The first settlers in New England mostly depended on Indian corn to keep them alive. They dried it and then ground it into meal to make dishes such as cornmeal mush, Hasty Pudding and Johnnycake.
“Johnnycakes” were originally called journey cakes. This is because they were easily carried by travelers from place to place to eat along the way. When the Pilgrim Fathers traveled from the Plymouth Colony to their garrison post at Russell's Mills, Dartmouth, Mass., they stopped on a hill in what is now New Bedford and ate the journey cakes they had brought with them from home. In time the hill became known as Johnnycake Hill.
For breakfast and supper the pilgrims usually ate some sort of cornmeal mush diluted with milk and/or molasses which they called “Hasty Pudding”; or, they let the mush get cold and then they sliced it and fried it in a skillet and served it with molasses or maple syrup. “Hasty Pudding” was a favorite supper dish on New England farms where it was sometimes called Stir-about Pudding. It was cooked in a big iron kettle with the hungry
children gathering around the pot watching it pop and sputter. Hasty Pudding was given
its name because it could be made and served in a hurry if there were unexpected guests.
Pilgrim housewives served it as a vegetable with gravy, as a dessert, the main dish for
lunch or supper, or served it for breakfast.
The Indians taught the Pilgrims to plant beans on the same hill as their corn so that the vines of the beans could run up the stalks of corn. After the harvest, the Pilgrims boiled the beans and the corn together to make “succotash” which we still eat today. After
our forefathers began trading with the West Indies and acquired molasses, they began baking their beans with pork and molasses making the dish much more flavorful; thus,
baked beans were born!
Some of the colonists began making a brown bread made with corn and rye meal
sweetened with molasses and they served this with their baked beans. “Boston baked
beans with “Boston brown bread” remain a favorite dish of New Englanders until this day.
The Puritan Sabbath began at sundown on Saturday and ended at sundown on Sunday. During this period, the amount of work a person was allowed to do was very limited and cooking had to be kept to a minimum. So baked beans came to their rescue! The Puritans started cooking their beans on Saturday morning, cooked them all day, and then
ate them for supper. They warmed them up the next day for Sunday noon dinner and sometimes ate them for Sunday breakfast too!
There was an abundance of fish in the sea and in the rivers: cod, trout, salmon, and shad.
They ate all the fish they could catch except salmon which they did not like (as surprising
to us as that might be), and shad which they detested. The first Pilgrims at Plymouth survived their first winter mainly by gathering mussels along the shore. Clams and
oysters were also soon discovered. It has been said that the chief contribution of the
Indians to the Pilgrims was the clambake. All along the shorelines from Maine to Connecticut are found heaps of buried clam shells marking the old gathering places where the Indians of all the New England tribes went down to the shore in summer for clam-
bakes. The clambake has remained essentially the same to this day.
This is how the clambake was made: The Indians, and then later the settlers, gathered very large stones from the field and carried them down to the shore. They built a fire made from cord wood on top of the stones which was allowed to burn until the stones were heated white hot. The embers were removed with potato diggers and pitchforks, the stones swept clean of ashes, and a thick layer of rock weed thrown on. (Rock weed is a marine growth found along the shore.) The clams are quickly placed on top of the steaming rock weed, then another layer of the rock weed is placed over the clams. The
salty moisture of the rock weed cooks and flavors the clams. A moist canvas cloth is
spread over the whole thing. The clams take about one hour to bake.
The main dish made with clams that the early New Englanders were, and still are,
famous for is their Clam Chowder. For a hearty and delicious recipe for this cool
weather fare, click on “New England Clam Chowder”.
Besides teaching the Pilgrims to fish, the Indians showed them how to hunt deer, wild turkey, goose, raccoon and other creatures. They showed them how to preserve venison by smoking it, and they later used the same method for beef and pork. They also per-
served their meat by soaking it in a brine which they called “salting”. The Pilgrims
used salt pork in their baked beans, chowders, and to flavor many of their vegetable dishes. They ate lots of wild berries and fruits, especially apples, which were immensely
improved upon by cultivation.
The diet of the English settlers who stuck close to the old English ways was fairly dull and tasteless. They were not adventuresome cooks. They sampled the native sweet
potato and rejected it. They also paid no attention to the white potato till the Scotch-
Irish brought it into the country in the 18th century as the Irish potato. They had a distaste for vegetables – especially raw vegetables. They planted root vegetables such as parsnips, turnips, carrots, and onions, but cooked them until they became a tasteless
For breakfast and supper (their evening meal) the English settlers usually ate some kind of mush (cooked hot cereal) diluted with milk and/or molasses. What they called dinner was the main meal of the day served sometime between noon and 3:00 P.M. It usually
consisted of a stew which varied each season with what was most readily available. It
required only one pot and didn't have to be tended much by the housewife. They ate baked beans, which they cooked in earthen pots, on Saturday evening and on Sunday.
