigrants.
In London in 1586, A. Smythe-Palmer wrote of a guest being, “shocked and outraged beyond endurance because a dependent at the dinner-table of his host suggested that he, the Beau, might help him to a potato with his own fork.” – Smythe-Palmer, Abram. The Ideal of a Gentleman: or, A Mirror for Gentlefolks. 1586. London.
John Gerard was growing potatoes in his garden which he wrote about in his Herball in 1597. He called it the potato from Virginia; however, if it was a true potato it is unlikely it came from the North American colonies that early. If it actually came from Virginia, which could just mean from the colonies in the New World, it was probably one of dozens of wild native tubers similar to a potato but not a true potato.
A book printed for Richard Wodnothe in Leadenhall Street, London, in 1655 said the potato crop affected a large number of farmers in the country and kept many employed thus we know its culture had grown into a fairly large scale operation by then. Abstracts on Money, Prices, and Agriculture in the United Kingdom. Vol. 1. 1655. London.
Potatoes supposedly matured two months sooner than in England when grown in salt-peter enriched soil in Jamaica although several factors influenced the growth of any plant, not the least of which was temperature and rainfall. Philosophical Transactions: Giving Some Accompt of the Present Undertakings, Studies and Labours of the Ingenious in Many Considerable Parts of the World. Printed for John Martyn, Printer for the Royal Society. 1669.
William Dampier seems to have distinguished a difference in potatoes and yams as he listed both in 1699. – Dampier, William. A New Voyage Around the World. London.
A Portuguese writer wrote of a root like the potato, or batata in 1609 which he thought poisonous. There are stories of people cooking the plant and throwing out the root in the earliest days of potato consumption which probably did cause sickness making some believe the potato was poisonous. Being declared a member of the nightshade family didn’t help its popularity. – Hacklvyt, Richard. Virginia Richly Valued: by the Description of the Main Land of Florida. 1609. London.
John Smith wrote in 1613 of a ship that went to Virginia and, “thence home”, and brought the first potato roots, “which flourished exceedingly for a time, till by negligence they were almost lost (all but two cast away roots) that so wonderfully have increased, they are a main release to all the Inhabitants”. This is evidence potatoes were being grown in the American colonies in the earliest part of the 1600’s. – Smith, John. The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles. 1632. London.
John Worlidge wrote in 1700 that potatoes were much used as bread in Ireland and America. “They grow in any good mellow ground and are increased by planting them as the scorzonera”. – Worlidge, John. Systema Horti-culturae. 1700. London.
Bosman wrote of potatoes which, “runs across the ground”. They were oval shaped, perfectly white within, and were boiled or roasted and eaten for bread. He claimed they tasted something like boiled chestnuts. Although he says they were white, the plants running across the ground is probably a sweet potato. – Bosman, Willem. A New and Accurate Description of the Coast of Guinea Divided into the Gold, the Slave, and the Ivory Coasts. 1705. London.
In 1704, Churchill called it the patattes of the Portuguese and said the Dutch, “boiled them with fish and flesh, excelling in taste and sweetness much like parsnips or artichokes, and they were also eaten raw with salt, oil, and vinegar like a Salad, but are not of so easie a digestion then. The best way is to roast them in the ashes which makes them taste like chestnuts”. – Churchill. A Collection of Voyages and Travels. 1704. London.
The diet of the inhabitants of the western islands of Scotland at the beginning of the 18th century consisted primarily of little flesh, only those of distinction having it every day, and boiled more than roasted. “Their ordinary diet is butter, cheese, milk, potatoes, colworts, brochan, i.e. oatmeal and water boil’d.” That remark shows that potatoes were a large part of the common family’s diet by that time and probably for some time prior. – Martin, Martin. A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland. 1716. London.
Richard Bradley included potatoes in his list of vegetables in 1718. New Improvements in Planting and Gardening: Both Philosophical and Practical. London.
He called them, “potatoes of Spain”, batatas or pappas in Dictionarium Botanicum. 1728. London.
