Side Dishes: Serve it Up

Food & Lifestyle

November 26, 2013
by Don N. Hagist Also by this Author


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Yesterday we saw how to roast a turkey according to a popular 18th century cookbook. It wouldn’t be a Thanksgiving dinner without turkey, but it also wouldn’t be a Thanksgiving dinner without an assortment of tasty dishes to go with that luscious bird. This is where preparing the meal in accordance with published period recipes gets tricky: the cookbooks available in America in the 1760s, 1770s and 1780s were all originally published in England. Turkey was well-known there, but some other American favorites were not. Off-the-shelf cookbooks of the period are devoid of recipes for squash, sweet potatoes, or that essential garnish, cranberry sauce. If we want to prepare a meal by the (published) book, we have to leave out a few classics. Fortunately there are plenty of others to choose from.

Some traditional favorites are describes in the same book that taught us how to roast a turkey. We’ll start with an essential that is prepared much the same way today:

Mashed Potatoes.[1]

Boil you Potatoes, peel them, and put them into a Sauce-pan, mash them well: To two Pounds of Potatoes put a Pint of Milk, a little Salt, stir them well together, take care they don’t stick to the Bottom, then take a quarter of a Pound of Butter, stir in and serve it up.

Green bean casserole is another likely side dish. Although these American-native beans were popular in Great Britain during this era, the British called them French beans for some reason. Here’s a tempting preparation:

To Ragoo French Beans.[2]

Take a quarter of a Peck of French Beans, string them, don’t split them, cut them in three a-cross, lay them in Salt and Water, then take them out, and dry them in a coarse Cloth, fry them brown, then pour out all the Fat, put in a quarter of a Pint of hot Water, stir it into the Pan by degrees, let it boil, then take a quarter of a Pound of fresh Butter, rolled in a very little Flour, two Spoonfuls of Ketchup, one Spoonful of Mushroom-pickle, and four of White Wine, an Onion stuck with six Cloves, two or three Blades of Mace beat, half a Nutmeg grated, a little Pepper and Salt; stir it all together for a few Minutes, then throw in the Beans, shake the Pan for a Minute or two, take out the Onion, and pour them into your Dish. This is a pretty Side-dish, and you may garnish with what you fancy, either pickled French-Beans, Mushrooms, or Sampier, or any thing else.

For another green vegetable, we’ll go with asparagus, this time from another book dedicated to growing a “kitchen garden” and using the produce:

Asparagus with Cream.[3]

Cut the green Part of your Asparagus in Pieces an Inch long, blanch them a little in boiling Water, and toss them up in a Stew-pan with Butter or Lard: But take Care they are not too fat. Put to them some Cream, a Bunch of Pot-herbs, and season them moderately. Before you serve them, beat one or two Yolks of Eggs in Cream, to thicken the Sauce, into which put a little Sugar, and serve it.

Another good side dish of the era was pudding, of which there are myriad types to choose from. Something that complements the meal without taking center stage is bread pudding, for which we turn to another of the era’s famous cookbooks:

To make a fine Bread Pudding.[4]

Take three pints of milk and boil it; when ‘tis boiled, sweeten it with half a pound of sugar, a small nutmeg grated, and put in half a pound of butter; when ‘tis melted, pour it in a pan, over eleven ounces of grated bread, cover it up. The next day put to it ten eggs well beaten, stir all together, and when the oven is hot, put it in your dish; three quarters of an hour will bake it. Boil a bit of lemon-peel in the milk, take it out before you put your other things in.

It would be nice to have something completely American on this table; although there were no complete cookbooks written and published by Americans before the 1790s, one of the founding fathers has come through for our Thanksgiving meal. In his famous almanac, Benjamin Franklin published this recipe for North America’s staple crop:

A Receipt for making Sweet Corn, and Suckahtash.[5]

Take the Ears of Indian Corn when in the Milk, and boil them almost enough to eat, then shell it, and spread it on a Cloth very thin, and dry it in the Sun till it shrinks to half its Bigness, and becomes very hard, then put it into any dry Cask, and it will keep the Year round. When you use it, you must put it into a Pot, and let it warm moderately over a Fire for three or four Hours, by which Means it swells considerably, then boil it till you find ’tis fit to eat. In order to make Suckahtash, ’tis only putting about a third Part of Beans with the Corn when you boil it.


[1] Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery, made Plain and Easy (London: printed for the author, 1747), 99. There were at least 16 subsequent British editions through 1803.

[2] Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery, 100.

[3] Adam’s Luxury, and Eve’s Cookery; or, the Kitchen-Garden display’d (London: R. Dodsley, 1744), 115.

[4] Eliza Smith, The Compleat Housewife: or, Accomplish’d Gentlewoman’s Companion (London: J. and J. Pemberton,, 1739), 121. The first edition was published in 1727; it was first printed in America in 1742.

[5] Benjamin Franklin (under the pseudonym Richard Saunders), Poor Richard improved: Being an Almanack and Ephemeris…for the Year of our Lord 1757 (Philadelphia: B. Franklin and D. Hall, 1757). 354.

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