They also ate a lot of succotash. “Succotash” comes from the Indian word m'sickquatash which means “maize not crushed or ground”. This Indian word became the succotash of the Pilgrims when they combined corn and beans. Look below for the recipe for this early New England dish. As time went on, however, succotash developed into a more elaborate dish made of large white beans, hulled corn, corned beef, salt pork, chicken, white turnips and potatoes. When served in this form, it became a famous food of Plymouth, Massachusetts, where it was served over and over at local celebrations. This dish was handed down through succeeding generations and is served by every true Plymouth family on Forefathers' Day – December 21st.
The early Americans were very fond of sweets. Sugar was a luxury to them, but they were able to get access to it from the West Indies. A New Englander back in the 17th century was more than willing to trade as much as a dozen bushels of grain for a loaf
of sugar. It was sold in the form of large white cones called loaves, each weighing from
8-10 lbs. The family kept it locked up, took it out as needed, and cut it sparingly with
sugar shears. A family might use only one loaf per year. Since sugar was so expensive, the colonists needed to mainly use substitutes for it such as molasses, honey, and maple
sugar. The English and the Dutch imported bees which the Indians called “English
flies”. Almost every household had a hive of bees.
The colonists disliked and distrusted water and drank it only when they had nothing else
to drink. They had no tea, coffee, or chocolate to quench their thirst since none of these beverages even reached England until the mid-seventeenth century, and to the colonies much later. Milk from goats, and later from cows, was their principal beverage. But a
livelier quencher of thirst was needed, and much energy was generated in finding one.
Portable stills have been found in excavations of the early settler compounds. They
most likely had discovered that mash made from their staple food item, corn, could be distilled into whiskey. Orchards quickly graced every farm. The main reason for this was not the delicious fruits that they bore, but that the fruit could be converted into an alcoholic beverage such as hard apple cider, peach brandy, or something equally invigorating. Many even began their day with a glassful, especially those suffering from Malaria. The Colonists also made wine out of any fruit or berry they had available. I
have even seen an old recipe for beet wine. They made dandelion wine by the barrel.
Many a child was kept busy in spring and summer picking these bright yellow flowers,
which of course we view as just weeds. Once they began to produce malt and hops, beer became their favorite beverage.
Johnnycakes (Rhode Island)
The Colonists served johnnycakes for breakfast as a matter of course. Midday dinner was considered incomplete without them, and if a wife wanted to give her family a special treat for supper, she served them johnnycake. (Rhode Islanders did not put the “h” in johnnycake, but spelled it “jonnycake”. These cakes are delicious served with butter and maple syrup or molasses.
1 cup cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons milk
Add salt to cornmeal; stir in boiling water and let sit for a few minutes so the water can
be absorbed. Add milk very gradually until the consistency of pancake batter. Fry in a
little bit of butter until golden brown on both sides. Makes 16 small cakes. Serve with butter & syrup.
Today it is more often called cornmeal mush. This recipe serves about 6.
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup cold water
3 cups boiling water
1 teaspoon salt
Mix the dry cornmeal into the cold water. Gradually stir the moistened cornmeal into the 3 cups of boiling water; add salt. Cook on low heat, stirring constantly until thickened, smooth, and free of lumps. Cover and cook another 5 minutes. Serve hot with molasses
or sugar, butter and cream or milk. In Colonial days it needed to be cooked much longer
because their cornmeal was much coarser than our modern version.
What to do with leftovers:
The Colonists poured their leftovers into a buttered loaf pan, and covered and refrigerated it until cold. It was then turned out of the pan, cut into slices, and fried in butter until brown on both sides. It was served with more butter, and molasses or maple syrup.
In Colonial days, this dish was usually made with dried corn and beans. So before the succotash could be prepared, the corn and beans needed to be soaked overnight, and then cooked for several hours the next day until tender. This recipe serves 6.
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups cooked beans (lima or kidney)
2 cups corn (scraped from the cob or canned)
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup cream
Melt butter; add the beans, corn, water and seasonings. Cook over low heat till water is absorbed. Add cream and heat thoroughly, but do not boil after cream is added. Serve hot.
Boston Baked Beans
In Colonial days, the beans were left to bake all night long at a low temperature in the great brick oven. If you were a Puritan, though, you baked your beans all day Saturday and served them fresh for Saturday supper.
