Monday, November 19, 2018

grateful for each hand we hold, gathered round this table

US Thanksgiving is coming up, and the Smithsonian published an fascinating article on the three-day autumn feasting at Plymouth, which seems to have consisted of roasted or boiled fowl, fish and eels, along with cracked-corn pottage and (possibly) an early form of corn mash. So overall, very meat-heavy. It certainly was not called Thanksgiving then, nor for many decades after. In fact, that name wasn't really popularized until the 1850s at the very earliest, and wasn't ratified as a national holiday until 1863.

So how did we get from passenger pidgeons, eels, shellfish, cracked Indian corn, swans, wild turkeys, and corn mash to what we consider now? Thank Godey's Lady's Book for that. They began collating recipes from the time the holiday was ratified, until they ceased publication, and largely, what they suggested became what we expect to see on our tables. Here's a selection of those recipes (lightly corrected for modern cooking techniques).

(The last two are entirely modern, but I felt the variations on traditional oyster stuffing were worth including.)

Oyster Soup

Put two quarts of shelled oysters, liquor and all, into a pan, and set them on the stove to heat (do not let them boil). Drain all the liquor into a soup kettle, add a pint of water and two quarts of new milk, half a pound of good butter, an a little whole allspice and black pepper.
Keep the oysters in a warm place or oven on low heat. Salt the soup to taste just before serving, then ladle in the warm oysters.
Oyster Sauce

Separate the oysters from the juice, setting the oysters in one bowl, and pouring the juice into another. If there is not sufficient juice for the quantity of sauce required, put one-third the amount of oysters of water into the bowl. Set where it will boil, with two blades of mace and salt and pepper to taste. Mix a little flour with a bit of milk until it is smoothly blended, and slowly pour in to thicken the sauce.

When it has boiled several minutes, to each pint put half a pint of oysters. As soon as they are scalded through, take the sauce from the fire, and add a piece of butter about the size of a hen’s egg, and serve immediately. Reserve the oysters for other use.
Dried Pea Soup

Soak the peas over night, using a quart of water to each quart of peas, and putting in about a teaspoonful of soda to soften them. Rinse the peas the next morning, and put them in new water in the same proportions. Boil until tender with a pound and a half of salt pork or preserved beef; lift the peas out and mash through a colander, returning the paste to the cooking fluid without the skins. Salt and pepper well, and bring to a boil until done.
Basic Puff Pastry

To make puff pastry satisfactorily, allow one pound of slightly softened butter to mix with a pound of flour. Break a quarter of a pound of butter into little bits, and rub well into the flour, in which a little salt and baking powder has been put. Mix to a paste with water and lay it on a well floured board. Roll it out once lightly, placing bits of butter at short spaces all over the surface. Sprinkle with flour, fold in four quarters and roll out lightly again

Repeat this process four times, dotting more bits of butter over the pastry, and the resulting pastry should be very light.
Chicken Pie

Joint a young chicken and boil the pieces until nearly tender in just enough water to cover the pieces, laid into a pot. Take the chicken pieces out of the cooking fluid and lay them in a pudding dish lined with pie crust, and to each layer of chicken pieces, put three or four thin slices of pork, or a couple of ounces of butter cut into small bits. Season each layer well with pepper and salt, and dredge flour over the top, and then carefully pour in the cooking liquid until it just nearly covers the top of the meat pieces. Cover the pie with a lid of pie crust, and bake in a medium oven for an hour.
Forcemeat Balls

Chop lean veal or beef very fine, together with a little raw salt pork. Season the mixture with salt, pepper and ground cloves. Mix well, and make into round balls the size of half an egg. Boil half of the meat balls in soup for fifteen minutes, and fry the other half in hot fat or good butter. Serve those on a separate dish, the first half being served within the soup.
Boned Turkey

Remove the flesh from the bone with a sharp knife, scraping it downwards and away, being careful to keep the bird whole and not chop it into pieces. Begin at the wings and try not to tear or slice through the skin. Loosen the flesh from the breast, back and thighs.

