Colonial Recipes

Sampling of English historical foodways
Colonial recipes

Try English period recipes, including a “To Butter Onions” appetizer and “Jumbles” dessert cookies.

Try these English colonial recipes – also known as “receipts” during the time period – to create a three-course meal at home.

Appetizer

Historic Recipe: “To Butter Onions” or Apples & Onions on Toast

“Take apples and onions, mince the onions and slice the apples, put them in a pot, but more apples than onions, and bake them with the household bread, close up the pot with paste or paper; when you use them, butter them with butter, sugar, and boiled currants, serve them on sippets, and scrape on sugar and cinnamon.”

 – “The Accomplisht Cook” by Robert May (1660)

Notes: The Working Version for the modern cook adapted from Madge Lorwin.

Ingredients:

1 pound tart cooking apples                            ½ teaspoon cinnamon

1 medium-large white onion, minced or grated coarsely

3 tablespoons butter                                        1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 tablespoons currants, parboiled                   2 slices buttered toast, quartered

Quarter, core, and peel the apples and slice them in ½-inch thick slices.  In a small saucepan, simmer the onion with two tablespoons of the butter until transparent. Then stir in the sugar, cinnamon, and currants.

Arrange a layer of the apples in a casserole with a cover. Spoon a little of the onion mixture over them. Continue to alternate layers of apples and onions, finishing with a layer of apples. Dot the remaining tablespoon of butter over the top, cover the casserole, and bake at 375º until the apples are soft- about forty-five minutes. Serve hot, over buttered toast.

Sources:  “The Accomplisht Cook” by Robert May (1660) and “Dining with William Shakespeare” by Madge Lorwin (1976)


Main Dish

Historic Recipe: “To Bake a Turkey” or Turkey Pie

“Take a turkey, bone it, and lard it with pretty big lard, a pound and a half will serve, then season it with an ounce of pepper, an ounce of nutmegs, and two ounces of salt, lay some butter in the bottom of the pye, then lay on the fowl, and put in six or eight whole cloves, then put on all the seasoning with good store of butter, close it up, and baste it over with eggs, bake it and being baked fill it up with clarified butter… to be eaten hot, [give] but half the seasoning, and liquor it with gravy and juyce of orange.

“Bake this pye in fine paste, for more variety you make a stuffing for it as followeth; mince some beef-suet and a little veal very fine, some sweet herbs, grated nutmeg, pepper, salt, two or three raw yolks of eggs; some boiled skirrets or pieces of artichokes, grapes, gooseberries, etc.”

 – “The Accomplisht Cook” by Robert May (1660)

Notes: The Working Version for the modern cook adapted from Madge Lorwin.

Ingredients:

1 5-6 lb. cleaned turkey          2 Tablespoons of salt

½ teaspoon pepper                  1 teaspoon nutmeg

⅛ teaspoon cloves                   4 Tablespoons of butter

Stuffing:

½ lb. veal, minced fine           ¼ lb. beef suet, ground

2 egg yolks                                 1 artichoke bottom, cooked & diced

¼ Cup minced parsley           2 Tablespoons of minced chives

¼ teaspoon salt                       ¼ teaspoon nutmeg

Pastry:

2 Cups sifted flour                   1 teaspoon salt

¾ Cup cold butter                   ½ Cup cold, clear chicken broth (Approximate)

1 egg, separated

Sauce:

1 ¼ Cups chicken broth          6 Tablespoons fresh orange juice

½ teaspoon salt                       ¼ teaspoon nutmeg

⅛ teaspoon pepper                  2 egg yolks

Remove the giblets from the turkey, rinse the turkey under cold running water, and dry it with a clean cloth.  Put a large clean white cloth on the work surface while boning the turkey – it will help to keep it from slipping around.  Place the turkey breast side down on the cloth and with a sharp boning knife, cut through the skin down along the backbone from the neck to the tail.  With the knife at a slight angle and against the neck end of the bone, slowly but firmly cut and push the meat away from the frame in the direction of the wings and legs.  When you reach the joints attached to the body of the bird, use scissors to cut the tendons and loosen the joints so that they are free from the bony frame of the body.  Cut off the tips and the first sections of the wings.

Continue cutting downward along the ribs, first on one side of the breast, then the other, to the end of the breastbone.  Cut slowly and carefully around the cartilage end of the breastbone so as not to tear the skin, and lift out the bony frame of the turkey.

Mix all the ingredients of the stuffing lightly but thoroughly.  Flatten the boned turkey, skin side down, and put the stuffing in the center of the bird, piling it up lightly.  Bring the two cut sides up over the dressing so that one side overlaps the other by about an inch.  Bring the wings and legs close to the body and fold the cloth up over the stuffed turkey.  Just before you put the bird into the pastry, remove the cloth.  Mix together the salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cloves and spread them over the entire skin of the bird.