John Nott listed potatoes as an ingredient in eleven receipts in his The Cook’s and Confectioner’s Dictionary. They were baked into pies or made into stews or fricasees. – Nott, John. The Cook’s and Confectioner’s Dictionary. 1723. London.
Numerous internet sites place potatoes in U.S. gardens in 1621 when gifted to the governor of Virginia, although this writer did not locate a primary source verifying that information. I have neither the time nor the inclination at this time of digging deep enough to prove or debunk that statement. John Smith’s account predates this by 8 years anyway.
We know they were eaten at all times of day by 1711 as evidenced by an old diary entry dated Feb. 5, 1711, saying the writer had breakfasted on ham and potatoes. – The Montreal Gazette. Nov. 3, 1939.
They were listed among the garden plants grown by William Byrd in the 1730’s. William Byrd’s Natural History of Virginia, translation by Richard Croom Beatty and William J. Mulloy from a German edition printed in 1737. (Dietz Press. 1940. Richmond.
An account from 1797 extolled the virtues of potatoes and outlined the ways they were commonly prepared. The English and probably American colonists served them roasted or boiled and eaten with butter, sometimes with the skin on and sometimes with it peeled away, and chopped into small pieces and served with butter or fried bacon. They were used in making hash, roasted in pan drippings, and made into lobscouse. “No vegetable is, or ever was, applied to such a variety of uses in the north of England as the potato; it is a constant standing dish, at every meal, breakfast excepted, at the tables of the rich, as well as the poor…” – The Analytical Review, or History of Literature, Domestic and Foreign. 1797. London.
The Scots were regularly enjoying their champit [mashed] potatoes by the early eighteenth century, if not before as evidenced by a study done by the Highland and Agricultural Society. Transactions of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland. 1737. Edinburgh.
T. Williams published a receipt called To Dress Potatoes in 1797. The cook was to put them in a saucepan with very little water and simmer them until the skin started to crack. The water was drained off before serving them. His stuffed chine of pork was served with applesauce and potatoes, and he offered a receipt for a potato pudding. For his lamb pie and veal pie he specified the use of Spanish potatoes indicating he may have used both varieties. – Williams, T. The Accomplished Housekeeper and Universal Cook. 1797. London.
Cholesterol wasn’t an issue when the early receipts were published for fried potatoes. Large amounts of butter bulked up the calorie intake for hard working farm-class families.
Pare and slice potatoes half an inch thick; then wipe them dry, flour, and put them into boiling hot lard or dripping, and fry them of a light brown colour. Then drain them dry, sprinkle a little salt over, and serve them up directly with melted butter in a sauce boat. – Mollard, John. The Art of Cookery Made Easy and Refined. 1802. London.
To make John Mollard’s Creamed Potatoes the cook was to peel and quarter the potatoes and boil them until half done. They were then drained and salt, cream, and butter were added. The potatoes simmered slowly until done without breaking them apart.
Mashed potatoes contained the same ingredients but were mashed up before serving them. He offered the option of placing the mashed potatoes into scallop dishes and browning them with a salamander before taking them to table.
George Johnson’s receipt for Fried Potatoes basically produced home fries, and by partially precooking them he greatly reduced the amount of cook time needed to fry them golden brown. A receipt that talks of putting food into boiling fat is to some degree discussing deep frying and not pan frying.
Fried Potatoes are also very nice; the best plan is to boil more than you require for your meal the day before, and when half done, take a few out of the saucepan, and the next day they will be firm enough to cut into thin slices, which are to be put into a frying pan in which there is some boiling dripping; fry them till they are nicely browned, and before putting them on the dish sprinkle some pepper and salt over them. – Johnson, George. The Cottage Gardener. 1801. London.
In closing, this article is meant to be a general over-view of early potato use and history. It is not meant to be the end-all, covered-everything history which would obviously require much more space than I have. Perhaps this has inspired you to whip up a potato dish or two.
