Stop at the Colonial Tavern for Yankee Pot Roast

I get tired just thinking of the life of my great-great-great-great-something- grandmothers who were married to the tavern and inn-keeping Howe men.

While the guys were off wheeler-dealing, speculating in land, fighting Indians and the British, the wives had their own battles. Martha, Sarah, Hepzibah, Bathsheba and Rebecca, and their sister tavern wives in the other inns and public houses of Massachusetts were juggling from five to 12 children each, caring for livestock and a garden, changing the linens (probably not daily!), sweeping the floors, and cooking pot roast for travelers.

Tavern keeper's son explaining the ingredients. I took the Photo at Ft. Louisburg in Nova Scotia.

Tavern keeper’s son explaining some ingredients. I took the Photo at Ft. Louisburg in Nova Scotia.

It is no wonder that colonial taverns had a reputation for less than stellar cuisine.  But nevertheless, there surely were some dishes that pleased the hungry strangers.  Townspeople were not stopping by to eat dinner, you know.  She had to feed her family and whatever guests showed up on their doorstep that day.

On rare occasions there might be a town meeting or court held at a tavern and the officials would stay for a meal. They particularly like to do that in the winter because the official meeting houses were not heated, and of course the tavern had its roaring fireplaces.

There could not be much variety, of course, because food for the most part had to be eaten in season. And whatever she cooked had to stretch to feed a lot of mouths.  I wonder when the tavern wife would have time to put up preserves? Cooking must be done for the most part in an open hearth in large kettles, with some lucky women having ovens built into the brick firewall.  Or even luckier ones would have a town baker to make the bread. But they could have used a lot of seasoning, if they wanted to.

Colonia spices

Colonial spices and beans. I took this photo at Ft. Louisburg in Nova Scotia

One pot meals were the answer. Hence Yankee Pot Roast.

Pot Roast with Zucchini

Pot Roast with Zucchini. Pardon the modern serving pieces, and the modern idea of tomatoes as edible.

My Pot Roast veers away from the historic by using non-traditional zucchini and tomatoes. The tomatoes were not just non-traditional, as this Smithsonian article shows, they were considered poisonous. Thank goodness we learned otherwise. But the lovely thing about pot roast is that you can make it your own.

pot roast vegetables

pot roast vegetables

Pot roast is just delicious with the basics–shown in this dish, because I cook them separately–potatoes, carrots, and onions (which I leave out.)

Since none of the Mrs. Howes left behind their recipe, as far as I know, you’re stuck with my version but only until you start experimenting.

Yankee Pot Roast

Serves 4-6
Prep time 30 minutes
Cook time 4 hours, 20 minutes
Total time 4 hours, 50 minutes
Allergy Wheat
Meal type Main Dish
Misc Child Friendly, Freezable, Serve Hot

Ingredients

  • 3-4 lb. chuck, blade, round or shoulder of beef
  • garlic to taste
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4-1/2 cup suet or other fat
  • 1 onion
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2-3 cloves (whole)
  • 2 cups boiling water (plus more if needed)
  • 3 carrots (large, cut in one-inch pieces)
  • 2 zuchinni squash (cut in one-inch pieces)
  • 4-5 potatoes (for boiling, not baking)
  • 1 cup red wine (optional)
  • 2 large tomatoes (chopped)

Directions

Brown Meat
1. Dry meat and pat generously with flour.
2. Heat suet and brown garlic (be careful not to burn
3. Brown meat on all sides in fat, adding onion when half done.
Bake Meat
4. Spoon off excess fat, add boiling water and some of the red wine if you are using it. Add bay leaf and cloves.
5. Bake meat in liquid and seasonings at 300-325 degrees for 3-4 hours. (or simmer, covered on stove top).
6. While meat is baking, turn to keep top moist, and add more hot water if needed.
Cook vegetables
7. Meanwhile, in separate pot on stove top, boil potatoes and carrots for 30-40 minutes. If using zucchini, add it in the last 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste and other herbs you like--thyme, oregano, basil--improvise.
Finishing
8. When you can easily stick a long-tined fork clear through the meat, it is done. Remove the meat from the pan, put it on a platter with high sides and cover with foil to keep it warm.
9. Put two tablespoons of flour into a cup, whisk in water to make a thick liquid. Whisk this into the hot broth. Taste and adjust seasonings. Arrange vegetables around meat and spoon the gravy over all.

Note

The lovely thing about a pot roast is its flexibility (that and its ability to turn a cheap cut of meat into a delicious meal).
I used zucchini squash, which is a non-traditional choice. The basics are onions, carrots and potatoes. I can't eat onions, so I actually leave them out entirely, but I think they add a lot to the pot. You can easily use acorn or butternut squash as one of the vegetables. Try rutabagas or parsnips.

I used tomatoes, but our early Puritan ancestors would not have touched a tomato. Now that we've decided they don't poison us, you can chop up a fresh beefsteak tomato or dump in a can of diced tomatoes. Choose your own seasonings and put wine in or not. (I tend to think the Howe women at their tavern were not wasting the hard-to-come-by imported wine for cooking, but maybe they used hard cider.)

Cooking over the open fire, I doubt the Howe women bothered to cook the vegetables separately, but I like the more distinct tastes and the ability to keep them from over cooking. These are fine points the Howe tavern cooks were not terribly concerned about, I'm sure.
Finally, know that this is one of those dishes that is even better the next day. Serve it with some buttered coarse bread and a dram of ale and you'll be right back in the 18th century.

The history of taverns in America’s colonies is full of surprises–and not all are culinary or drink related. This article at history trekker is a good summary of the way colonial taverns operated and also gives you some ideas for New England taverns you might want to visit.

I cheated a little by using photos from Ft. Louisbourg here, instead of pictures from colonial Massachusetts. But only a little, because it is roughly the same period as Colonial America. While the French and the English were fighting over land that the settlers were beginning to think of as America, those two European countries were also contesting over swaths of Canada. The Fortress of Louisbourg is the most stunning historic reconstruction that you could ever want to see. An entire fortified village reconstructed on its original site in Nova Scotia.  I’m looking forward to visiting it a second time this coming September.

 

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