Category Archives: Food

Butter Chicken: American Colonial Curry

Close your eyes and imagine an American Colonial meal.  I imagine that you’re seeing roasts, overcooked vegetables, pastries both sweet and savory. But I’ll bet you didn’t think to put a curry dish like butter chicken on your Puritan grandmother’s table.  I certainly didn’t, until I received some spices from Pereg to try. I started looking into what spices the 17th and 18th century American colonists might have been using.

Our grandmothers in that period would not have been using these particular spices, however, with the possible exception of Sumac. (I’ll explain below)

Pereg Spices

Some of the Pereg spices sent to me for testing.

How Do We Know What Seasonings Colonists Used?

Spices in Colonial America

Common Spices used in 18th century America

I remembered reading in the book A Thousand Years Over A Hot Stove a list of recommended foods for the early settlers to take with them on the Atlantic passage.  Higginson’s book, New England Plantation published in 1630 included packing hints for survival in the new world. Under spices, Francis Higginson recommended housewives should take Sugar, Pepper, Cloves, Mace, Cinnamon, Nutmegs and Fruit. (Not sure about that one? Dried fruit, probably.)

In my own family, I have read two wills that shed light on products that housewives considered essential.

Rudolph Manbeck, an ancestor of my husband, wrote a bill in 1794 that sets aside certain property for his wife, including

  • half bushel of salt
  • 1/4 lb. pepper
  • 1/4 lb. allspice
  • 1/3 lb. ginger
  • 4 gall(on) vinegar

In the inventory of Asahel Platt’s property (he died intestate in 1833) I learned that he must have been a merchant. So what seasonings did he carry in his store? The long inventory includes these items:

  • 34 lb. pepper
  • 3 lb. spice ( unspecified)
  • 7 lb. ginger
  • 2 lb. Salt Peter (sic) [used for curing meat]
  • 5/16 lb. nut megs
  • 1/2 lb. cloves
  • 22 lb. raisins
  • 1 barrel of salt

Home Grown Herbs and Sumac Berries

Of course these lists focus on those seasonings that need to be imported. Additionally, plenty of herbs were growing just outside the kitchen door.

A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove reminds us that the spices and herbs are used as much for curing as for cooking.  The author lists thistle, borage, peppermint, licorice, rosemary, lavender, sage, anise, fennel, cloves, elder, garlic and ginger and some of the multi-purpose spices and herbs.

Of the seasonings sent to me by Pereg, I thought Sumac might be the most likely to have been used by our Puritan ancestors.  After all indigenous people used the red-berried sumac, and our grandmothers learned to use many American Indian foods. If you think of Sumac as poison, don’t worry–that only applies to the white-berried sumac plant. The red berry grows on another plant and is entirely edible.

However, I can find no direct reference to that cross over from American Indians to colonists. Too bad, because although I have never used sumac before I have become a fan. It has such a beautiful color and a nice tangy lemon, almost sweet and sour taste.

Butter Chicken meal

Butter chicken with eggplant and salad. Note sprinkle of Sumac on the butter chicken and on the eggplant.

Butter Chicken: Colonial Curry

I perked up when I read about the popularity of curried foods in America, even in the mid-17th century. If I want to use sumac in colonial food, curry provides a great opportunity. English housewives had discovered curry early in that century, and anything popular in England  carried over into American habits.  The most popular cookbook in the late 18th century in American would have been The Art of Cooking Made Plain and Simple by Hannah Glasse.

The clever Ms. Glasse recreated tastes of dishes made with seasonings not yet available in either England or America.  Which brings us to her Butter Chicken, a curry dish popular in the 17th and 18th century.  Although her version had much simpler seasonings than the “original” Indian dish, as spices became more available, we see an expansion of seasonings in later recipes.  Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife, calls for eight spices (ginger, turmeric, coriander, cumin seeds, ginger, nutmeg, mace, cayenne) instead of the three in Glasse’s recipe (ginger turmeric, pepper).

You will notice a lack of curry powder in both–colonial housewives had to be creative rather than use pre-mixed seasonings like curry powder.

I was a bit surprised that turmeric would have been used by the 18th century housewives, but there it is in Glasses’s 1774 book as she makes India pickle and butter chicken.

Check out  Silkroad Gourmet  for a nice comparison of these two recipes that were published fifty years apart. There you will find the entire recipe as originally published in each of the books.

