Erasmus closed his last letter saying, “The taters are ready.” He has requested that Suzi plant some sweet potatoes because he loves these sweet taters.
While the soldiers were simply peeling and boiling their sweet taters, when they got home, their wives would be more creative with sweet potatoes. For clues, I looked up some 19th century cook books.
From Gutenberg Project, you can obtain this historic cookbook: Domestic Cookery, Useful Receipts, and Hints to Young Housekeepers, by Elizabeth E. Lea (1850’s) and learn how to be a proper mid-19th century housewife.
Recipes from another early cookbook, The Virginia Housewife:
A Novel Use for Sweet Taters
In the South, the Union’s blockades kept them from getting a supply of coffee, so they conjured a drink out of many different foods.
The website Click Americana, transcribes an article from The Salt Lake Herald (Salt Lake City, Utah), August 21, 1898, entitled “12 Ways to Prepare Sweet Potatoes.” Here you can find some intriguing recipes.
I tried one below, Sweet Potato Pudding. My comments follow the recipe.
I tried the recipe, substituting half and half for the milk and cream, reducing the milk, and using orange rind and juice rather than lemon. I didn’t happen to have a lemon, but besides, I like the combination of orange and sweet potato flavor. The ladies of Salt Lake at this period would probably not have had oranges, though.
I said a little ‘thank you’ frequently as I prepared this recipe. For my vegetable peeler instead of a paring knife to peel the potatoes; for my food processor to grate them; for my electric mixer to mix the eggs, butter and sugar instead of having to use a wooden spoon; and for my electric oven which I can (almost) count on for a steady temperature and never have to add a stick of wood to.
This recipe makes a very big bowl of tater pudding, as you can see. However, you don’t need to allow for headroom. It does not rise like a souffle.
Since the original recipe does not give a baking time, I had to guess when to stir the crust down. I translated “hot oven” as 425 F. The crust did not brown, just began to get thick while the pudding below was still liquid. I stirred it down at twenty minutes, forty minutes. And took it out at 60 minutes.
The tater pudding tasted good except that it was waaaay too sweet. And when the pudding stood for 20 minutes or so (at room temperature), the liquid separated out.
After making the recipe, I compared this 1898 version to the 1960s edition of Joy of Cooking’s sweet potato pudding and found the proportions to be very similar. The biggest difference in ingredients was that “Joy” would use 12 egg yolks and 4 egg whites for this amount of pudding. AND instead of baking in a “hot” oven, they use a low-moderate oven–325 degrees. That difference in heat could explain the separation. By the way, “Joy” used orange juice, just like I did.
Although my experiment with the 1898 sweet taters puddin’ did not work out, I think it is worth trying again. Next time I’ll definitely reduce the sugar and lower the temperature. Let me know what adjustments you make if you decide to try this sweet tater pudding.