Northern Hospitality: Cooking by the Book in New England
If you think traditional New England cooking is little more than baked beans and clam chowder, think again. In Keith Stavely and Kathleen Fitzgerald's enticing anthology of almost 400 historic New England recipes from the seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries, you'll be treated to such dishes as wine-soaked bass served with oysters and cranberries, roast shoulder of lamb seasoned with sweet herbs, almond cheesecake infused with rosewater, robust Connecticut brown bread, zesty Ginger Nuts, and high-peaked White Mountain Cake.
Beginning with four chapters placing the region's best-known cookbook authors and their works in nuanced historical context, Stavely and Fitzgerald then proceed to offer a ten-chapter cornucopia of culinary temptation. Readers can sample regional offerings grouped into the categories of the liquid one-pot meal, fish, fowl, meat and game, pie, pudding, bread, and cake. Recipes are presented in their original textual forms and are accompanied by commentaries designed to make them more accessible to the modern reader. Each chapter, and each section within each chapter, is also prefaced by a brief introductory essay. From pottage to pie crust, from caudle to calf's head, historic methods and obscure meanings are thoroughly—sometimes humorously—explained.
"This is an elegantly written, well conceived, and compelling work . . . a delight to read."
"In this innovative study, part recipe anthology and part analytical investigation, Keith Stavely and Kathleen Fitzgerald attempt to unravel the process by which New England domestic cooks . . . developed a distinctive and varied cuisine out of the initial encounter between cookery books brought from the old country and the ingredients found on the North Eastern coast of America. . . . early American cooks adapted and tweaked the recipes, making changes to suit their circumstances before codifying these in their own publications . . . The particular strength of Stavely and Fitzgerald’s book is the way they trace this process through a series of recipes, giving both the original text in full and a detailed commentary that notes where subsequent shifts and evolutions have occurred. . . . this method allows readers to enjoy the distant quaintness of the original recipes as well as track the long reach of their influence. The result is an excellent and original attempt to go deep into the detail of New England’s cooking heritage, showing in particular how recipes that were first used during the Colonial period were still in play, in much mutated form, well into the early twentieth century."
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". . . this carefully researched and well-written book demonstrates that New England cooking has much to contribute to American food culture. The authors are excellent scholars, well versed in culinary history and food studies. Having previously published America's Founding Food: The Story of New England Cooking, they are also leading authorities on New England foodways. . . . This book will appeal to a wide audience of scholars, New England food enthusiasts, and general interest readers who follow American culture, regional history, and the history of cookery. While it can function as a cookbook, it would also make an excellent textbook in food studies and American studies classrooms. More importantly, it is significant beyond New England cultural history in that it shows how a regional food culture develops over time and its relationship to wider national history."
Complete review unavailable online
"In this unexpected gem in the ocean of works on food . . . Stavely and Fitzgerald have crafted a 'richly contextualized critical anthology' of New England's food heritage. . . . The authors . . . do an excellent job of portraying the depth and variety of New England food history, which is much richer than one would expect. . . . Well done and highly recommended for foodies and historians."
"Stavely . . . and Fitzgerald . . . have provided a lively, well-researched follow up to their classic tome on New England cuisine, America's Founding Food. . . . [The] recipes still work for 21st-century home cooks or chefs with today's ingredients and kitchen equipment. A must have for New England public and academic libraries and large libraries with substantial American history and culinary collections. . . . Highly recommended. All academic, general, and professional readers."
Complete review available online only to subscribers
"Good cooking has a lot to do with instinct and flexibility, something Stavely and Fitzgerald encourage by providing the recipes verbatim, but also adding their own commentary to put the recipe into historical context and fill in the gaps, often with a healthy dose of humor. . . . If you enjoy New England’s culinary history, the evolution of cooking methods, or the challenge of adapting the past for the present, I encourage you to pick up Northern Hospitality! You won’t be disappointed."
