This is the fourth article in January of the School for Housewives 1909 series published on January 24, 1909, and is a continuation of the previous article on colonial cookery.
Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the The Buffalo Sunday Morning News.
Second Paper on Colonial Cookery
The “spider” and the “hoe,” described in our former chapter on the colonial kitchen, had short, thick handles, by which they were lifted on and from the fire. The handle of the frying-pan was from three to four feet in length. There was not an inch too much of it when pancakes were to grace the family board.
The traditional feat of tossing a pancake up the chimney with dexterity that made it turn a somersault in the transit and alight unerringly in the middle of the pan may be an overstrained version of the fact that pancakes were tossed high and straight by accomplished cooks. If the daughter of a housewifely mother in training for managing a home of her own did not win the reputation accorded by a western traveler to the locomotive on a certain railway, of “jumping higher and lighting truer than any other in the State, the more refined phraseology of her eulogists meant the same thing. “She beats all for tossing a pancake,” conferred the degree of “past mistress of cookery.”
Here is one recipe for the vaunted delicacy.
“Beat six eggs light; whites and yolks must be separate. Beat the yolks 10 minutes by clock, then strain. The whites must stand alone. Mix the beaten yolks with a pint and a half of sweet milk that has not been skimmed. Warm milk from the cow is best. Then stir in a quarter of a pound of melted butter. Sift a scant cup of flour with a little salt; stir the flour, one handful at a time, into the egg and milk by turns, with a great spoonful of the stiff whites.
“You must have the frying pan clean and on the fire with a quarter of a pound of butter heaped in it. It must not burn, but it should hiss around the edges. Put in enough batter to cover the whole bottom of the pan, but the pancake should not be too thick.”
“Fry over hot, clear coals, toss the minute the lower side is done. Sprinkle with sugar with which you have mixed a little cinnamon. Or, if you prefer, roll the pancakes up plain and eat with a sweet butter sauce.”
“Mem. It is customary to have pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.”
You will complain that the formula the eighteenth century matron had time to write and to follow is elaborate by comparison with the terms of our modern recipes. What, then, will you say to our next selection?”
To Make Oyster “Pye.”
“Take a quart of large oysters and boil them in their own liquor, with onion, a little thyme, winter savory and sweet marjoram. Season with whole peppers and a blade of mace. When they have stewed a little take them off the fire and let them stand until they are almost cold. Then take the yolk of an egg, beat it up in a little of the liquor, and take some parsley, thyme and a little lemon peel, 12 of the oysters, a little salt, pepper, and a blade of mace and two good spoonfuls of grated white bread. Mince all very small, mix it with egg, and make it into lumps as big as oysters. Then make a good short crust, and put it in the patty-pan. Then put in the parboiled oysters, the lumps of ‘forced’ (sic) meat and the marrow of marrow bones, the yolks of 10 hard-boiled eggs, whole. Then cover your ‘pye,’ and just as it goes into the oven put in liquor the oysters were stewed in. It will take an hour’s baking. Then take off the lid. Have ready half a pound of butter, half a pint of gravy, the yolk of a hard egg, bruised and dissolved in the gravy, and a little lemon peel shred very small. Put it over the fire and make it very hot. Then squeeze in the juice of half a lemon, and pour it all over the ‘pye.’
“Lay on the lid again, and serve very hot.”
Without stopping to inquire how much oyster flavor remained in the “pye” by the time all the ingredients were in, pass we on to a formula that is simplicity itself when contrasted with the last:
To Make Butter Chicken.
“Take two chickens, picked very clean, and boil them with a blade of mace and a little salt. Take them off and cut them in pieces and put them into a toss-up pan with a little parsley. Shred a little parsley, a little lemon peel, a bit of butter, a little of the liquor the chicken was boiled in. Toss up all together with four spoonfuls of cream. Put in a little salt. Put it into your dish and some juice of lemon. Garnish the dish with sliced lemon, then serve it up hot.”
A recipe for crab soup was given to me, with the assurance that the original was found in a scrap book which bore upon a tattered fly-leaf the name of “Martha Washington.”
“Boil one dozen large, fresh crabs. They must be lively when they go into the pot. Let them get cold and pick out the meat with a fork or awl. Cut into bits a pound of corned pork and boil very fast half an hour. (Mem.—Smoked bacon will not do.) Take the pot from the fire and set in very cold water to cool. Skim off the fat as it congeals on the top and throw away. Put the liquor the pork was boiled in back over the fire. As soon as it is hot put the crab meat into this and stew slowly half an hour. Meanwhile whip the yolks of six eggs very smooth, pour upon them, stirring all the time, a pint of fresh milk which has not been skimmed, heated scalding hot. Put this into a clean stew pan, stir in the crab meat and the liquor in which they were cooked. At the last stir in a spoonful of green parsley chopped very small. Serve very hot.”
We heave a sigh of relief that onions, heard-boiled eggs and “lemon peel shred small” do not smother the taste of the sea food in this formula.
Writers of New England folk tales have made us familiar with the name of “tansey pudding.” One of them speaks of it as “a delicate dainty.” Could it have been what our North river chatelaine registers under the head of “a tansey”?
To Make a Tansey.
“Take the yolks of 18 eggs, the whites of four, and half a pint of cream, half a pint of the juice of spinage (sic) and tansey, together with a spoonful of grated bread and a grated nutmeg. Put in a little salt and sweeten it to your taste. Then beat it well together and put it in the dish and strew loaf sugar over it. Garnish it with oranges cut in quarters and serve it up hot.”
Presumably the dish was put into the Dutch oven after the loaf sugar (pulverised in the mortar and sifted through coarse net) was strewed on top. Please note that the write hints at nothing of the kind, or so much as approaches the fire in imagination until she enjoins that the “tansey” be served up hot.
Alas for the tyro in housewifery who was her contemporary, if she tried to lean practical cookery from the manuscript manuals of her elders!
Eggs were not 50 cents per dozen 150 years agone, yet 18 for one dish of “tansey” and a dozen for the next recipe on our list must have kept Dame Partlet and her pullets busy.
To Make Puffert.
“Take 12 eggs, one pint of milk, three-quarters of a pound of butter, one pound of sugar, one pound of currants, four pounds of flour, three spoonfuls of yeast, 12 cloves and one nutmeg. Mix well together; let it stand to rise. Then bake it. The milk and butter must be warm.”
Again, alas for the learner who could not read between the lines how long “it” was to rise; when the eggs were to go in; how the flour should be incorporated with the fruit; if this last were to be dredged, and if cloves were put in whole.
The cook-book maker of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries sets, in fancy, the unskilled worker before her, and, if she understands her trade, instructs her reader as if the learner were ignorant of the successive processes of compounding and cooking. Our very great-grandmother took too much for granted. Hence we find her store of practical recipes—which she called “receipts”—broken reeds, when we would fain depend upon her garnered wisdom. Her books are amusing reading. And other lessons than those that have to do with the preparation of rare and racy dishes are to be gathered from the study of them and of the times to which they belong.
Lessons of contentment with the lives we stigmatize as artificial and unhealthy, fast and crowded. If those were “good old times,” ours are better. If spinning was fine exercise for the growing girl, tennis, golf and other outdoor games are more healthful.
Solomon kept a very far look ahead in these as in major and minor masters of his day and ours.
“Say not though, ‘What is the cause that the former days were better than these?’ For thou dost not inquire wisely concerning us.”
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