I started with Hannah Glasse’s curry recipe for Butter Chicken, but spiced it up just a bit. My use of spices in the recipe as written below still could use some pepping up, I think. Let me know what spices you will use in Butter Chicken.

Colonial Butter Chicken

Serves 3-4
Prep time 10 minutes
Cook time 35 minutes
Total time 45 minutes
Allergy Milk
Dietary Gluten Free
Meal type Main Dish
Misc Serve Hot
Region Asian

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2lb chicken breast (cut in one inch chunks)
  • 1/4lb butter ((one stick))
  • 1 onion (chopped)
  • 1 tablespoon powdered ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon Pepper
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon sumac
  • 1 tablespoon garlic (finely chopped)
  • 1 1/2-2 cup chicken broth
  • 3/4 cups orange juice ([or use lemon juice])
  • 1/2 cup half and half

Directions

1. Melt the butter in a skillet, brown chicken slightly. Be careful not to overcook--just get rid of all pink.
2. Remove chicken from pan and add onion to saute until soft.
3. Add spices and garlic and stir about one minute.
4. Put chicken back in pan and pour broth over--just about covering.
5. Turn heat down and simmer about 20 minutes.
6. Add cream and juice, stir well until warm, then remove chicken again.
7. Bring liquid to a boil and reduce until you get desired thickness.
8. Stir chicken in briefly to warm, then spoon over rice. Sprinkle with sumac powder.
P.S.  Pereg Gourmet sent me several spices plus dried Lemon Verbena so that I could try them out and share them with you.  This gift is welcome, but does not affect my opinion.  I had not heard of Pereg, even though they have been around since the early twentieth century, but I am glad to learn about them.  Their spice jars are much bigger than the usual ones on my shelf and the prices seem very reasonable.

Perez big spice jars

Comparing the size of most spice jars on my shelf with the standard size of a Pereg spice jar.

This size difference is a mixed blessing.  Since the price for the large Pereg jar is the same or less than the normal size, they are a bargain. However, I don’t generally use up a jar of spice before it is a year old–the time period in which most should be replaced.  And secondly, storage becomes a problem because the large jars do not fit on my standard spice shelves, and hog space in a drawer.

On the plus side for Pereg, they have an amazing variety of mixes ready to go for many kinds of cuisine.  If you feel like experimenting and don’t want to invest in ten different herbs and spices they’ve got you covered.  They carry a lot of spices that I have not seen routinely on my grocer’s shelf–like the Sumac and in the very top picture the fenugreek seeds.  If you shop their website, you may be inspired to try some very different kinds of cuisine.

Welsh Cawl for St. David’s Day, the Welsh National Holiday

daffodils

Daffodils

On March 1st, I’ll be celebrating St. David’s Day.  “Who/What?”  Well, think another Celtic country celebrates its national day–David instead of Patrick, Wales instead of Ireland and leeks and daffodils instead of Shamrocks. And some home-made Welsh Cawl.

St. David's Day the day for Welsh Cawl

St. David in a St. David’s Day Parade with Welsh Flag.

You can learn more about St. David and his day from this article in The Telegraph.

Of course, my special occasion planning goes straight to “What do we eat?”

Welsh Cawl for St. David’s Day

The answer to that question for St. David’s Day seems to vary, but always includes some Welsh Skillet Cakes and the Welsh soul food, Welsh Cawl.  Pronounce it like “owl”. Make it with winter vegetables. Sup it from a bowl with some crusty bread.

Like beef vegetable soup or stew, this dish is quite flexible, so feel free to toss in what you have on hand. But the basics that make it uniquely Welsh Cawl include lamb, leeks and potatoes. If you read that article on St. David, you might have picked up that the saint recommended the Welsh wear leeks in their caps when they went into battle. Smelly, what?  However, a more practical reason for leeks in the soup is that they  are widely available in late winter/early spring.

Leeks for Welsh Cawl

Leeks, ready for harvesting

The other vegetables that might be included in your Welsh Cawl could be carrots, rutabagas, parsnips and even some greens, like spinach or kale (which I’ll toss in to mine when I reheat it.)

Although this is a simple recipe, it takes a while to make it, and everyone recommends leaving it in the fridge for a day before you eat it. So plan ahead. The flavors have a chance to meld, and to me the most important reason for the day’s delay is that the fat accumulates on top and you can skim it off.

