I’m having a lot of fun learning about food in Colonial Massachusetts. Not that I like to eat or anything. There’s a lot to discover about the types of foods that were available then, how they were processed, and how the meals were cooked. I started following a few food historians, and when I see how they spend their time recreating recipes from the past with only ingredients and utensils available from that time period I think I may have missed my calling. In my next life I will be a food historian.
Reading: make 18th century dessert recipes from salem massachusetts
In the Massachusetts Bay Colony, cooks relied heavily on recipes from popular English authors such as Robert May’s cookbook from 1685 and Gervase Markham’s English Huswife from 1615 (http://www.foodtimeline.org/familycuisine.net – 1690salem). Meals in the Massachusetts Bay Colony were a unique combination between the eating habits the colonists brought with them from England and the ingredients available to them in New England.
Popular foods in Salem in the 1690s were meat, bread, and other dishes made of wheat and oat. Root vegetables like turnips were also popular. Since Massachusetts is located along the Atlantic coast, colonists relied heavily on seafood, and fish such as cod, herring, bass, sturgeon, mackerel, clams, and lobster were often eaten (though Puritans didn’t like lobster). Fish had to be salted to be preserved, and salt was either imported or gathered from the sea. Soups, roasts, bacon, ham, salt pork, salads, puddings, and pies were all common, while fruits and vegetables were served fresh or preserved.
Salem cooks would have used a combination of local ingredients such as corn, clams, squash, beans, cranberries, and potatoes while taking advantage of the wild game, domesticated hogs, nuts, wild berries, and fruits such as pears, cherries, and plums. Wealthier residents (including James and his father John) would have had imported goods such as tea, coffee, sugar, rum, citrus fruits, and spices. Apple orchards were established early and the plentiful apples were used to create a low-alcohol cider that was a main drink for the colonists. (From Daily Life in Colonial New England by Claudia Durst Johnson).
As I searched for recipes that Elizabeth might have made while living in Salem, I discovered this recipe for a bride’s cake similar to the one James and Elizabeth would have served at their wedding in 1690:
1 1/2 pounds butter 1 1/2 pounds sugar 8 eggs 1 1/2 pounds flour 1 tablespoon ground mace 2 nutmegs 1 cup black molasses 1 cup coffee 1 tablespoon rose extract 2 pounds raisins 3 pounds currants 1 pound chopped almonds 1 pound citron, cut fine
Prepare the fruit and nuts, and dredge with part of the flour. Cream the butter and sugar together and add the well-beaten eggs. Sift the flour and spices and add to the egg mixture. Add the fruit and liquids by degrees. Line a large baking pan with wax paper, greasing the pan well and then greasing the paper. Turn in the cake mixture and bake. Frost with white boiled icing. (http://www.foodtimeline.org/familycuisine.net – 1690salem).
Here’s a recipe from familycuisine.net for Asparagus Soup, which would have been seasonal from May until August.
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mint, sorrel, and marjoram
salt and pepper
- Put the beef, cut in pieces and rolled in flour, into a pan with the bacon at the bottom
- Cover it close, and set it on a slow fire, stirring it now and then till the gravy is drawn
- Put in the water and ale, and season to taste with pepper and salt
- Let it stew gently
- Strain the liquor, and take off the fat,
- Add the beet, spinach, cabbage lettuce, and mint, sorrel, and sweet marjoram, pounded
- Let these boil up in the liquor,
- Put in the asparagus-tops cut small, and allow them to boil till all is tender
- Serve hot
From Plimouth Plantation I found a recipe for samp, which is an old-timey version of oatmeal. Readers of Her Dear & Loving Husband may remember James mentioning that he ate samp for breakfast during the 17th century. According to the Plimouth Plantation website, the original recipe looked like this:
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It is light of digestion, and the English make a kind of Loblolly of it to eat with Milk, which they call Sampe; they beat it in a Morter, and sift the flower out of it; the remainder they call Hominey, which they put into a Pot of two or three Gallons, with Water, and boyl it upon a gentle Fire till it be like a Hasty Puden; they put of this into Milk, and so eat it.
If you’d prefer a more modern version, you might like this recipe:
2 cups coarse corn grits 4 cups water 1 cup milk ¼ cup sugar
Bring water to a boil in a large saucepan with a heavy bottom. Add the corn grits and stir. Simmer until they are soft, about 10 minutes, and the water has been absorbed. Serve with milk and sugar.
I haven’t yet tried any of the recipes that Elizabeth will be cooking in Down Salem Way, but I will. I think trying out the recipes myself will give me a unique insight into Elizabeth’s daily life. I may not have the same equipment she would have used (I don’t happen to have a hearth with cauldrons hanging around inside my galley kitchen), but even if I use what I have, I think I will gain a perspective on running a household in the 17th century that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
* * * * *
Down Salem Way, the prequel to the Loving Husband Trilogy, is set during the Salem Witch Trials.
How would you deal with the madness of the Salem witch hunts?
In 1690, James Wentworth arrives in Salem in the Massachusetts Bay Colony with his father, John, hoping to continue the success of John’s mercantile business. While in Salem, James falls in love with Elizabeth Jones, a farmer’s daughter. Though they are virtually strangers when they marry, the love between James and Elizabeth grows quickly into a passion that will transcend time.
But something evil lurks down Salem way. Soon many in Salem, town and village, are accused of practicing witchcraft and sending their shapes to harm others. Despite the madness surrounding them, James and Elizabeth are determined to continue the peaceful, loving life they have created together. Will their love for one another carry them through the most difficult challenge of all?
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