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Cooking (and Contemplating) New England

"Flour bread," by Lydia Maria Child, as prepared by Keith Stavely and Kathleen Fitzgerald

Our "Flour Bread," following the directions of Lydia Maria Child. Easy to make, great to eat!
 
 

Since the pandemic spring of 2020, we've been attending a wonderful online workshop, led by food writer and historian of bread, William Rubel, called "Bread History and Practice." There's a Facebook group, too, for any who might be interested. For the December holiday group meeting, we decided to make 19th-century American author Lydia Maria Child's "Flour Bread," from The American Frugal Housewife, 1829. (We used the 1833 edition, as reproduced verbatim and with commentary in our book, Northern Hospitality: Cooking by the Book in New England, University of Massachusetts Press, 2011). 

 

Baking in December, in a wood-heated house, meant moving the sponge and dough around quite a bit to warm (but not too warm) spots while it bubbled and rose. Making bread and ferrying it around the house is good winter exercise! Read More 

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"Fricasseed Rabbits" by Eliza Leslie, a dish from 1840

Rabbit simmered in a cream sauce, courtesy of Eliza Leslie (1840)


The Historic Setting
As we discuss in Northern Hospitality, game was neither as prominent in cooking sources nor as prestigious among the upper classes in New England as it had been among the aristocracy in England. Perhaps the difference in valuation can be attributed to the desire of the English colonists to distance themselves from the Indians' ways of obtaining food. For many settlers, too, hunting was a time-consuming activity of uncertain outcome that took the men of the household away from the important tasks associated with farming. Finally, we speculate, the plenitude of the resource in New England from the earliest years of settlement through most of the nineteenth century made wild game an important supplement to the diet but kept it from becoming the locus of leisure which it had been for the highest classes in England, where by law only the aristocracy could hunt it.  Read More 

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“Of Baking Manchets,” from Gervase Markham’s The English Hus-wife (1615)

Manchet bread, a 1615 light wheat loaf


This recipe dates from a time when wheat was scarce and the bread made with it was therefore regarded almost with awe. Manchets are the name for the finest type of wheat bread. In his discourse on brewing and baking, Markham also offers "cheate" bread, the next level down from manchet in terms of the coarseness of the grains used. The lowest of all is not given a name, but Markham describes it as "bread for your hinde servants which is the coursest bread for mans use."  Read More 

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