"Best Boston And New England Cookbooks . . . It turns out New England cooking has a complex, and very adventurous history (not just baked beans and clam chowder!). This book . . . is . . . rich in regional food history and humorously explained cooking lore."
"Our favorite book of the year may be Northern Hospitality: Cooking by the Book in New England. In it Keith Stavely and Kathleen Fitzgerald address “the complex, colorful, sometimes controversial story of New England cooking” through an unorthodox approach. Northern Hospitality profiles most of the more influential Yankee cookbook authors from the first three centuries of European settlement, then the remaining two thirds of the book reproduces their recipes with trenchant and often amused commentary. Our brief description here cannot convey the startling clarity of the prose. If you give away only one book this year, make it this one and hope that somebody returns the favor."
"It is a pleasure to read a wonderful book, especially when its authors provide a bracing corrective to conventional wisdom. . . . Northern Hospitality is nothing less than a meditation on the evolving New England mind through the prism of its foodways. . . . biographical sketches demonstrate how cookbook authors reflected changing mores and values in society writ large. . . . recipes, unaltered from their original format, provide the cultural as well as culinary flavor of their times; . . . annotations explain where the recipes originated (and who plagiarized whom, a widespread practice throughout the period); and how and why they changed. The annotations also translate archaic terms, or terms whose meaning has changed, so that 'any mildly adventurous cook' can use the recipes. . . . As an unexpected bonus, rigorous endnotes contain lively little essays of their own. . . . the prose is propulsive and the insights fly. . . . Not just Beecher, Susannah Carter and Hannah Glasse, but also John Milton, [Ben] Jonson, Alexander Pope and Benjamin Franklin inhabit these pages, all of them discussed without a shred of pretense. . . . We ought not to underestimate the contribution of Stavely and Fitzgerald to improving the generally woeful historiography of food. . . . supple interweaving of cause and effect typifies Northern Hospitality.
"a fascinating new book . . . an intriguing account of the people who inspired and shaped New England table fare, as well as a compendium of 400 historic recipes from the 17th to the 20th centuries. Like a mirror held up to our past, it tells us . . . much about ourselves and our changing tastes . . ."
"Beginning with . . . imported British cookbooks and then the first American ones, [Stavely and Fitzgerald] give us an overarching view of the trends and themes that emerged, not just culinary but also socio-economical and ethno-cultural. The profiles of the cookbook authors, mostly women, are intriguing, especially as they document not only changing views of food but of women and their place in the domestic scene."
". . . [a] carefully researched anthology of historic New England recipes . . . this book offers a history lesson on New England through the food that was prepared and served."
"Those who thought New England cuisine consisted of lobster rolls and baked beans will find Northern Hospitality: Cooking by the Book in New England as unexpected and refreshing as a warm breeze off the North Atlantic. . . . Northern Hospitality is . . . filled with information and recipes that will enlighten and enthrall anyone interested in food, cooking, or social history."
". . . goes far beyond the usual perception of the region's fare as being boiled dinners and baked beans . . . a pick not just for New England collections, but for any culinary history library."
This history of New England cooking from the colonial era to the end of the nineteenth century provides an interesting and informative analysis of the cooks and cookbooks of the era, as well as a collection of unmodified recipes showcasing the surprisingly complex cuisine of the region.
Features and Interviews
From Chapter 1
In 1765, [Benjamin] Franklin was in London representing the colonies in an official capacity. An anonymous Englishman wrote a letter to a newspaper belittling the movement to protest against the Stamp Act by boycotting tea, stating that the Americans would be unable to do without tea, "their Indian corn not affording an agreeable or easily digestible breakfast."
