Dessert: Send it to Table

Food & Lifestyle

November 27, 2013
by Don N. Hagist Also by this Author


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What to serve for desert after a Thanksgiving meal? Pumpkin pie, obviously. Unfortunately for the revolutionary-era aspiring chef in America, pumpkins are plentiful but pie-making recipes using them have yet to be published. Indeed, one of the most widely-printed British cookbooks said that “The Pumpkin is a very ordinary Fruit, and is principally the Food of the Poor.”[1] It did, at least, include a recipe for pumpkin soup; but no pie. Fortunately one work by a popular British writer was specifically directed toward country people and does include a pumpkin pie recipe, although there is no evidence that this work was reprinted or distributed in America; this recipe may make us thankful for canned pie filling:

Pumkin Pye.[2]

We pare and cut the pumkins in slices, then lay the slices in a glazed earthen pot with salt between each layer of them, all night, for extracting out their watry juice: Then chop them with the like quantity or less of apples, and with sugar put them into a crust and bake. The pumkins save apples, and by some are liked better than apples alone.

This reliance on pumpkins solely to compliment apples leads us to the next all-American standby (even though its heritage is not really all-American), apple pie. For this we have a recipe which offers the alternative of using pears; it appears in the cookbook among other tasty pies including artichoke, onion, salt-fish, eel and herring:

An Apple Pye.[3]

Make a good Puff-paste Crust, lay some round the Sides of the Dish, pare and quarter your Apples, and take out the Cores, lay a Row of Apples thick, throw in half the Sugar you design for your Pye, mince a little Lemon-peel fine, throw over and squeeze a little Lemon over them, then a few Cloves, here and there one, then the rest of your Apples, and the rest of your Sugar. You must sweeten to your Palate, and squeeze a little more Lemon; boil the Peeling of the Apples, and the Cores in some fair Water, with a Blade of Mace, till it is very good; strain it and boil the Syrup with a little Sugar, till there is but very little and good, pour it into your Pye, and put on your Upper-crust, and bake it. You may put in the little Quince and Marmalate, if you please.

Thus make a Pear-pye; but don’t put in any Quince. You may butter them when they come out of the Oven; or beat up the Yolks of two Eggs, and a half a Pint of Cream, with a little Nutmeg, sweetened with Sugar, and take off the Lid, and pour in the Cream. Cut the Crust in little three-corner Pieces, and stick about the Pye, and send it to Table.

Ice cream with your pie? We can do that:

To make ice cream.[4]

Take two pewter basons, one larger than the other; the inward one must have a close cover, into which you are to put your cream, and mix it with raspberries, or whatever you like best, to give it a flavor and a colour. Sweeten it to your palate; then cover it close, and set it into the larger bason. Fill it with ice, and a handful of salt: let it stand in this ice three quarters of an hour, then uncover it, and stir the cream well together: cover it close again, and let it stand half an hour longer, after that turn it into your plate. These things are made at the pewterers.

Not enough dessert. Let’s add a lemon pudding:

A Lemon Pudding.[5]

Take two clear Lemons, grate off the outside rinds; then grate to Naples-biskets, and mix with your grated peel, and add to it three quarters of a pound of fine sugar, twelve yolks, and six whites of eggs, well beat, and three quarters of a pound of butter melted, and half a pint of thick cream; mix these well together; put a sheet of paste at the bottom of the dish, and just as the oven is ready, put your stuff in the dish; sift a little double-refined sugar over it before you put it in the oven; an hour will bake it.

Still not enough dessert. And we need something chocolate. Let’s try some nice chocolate candies that can be nibble long after the meal is over, and give the illusion of ending a great meal in the traditional American fashion, with nuts:

Chocolate Almonds.[6]

            Beat to a Powder two Pounds of treble-refined Sugar, and sift it through a Hair Sieve: Grate down a Quarter of a Pound of Chocolate, and sift it through the same Sieve to prevent there being any Lumps; add to this one Grain of Musk, two Grains of Ambergrease, and mix these and the Chocolate and Sugar together: Put some Gun Tragacanth to steep all Night in Orange-Flower-Water; and the next Day when these Ingredients are all mixed together, put them into a Marble Mortar with some of this Gum Water; work them well together, and then beat them up into a stiff Paste, then roll it out, and cut into Pieces of the Bigness of Almonds; or order a Mould to be made of the Shape of an Almond, and pinch them out with this.

Lay them upon Sheets of Paper, and let them dry gradually without Heat.

This series of three articles is intended to offer a sense of what recipes were like in the middle of the 18th century. We used only a few widely-available cookbooks and other sources; certainly American cooks had thousands of handwritten and orally disseminated recipes for the Thanksgiving dishes that we savor to this day. But if you had to throw together a meal using only books you could buy at the store, a wide array of ingredients, a very well-equipped (for the era) kitchen and a great deal of courage, all the information you needed was available.

[1] Martha Bradley, The British Housewife: or, the Cook, Housekeeper’s, and Gardiner’s Companion (London: S. Crowder and H. Woodgate, 1756), 2:174.

[2] William Ellis, The Country Housewife’s Family Companion: or Profitable Directions whatever relates to the Management and good Economy of the Domestick Concerns of a Country Life (London: James Hodges, 1750), 247.

[3] Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery, made Plain and Easy (London: printed for the author, 1747), 114. There were at least 16 subsequent British editions through 1803. This first edition uses the spelling “pye”; later editions used “pie.”

[4] Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery, 168.

[5] Eliza Smith, The Compleat Housewife: or, Accomplish’d Gentlewoman’s Companion (London: J. and J. Pemberton,, 1739), 103. The first edition was published in 1727; it was first printed in America in 1742.

[6] Martha Bradley, The British Housewife, 2:453.

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