Blissful meals yall, – The Historic Foodie©
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The subject of food history is a massive one. It encompasses the planting, growing, harvesting, preservation, and cooking of countless fruits and vegetables; the raising of barnyard fowl, pigs, cattle, sheep, goats, etc.; and the harvesting of wild game, game-birds, fish, and shellfish, all of which were, because of one factor or another, also somewhat seasonal. The wise housewife and helpmate dried, pickled, potted, smoked, cured, brined, or otherwise preserved those for the lean times.
This treatise will deal with a little known method of preservation which was once of primary importance – potting. It involves sealing a food, usually some type of meat, although cheese was also potted, in butter or other fat to eliminate exposure to air which would cause it to go bad. Potted meats were kept for weeks or months, providing there was a relatively cool place in which to store them. Storage facilities might have been a root cellar, a spring house, or any location that would remain cooler than the temperature inside the home.
A more familiar term for a similar process may be confit. Confit is a French term for preserving food, usually meat, in fat. The fat may be duck fat or in the absence of sufficient quantity or in the case of pork confit it may be bacon fat. The most common types are duck, goose, and pork.
If properly done, the meat will keep well for three to five months in the refrigerator, perhaps longer.
Liver pate’ is also covered in butter to protect it from the air.
Pots were beginning to replace the heavy paste crusts, also known as cofyns”, by the 1600’s. The heavy pastes of former years were meant to be containers to encase the fillings and protect them while sealing out air that hastened spoilage, and were not always meant to be consumed.
Documenting this method is relatively easy through the 18th and 19th centuries because enough cookery books have survived to give a valuable insight into this and other preservation methods. With a little more diligent search, one can find plenteous mention of these methods many centuries earlier.
Some do use to parboil their Fowl, after they have taken out the garbage, and then do dip them in Barrowsgreace [lard], or clarified butter, till they have gotten a new garment over them, and then they lay them one by one in stone pots, filling the stone pots up to the brim with Barrowsgreace or clarified butter. – Sir Hugh Plat, 1607.
Sir Hugh’s account describes potted fowl as it was prepared in the sixteenth century.
Sir Kenelm Digby’s book published in 1669 contained five receipts for potted meat. His account instructs in the use of pots as opposed to preparing the mixture in heavy paste which was the rule earlier and which was still an option in some books.
No matter what type of meat was being potted, the method was the same. The meat was cut into pieces, baked with a quantity of fresh butter or other fat (usually with spices and seasonings), pounded with mortar and pestle (or ground), packed into earthenware pots, heated, cooled, and then sealed with a layer of clarified butter. The exception was small birds which were sometimes potted whole.
Very little water was used in cooking the meats and they were baked at high temperatures to kill any organisms that could cause spoilage, or at least capture them underneath the layer of hard fat where they were not exposed to the air. The layer of fat also prevented the entry of airborne contaminants that could cause spoilage.
Many early receipts specify using fresh butter because if the butter was on its way to going bad prior to being used to seal the pots of meat or cheese, the quality of the ingredients was affected and their shelf life was much shorter.
A few receipts can be found for potting previously boiled meats after removing all the skin, muscle, and other unappetizing bits. Prior to covering with butter the meat was re-seasoned and packed into pots in the usual manner.
Many cooks, after putting the meat-paste into pots, place the latter for a few minutes in a hot oven, for the purpose of condensing the meat as much as possible, and thereby exuding the air. – Hill, Georgiana. The Breakfast Book. 1865. London.
Receipts from the 18th century involve potting beef, venison, ox-cheek, tongue, rabbit, ham, veal, chicken, salmon, mackerel, trout, eels, pike, smelts, pigeons, lamprey, char, moor-game, hare, oysters, ducks, herrings, and a variety of small birds.
Game birds which were routinely potted included woodcocks, partridges, ortolains, grouse, quails, etc.
To pot the birds, they were plucked, singed, and drawn before being seasoned and baked with a quantity of butter after which the meat was packed into a pot, covered with clarified butter, and tied down with heavy paper, a skin, or bladder.
One source instructed that the heads of moor-game* should not be concealed underneath the butter, and that the pinions and feet of pigeons and partridges should be removed before covering the birds with butter.