Peasant Food Isn’t The Bargain It Used To Be

Vegetables for Welsh Cawl

Vegetables for Welsh Cawl

Our peasant ancestors made this soup for its taste–but also for its economy.  In Wales on their small farms, they always had lamb available at this time of year, and they ate every cheap cut of meat from it. Generally they used neck for the Cawl. While lamb may still be abundant in parts of Europe (and New Zealand and Australia),  lamb in 21st Century America has graduated to a luxury item.

I could not buy lamb neck, even at a specialty butcher shop, and I wanted a piece of meat a bit meatier than the second choice, lamb shanks. So I went with another cut I had seen mentioned in online recipes–lamb shoulder. It was expensive.  $24.45 for less than three pounds. And a good deal of that was gristle and fat which got trimmed away after the initial cooking.

Of course it was not Welsh lamb–it came from Australia, which is fine, because I suspect that a good number of the sheep farmers in Australia originally emigrated from Wales.

Then there were the vegetables. Potatoes and carrots are standard, but not as many people like parsnips and rutabagas as I do.  Plus they don’t grow in the winter here in the Southwest.  So I paid $1.50 for one rutabaga and $1.99 for a pair of parsnips.

But the real shock came with the leeks at 2.49 per pound, I paid 1.77, and of course, threw most of them away, because I used only the white part.

That brings me up to $29.71, which would get close to $30.00 by the time I figured out (which I’m not going to do) the price of two potatoes, an onion, and one giant carrot.

On the other hand, the combination of lamb shoulder and veggies made over a gallon of soup, which will make at least 12 servings.

Welsh Lamb Cawl

Serves 12
Prep time 1 hour
Cook time 3 hours, 30 minutes
Total time 4 hours, 30 minutes
Dietary Diabetic, Gluten Free
Meal type Soup
Misc Serve Hot
Region British
On St. David's Day in Wales, the traditional comfort food is Welsh cawl--a hearty soup of lamb and winter vegetables.

Ingredients

  • 2-3 lb lamb (See notes)
  • 1 Onion
  • 2 Leeks
  • 2-4 Potatoes
  • 1 Rhutabaga
  • 2 Parsnips
  • 2 Carrots (or one very large)
  • Herb bundle (parsley, bay leaf, rosemary, thyme)
  • 2 tablespoons Olive Oil

Directions

1. Put oil in bottom of large pot, heat and add meat to brown on all sides.
2. When meat is browned, add onion, cut in quarters and whites of leeks, chopped in 1/2" slices-- cover meat with water.
3. Cut a small piece of cheesclot;, put herbs in the center and tie opposite corners to make a packet. Add to the water in the pan.
4. Bring to a boil and simmer for two hours (depending on the size of cut of meat and type of cut). Add water if needed to keep meat covered.
5. Peel other vegetables and cut in dice. In a small amount of oil in skillet, brown each type briefly.
6. When meat is cooked, remove from pan (leave onion and leeks in broth). Set meat aside and keep warm by putting aluminum foil on top. Put rhutabaga in broth and simmer 15 minutes.
7. Add carrots and simmer another 15 minutes. Meanwhile, remove meat from bones, cut in small pieces, and remove excess fat. Add parsnips and potatoes to the broth.
8. Add meat back and cook another 20 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Take pot off heat, let cool slightly and put in refrigerator for one to three days.
9. To serve, reheat gently. Add greens if you desire. Serve with a spring of parsley.

Note

Lamb neck is suggested as the favored cut for this recipe, in which case you would need to pick the meat off the bones after the initial cooking of the meat, and the cooking time would be shorter.

The same would be the case with lamb shanks, another possible cut of meat.

As the meat simmers, you may need to skim off fat. Add water if needed, to keep the meat covered at all times during cooking.

Foods of Home — Make Some Chili Mac

Mac and cheese, spaghetti and meatballs, chili mac–the comfort foods of the midwestern America. Pasta has a surprisingly long history in American cooking.

Macaroni swept London in the 1770s as fashionable young men did the Grand Tour of Italy and brought back macaroni dishes. The craze for Italian, art Italian fashion, and Italian food carried across the Atlantic into the colonies as well.  British satirists had a field day with Italy-crazed young men, calling the wearers of foppish fashions “Macaronis”. A drinking song satirized the stupid Yankee Doodle dolts (as they were seen in England). The American soldiers, the British sang, didn’t know the difference between a feather and fashion.

For a detailed explanation of the phrase, “Stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni”, see this web site on political satire of the American Revolution period.  Just as Hillary Clinton fans gleefully took the title “Nasty Woman” and Donald Trump fans adopted “Despicables” during the 2016 presidential campaign, the American revolutionaries purloined the English song that mocked them.

