Colonial Cooking Books
The Accokeek Foundation's Foodways program explores the foods that our colonial ancestors ate and the ways in which these foods were prepared.
This month, the Accokeek Foundation will launch its newly developed Foodways program. The event, held at the National Colonial Farm on the third Saturday of each month from March through November, will explore the foods that our colonial ancestors ate and the various ways in which these foods were prepared. Of course, we would never have been able to begin this program without a close look at the “receipts” (or recipes) of colonial-era cookbooks and the brilliant women who wrote them.
One of the most popular “cooking books” of the eighteenth century was The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse. First published in 1747, the comprehensive work includes chapters on dressing fish, jarring cherries, and cooking meals “For Captains of Ships.”
While it is quite extensive, Glasse’s work stands out because of its simplistic style. Writes Jane Carson in Colonial Virginia Cookery, Glasse “wrote her instructions for the persons who actually did the cooking. She… would serve the interests of the mistress of the household by forestalling the kind of extravagance associated with French chefs, who used six pounds of butter to fry twelve eggs ‘when every body knows (that understands cooking) that half a pound is full enough’.”
Even so, it hasn’t been easy for us to follow all of Glasse’s instructions. Our large volume of Glasse’s work has been filled with page-markers making note of recipes like “To Butter Crabs, or Lobsters”; “To Make Gravy for a Turky, or any Sort of Fowl”; and “Asparagus Forced in French Role.” But this and other colonial cookbooks are filled with unusual cooking terms with which we aren’t familiar. Below, some of our favorite examples—and their definitions.
Butter the size of an egg: about 1/4 cup of butter Eggs, ten without shells: 1 pound of eggs Coffin: pie crust, or the dish or mold in which the pie was baked Wineglassful: about 1/4 cup
Come to this month’s Foodways program on Saturday, March 19. Jo Mimms and Brenda McKelvin will be cooking on the National Colonial Farm from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Gather at noon for a presentation called “Livin’ Off the Land and Makin’ Do: During the lean times, especially late winter, making your provisionings stretch.”