To pot a hare, it was cut up, placed in a deep dish with the liver and plenty of fresh butter, tied down with heavy oiled paper, and baked until tender. It was then drained, and when cold, the meat was picked from the bones, skin, and sinew. The meat was pounded in a mortar to a paste along with a little of the cooking liquid and packed into pots, pressed well down, covered with clarified fresh butter, and the pots tied down tight.
The best parts of older, therefore tougher, rabbits, usually haunches and loins were treated similarly. For young tender rabbits, they were larded with bacon fat, ham, or tongue, seasoned with salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and either potted in the traditional manner, or the meat made into rolls, tied to secure them, and then packed with herbs, spices, and garlic. They were covered with clarified butter or olive oil, and when using the latter were said to, “keep well for a length of time”. – Hill, Georgiana. The Breakfast Book. 1865. London.
Tongues were boiled until tender with wine and spices then the tough outer covering peeled off and discarded. The remaining meat was cut up, pounded with spices (usually salt, pepper, nutmeg, and mace), and finished off as usual.
Potting was of such value in preserving food, that Sarah Harrison included 16 distinct receipts in her book published in 1739. A cook with the ability to think for herself, was able to use those methods as a guide for putting away any number of meats or combinations of meats. – The Housekeeper’s Pocket-Book.
A thorough perusal of primary sources indicates that early cooks often kept a potted meat past its prime yet refused to waste it. Such was evidenced by Hannah Glasses’ instructions (1777 and 1787). This is not surprising in a time when cookbooks usually contained instructions for freshening meat that had been kept too long in a non-preserved state.
Glasse said, “I have seen potted birds that have come a great way, often smell so bad, that nobody could bear the smell of the rankness of the butter”. Her method of remedying the problem was to take all the birds, or pieces of birds, out of the pot, dip them for half a minute into a pot of boiling water to remove the butter, dry them, return them to the pot, and again pour fresh clarified butter over them to seal out the air.
While few of us would want to go that far with the process, potted meat and cheese are excellent tidbits which need only crusty bread to make a meal which was considered quite pleasing in former times.
Inns that took pride in the service they provided weary travelers kept potted meats, fish, and cheeses on hand so that a good quality tasty meal was always at hand when a hungry patron arrived, and ships captains stocked potted foods to be consumed on long sea voyages.
Potted meats were put up in pots that held a pint, a quart, or sometimes two quarts. Some receipts instruct putting it up in a firkin which was a wooden vessel or tub used to hold butter or lard. – Table Talk. No. 3. March 1888.
Potted meat obviously wasn’t always the nasty canned product sold by that name today made from meat by-products and mechanically separated chicken. Meat by-products are everything but the hair, horns, and hooves and mechanically separated chicken refers to a paste made by forcing chicken through a sieve to separate the bones from the tissue, obviously wasting nothing.
Quite the contrary in former times, when better cuts of meat were used for potting so that when the product was served it was tasty and nutritious and could as easily be featured on the tea table as on the dinner table.
Hill, Georgiana. The Breakfast Book. 1865. London.
Webster, Thomas & Parkes, Mrs. The American Family Encyclopedia of Useful Knowledge. 1856.
W. Kent & Co., publishers. The Household Encyclopedia. 1859. London
Lee, N.M.K. The Cook’s Own Book. 1832 and 1840. Boston.
Mason, Charlotte. The Ladies’ Assistant. 1777 and 1787. London.
Harrison, Sarah. The Housekeeper’s Pocket-Book. 1739. London.
Carter, Charles. The London and Country Cook. 1749. London.
Young, Arthur. A Six-Months Tour Through the North of England. 1770. London.
Glasse, Hannah. The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy. 1774 and 1788. London.
It is difficult to prepare a period meal while speaking with somewhere around 12,000 students over the course of three days, however, I managed it quite successfully in early November. That three days was then followed up with two days speaking with the general public on the virtues of 18th century foods.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have garden space to plant a variety of heirloom greens and prepared several during the week including curled leaf mustard, red-leaf mustard, beet greens, collards, and amaranth.
