Saturday, August 7, 2010

It's 1776! And it's time for your supper, Master Washington.

Still on the Colonial kick!

I've found several books on cooking and recipes from Colonial times but they all seem...mmm, well...a bit Wolfgang Pucked. I'm not looking for modern interpretations of original recipes, I'm looking for what great-great-great grandmother cooked for her husband on Saturday, or what they had at the middle-class taverns I would have been able to afford had I been there. I guess I just don't want to be too fancy.

One of the best recipe sites for what I wanted was for the Claude Moore Colonial Farm , which touts itself as "The world of an 18th century family living on a small, low-income farm just prior to the Revolutionary War." Sounds like my kind of place.

Their list of recipes sounds delicious and unusual. They have a recipe for Onion Pie, which I've never ever heard of, adapted from Recipes from the Raleigh Tavern Bake Shop, so even though the recipe is still a reflection of an original, I thought I'd start there. Doubtless the colonists had no access to Crisco for their pie crusts, but since Lard is sold like porn now - the grocer keeps it hidden behind a counter, you have to ask for it with a great deal of guilt and shame, and you feel everyone staring at you as you purchase it - I thought it best to just use what I have on hand.

Onion Pie

The Crust
3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 Cup shortening (can include up to 1/4 cup butter)
1 egg
1/2 cup ice water

Mix flour and salt. Cut in the shortening with knives or pastry cutter until it's mealy. Add the beaten egg and 1/4 cup ice water. Add remaining water to make a soft pasty. Chill well, divinde in half, then roll each half out on a floured surface to no more than 1/8"

(I certainly made it thicker than that, it was so crumbly there was no way it would hold that thin a roll.)

The Filling
1/2 pound apple
1/2 pound potato
1/2 pound onion
6 eggs (I used two and it came out fine)
1/2 pound butter (again, I used only one stick and it was fine)
1/4 tsp each: Nutmeg, Pepper, Salt, Mace.

Cut the apple, onion and potato into very thin slices (This makes it cook faster). Lay half the pastry in the pan and cover with half the butter, sliced into pats. beat the eggs. Combine separately the nutmeg, salt, pepper and mace. Add layers of apple, onion and potatoes to pie shell, putting beaten egg and spices between each layer, until pie is filled. Spread the left-over butter on top and cover with remaining crust. Cut slits in the top to allow for steam, then bake at 350 for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until golden brown. Let cool and serve.

The only part I had trouble with was the crust. I just couldn't roll it out thin enough without destroying it, since it's so very crumbly. Eventually I made it double thick, but it still wouldn't roll off the pin and onto the pie pan. It cracked in half and I had to sort of mash it together to make the top crust. You can sort of see the Frankenstein scar as I pop it in the oven, but it baked up well and like most pies, the crust was probably the best part. And don't be worried about those 1/2 pound measurements. That equated to one apple, one onion, and one potato, hardly a killer at the store.

This was a VERY filled pie. A word about the slicing: slice everything thin. Make small pieces so it all cooks together and you wind up with a soft, savory filling rather than a crunchy one. You won't have any trouble with the apples or the onions at any size, but what fun it is to bite down into a hot, raw potato. You don't want a while pie made of that. I sliced everything thin and what a dream it was.

The pie was savory and quite yummy but I couldn't help feeling that it was a little bland by itself. What did it need? More salt? Perhaps a bit of gravy ladeled over the top, like mashed potatoes? That probably would have been what the Colonials used but eventually I figured out that a little Goulden's Spicy Brown mustard, added as a dipping sauce, improved the flavor greatly. So much so that next time I think I will try to add the mustard to the egg/spice mixture and see how that goes.

The crust, as I said, came out perfect, even though it was rolled too think. That may even be a good thing: there was more yummy crust to eat. The filling was subtle. You'd think an apple added to the mix would really throw it off but the flavors blended well.

The pie lasted a few days because it was REALLY filling. I think I liked it better hot, but a cold slice with mustard was an equally delicious lunch.

Now, on to breakfast the next morning!

Johnnycakes! Wow, nothing could be simpler than Johnnycakes, that new-world pancake made with cornmeal. I remember reading about George Washington when I was a child, maybe 9 or 10, and how he ate Johnnycakes with butter for breakfast just about every morning. I wanted to know what they were like and made a recipe to find out. I guess I've been doing this even longer than I thought I had! Again, many thanks to the Claude Moore Colonial Farm for the recipe, but it's so simple I can do it from memory.

1 cup corn meal
1/2 cup hot water
pinch of salt.

Ooooh, tough, huh? The colonials probably had a constant pot of water going, but I just put a half a cup of water in the microwave for a minute and then dumped in the cornmeal and salt. Mix it, mix it, mix it, til it forms a bit of a ball, then leave it alone for about a half hour. You can do this right before you make your morning coffee, and it will be done setting by the time you finish your first cup. Form it into patties like sausage, I prefer mine a bit thin to retain crispiness, and fry in butter on both sides, about 2 or 3 minutes, on medium heat. Serve warm with butter and honey. And ooooh, are they ever heaven! This is everything you need in a breakfast. It's filling, not much fat, a good shot of protein, tasty, and it's fun in the mouth. I've tried adding an egg to the mix to make it more pancake-like but I really do prefer these slightly crunchy griddlecakes to the soft variety. Plus, oddly enough, the egg-spiked batter seems to take LONGER to cook. Go figure.

So, let's grind up some coffee, fry up some Johnnycakes, and start our Saturday with a Shot Heard 'Round The World!

Further Reading:

Did I mention the Claude Moore Colonial Farm? Well I'm mentioning it AGAIN so there! The links above take you straight to the recipes, but this one here will take you to the home page so you can see what other things they're doing, like the tobacco harvest and a Colonial Wedding that I would just love to see. Their recipes look very simple as well, perfect for beginners. They have a recipe for rock candy I'm just dying to try. A lot of people made it as kids, but not me. I'm not even sure I've ever TASTED any, so as soon as the weather cools down enough I'm going to try it. had a great article on Colonial Cooking, including some cookie recipes that you just know are going to show up here. How can you go wrong with brown sugar and vanilla? Again, as soon as it's cool, Colonial Soup will make an appearance.

Moving up the ladder in fussiness is Colonial Williamsburg, but they ARE the authority so it's best to listen to what they have to say. Their recipes are also authentic and delicious, but a bit too fancy for me. For right now that is. Their cookbook, The Colonial Williamsburg Tavern Cookbook is just divine.