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HEARTH COOKERY

adaptation, the cast-iron “American Dutch oven,” boasted a heavy deep-rimmed lid to hold coals above and three stilt legs to straddle coals below.

Basic batteries de cuisine included assorted cast-iron kettles, water kettles, spiders (frying pans), posnets (saucepans), and griddles, as well as open kettles and pans of cast brass or bell-metal. These heavy pots worked well with wet cooking techniques. However, for dry-heat cookery and high-temperature processes such as frying and broiling, hand-forged metals, being better conduc- tors, were formed into spiders (frying pans) and gridirons (broilers). Tin reflecting ovens made superlative roast- ers. An array of these pots was common in middling or average kitchens. One’s economic status was reflected in the range of utensils: where less fortunate families were perhaps limited to a cooking kettle, water kettle, and fry- ing pan, privileged families owned larger assortments and varied sizes of the basics, supplemented with spe- cialized equipment such as wafer irons, chafing dishes, mounted clock jacks to turn roasts on heavy spits, dec- orative copper or ceramic molds, or hand-forged geared grinders.

The Cuisine

Cooking with fire has always had the potential for both simple and complex cuisines. The simple hearths of re- mote and rural areas or those of people of modest means have produced the one-pot dishes (simmered soups, por- ridges, or stews), roasted meats, and simple baking that have been the mainstay of daily cooking everywhere. At the other extreme are the culinary heights of the Roman and Ottoman empires, Persia, India, China, Mexico, France, and Italy, in which simple equipment and fuel have been no obstacle to fine sauces and elaborate confections. The early introduction of bronze and iron utensils in wealthier and more cosmopolitan urban civi- lizations enlarged the range of their hearths, enabling such possibilities as the high-temperature deep-fried kunafa, a crisp medieval Arabic bread. To this day, the hearth remains the center of food preparation in both primitive and modernized homes throughout the world and figures in such basic preparations as lightly crisped, griddle-baked Mexican tortillas or Moroccan flatbreads.

The average colonial American cook of moderate means had the skills and resources to turn out complex family meals, undaunted by fire-tending, stooping to floor or crane levels, and relatively primitive equipment. Her success actually had little to do with hearth limita- tions, depending more on the time of year and seasonal homegrown food availability, on access to imported in- gredients (in particular, sugars, spices, and other flavor- ings), and on the amount of time and help she had for preparations. Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Eu- ropean cookbooks used in the colonies show a wide ar- ray of recipes and varied techniques, among them boiling, simmering, roasting, frying, sautéing, fine baking, pre- serving, and candying.

ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FOOD AND CULTURE

FIRESIDE COOKERY

The following is a selection of wonderful recipes from the original eighteenth- and nineteenth-century sources:

Batter Cakes

“Boil two cups of small hominy very soft and add an equal quantity of corn meal with a little salt, and a large spoonful of butter; make it into a thin batter with three eggs, and a sufficient quantity of milk, beat all together some time, and bake them on a griddle or in waffle irons . . .”

—Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife,

1824, p. 171

Wafers

“Make a very thin batter with eggs, milk, butter, and powdered loaf sugar, to your taste; pour it into wafer- irons, bake them very quick, without browning; roll them as you take them from the irons.”

—Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife,

1824, p. 173

Not all fireside cookery was that simple. This somewhat more complex dish was offered by Hannah

Glasses’s Art of Cookery, 1747.

A Jugged Hare

“Cut it in little Pieces, lard them here and there with little Slips of Bacon, feafon them with a very little Pep- per and Salt, put them into an earthen Jugg, with a Blade or two of Mace, an Onion ftuck with Cloves, and a Bundle of Sweet Herbs; cover the Jugg or Jar you do it in, fo clofe, that nothing can get in, then fet it in a Pot of boiling Water, keep the Water boiling, and three Hours will do it, then turn it out into the Difh, and take out the Onion and Sweet Herbs, and fend it to the Table hot.”

—Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery, 1747, p. 50

By all historical accounts, among them Karen and

John Hess’s The Taste of America, and the experiences of such food historians as Sandra L. Oliver in recreating these recipes today, the food of accomplished early cooks met the highest standards of the modern palate. For ex- ample, roasting even unseasoned fowl and red meat in an open tin reflecting oven set against the fire produced a product far superior to that of its modern gas or elec- tric counterpart. The technique produced a juicy and tender texture, good crust or skin, and slight smokiness, and generally enhanced natural flavor. Likewise, one’s daily cornbread, prepared in a heavy Dutch oven, boasted

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