1 quart dried pea or navy beans
1/2 pound salt pork
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
Place beans in a large saucepan and cover with water. Heat to boiling and boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 1 hour. Add more water, if necessary, so that the beans are completely covered. (The secret to delicious baked beans is to keep them covered with water at all times except for the last hour of baking.) Simmer beans, uncovered, about an hour or until tender. (Do not boil or beans will burst.) Drain beans,
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Pour beans into a bean pot or a heavy casserole dish that has a lid.
Chop onion and stir into beans. Stir in the salt, brown sugar, molasses and dry mustard. Add 1 cup of the reserved bean liquid. Cut the salt pork into several pieces and press each into the beans in a different spot. Add boiling water so that it completely covers beans.
Cover casserole dish and bake for 4 or more hours, adding boiling water, if necessary, to keep beans covered. Do not stir. Uncover during the last half hour to brown. Serves 8.
Note: If you would like to be able to bake them longer, bake the beans at 250 degrees for up to 8 hours.
THANKSGIVING FEAST RECIPES
When choosing your turkey, allow about ¾ pound for each person. If you purchase a frozen turkey, you must allow enough time to defrost it. It will take 3 to 4 days for a 20 pound turkey to defrost in the refrigerator; less for smaller ones. If you don't have enough time to defrost it in the refrigerator, you can set it in a sink full of cold water. It could take as long as 12 hours for a 20 lb. turkey. Do not use warm or hot water, and do not defrost sitting on the counter. A fresh turkey will keep 1-2 days in the refrigerator till roasting time.
Remove the pouch containing the giblets from the inside of the turkey. The giblet package contains the liver, gizzard, heart and neck. Some people just throw these away, but some like to eat them or cook them up to use in the gravy.
To cook giblets:
Put into a saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Turn heat to simmer, cover pan with a lid, and cook for about an hour. The liquid left from cooking the giblets adds great flavor to the gravy, and if you like, you can finely chop up the giblets and add them too.
To prepare turkey for roasting:
Wash turkey inside and out and pat dry with paper towels. Prepare your choice of stuffing. (My favorite stuffing recipe is given right after this turkey recipe.) Stuff turkey just before roasting –do NOT stuff ahead of time. Do not pack in stuffing, since stuffing expands while cooking. (If you really need to prepare your stuffing ahead, refrigerate it separately from your turkey and stuff just before roasting.) Spoon stuffing into neck cavity. Bring skin of neck over back and fasten with poultry pin. Spoon remaining stuffing into body cavity.
After stuffing turkey, tuck drumsticks under the band of skin at the tail or tie the drumsticks together with heavy string and then tie to tail. Place turkey breast side up in an open shallow roasting pan. Do not put on a rack or your turkey will be dry. Do not add water and do not cover. Roast at 325 degrees. (Timetable for roasting is given below.) Brush with butter, margarine or turkey drippings every ½ hour or so while roasting. If using a meat thermometer, insert it so that the tip is in the thickest part of the breast or in the inside of the thigh at the thickest part. Meat thermometer should read 165 degrees fahrenheit when turkey is done. Another sign that the turkey is done is that the leg joint moves easily up and down.
Buttery Bread Stuffing
This recipe stuffs a 12 pound turkey.
18 cups bread crumbs, lightly packed
1 1/2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
1/2 cup finely minced celery
3/4 cup minced onion
2 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 cups butter or margarine
1/2 cup snipped parsley or dry parsley flakes (found in seasoning's section of your grocery store) Parsley flakes are actually optional. Stuffing still tastes great without them.
Combine bread crumbs, celery, poultry seasoning, salt and pepper. In a large saucepan or skillet, melt butter or margarine. Add onion and simmer until tender but not browned. Add this mixture to the bread crumb mixture. Add parsley flakes and mix together well.
If you like a very soft, moist stuffing, add a little warm water to it and mix again. Stuff turkey as explained above.
Serves 4 to 6 people.
2 pounds potatoes (about 6 medium)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/3 to 1/2 cup milk or cream
Peel potatoes; cut into thirds. Add at least one inch of water to pot. Add potatoes and sprinkle with salt. Cover pot and bring to boil. Turn down heat and cook until potatoes are tender. (They will be soft when stuck with a knife.) Drain water into a bowl to save for the gravy.
Add butter and pepper; then mash with a potato masher until they are completely lump free. Add milk a little at a time, beating vigorously until potatoes are light and fluffy.
Serve with gravy.
Roast Turkey Gravy
1/4 cup (or more) flour
Liquid left over from cooking potatoes
Liquid left over from cooking giblets (optional)
When turkey is done, place on a platter and let it rest while making the gravy. Pour drippings from roasting pan into a bowl, leaving a small amount in the pan. Add 1/4 cup flour and mix well. Over medium heat, add rest of drippings back into the pan a small amount at a time, stirring constantly. Gradually stir in the water you have left over from cooking the potatoes , and if desired, liquid left over from cooking giblets.
