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Cooking and Dining in 18th Century America

If you’re anything like some of our board members and volunteers, then you have probably been testing out some new, fun recipes during this pandemic! Sure, homemade pizza or Asian potstickers may be delicious, but what about some good, old-fashioned recipes from 18th century America? Yes, much of early colonial cooking revolved around stew — beef stew, rabbit stew, mutton stew, you name it. But what about a recipe for those not looking for something so heavy, especially during these hot summer months?

From apple pudding and lemon cream custard, to minced meat pies and roasted potatoes, when you are looking for something new to cook up in your kitchen, be sure to check out American Cookery by Amelia Simmons (published in 1798!).

Tavern in Colonial America

For many colonists, stew was a household staple. Many would eat it every day, and several times a day! (Stew for breakfast, anyone?) This was mostly because they relied heavily on seasonal produce, meat, and herbs they grew on their property. Plus, since they didn’t have refrigeration, and canning wasn’t introduced until 1810, colonists had to eat what they already prepared.

When it came to cooking, women were responsible for starting and maintaining the kitchen fire, carrying water, gathering fresh vegetables, fruits, and herbs, and grabbing meat from the smokehouse. All of this would be done by breakfast — it was much more difficult and time consuming than what we do today, even when we try out a recipe for the first time. And following recipes wasn’t always “easy as pie” either — they were usually written in paragraphs and included a description of the process, rather than a list of ingredients, which you’ll see below. If you were wealthy, you may have served up some elegant meals consisting of turtle soup, roast duck, an assortment of nuts, and a variety of desserts ranging from puddings, to pies, to preserves! But servings were often kept small, maybe to make room for all of the beer or liquor you had been consuming, and would continue to consume, throughout the evening.

If you wanted a break from cooking on the open hearth, you could stop by a local tavern to enjoy, you guessed it, stew! But aside from the usual beef, broth, and veggie entrée, you could also find fresh meat, like ham or venison, breads, eggs, cheese, a variety of vegetables, and of course a selection of only the finest rum, brandy, or whiskey this side of the county line! You could also expect a more substantial, and probably tastier, tavern meal in a city like Philadelphia or New York, too — perfect for a city dweller or traveler! Meals at your local establishment were simple, mostly due to limited cooking facilities (consisting of only an open hearth, much like home). Expect most of the food served to be broiled or boiled!

And finally, in Colonial America, no meal would be complete without a glass of local, homemade, or sometimes imported, beer, punch, or liquor. Rum was the most popular of spirits, often being mixed with lemon or lime juice, rinds, and brown sugar (usually served warm in taverns). Many also drank cheaper, locally-distilled (or fermented) alcoholic beverages like cider and beer, especially during the American Revolution when the importation of alcohol was halted.

Now, if you are up for trying a recipe from 18th century America, may we suggest roast beef, beef à la mode, or apple pudding? Let us know if you attempted a colonial recipe during your next visit to Craven Hall!

Roast Beef

The general rules are, to have a brisk hot fire, to hang down rather than to spit, to baste with salt and water, and one quarter of an hour to every pound of beef, though tender beef will require less, while old tough beef will require more roasting; pricking with a fork will determine you whether done or not; rare done is the healthiest and the taste of this age.

Beef à la Mode

To a 14 or 16 pound round of beef, put one ounce salt-petre, 48 hours after, stuff it with the following: one and a half pounds of beef, one pound salt pork, two pounds grated bread, chop all fine and rub in half pound butter, salt, pepper, and cayenne, summer savory, thyme; lay it on skewers in a large pot, over three pints hot water (which it must occasionally be supplied with), the steam of which in 4 or 5 hours will render the round tender if over a moderate fire; when tender, take away the gravy and thicken with flour and butter, and boil, brown the round with butter and flour, adding ketchup and wine to taste.

Apple Pudding

One pound apples sifted, one pound sugar, 9 eggs, one quarter of a pound butter, one quart sweet cream, one gill* rose-water**, a cinnamon [stick], a green lemon peel grated (if sweet apples, add the juice of half a lemon put on to taste). Currants, raisins, and citron some add, but good without them.

*One gill, or teacup, is a unit of measurement for volume equal to a quarter of a pint.

**Vanilla extract is a good substitute for rosewater. Use 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla for every 2 tablespoons of rosewater in a recipe. In this instance, the recipe calls for 8 tablespoons of rosewater, so you would need 6 teaspoons, or 2 tablespoons, of vanilla extract.

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