I was not impressed with the amaranth. Unless you enjoy strong flavored greens it should be parboiled 2 or 3 times before putting to simmer with seasonings. It reseeds itself with gusto so even if the flavor had been better my intent was to pull it up before it went to seed. As it turned out, I pulled it up after harvesting the young tops.
I mixed the beet greens with the curled-leaf mustard and found them to be tender and very flavorful. My intent is to plant beets this coming spring and try harvesting the tops while allowing the roots to continue to grow.
The red-leaf mustard produced a large leaf but it was tender and crisp and I found it pleasing enough that I will plant it again. The flavor was good and the color, while not as red after cooking, was interesting.
The lovage never came up. Out of five packs of seed I didn’t get a single plant. Obviously the seed were not productive. I’ll retry that in the spring as well.
The collards were young, tender, and in their prime. Seasoned with salt pork and ham hocks, pepper and salt they were much appreciated.
While I’m a long way from a master gardener, growing these greens affords me the opportunity to have them fresh and tender and to give them an honest evaluation for the book I’m writing.
Fricasee may appear under a number of spellings in 18th century cookery books, but however you spell it, as foodie tech Alton Brown would say, “It’s good eats”.
White fricasee is, in fact, perhaps my favorite period dish, well one of them anyway. This morning I’ll share a few of the easier receipts.
A Fricasy of Chicken. After you have drawn and wash’d your chickens, half boil them; then take them up and cut them in pieces, and put them in a frying pan, and fry them in butter, then take them out of the pan and clean it, and put in some strong broth, some white wine, some grated nutmeg, a little pepper and salt, a bunch of sweet herbs, and an eschalot or two; let these with two or three anchovies stew on a slow fire and boil up; then beat it up with butter and eggs till it is thick, and put your Chickens in, and toss them well together; lay sippets in the dish, and serve it up with sliced lemon and fried parsley. – E. Smith, The Compleat Housewife. 1739.
Sippets are toasts browned in a little butter. Most receipts will instruct cooking the chicken pieces in butter, but do not have the chicken “half boiled” before cutting it up.
In The Whole Duty of a Woman (1737), the preceding receipt is found, and a second one which also contains oysters, mushrooms, and anchovies, bacon, mace, and sweet herbs with claret. For this receipt there was no boiling of the chicken before cutting it in pieces to fry in the butter.
A third version did instruct boiling or roasting the chicken before skinning it and frying in the butter, and it was seasoned with a generous amount of lemon juice with anchovies, mace, pepper, broth, and thickened with cream and eggs. The cook was instructed to serve it over mushrooms and oysters.
To Make a Fricasee. Fley three chickens or rabbits, cut them into little bits, put them into a quart of water, then take them up, and put them in a frying pan to a Pint of white wine, as much strong broth or water, a little pepper, cloves, or mace and a few sprigs of sweet herbs, one anchovy, two shallots, two slices of Lemons. Stir it till tender, then put in a pint of oysters, some mushrooms, fifty balls of forc’dmeat, boiled in water a little, then some burnt [browned] butter, and serve it with sippets, lemons slic’d and barberries. – Harrison, Sarah. The Housekeeper’s Pocket Book. 1739.
Forcemeat balls are made of finely minced meat, bread crumbs, and seasoned with chopped herbs, and bound together with cream or eggs.
Esther Copley’s cooking style mimics my own, or I should say mine mimics hers, in that she does not get bound up in exact amounts in order to prepare a dish. Her instructions left a great deal to the taste and preferences of the cook.
Instead of giving various recipes she said, “we shall just observe that cold chicken may be agreeably rewarmed in a small quantity of gravy seasoned with pepper, salt, nutmeg or mace, flavored with eschalot, sweet-herbs, or lemon peel; thickened with cream, butter and flour with the addition of oysters and mushrooms, in all these particulars varying according to taste and circumstance”. – The House-Keeper’s Guide. 1838.
White fricasee remained popular through the 19th century. The following receipt is from Cookery as it Should Be, 1856. It is little different from those a century earlier except that the instructions are a little clearer in describing the method of preparation.
Draw and clean one pair of fowls, lay them in water for half an hour, then dry them, and lay them in a stew pan with milk and water, and a little salt, and let them simmer until cooked. Put into a saucepan half a pint of cream, a quarter of a pound of butter, and a little grated nutmeg, stir this and set it on the fire to simmer, and stir in a wine glass of white wine, then lay in the cooked chicken, and let it remain in this, covered up, until dished. Chop up parsley and strew it over the chicken.
The reader has noticed by now that the chicken in these recipes was cooked, but the method was not to brown it. In recipes where the chicken or other meat was browned the resulting dish is a Brown Fricasee. The following receipt is given for contrast. Both versions are tasty, and changing the preparation methods can change the dish enough to cause it to be met with almost as a new dish entirely.
Brown Fricasee. Prepare the chickens for cooking, lay them in a stew-pan just covered with water, sprinkle in a little salt, and let them slowly simmer for twenty minutes; then take the pieces out and dry them with a cloth. Put a lump of butter into a pan, dredge the chicken well with flour, and lay it into the hot pan to brown; break up the yolk of an egg, a little grated nutmeg, cayenne and salt, take some of the broth in which the chickens were boiled, put it in the stew-pan, and stir in the egg and seasoning, with a little flour for thickening, and when well mixed, lay in the browned chicken until ready for dishing, and garnish with parsley. – Mrs. Goodfellow’s Cookery as it Should Be.
Blissful Meals, yall, from the Historic Foodie
copyright, please do not reproduce without permission.
Please tell your mommie and daddy that Nana is leaving for Chicago on Weds.
morning August 19th. She can take a taxi to the airport so as not to
disturb you and Mommie, and daddy can pick me up at the airport on Sunday
August 23 at 1:00. I would be perfectly delighted to stay a couple of days
and play with you before I come home. I’m sure your Uncle Josh will just
jump at the chance to keep the menagerie of dogs that live here while I’m
gone. I will bring you a present from Chicago. It’s the big exciting “cold
in the winter, hot in the summer, and very windy” little town in Northern
Illinois. You’ll know all about that some day when we study all the places
Nana goes to. Watch for Nana on WGN, channel 9 on Friday, August 21st at
noon. Hurry and learn to go potty and maybe mommie and daddy will let you
go with me sometimes when we stay in one of the nice inns with indoor
plumbing. Daddy worries otherwise, cause you might get a little dirty at
Be a good girl, Nana loves you very much.
For those unenlightened individuals, my first grandchild is due July 10th. Her name will be Madison Isabelle, or Madie. I just know we’re going to have loads of fun together. I’ve already shopped for her very own set of child-sized cookware and dishes for the playhouse I intend to put in the back yard.
I have the honor of preparing one of the soups from my newly released book, Soup Through the Ages, A Culinary History with Period Recipes and discussing the book with the host of the Lunchbreak Segment for WGN TV, Chicago. I am excited to have an opportunity to discuss the delights of period foods with a diverse group of viewers. Often when I do cooking demonstrations they take place at some historic site which brings in, for the most part, history-oriented visitors. This will give me an opportunity to share the merits of one of the classic foods as it evolved through the centuries with people from all backgrounds.
Blissful meals yall,
The Historic Foodie, Victoria Rumble.
[Update: Preparing cheddar cheese soup on live television (WGN Chicago) was a wonderful experience. Despite the stress of working my way through a divorce, my friend, Linda, and I had a very exciting weekend in Chicago. The producer changed his mind a dozen times right up to 5 minutes before the spot was to start on live television, but everything came off without a hitch. The interviewer and members of the cast and crew ate every bite of the soup – even swabbing out the last bit adhering to the pan with a piece of bread. I was honored they enjoyed it, and pleased to let the audience know that period food can be quite tasty and within the reach of any cook who cares enough to provide it for those he or she cares about.]