Posts Tagged ‘Food History’

A Tasty Blend of History and Food

Thursday, March 9th, 2017

I’m a sucker for history and for food so I’m always interested in any project that combines the two. I recently received a copy of The Pleasure of the Taste from the Partnership of Historic Bostons. This booklet examines the intersecting culinary opportunities and habits of English settlers and their Native American neighbors in the early days of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The book was put together by the Partnership, a nonprofit history group that “encourages discussion and debate” about daily life in Massachusetts in the 17th century.

Lorén Spears served as an adviser to the project. Spears is a member of the Narragansett Indian Tribe and the executive director of the Tomaquag Museum in Exeter, Rhode Island.

Spears obviously knows her way around a kitchen; she contributed a number of Native American recipes to the booklet, describing how they would have been prepared in the 17th century but also adapting them for modern kitchens.

The other major adviser was my friend Kathleen Wall, the colonial foodways culinarian at Plimoth Plantation. Kathleen is a wonderful source of knowledge about food in Massachusetts over the centuries and has frequently judged the charity pudding contest (last year it was a pie contest!) I organize from time to time.

Like Spears, Kathleen provided both vintage and modern-day versions of her recipes.

The recipes are not extensive, but they do give the reader (and the cook) a good idea of what Puritan housewives would have had to deal with in terms of cooking conditions and ingredients.

Samp was apparently a major staple of the 17th-century colonists’ diet. An adaptation of the Native American nasaump, this cornmeal-based bread constituted a major bread/starch for both communities.

The booklet delivers versions of both nasaump and samp, along with recipes for stews, tarts, and of course puddings. I’m going to start experimenting with the modern versions of the recipes, but as I go along I may in fact try a bit of historical reenactment.

The Pleasure of the Taste is charming: informative, quick to read, and useful. It may be ordered from the Partnership at

I leave you with Kathleen’s recipe for English samp, courtesy of the Partnership of Historic Bostons.

English Samp


1-1/2 cups boiling water or milk
1 cup cornmeal
a pinch of salt
a pinch of sugar (optional)
butter or bacon drippings as needed


Stir the boiling water or milk into the cornmeal in a heat-safe bowl. Add the salt and, if using, the sugar. Mix well.

Heat butter or bacon drippings in a cast-iron skillet. When the butter or drippings simmer, add the batter in half-cup measures to the pan.

Flip repeatedly. “They take their own sweet time,” Kathleen says of these cakes.

Serve hot with butter and maple syrup.

Kathleen sampling pudding.

A Taste of the Hearth

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009
Susan Luczu and Her Gingerbread

Susan Luczu and Her Gingerbread


We sometimes take our kitchens for granted. They are much more than just rooms in which food is prepared. They serve as the centers of the home, places of warmth figuratively as well as literally.


My kitchen is like my life—colorful, messy, and full of projects in various stages of preparation!


Historic New England has dubbed 2009 the Year of the Kitchen and has put out a wonderful book America’s Kitchens (of which I’ll write more soon!). I hope to follow its lead, not just by going to some of the events it has scheduled to celebrate this special year, but also by writing about the kitchens of neighbors and readers.


My first personal Year of the Kitchen event took place recently in East Brunswick, New Jersey, where I observed food historian Susan Luczu give a talk called “A Taste of the Hearth” at the East Brunswick Museum. Susan lives in an early-18th-century house near the museum. She collects historic kitchen equipment, which she uses to cook authentic, tasty foods in her house’s huge original fireplace. Susan brought several of her treasures and several of her foods to share with museum visitors.

The East Brunswick Museum

The East Brunswick Museum

The East Brunswick Museum is a tiny jewel located in a 19th century church in the historic village of Old Bridge. It is celebrating its own Year of the Kitchen with an ongoing exhibition called “What’s Cooking” that features kitchen tools and accessories. Some are part of the museum’s permanent collection while others are on loan from supporters like Susan.


Susan began with a bit of background about her interest in culinary history. She then showed off a number of the 18th-century kitchen tools and utensils she has collected over the years, which ranged from heavy pots to a portable toaster. “People back in that period were pretty sophisticated in their cooking,” she said of our colonial forebears.


Susan is almost as inventive as the 18th-century cooks she studies. She described how she had recreated some of her props. One of these was a sugar cone; she explained that people in the 1700s bought and stored sugar in cones and showed us how to extract a little sugar at a time using her antique sugar nipper (it looked a bit like pliers). Another homemade tool was a corn pot-scrubber for cleaning cast-iron pots, which she made from a whisk broom.

Pinching Off Some Sugar

Nipping Off Some Sugar

Naturally, Susan concluded her talk with a lavish tasting. She was nice enough to share her recipes with her audience so I can pass one of them on to you.


Susan’s next presentation at the Museum in East Brunswick New Jersey will be a Victorian Tea Day on Sunday, May 17. The Museum asks participants to reserve seats in advance; here is the web page with contact information. (Attendees are encouraged to dress in garden-party finery.) I highly recommend this event: Susan is knowledgeable, smart, funny, and down to earth.


New Englanders looking for a Year of the Kitchen event may want to attend the Spring Herb Sale this weekend at the Lyman Estate Greenhouses in Waltham, Massachusetts, or take the tour “A Tale of Two Kitchens” in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on Saturday, May 9. Information about both of these events is available on Historic New England’s Events Calendar.

To learn more about Susan, visit her web site.


I’ll be looking for more kitchen events to write about soon. Meanwhile, here is one of Susan Luczu’s recipes. She baked this gingerbread in a lovely Turk’s Head mold.


Part of the East Brunswick Museum's Kitchen Collection

Part of the East Brunswick Museum's Kitchen Collection


Taste of the Hearth Gingerbread Cake


1-1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg, well beaten
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup powdered sugar for garnish


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan or a small (4-cup) cake mold.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, soda, and spices. Set aside.

Cream the butter until it is fluffy. Add the brown sugar and beat well. Add the egg and molasses, and beat for 1 minute more.

Gently add the flour mixture, alternating with the water. Stir (or mix on low speed) until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake it until the top springs back when lightly pressed with a finger—or until a cake tester comes out clean (35 to 45 minutes).

Cool the cake for 5 minutes in the pan; then turn it out onto a plate and let it cool completely. Sprinkle the top with powdered sugar.

Serve the cake warm or cold with vanilla sauce, lemon curd, or butter. Serves 8.

By the way, we have a winner for the Lamson Good Now Green Tool!  Chris Miller of Lebanon, New Jersey, will receive a potato masher. Thanks to Lamson & Goodnow and to all who participated in the drawing. I’ll announce another prize at the end of this month………