Saturday, December 8, 2012

The taste of history

Anadama Bread

This soft, comfortingly sweet, cornmeal-and-molasses bread has a colorful history. For years, New Englanders have passed down two stories that attempt to explain the meaning of this bread’s unique name. Both revolve around a fishing village household. The first tells of a Gloucester, Massachusetts, fisherman, whose wife, Anna, prepared nothing for him to eat but a bowl of cornmeal and molasses. Desirous of something different to eat, one day he added yeast and flour to his daily gruel, in an attempt to create a tasteful bread. So frustrated was he in this endeavor that he grumbled, “Anna, damn her!”

A similar but more endearing story tells of a sea captain whose wife, Anna, was quite a good baker and renowned for her cornmeal and molasses bread. New England lore suggests that upon her death her gravestone read, “Anna was a lovely bride, but Anna, damn ’er, up and died.”

Chicken Noodle Soup

In colonial times, chickens were raised mainly for their eggs, which were prized for baking. Older chickens that no longer produced eggs were then used in stews and soups like this one. These chickens normally were fattier than younger hens, and colonial housewives used this to their advantage by rendering the fat to use as a flavorful alternative to butter or lard in other dishes. Adding egg noodles, a traditional German preparation, lent texture to the soup and served as a means of transforming the soup into a more hearty meal that could feed an entire family.

Baked, Stuffed Sturgeon

George Washington would have caught sturgeon from the nearby Potomac River near his estate, Mount Vernon. While it is an unsightly fish by today’s standards, it was a popular menu option for early Americans as it was readily available. It still makes a delicious entrée. This recipes is based on an original version written by Mary Randolph originally published in The Virginia Housewife.

Curried Tofu & Shrimp

Letter from Benjamin Franklin to John Bartram, a preeminent horticulturist in Philadelphia whose home on the banks of the Schuylkill River, Bartram’s Gardens, is America’s oldest living botanical garden.
London, January 11, 1770
“My ever dear Friend: I send Chinese Garavances. Cheese [is] made of them, in China, which so excited my curiosity. Some runnings of salt (I suppose runnet) is put into water, when the meal is in it, to turn to curds. These … are what the Tau-fu is made of.”
Stuffed Cabbage

This is one of the recipes copied out by Jefferson himself, originally entitled “A Cabbage Pudding.” Cooked whole and wrapped in a cloth, it does resemble the boiled puddings of the day. I have added illuminating details from Mary Randolph’s rendition, mixing some of the heart of the cabbage with the stuffing and serving it “whole with a little melted butter in the dish.” Since Jefferson only listed “sweet herbs,” I’ve chosen the herbs usually used with beef in the period. Originally, the beef was finely chopped by hand, not ground, but readers who are not as concerned for authenticity may substitute ground beef. At Monticello, they would most likely have used a tin-lined copper or iron pot – and may have cooked in on the stew stove. For home cooks today, a heavy-bottomed stewing pan or Dutch oven will answer. It’s a lovely recipe, and not as complicated as it looks.

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