Our Love Affair with Pasta Goes Way Back

Meanwhile, American housewives imported macaroni (and other pastas) and found new ways to use them.  Later, Italian immigants opened restaurants where they catered to American tastes and American Italian food strayed from the original. Mrs. Beeton‘s wonderfully thorough household guide, published in 1860, explains the differece between various pastas, the wheat used to make the best pasta, and gives numeous recipes for using pasta–in soup, in macaroni with Parmesan cheese, and in macaroni puddings. According to Paul Freedma in Ten Restaurants that Changed America, macaroni was a mainstay on restaurant menus throughout the 19th century.  Even the classiest New York Society hang-outs offered macaroni and cheese.

Chili Mac and Johnny Marzetti

Although I have been able to document the absolute origin of Chili Mac, most sources seem to think it came from Cincinnati, where the famous cinnamon-flavored chili is served on spaghetti to this day.  But there is that little nagging problem of “Why is it alled Chili MAC if it is really Chili GHETTI?” The chili part is never in question. Originally, it probably depended on canned Hormel chili, a cheap and quick way to get a filling meal into a family. As you will see in my recipe, I eschew the old familiar canned stuff and strike out on my own. Cincinnati or not, there is no doubt in my mind that Chili Mac is a typical middle western dish, as is Johnny Marzetti.

Marzetti's Restaurant

Marzetti’s Restaurant Coumbus, Ohio, home of Johnny Marzetti

Johnny Marzetti is easier to trace. Marzetti’s restaurant in Columbus Ohio near the Ohio State University campus mixed noodles with canned tomatoes and tomato sauce, ground beef and cheese and baked the mixture. (That link takes you to the original recipe).  Ms. Marzetti the restaurant’s owner, named the dish for her brother Johnny.  She popularized the comfort food in the 1920s, right when my mother was attending Ohio State University. No wonder Johnny Marzetti became a staple on our dinner table.  The nutrituous, make-ahead casserole, also starred on school lunch menus (all that government donated cheese!) and still shows up on Midwestern potluck tables. Every cook may have a different recipe–my sister and I differ on the kind of noodles to use–I prefer flat noodles for Johnny Marzetti and when I use macaroni the dish becomes chili mac.

I suspect that although both variations of noodles-beef-tomatoes may have originated early in the 20th century, they both got a big boost because of the Great Depression.

Chili Mac soothes and fills the empty tummy on a chilly MidWestern winter day. It is inexpensive, easy on the cook and a perfect comfort food.

Chili Mac

Serves 12
Prep time 20 minutes
Cook time 25 minutes
Total time 45 minutes
Allergy Wheat
Meal type Main Dish
Misc Child Friendly, Freezable, Pre-preparable, Serve Hot
Region American
Comfort food form the mid-west, Chili Mac makes an easy economical and filling meal.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 bag Macaroni (uncooked)
  • 1/2lb ground beef
  • 1 bell pepper (diced)
  • 1 stalk celery (diced)
  • 1 can beans (kidney beans or black beans, seasoned or unseasoned)
  • 8oz canned corn (optional)
  • 1 can tomatoes (diced)
  • chili powder or hot sauce (to taste (I use Cholula hot sauce))
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • garlic salt and pepper (to taste)
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro (chopped)
  • 1/2-1 cup grated parmesan/romano cheese

Optional

  • 1 onion (chopped)
  • 1 can kchopped Hatch green chilis

Directions

1. Cook macaroni according to package directions, drain and set aside. (Under cook slightly since the noodles will be cooking for a short time in the sauce.)
2. Meanwhile, saute the bell pepper and celery and onion in a large skillet, using a small amount of olive oil.
3. Add ground beef, crumbled, to the vegetables in the skillet and cook until browned. Pour off grease if accumulated.
4. Add the canned beans, tomatoes and corn (if using) to the browned hamburger and stir in the seasonings. Stir in the macaroni. Taste and correct seasonings if needed.
5. Sprinkle cheese on top and put a lid on, turning stove down to low. Leave until cheese is melted into the rest. This dish will hold until everyone gets to the table, and can be served diretly from the skillet.
6. If you do not have a very large skillet that will hold all these ingredients, put the cooked macaroni in a casserole dish and then stir in the cooked hamburger and other ingredients. Add cheese on top, and put in 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes--until cheese is melted in.

Note

Feel free to adapt and use what you have on hand. This recipe is abundantly flexible.