THANKSGIVING is fast approaching here in the US, and as everyone knows, food is a BIG and central aspect of this traditional holiday. For most of us, we have our established dishes that must be cooked year after year. In my household that “must have” no-compromise dish is the dressing recipe passed down from my grandfather (an excellent, professional cook). When it comes to the other dishes to complete the menu, flexibility is great and I am open to trying something new. Whether the main course, desserts, snacks, or leftovers, there are uncountable recipes to be found. For today’s post, I went looking for historical recipes that not only would have been eaten by our American ancestors for Thanksgiving and the autumn season, but also possibly eaten by those living across the pond in Jane Austen’s era.
Thomas Jefferson’s Sweet Potato Biscuits
American Founding Father Thomas Jefferson was passionate about food and grew hundreds of varieties of fruits and vegetables in his gardens at Monticello. Jefferson also wrote many recipes himself, including one for sweet potato biscuits. Note that baking powder was not available in the 18th century (Colonial bakers sometimes used pearlash made from wood ash as a leavener) so most recipes have been modernized. The recipe below is from the cooking blog Revolutionary Pie and is attributed to Walter Staib, chef-proprietor of Philadelphia’s City Tavern, where colonial recipes are served by waiters in period costume. Chef Staib has a cookbook on Amazon with this recipe and many others, if interested: City Tavern Cookbook
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup vegetable shortening, refrigerated
2 cups cooked, mashed, and cooled sweet potato
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, ginger, and allspice.
3. Cut the cold shortening into about eight pieces and blend into the flour mixture with two knives or a pastry cutter, until crumbly.
4. Add the sweet potatoes and mix well with a large spoon. Then add the cream and pecans and stir just until moistened — but be sure to mix in all the flour.
5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and roll to about 1 inch thick. Cut out rounds with a 2-inch floured biscuit cutter. Place biscuits 1 inch apart on ungreased baking sheets.
6. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown. Serve warm, with butter and/or honey.
Makes about 2 dozen biscuits.
Loudoun’s Apple Pudding
This recipe, also from Revolutionary Pie, caught my eye, as it did the blogger (click image below for the full blog post) although not for the same reasons. For one, it really looks delicious (and I am not particularly fond of bread pudding), and secondly the connection between Colonial American and England makes it a perfect choice for this blog.
John Campbell Loudoun, the fourth earl of Loudoun, was born in Scotland in 1705. He was sent to North America in 1756 as governor of the Virginia colony and commander-in-chief of the British forces in America. He was viewed by most colonial leaders as incompetent and was extremely unpopular, which given the state of affairs at that time might have been a biased opinion! Then again, Benjamin Franklin wrote that Loudoun’s 1757 campaign against the French was “frivolous, expensive, and disgraceful to our Nation beyond Conception” and shortly thereafter Loudoun was recalled to England. Perhaps the poor man should have stuck with culinary pursuits rather than military!
Here is his recipe for Apple Pudding written in recipe language rather than verse.
6 ounces white bread (slightly stale is best)
5 apples, peeled, cored, and diced
6 ounces currants
5 ounces sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- To make bread crumbs, remove crusts from the bread, then chop in food processor until fine crumbs form.
- Beat eggs until well blended. Stir in bread crumbs, apples, currants, sugar, salt, and nutmeg, and mix well.
- Butter a one-quart pudding mold, or a baking dish. Pour in batter and cover container with lid or aluminum foil. Bake in preheated 300°F oven for three hours.
- Remove pudding from oven and let rest 10-15 minutes, then remove lid or foil. If using a mold, invert the pudding onto a plate if possible; otherwise, serve from the dish. Serve warm, with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream if desired.
Note from blogger: I baked this pudding instead of boiling it as I feel the baking method is easier and produces a similar result. If you want to steam the pudding, place the mold in a large kettle on top of metal rack or trivet and pour boiling water into the pot about halfway up the sides of the mold. Cover the pot and cook over medium-low heat, keeping the water at a simmer, for three hours.
For those who love pumpkin anything this time of year, I stumbled across these delicious treats on Researching Food History. To be fair, I am strictly a canned pumpkin person who has only once tried to make a pie from a fresh pumpkin (it did not go well) so I’ve never delved into other recipes for pumpkin. Perhaps these recipes will not be so unique to some, but for me, these pumpkin chips look so delicious I am actually considering giving fresh pumpkin another go despite that long ago disaster!
The best way to make even pieces for pumpkin chips is to cut horizontal rings from the whole pumpkin. Remove the rind with a knife or vegetable peeler, and cut the chips to the thickness desired (below left). Chips can also be made from long-neck pumpkins (below right).
There are a wide variety of recipes for pumpkin chips from the days of yore. This one is from A Colonial Plantation Cookbook: The Receipt Book of Harriott Pinckney Horry (1770) with the adorable variation of “pompion” for pumpkin.
Shave your Pompion thin with a plain and cut it in slips about the width of your finger, put shreds of Lemon peal among it, wet your sugar with orange Juice and boil it into Syrup. Then put in your chips and lemon Peal and let them boil till done.
The chips soaked overnight will shrink considerably, 4 cups become 2 cups, then boil the mixture until chips are clear.
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This recipe for Pickled Pumpkin Chips adds a bit of spice with the sweet and is from Economical Cookery (1918):
6 cups pumpkin
2 teaspoons powdered cinnamon
5 cups sugar or honey
1 teaspoon powdered mace
1 cup (1/2 pt.) vinegar
1 teaspoon powdered cloves
Cover the peeled pumpkin slices with boiling water and boil until slightly tender.
Pour off water, add sugar and vinegar, and cook fifteen minutes.
Add spices and boil up until thoroughly mixed.
Seal in jars while hot.
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Finally, while this recipe is from Gleanings in Bee Culture dated 1921, so well after the time of Jane Austen or the early Americans, they look too delicious to pass up. Plus they offer three variations to the basic recipe in flavor and procedure. As seen in the photo below, the chips can be left in the syrup, dried, or dried and then rolled in granulated sugar.
Cover the pumpkin with the sugar and let stand over night.
Drain from the syrup which will form and boil the syrup down until it is thick enough to coat a spoon.
Add the pumpkin, the honey, lemon, and ginger (or cinnamon bark) and simmer until the pumpkin is clear and most of the syrup has been absorbed.
Do not cook too long, as the product will darken and a caramel flavor develop.
Drain and dry the pumpkin on a plate several hours and then roll in granulated sugar.
Is it a dessert? Is it a cocktail? How about a bit of both! For the final unique recipe to dazzle your Thanksgiving guests, syllabub is one of the best to accomplish that task. Rather than copy/pasting portions here, I direct everyone to click over to Delightfully Whipped Syllabub on Savoring the Past. The wonderful website of Jas. Townsend is a treasure trove of historic recipes, cooking instruction, and history, the blog on syllabub offering a lot of all three.
Is everyone hungry now?
Share your favorite Thanksgiving or autumn foods with us in the comments below. The weirder the better!
Happy Thanksgiving to our American readers!