Draw the skeleton by the neck from the flesh, then stuff with the same dressing as a roast turkey, or alternatively, stuff with fresh herbs and halved wild onions. If there are any broken places lace them shut with stalks of herb or twine. Bake about three hours, allow to cool, and serve cold.
Mincemeat

Chop one and a half pounds (when chopped) of nice roast beef, beef suet, tart green apples, and Malaga raisins picked clean of stems. Add the same quantity of fresh or dried currants. Add one pound of good brown sugar and half of one pound of mixed orange, lemon and citron candied peel, shredded small. Put in the juice and grated rind of a lemon, a coffee-cup of sugar, powdered spices to taste, and half a teaspoonful of salt. Mix with a quart of sweet cider reduced to a pint by boiling with maple syrup. Add a glass of raspberry or other favored jelly, and more of the cider if the mince meat is too dry. This can be served as a compote or reserved for pie.
Sweet Potato Pudding or Pie

Take one pound of sweet potatoes, peeled or not as desired, and boil them until tender. Mash fine in a bowl, and mix in six well-beaten eggs. When mixed in, add three-quarters of a pound of sugar, three-quarters of a pound of butter, a grated lemon rind, half a whole cracked nutmeg, a wine glass of brandy or milk (or a wine glass of half milk and half brandy).

Line a pudding dish with pastry, fill with this mixture, and bake until set. Sprinkle with crushed sugar before serving.

Alternatively, take a pudding dish and butter it well with good butter, and fill with the mixture, and bake until set as sweet potato pudding.
Lemon Pie

Dissolve one tablespoonful of corn starch in a little water, and pour on it a cup of boiling water, put it on the fire, and when it boils up pour it on one cup of sugar, and a tablespoonful of butter. Let cool, and when cool, add one egg and the yolk of another well beaten, and the peel and juice of a lemon. Put in a pie plate lined with pastry and bake until pastry is golden brown. When done, spread over the top the white of one egg beaten up with sugar, and let stand in the oven (the oven turned off), for a few minutes to brown up.
Orange Pie

Take one tablespoonful of butter, rub to a cream in a bowl, then add one cup of sugar. Beat well together. Grate the rind of one large sweet orange, also one lemon; squeeze the juice, two eggs beaten separately, the whites to a stiff froth. Add to the sugar and butter, first the yolks, afterward the juice and rind of the lemon and orange, lastly the whites. Beat quickly. Have ready an open shell of paste into which turn the mixture and bake. This makes one pie and can be doubled as required.
Pumpkin Pie

Take off the rind and scrape out the seeds of a small stew pumpkin. Cut the rest into small pieces and stew over a moderate fire with just enough water to keep from burning at the bottom of the pot. When stewed soft, turn off the water and steam over a slow fire for fifteen or twenty minutes, taking care not to scorch. Then remove from the fire and strain through a colander when cool. If the pies are to be very rich, to a quart of strained pumpkin put two quarts of milk and ten eggs; if plain use only a quart of milk to one of pumpkin and three or four eggs. Add sugar, salt and ginger to taste. Mace and the grated rind of lemon can also be added if wished. Pumpkin pies require a very hot oven and long baking unless there are many eggs in them. Heat the mixture before filling into the pastry, or the crust will bake too hard before the pumpkin is done.
West Indian Dessert

Cut four to six bananas into very thin slices. Peel and slice three oranges. Open and drain a can of pineapple slices. Lay them alternately in a deep glass dish, with the orange and pineapple slices quartered, and sprinkle between each layer grated coconut and sugar. Bake until done.
White Almond Cake

1 cup blanched and chopped almonds
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
3 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk
6 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
confectionary sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and sugar. Add flour and baking power to creamed butter and sugar, alternating with milk. Add chopped almonds and mix well.

Beat egg whites until stiff and fold into the batter. Stir in vanilla extract. Pour into greased and floured Bundt pan.

