Friday, November 22, 2013

Colonial Cookbook: The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy

Meet Mrs. Hannah Glasse. By day, she is a plain English housewife, struggling to scrape by in the mid-1700s. By night, however, she works on her revolutionary new idea: a cookbook designed for the masses of untrained servants working in fine English homes.

source: Wikipedia

By 1746, when Glasse began to write The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, a growing middle class was settling into the cities of England. Hoping to set themselves up comfortably, they hired servants, but very few of those servants actually knew how to cook. Glasse aimed to fill that void with her cookbook, offering a collection of original recipes and those rewritten from other sources. She was clear about her motives: "I do not pretend to teach professed Cooks, my design being to instruct the ignorant and unlearned...and that in so full and plain a manner, that the most ignorant Person, who can but read, will know how to do Cookery well," she stated in her introduction.

And instruct she did. According to food historian Karen Hess, Glasse's book sold well in England and her colonies in North America following its publication in 1747. Many noted Americans owned copies (including Thomas Jefferson and George Washington), despite their growing discontent with Mother England. In the mid-18th century, many Americans still relied on English foods, as they still saw themselves as British subjects. Yet ingredients found only in North America crept into their English recipes, as Glasse's special "American Mode of Cooking" section proves.

And we see "American" ingredients and recipes in this book because I'm using the 1805 edition. By this point, foods in America began to take on a more distinctly "American" flavor, just as the newly-minted nation began to form its unique identity. This edition comes at a major turning point in American history, and the recipes and ingredients reflect that, harking back to the colonists' European origins while looking ahead to New World foods.

I'll try to highlight that cross-section with the recipes I choose from Glasse's book, but of course you can expect some recipes just for fun, too. How could I have resisted those stewed pears?

Works cited: "Hannah Glasse: The original domestic goddess" (Independent). British Library. Karen Hess introduction.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Historical links, lately

Happy Friday! I'm planning to enjoy some unexpectedly warm November weather with plenty of walks outside and reconnecting with friends. And of course, some kind of extravagant baking/cooking project will be involved. Fall chestnuts, I have my eye on you.

Hope your weekend is relaxing and fun. In the meantime, here are some fun historical links from around the web...

Houseplants throughout history. Make your own Hanging Gardens of Babylon!

The wonder of the mechanical apple peeler-slicer-corer, fresh from the 1880s. Also, that pie sounds amazing.

Wednesday, November 13 was National Indian Pudding Day. And last year I made Indian pudding! It's as good as NPR makes it sound.

Dry your fruits and veggies colonial-style.

These colorized old photos are stunning.

Happy weekending!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Spiced, stewed pears

Thank you for all your wonderful comments on our news! It can be scary to put big announcements out into this void of the internet, so it meant a lot to read your good wishes.

We're knee-deep in fall over here in New England. Leaves turning color, crisp and clear afternoons, days growing shorter. Sometimes I think that New England is my favorite place to be come fall. Though the leaves turn brilliant orange and red in Ohio, the days are never as consistently clear and blue, thanks to our moody Lake Erie. Plus, as a history teacher, fall and colonial history seem to go hand-in-hand for me, and there's so much history to be mined here in Rhode Island. Walking by a low stone wall puts me in mind of a colonial homestead, the stones demarcating property lines from faraway neighbors. And teaching colonial history come fall, as I'm doing this year, just feels right. (Maybe it's the Thanksgiving/Pilgrim connection, which is basically ingrained by this point.)

At any rate, I'm going to pursue some colonial studies of my own on this little blog for a while. We've looked at 18th-century Williamsburg before, thanks to the Williamsburg Art of Cookery, but now we're going to get serious. We're hauling out the real, original recipes. Even if the results are less than savory.

Luckily, one of the first recipes I tried turned out beautifully.

Pears are delicious on their own, and oh-so-fall and wintry. Since I was little, some relatives have been sending us a big box of pears and grapefruit for Christmas every year, which my dad would store in the cold cellar of our house. When he felt like topping off a meal with fresh, crisp fruit, he'd trek down to the basement and return with a perfectly-chilled pear, and he'd slice it up for all of us to sample. It's still one of my favorite holiday (and post-holiday) traditions.

But Mrs. Hannah Glasse, writer of one of colonial America's most popular cookbook The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, takes those pears and raises me one. You peel and quarter the pears, then bathe them in a delicious mixture of red wine, cloves, sugar, and lemon peel. Bake until the pears are soft and blushing, and they taste like November straight out of the oven. There's nothing better.

Spiced, Stewed Pears
(adapted from The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy)

3 pears, peeled and quartered
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup red wine
1 tbsp lemon peel
4-6 cloves (varies depending on how much spice you want)

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

In a small bowl, mix the sugar and wine together until sugar dissolves.

Place the pears in a ceramic or glass baking dish and pour the wine mixture over them. Scatter the lemon peel and cloves (more if you like intense spice, less for a milder flavor) over the mixture. Bake for 40 minutes, stirring the pears once halfway through.