What to do if gravy is too thin:
Put a couple of spoonfuls of flour into a cup. Add small amount of cold water and stir well, making a paste. Add cold water a little at a time, stirring well, until thin enough to stir into the gravy. This procedure will keep you from having lumpy gravy. Heat gravy
until bubbling and add salt and pepper to taste.
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
One 12 ounce package fresh cranberries (about 2 cups)
Bring sugar and water to a boil. Add cranberries. Return to boil and cook until the skins pop open. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Cool completely at room temperature. Store in the refrigerator. Makes a little over 2 cups.
Refrigerator Potato Rolls
These yeast rolls are absolutely delicious, and easy to make because you don't have to knead them. They are great to have for Thanksgiving because you can make the dough the night before, and let them rise in the refrigerator all night. Then about 1 1/2 to 2 hours before dinner, you will shape them, let them rise, and bake them into some of the most flavorful rolls you have ever eaten. The secret ingredient that gives these rolls their great flavor is the potato!
1 envelope active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm (not hot) water
1/2 cup soft butter or margarine
1/2 cup shortening (I use butter flavored Crisco)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup unseasoned hot mashed potatoes
1 cup cold water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
About 6 cups flour
In a large bowl, sprinkle yeast onto warm water; stir until dissolved. With electric mixer set on low, beat in butter, shortening, sugar, and potatoes. Add cold water, salt, and
add flour one cup at a time, mixing after each addition. When the dough gets too stiff to mix with the electric mixer, begin stirring with a spoon. (A wooden spoon works well for this.) Add enough flour to make a stiff dough. Place dough in a large greased bowl. Brush top of dough with salad oil, cover tightly with waxed paper or aluminum foil, then with a towel; refrigerate.
Shaping, rising and baking:
The next day, about 2 hours before dinner, cut off only as much dough as you need, returning the rest to the refrigerator. (Keep covered as before.) Dough will keep 2 to 3 days in the refrigerator. Here are two different ways that I usually shape my rolls:
1. Clover-leaf Rolls; form dough into long rolls, 1” in diameter. Cut off 1” pieces, roll each into a ball, then dip into melted butter or margarine. Place 3 balls in each greased muffin-pan cup with balls touching bottom of pan.
2. Old-fashioned Pan Rolls; cut off pieces of dough and shape into 2” balls. Dip each ball into melted butter or margarine and place in greased pan, letting balls just touch each other. Cover with waxed paper and then a towel; let rise in warm place (about 85 degrees F.) until doubled in bulk. Bake at 425 degrees 20 to 25 minutes or until golden. Makes 3 dozen.
This makes an absolutely luscious pumpkin pie. I have been baking this recipe for my family for well over 30 years. It's delicious using canned pumpkin, but even better if you cook up a fresh pumpkin or squash and use that.
Ingredients for Pie Filling:
Unbaked 9 or 10” pie shell (recipe for a flaky no-fail piecrust follows):
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin (or fresh pumpkin cooked and mashed)
1 2/3 cups undiluted evaporated milk
2 eggs, well beaten
Ingredients for making piecrust:
This recipe makes one 9 or 10” piecrust
1 cup flour
1/2 cup shortening (preferably butter flavored Crisco)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablesoons very cold water
Directions for making piecrust:
Mix flour and salt together. Cut shortening into flour with knife until it resembles a course meal. Add cold water and mix together with a knife or fork until it all sticks together and you can form a ball. Lay out a piece of waxed paper and sprinkle flour over it. Put the dough in the middle of the waxed paper, flatten with your hand, and sprinkle with flour. Roll out, with a floured rolling pin to the size that will fit your pie plate. Turn the waxed paper upside down and lay the pie pastry into the plate; peel off waxed paper. Fit the pastry gently into pie plate so it fits smoothly. (Be very careful not to make a hole in the pastry.)
Forming the edging:
There are many pretty edgings you can make, but the easiest one that I started out with is to use a fork – pressing firmly all around the edge of the pie dish with the tines of the fork. (Dip fork in flour off and on to prevent sticking.)
Refrigerate pie crust while making filling. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Directions for making pumpkin pie filling:
Combine sugar, salt and spices; add pumpkin and beaten eggs and beat till smooth. Stir in the evaporated milk until completely combined. Pour the filling into the chilled pie shell.
Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes; reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 35 minutes more or until filling is set. (You can check by inserting a sharp knife in center of pie to see if it comes out almost clean.) Cool, and then store in the refrigerator. Serve topped with whipped cream.