Bake for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool on wire rack. When cool, sift confectionary sugar over top. A basic white frosting sprinkled with almonds was also popular.
Washington-era Turkey

Take one pound wheat bread, 3 ounces beef suet, 3 eggs, a little sweet thyme, some sweet majoram, pepper and salt, and add a gill [a quarter of a pint] of wine; mix thoroughly. Fill the bird therewith and sew up, hang down to a steady solid fire, basting frequently with butter and water and roast until steam emits from the breast

Put one third of a pound of butter into the gravy, dust flour over the bird and baste with gravy; serve up with boiled onions, cranberry sauce, mangoes, pickles or celery.
Theodore Roosevelt's Vegetable Turkey

Boil one pound chestnuts until tender, remove the shells, add a teaspoon of salt and a pinch of thyme, and mix thoroughly. Boil together a large turnip, one carrot, two potatoes, two stalks celery, three whole or cracked peppercorns, and two cloves. When the vegetables are tender, press through a colander. Add the tender chestnuts and mash all together, adding two Tablespoons each of butter and cream. Salt to taste, place in a buttered mould, in a hot oven; heat thoroughly and serve on a meat platter, garnished with slices of lemon and sprigs of parsley.
Benjamin Harrison's Succotash

Take one pint green Lima beans, one-half dozen ears of corn (grated), one-half pound salt pork, freshened a little with salt rubbed into the surface. Place the salt pork and the beans in a pot and cook together until tender. About one-half hour before serving put in corn. Use no more water than is necessary.
Grover Cleveland's Cape Cod Style String Beans

Snap the ends and tips off one pound of string beans, then snap or cut them in half. Place the beans in a cast iron pan. Cover just the bottom of the pan with a bit of warm water. Take a half pound of salt pork, sliced into smallish chunks. Add the salt pork to the pan. Cook for half an hour to an hour, depending on desired doneness. After they have cooked for half the time, put in a half pound of fresh green peas, add a bit more water, and return to cooking. Right before serving, stir in half a cup of cream, and salt and pepper to taste.
Chester Arthur's Cranberry Pie

Wash and chop (not very fine) one and a half cups whole cranberries, adding one to two cups of seeded raisins and one cup sugar. Sprinkle on a little flour and some spices, along with the juice of one orange and one teaspoon of orange zest. Line a pie plate with one crust and parbake it for ten minutes in a moderate oven. Fill the crust with the warm cranberry mixture, lay on the top crust, pierced with a fork or a knife, and bake in a moderate oven three-quarters of an hour to one hour and thirty minutes, depending.
Southern-style Cornbread

15 ounces (3 cups) stone-ground cornmeal
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3 teaspoons sugar (optional)
2 1/2 cups buttermilk
3 eggs
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted, divided

Place a well-seasoned 12-inch cast iron skillet on the center rack of the oven and preheat oven to 375°F. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk cornmeal with salt, baking powder, baking soda, and sugar (if using). In a separate bowl, whisk buttermilk with eggs until homogenous. Whisking constantly, drizzle in all but 1 tablespoon melted butter. Whisk liquid ingredients into dry ingredients just until thoroughly mixed; avoid over-mixing.

Pour remaining 1 tablespoon melted butter into preheated skillet and carefully swirl to coat bottom and sides. Scrape batter into prepared skillet, smoothing the top gently with a rubber spatula. Bake until cornbread is lightly browned on top and a skewer inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let cool for about 15 minutes in skillet, then serve warm. (Cornbread does not keep well and will lose its texture as it cools, so it's best to eat it while it's still fresh.)
Cornbread Dressing With Oysters and Sausage

1 recipe Southern-Style Unsweetened Cornbread (about 2 1/2 pounds; 1 1/4 kilograms), cut into 3/4-inch dice
1 stick unsalted butter (113 grams), plus more for greasing dish
1 pound (500 grams) sweet Italian sausage, removed from casing
1 large onion, finely chopped (about 2 cups; 300 grams)
2 large stalks celery, finely chopped (about 1 cup; 200 grams)
1/2 medium fennel bulb, finely chopped (about 1 cup; 200 grams)
2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons; 10 grams)
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
3 cups homemade chicken stock or low-sodium broth (700 milliliters), divided
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon leaves
1/4 cup minced flat-leaf parsley leaves (about 1/4 ounce; 8 grams), divided
2 cups raw oysters and their liquor (470 milliliters; about 32 medium oysters), oysters chopped (see note)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Adjust oven racks to lower-middle and upper-middle positions. Preheat oven to 425°F. Spread cornbread evenly over 2 rimmed baking sheets. Stagger sheets on oven racks and bake until lightly toasted, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. In a large Dutch oven, melt butter over medium-high heat until foaming subsides, about 2 minutes, without allowing butter to brown. Add sausage and mash with stiff whisk or potato masher to break up into fine pieces (largest pieces should be no bigger than 1/4 inch). Cook, stirring frequently, until only a few bits of pink remain, about 8 minutes. Add onion, celery, fennel, garlic, and thyme and cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are softened, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add half of chicken stock. Whisk remaining chicken stock, eggs, tarragon, and 3 tablespoons parsley in a medium bowl until homogeneous. Stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, slowly pour egg mixture into sausage mixture. Add cornbread cubes, oysters, and oyster liquor and fold gently until evenly mixed. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Transfer dressing to a buttered 9- by 13-inch rectangular baking dish or 10- by 14-inch oval dish. The dressing can be covered with aluminum foil and refrigerated for up to 2 days at this point (the flavor will improve as it sits). When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375°F. Uncover dressing and bake until an instant-read thermometer reads 150°F when inserted into center of dish and dressing is crisped on top, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool for 5 minutes, sprinkle with remaining parsley, and serve.