For the pastry, sift the flour and salt together into a large bowl.  Add ½ cup of the butter and crumble it into the flour until it is like cornmeal.  Slice the rest of the butter into ¼ inch cubes and stir them into the flour mixture.  Add enough cold chicken broth to the egg yolk to make ½ cup of liquid, and stir until well blended.  Pour this liquid into the flour butter mix and stir quickly until a ball of dough can be formed with the hands.  If more liquid is needed, add additional broth one tablespoon at a time.

Sprinkle your work surface with flour and turn the ball of dough out onto the flour. Flour your hands. Toss the ball lightly between your hands until it has taken on enough flour to make it easy to handle.  Divide the dough into two pieces: ⅔ to make the lower crust, ⅓ for the top crust.  Roll out the larger piece and fit it into your baking dish (7”X11” rectangular dish suggested) for the bottom crust.  Roll out the pastry for the top crust, loosen it from the work surface so it is ready to use.

Place the prepared turkey (without cloth) in the center of the pastry in the dish, breast side up, bringing the wings and legs close to the body.  Cut 4 tablespoons of butter into thns slices and spread them over the top of the bird.  Cover the turkey with the top crust and seal the edges with the tines of a fork dipped in water.  Cut off any extra pastry (if desired, cut extra crust into turkeys and put on the top crust).  Brush the pie with egg white.

Bake at 450°F for 20 minutes, then lower the heat to 325°F and continue baking for 1 ½ hours.  If it seems to be browning too quickly, cover it with kitchen parchment.  While the turkey is baking, make the sauce.

For the sauce, put all the ingredients except the egg yolks into a small saucepan and simmer for 15 minutes.  Cover and set aside until needed.  Just before serving the pie, beast two tablespoons of the sauce into the egg yolks, heat the remaining sauce to boiling, lower to a simmer, and stir in the beaten egg yolks, stirring constantly until the sauce begins to thicken.  Remove pan from heat immediately and serve.

To serve, cut the top crust into serving-size portions.  Carve the turkey and give each person a portion of crust with the meat.  Pass the sauce separately or spoon a little directly over each serving.

            Turkeys first arrived in England in the 1530s, via Spain, whose explorers had brought them from Mexico in about 1519.  The early English colonists in Virginia depended to some extent upon the native wild turkeys for food, both from their own hunting and from trade with the Powhatan people.

           Skirrets are a vegetable that was favored in Shakespeare’s day but not found in modern markets.  The roots were eaten, similar to parsnips.

Sources:  “The Accomplisht Cook” by Robert May (1660) and“Dining with William Shakespeare” by Madge Lorwin (1976)


Dessert

Historic Recipe: “Jumbles” or Knot Cookies

“To make the best jumbles, take the whites of three eggs and beat them well, and take off the froth; then take a little milk and a pound of fine wheat flour and sugar together finely sifted, and a few aniseeds well rubbed and dried; and then work all together as stiff as you can work it, and so make them in what forms you please, and bake them in a soft oven upon white papers.”

 – “The English Housewife” by Gervase Markham (1615, 1631)

Notes: The Working Version for the modern cook adapted from Sara Paston-Williams.

Ingredients:

3 Tablespoons salted butter    1 Tablespoon of milk (or rosewater if desired)

2 eggs, beaten                         ⅔ Cup white sugar or ½ Cup brown sugar

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour      1 Tablespoon of anise seeds or caraway seeds

Beat the butter with the milk (or rosewater if desired) until creamy, add the sugar and beat it in.  Mix in the seeds, the beaten eggs and the flour to form a dough.  Knead the dough on a lightly floured board and roll into “snakes” or long “rolls” approximated ¼ inch (5 mm) in diameter and 4 inches (10 cm) long.  Tie each roll into simple knots, rings, or braided strips and arrange on lightly greased baking sheets or parchment paper.  Bake in a moderate oven (350° F) for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown.  Cool on a wire rack, then store in an airtight tin until needed.  Makes about 15.

Jumbles are a popular recipe that appears over and over in many cookbooks. John Murrell in “A Delightful Daily Exercise” (London, 1621) has more precise measurements than Markham: 2 egg whites, 8 oz. flour, 4 oz. sugar, and 1 oz. aniseeds.  He recommends rose-water instead of milk to make the paste, and directs that it be baked in an oven “as hot as for a manchet” bread for a quarter of an hour, with the proviso that they should “not be brown in any case.”  The Thomas Dawson version from “The Good Huswifes Jewell” (1596) adds a step of boiling the jumbles and then baking them (rather like a bagel), but only dips the ends of the rolls in rosewater rather than mixing it into the dough.  Dawson also specifies making the dough “in little rowles being long, and tye them in knots” for shaping these cookies.

Sources: “The English Housewife” by Gervase Markham (1615, 1631), “A Delightful Daily Exercise” by John Murrell (London, 1621), “The Good Huswifes Jewell” by Thomas Dawson (1596), and “The Art of Dining” by Sara Paston-Williams (1993)