Thursday, August 12, 2010

Early American Recipes

During my vast research for historicals set in early America I came across a wealth of plant lore and recipes.  An avid gardener, I love to grow herbs, heirloom flowers and vegetables. To see, smell, touch and taste the same plants known to my ancestors is as rich a connection to the past as I can have, and I’m fascinated with those who’ve gone before me—a common thread in my work whether writing straight historical or paranormal romance, the past looms large.
The following recipes are lifted from a slim volume I picked up at the nearby Museum of Frontier Culture located outside of historic Staunton Virginia in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley where my family has lived for several hundred years.  By ‘frontier’ they mean colonial.  At one time, the valley and mountains were the colonial frontier, the setting for my new release colonial Native American Romance Novel Red Bird’s Song.
The Good Land: Native American and Early Colonial Food by Patricia B. Mitchell
Vegetable Fritters:
1 c. flour, 1 tsp. baking powder, ½ tsp. salt
1 egg, ½ cup milk, 1 tsp. melted butter, or margarine or oil
1 cup chopped and well drained cooked vegetables (such as carrots, corn, green beans, lima beans, mushrooms, peas, or a combination of).
Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat egg and add milk and butter.  Add to flour mixture and beat until smooth.  Add vegetables. Drop by tablespoons into shallow hot fat (or oil) in skillet.  Fry for four minutes or until brown on all sides. Drain on absorbent paper.
“Pumpkin was one of the plentiful Indian crops for which the English soon ‘developed a necessary liking.’ The food has been described as the ‘fruit which the Lord fed his people with til corn and cattle increased.’
This old verse illustrates the early dependence of settlers in the New World upon pumpkins: “For pottage, and puddings, and custards, and pies. Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies. We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon; If it were not for pumpkins, we should be undoon.”
They cooked the fruit into a ‘gruel’ flavored it with butter, vinegar, and ginger. I would open the pumpkin and remove the seeds, then cut the flesh into pieces before cooking, but that direction isn’t included as it’s assumed you know that. Peeling is easier after it’s cooked. 
An early recipe for ‘Pompkin Pie.’
 “One quart milk, 1 pint pompkin, 4 eggs, molasses, allspice, and ginger in a crust, bake for 1 hour.”
If that recipe isn’t clear enough, here’s an old Mennonite pumpkin pie recipe. It assumes you grew your own pumpkins, of course, but you can substitute canned. 
Pumpkin Pie:
1 1/2 cups cooked pumpkin, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 1/2 cups scalded milk, 3 eggs, separated
1/2 tsp. salt, 1 Tab. cornstarch, 1/4 tsp. ginger, 1/4 tsp cloves, 1 tsp cloves
Pastry for one 9 inch pie crust.

Cook pumpkin and rub through a sieve. Add beaten egg yolks, sugar, salt, cornstarch, and mix well. Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites.
Pour mixture into unbaked crust. Bake at 425 for 10 minutes then reduce heat to 350 and continue baking for 30 minutes.
*I reduced the milk by 1/2 cup. *I use good sized eggs

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