(Note: You can shuck your own fresh oysters (see the video above for instructions), ask your fishmonger to do it, or buy containers of raw shucked oysters. Our tests showed that the stuffing tastes just as good with pre-shucked oysters as with freshly shucked. The easiest way to chop the oysters is to snip them in a container using kitchen shears; that way you don't lose their juices to the cutting board.)
Oyster Stuffing With Fennel, Tarragon, and Sausage

2 pounds (1 kilogram; about 2 loaves) high-quality sandwich bread or soft Italian or French bread, cut into 3/4-inch dice, about 5 quarts
1 stick unsalted butter (113 grams), plus more for greasing dish
1 pound (500 grams) sweet Italian sausage, removed from casing
1 large onion, finely chopped (about 2 cups; 300 grams)
2 large stalks celery, finely chopped (about 1 cup; 200 grams)
1/2 medium fennel bulb, finely chopped (about 1 cup; 200 grams)
2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons; 10 grams)
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
3 cups homemade chicken stock or low-sodium broth (700 milliliters), divided
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon leaves
1/4 cup minced flat-leaf parsley leaves (about 1/4 ounce; 8 grams), divided
2 cups raw oysters and their liquor (470 milliliters; about 32 medium oysters), oysters chopped (see note)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Adjust oven racks to lower-middle and upper-middle positions. Preheat oven to 275°F. Spread bread evenly over 2 rimmed baking sheets. Stagger sheets on oven racks and bake until bread is completely dried, about 50 minutes total, rotating sheets and stirring bread cubes several times during baking. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Increase oven temperature to 350°F. In a large Dutch oven, melt butter over medium-high heat until foaming subsides, without allowing butter to brown, about 2 minutes. Add sausage and mash with stiff whisk or potato masher to break up into fine pieces (largest pieces should be no bigger than 1/4 inch). Cook, stirring frequently, until only a few bits of pink remain, about 8 minutes. Add onion, celery, fennel, garlic, and thyme and cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are softened, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add half of chicken stock.

Whisk remaining chicken stock, eggs, tarragon, and 3 tablespoons parsley in a medium bowl until homogeneous. Stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, slowly pour egg mixture into sausage mixture. Add bread cubes, oysters, and oyster liquor and fold gently until evenly mixed. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Transfer stuffing to a buttered 9- by 13-inch rectangular baking dish (or 10- by 14-inch oval dish) and bake until browned on top and an instant read-thermometer reads 150°F when inserted into center of dish, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool for 5 minutes, sprinkle with remaining parsley, and serve.

(Note: You can shuck your own fresh oysters (see the video above for instructions), ask your fishmonger to do it, or buy containers of raw shucked oysters. Our tests showed that the stuffing tastes just as good with pre-shucked oysters as with freshly shucked. The easiest way to chop the oysters is to snip them in a container using kitchen shears; that way you don't lose their juices to the cutting board.)
Sources: Thanksgiving Recipes from Godey's Lady's Book, Thanksgiving As We Know It Was Dreamt Up By a Womens' Magazine, Lincoln Home Museum's article on Mary Lincoln, The Best Presidential Thanksgiving Recipes, How to Make Oyster Stuffing for Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving Day and Dinner Through the Years (for the history, though there are recipes linked), and Pilgrim Hall Museum's Thanksgiving By the Cookbook (.pdf file) (again, mainly for the history, though more recipes are listed therein).

No comments: