DAR Explores the Art of Colonial Cooking During March Meeting

“I love to cook, and I love old cookbooks,” said Regent Mary Cay Khiel at the March meeting of the Martha Dandridge Washington Chapter (MDW) National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) at the First United Methodist Church in Dandridge.

One thing that Regent Khiel has learned in her sojourn with “Colonial Cooking” is that some recipes have changed significantly over time and others are nearly the same after 300 years. Early recipes were called “receipts” and did not list quantities, temperatures, or cooking times.
What is considered American Cookery originated with the immigrants who brought familiar foods, methods of cooking, and recipes with them from their home countries. However, it did not take them long to adapt to local foods and methods of preparation shared by the Native American population.

The earliest cookbooks in America were actually English cookbooks that were heavily reprinted and repackaged to appeal to the colonial cooks. The very earliest book was authored by Amelia Simmons in Connecticut in 1796 and titled American Cookery. The full title was itself quite a mouthful, American Cookery, or the art of dressing viands, fish, poultry, and vegetables, and the best modes of making pastes, puffs, pies, tarts, puddings, custards, and preserves, and all kinds of cakes, from the imperial plum to plain cake: Adapted to this country, and all grades of life.
Colonial cooks prepared their mouth-watering dishes on wood fires in huge floor-level hearths sometimes taller than the cook. A hinged iron rod over the fire was long enough to hang several pots on and could be swung out into the room to reduce the temperature or facilitate hanging and removal of the pots. Baking was done in the oven at the side of the hearth.

Cooking was backbreaking labor as the cook had to carry wood, tend the fire, and sweep ashes from the hearth as well as handle heavy iron pots. Few colonial cooks were fortunate enough to have a scullery maid to tend the hearth.
It was common for cooks to prepare huge meals that would be eaten over a couple of days rather than to do daily cooking. Baking for the week would take a full day. For big events, the cooks might prepare 9 or 10 meat, poultry, and fish dishes.
Many “American” foods were introduced to the colonists by Native Americans. Such items included potatoes, pumpkins, squash, sweet potatoes, and peanuts.

Regent Khiel noted, “Lobster was considered peasant food.” Because it was so plentiful, even the poorest could get it.
Every colonial cook had a garden where she raised onions, garlic, carrots, corn, and potatoes. “Tomatoes were grown by some, but others considered them to be poisonous,” added Regent Khiel.
President Thomas Jefferson studied many foods and was instrumental in introducing new items to the colonists’ diet. One of his favorite vegetables was asparagus.

Colonial cooks incorporated wild berries, cherries, cranberries, and apples into their cooking. The first apple orchard was planted in 1625.
Seasonings came from the West Indies, and colonists made their own vinegars and yeasts. Their sweeteners were beet sugar, honey, maple sugar, and molasses.

The rum trade was an offshoot of molasses production. In addition to rum, the colonists drank beer, wine, and other distilled spirits in preference to water as the water was often not clean and safe.

Regent Khiel displayed a plethora of colonial cookbooks, and MDW Chapter members shared dishes they cooked from the authentic recipes in her collection that have been adjusted for modern measurements. Dishes included Lemon and Raisin Wine by Karen McFarland, Blount Family Bread Gravy by Julie Wilbur, Sweet and Sour Cabbage by Craig Starnes, Steamed Broccoli and Vinaigrette by Mary Cay Khiel, Mushrooms in Cream by Jane Busdeker, and Ellery Family Pumpkin Custard Pudding by Janet Chumney.

The next meeting of the chapter will be May 12 at the First United Methodist Church, 121 E. Meeting Street, Dandridge. The meeting will be at 9:00 a.m. followed by the Grave Marking of Revolutionary War Patriot James McCuistion at 11:00 at the Revolutionary War Graveyard on Main Street next to the Shepard Inn. The guest speaker will be Descendant Joseph A. Swann. A reception will immediately follow in the Fellowship Hall at the church. For information, please contact Registrar Karen MdFarland at (865) 258-8670 or klm_37871@yahoo.com or Vice Regent Jane Chambers at (865) 591-3857 or sjchambers62@hotmail.com.

The chapter is also finalizing plans for the annual Martha Dandridge Washington Birthday Luncheon, Saturday, June 2, at the Glenmore Mansion, 1280 N. Chucky Pike, Jefferson City. The event will include a tour of the Glenmore and a presentation about Martha’s designing and ordering of her wedding shoes. Tickets are $20.00 and are available by texting “tickets please” to (865) 591-3857 or e-mailing sjchambers62@hotmail.com.