Franklin wrote back to "inform the gentleman, who seems ignorant of the matter, that Indian corn, take it for all in all, is one of the most agreeable and wholesome grains in the world; that its green [ears] roasted are a delicacy beyond expression; that samp, hominy, succatash, and nokehock, made of it, are so many pleasing varieties; and that johny or hoecake, hot from the fire, is better than a Yorkshire muffin." American corn-based dishes, in all their native rudeness, are defended not in terms of moral or political virtue, but rather in the language of genteel gastronomy, as delicacies, as constituting a pleasing diversity and a superior alternative. Clearly by the 1760s, with such distinct savoring at diverse points of the New England compass of Indian pudding, chowder, and johnnycake, Puritan temperance in diet, crossed with Yankee insistence on the value of local traditions, was modulating into a set of aesthetic and consumerist preferences that amounted to a New England variation on the English theme of economy, neatness, and elegance blending harmoniously together. . . .
From Chapter 3
[Sarah Josepha] Hale was also an adherent of the new science of domestic economy, championed by [Catharine] Beecher (one biographer claims Hale coined the phrase "domestic science"). She wanted cookbooks to take their place among the honored texts in American "Seminaries for Female Education." Such institutions had sprouted up everywhere and were one of the great spurs to progress for women. As we have noted, through the course of her life Hale shifted her allegiance from republican views of women to the Victorian idea of separate spheres. Nevertheless, her contributions to women's education were substantial.
Like Ben Franklin and many New Englanders before and after her (so many, in fact, that it could be called a minor New England tradition), Hale abandoned her home region when social advancement beckoned, all the while asserting its superiority in everything from fireplaces to moral outlook. Such contradictions in her life, as in her domestic philosophy, went unnoticed by an audience eager to embrace every new thing, even when the newest thing was the "old times." Hale rode a new wave of popular publishing and national expansion, all the while invoking the ethos of old New England. . . .
From Chapter 11
From the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries in both England and New England, pies were built around domestic fowl and game birds, most notably chickens, geese, ducks, and pigeons but also turkeys, partridges, peacocks (although these were abandoned in the seventeenth century as too tough), and quail. More exotic fare such as swans and bustards were particularly fashionable in the 1690s but fell out of favor thereafter. Diners were as apt to encounter fowls baked into pies as they were to meet them roasted or fricasseed. The reasons for the fowl pie's immense popularity may be difficult for modern cooks to understand, as food preservation methods have changed dramatically since the pie's heyday. But before the advent of modern technology, pies served the flesh of birds particularly well. Enclosing tender fowl in a pie shell helped to retain moisture and promoted the blending of seasonings, wine, and butter in the gravy or caudle. Of course the shell itself, whether a rich short crust or an edible standing coffin designed for longer-term preservation, could be part of the attraction of the dish. Fowl pies were considered by many to be well worth the effort of constructing them. Their charms are still apparent in the following recipes. . . .
12. Connecticut Thanksgiving Chicken Pie
In sufficient water to prevent burning, stew old not young fowls, jointed, all but tender enough for the table. Pour all into a dish, and season with salt and pepper to the taste. When about cold, place the parts in your pudding dish, lined with a thin common paste, adding about half a pound of butter to three pounds of fowl in alternate layers. Take more of the paste, roll it nine times, studding it each time with butter, (it must be made very rich;) be careful to roll out, each time, from you, and to roll up towards you, leaving it, at least, an inch thick. Add the upper crust; cut a lip in it; and ornament it with some of the reserved paste, having first lightly sprinkled the chickens with flour, after almost filling the dish with the liquor in which the chickens were stewed. Pin tight around the rim of the dish a cloth bandage, to prevent the escape of the juices; and bake from an hour to an hour and a half, in a quick oven. If the top burns, lay a paper over it.
Webster identifies the chicken pie as a particular dish for a New England Thanksgiving table. In reminiscences of her youth in Salem, Massachusetts in the early nineteenth century, Caroline Howard King describes Webster's pie exactly (although it's doubtful that her family feasted on old birds): "frequently the feast began with a chicken pie, crowned with light and flaky puff paste, which was ornamented with small circles and diamonds cut out from the paste, and put on in patterns by my mother's own hands." Chicken pie supplemented roast turkey in the Thanksgiving dinners of nineteenth-century New England because, until the twentieth century, turkeys rarely weighed more than eight pounds and thus could not by themselves meet the needs of this festive occasion.