Sunday, November 6, 2011

How Food Has Changed

by Sheila Connolly

Having failed to procure a guest for this day (and it's a long one, thanks to Daylight Savings), I thought I would regale you with some recipes from The Williamsburg Art of Cookery; or, Accomplished Gentlewoman's Companion, by Mrs. Helen Bullock.  The authors themselves cited many earlier sources.  The copy I have was purchased at Williamsburg by my grandmother in June 1951.  Her late husband, my grandfather, had attended William & Mary (although he didn't graduate), and she first visited the place with him, in 1936.

"The Apple Bee," by Winslow Homer

I love reading old cookbooks, and trying to puzzle out what some of the unfamiliar ingredients are--like isinglass, which is included in a recipe for blanc mange (which I know of only through Little Women).  There are intriguing recipes that have fallen out of favor,  like celery vinegar, or "apoquiniminics," which appear to be some kind of flat biscuit, or squab pie (if you're having trouble finding squabs, the writers says you can substitute robins).  And of course I'm always on the hunt for apple recipes. The book has a nice selection.

Apple Pudding (before 1839)

Half a Pound of Apples boiled, and squeezed through a hair Sieve half a Pound of Butter--beaten to a Cream, and mixed with the Apples before they are cold, six Eggs well beaten, half a Pound of fine Sugar--the Rind of two Lemons--or Oranges--boiled well shifting the water several Times--then beat all togather--bake them on a Crust.  Half an Hour will bake it.

Um, I have no idea what this is supposed to come out like. It's not clear if you're supposed to cream the apples or the butter, and what on earth is being boiled?

This next one sounds a bit more manageable:

To make an Apple Tansy (1742)

Take three Pippins, slice them round in thin slices, and fry them with Butter; then beat four Eggs, with six Spoonfuls of Cream, a little Rose-water, Nutmeg and Sugar, and stir them together, and pour it over the Apples; Let it fry a little, and turn in with a Pye-plate.  Garnish with Lemon and Sugar strewed over it.

I won't trouble you with the Pupton of Apples (I have no idea what a Pupton was), although at some point you're supposed to pour the mixture into a silver dish and bake it in a slow oven, then serve it with a plate of sliced butter on the side as well as fresh parsley. 

Most people would recognize the Apple Pie recipe, although there is an interesting twist:  you're supposed to boil the apple peels and cores in water with "a Blade of Mace," then strain it, add sugar, and boil it down to make a syrup ro pour over the apples in your pie before you add the top crust.  I can't say I've ever tried mace in a pie.

A good portion of the cookbook is devoted to breads and pastries, and it ends up with a section called "Of Health Drinking," which includes recipes for such delightful concoctions as Arrack Punch, Caudle, Morello Cherry Bounce, Custard Posset, Negus, Panada, and Orgeat (labeled "A Necessary Refreshment at all Parties").  It sounds like the good people of old Williamsburg knew how to party.  But lest they get to carried away, the section is preceded by the following page, "A Moral and Physical Thermometer," from The Gentlemen's Magazine in 1739.


  1. I believe that isinglass is a thickening agent - working somewhat like gelatin. In the apple pudding recipe, you boil the apples, then sieve them. Cream the butter. Then what is boiled is the lemon or orange rind, changing the water several times, much as you do when making candied peel. I just love old cookbooks! Love the temperance chart!

  2. So interesting! A blade of mace? Sounds like something a mystery writer would use... :)

  3. I have to agree that crank is intemperate. Wait ... I think I'm thinking of a totally different kind of crank ...

    That's good stuff, Sheila!

  4. Fascinating recipes, Sheila. They certainly weren't afraid of butter, were they? Mace would be great with apples. It's the outside of nutmeg, right? I might have to try that.

    And don't forget to enter the Christmas Cookie Recipe contest! Send recipes to KristaDavis at KristaDavis dot com.

    ~ Krista