Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Pumpkin Pie!

From Julie H., historical interpreter:

Autumn- what a fantastic season! In addition to beautiful changing leaves, autumn conjures up mouth-watering mental images of delicious foods. Sweet potatoes. Squash. Turkey. Apple cider. And of course, pumpkin! For those of you also in the ever-growing pinterest world, you've been tempted with thousands of pictures of autumn-themed recipes. Well, here's a recipe that you will definitely want to bookmark for this holiday season- pumpkin pie!

There are two things to know about our 1820s recipe for pumpkin pie. The first is that historically, they would've called it a "receipt" and not a "recipe." The second is that they called it a pudding in a crust, and not a pie.

While they did have pie back then, a pudding stirs up a whole different style of cooking. Historical puddings can be make in a number of ways, and can be both sweet and savory. Technically, haggis (yes, that haggis) is a pudding. Many are boiled in bags, called pudding cloths, though, as with haggis, they can also be boiled in a stomach casing. In the early 19th century, receipts for puddings often referred to baked puddings, and typically mixed the main ingredients with a handful of eggs to create a custard-style dish. Many of the recipes called for the pudding to be placed in a puff paste- essentially, a bottom pie crust. This particular receipt is interesting, because it also calls for a crust treatment on the top, too.
This is from Mary Randolph's "Virginia Housewife," the 1824 version, which was the first edition published. We'll walk you through it, and help translate the hearth cooking version as we've done to your modern ovens. We'll show you how to make the puff paste (pie crust) receipt, but feel free to use your own favorite homemade or store bought pie crust! But do yourself a favor, and buy an actual pumpkin, not the canned stuff.

PUMPKIN PUDDING (modern ingredient list)
-1 small/medium sized pumpkin
-4-5 eggs
-half a pint of milk
-quarter pound of butter
-pinches of ginger and nutmeg
-approx. 1/2 cup brandy (optional)
-sugar (to taste, so anywhere from a 1/4 cup to 2 cups!)

We begin with cutting up the pumpkin, and removing the goo and the seeds. Save the seeds for roasting!
Cut the pumpkin in to strips, and then into chunks. Peel off the outside, with either a knife or peeler.
Once you have all your chunks in a pot, add some water to keep it from burning on the bottom, and place it over the fire in a slow boil to soften the pumpkin. For those doing this at home, put your stove about medium high to bring it to a nice boil.
With that settled, you can begin to make the pie crust, or, in our time period, the puff paste. If you'd like to use a pre-made crust at home to save time, go for it, or if you have your own favorite modern crust you like to make, go for it too! Puff pastes aren't known for being really tasty. But if you want to do the historic crust, here's the method, according to Mary Randolph.

Randolph says to sift out a quart of flour, leaving some out for rolling later. Instead of a quart, we measured out about a quarter pound of flour for the bottom crust, with our awesome scale, and then a little less for the top crust.
Randolph next says to add cold water to the flour, "knead it well" into a "stiff paste." If you're doing this at home, you will unfortunately have to eyeball it. My suggestion is to pour a small amount of water in, say, a quarter of a cup, and mix it together, then add very small amounts of water as you need to get the right consistency. A "stiff paste" should look and feel like... pie crust!
Once you have your stiff paste, set aside a chunk about 1/3 the paste, and roll out the rest. Randolph says to wash the salt from a pound of butter (or, just go buy unsalted butter, because, we can do that in the 21st century!), divide the butter into parts, and then begin rolling the butter in to the paste to mix it in.
Once the butter is nicely "mingled" with the paste, place it into a baking dish, and cut the excess off. Make sure there are no pockets of air in the edges of the dish.
Now that the bottom crust is ready to go, if your pumpkin hasn't stewed enough, use the same method to finish the top crust. We'll show you that shortly, but let's get that stewed pumpkin! The first thing you'll want to do is strain the pumpkin, either through a sieve or cheesecloth, to get smoother pulp. If you have neither, I suppose you could quickly drop the mix into a food processor for a few seconds, or push it through a spaghetti strainer (disclaimer: I've never done that, so I have no clue if it would work or not! Proceed at your own risk!).

Once nice and smooth, here is where you'll need those other ingredients. Now, Randolph's receipt says to use 6 eggs, but we suggest 4-5 instead, especially if you're getting store-bought eggs. Modern chickens have been genetically engineered to be MASSIVE birds that lay MASSIVE eggs, much bigger than most birds and eggs in the early 19th century. So, it is a good idea to use a few less eggs. Add your eggs to the pumpkin, along with your milk, butter, ginger, nutmeg, sugar, and, if you'd like, brandy (put in a little less milk in this case). You don't want it too liquidy. Randolph suggests to stew the mix a little if it is too liquidy.

Unfortunately, in our excitement for the nearly-finished pie, the next set of pictures turned out a little blurry. We apologize for this, but you can imagine just how good it was starting to smell!
One of our German farm staffers stops by to observe and beg for a taste. If this happens in your kitchen at home, I would suggest fending the German off with a wooden spoon.
Add the mixture to your puff paste/pie crust.
Here's the interesting part. Randolph writes, "cut some thin bits of paste, twist them and lay them across the top." Now, historically, there really isn't much precedent for lattice topped pies, but this is pretty close, and the exact execution of this is open to interpretation. How many strips? How close to one another? In both directions? Who knows. And frankly, you are master of your own kitchen, so do whatever the heck you want!
It's a little blurry, sorry!
But, blurry or not, George the Cat approves.
Place the pie in the oven to bake. We used the dutch oven, placing hot coals under it and on top of the thick lid. We checked it after half an hour of baking, and finally pulled it out after 45 minutes. I would suggest you put your pies in at home at 450 degrees F, and also check after 30 minutes. If it looks done, pull it out, if not, check every 15 minutes beyond that to make sure it's cooked through. It should be somewhat custard-y.
Let it cool, then eat!

May you all have a happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Gunpowder Treason Day - Bringing Familes Together?

From Julie H., historical interpreter:

Remember, remember, the fifth of November,
gunpowder, treason, and plot!
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
should e'er be forgot!

Okay, so that's a modern poem about what the English call "Guy Fawkes Day" or "Bonfire Night." But before we get to the colonial American version of the holiday, which we celebrated in good fashion here at the Frontier Culture Museum, we will answer the question, just who is Guy Fawkes?

In 1605, Guy Fawkes and a group of English Catholic conspirators had finished digging an underground tunnel from their tenant house to the nearby House of Lords. They filled the end of the tunnel with many barrels of gunpowder, with the intention of blowing up Parliament. However, their group had some fellow Catholic friends in Parliament, and a conspirator sent one of the Catholic lords an anonymous letter, warning him to stay away from Parliament for the start of the new session. The lord brought the letter to King James, who ordered a search below the building very early on November 5th, shortly before they planned to light the fuse. The gunpowder was discovered, and Guy Fawkes had been the unlucky conspirator on watch that evening. He was arrested, tortured, tried, and he and his fellow conspirators were found guilty of high treason. The men were hanged, drawn, and quartered.

Since then, England has celebrated the King James' assassination survival, and that Guy Fawkes and his Catholic conspirators failed to blow up Parliament. While initially a small observation in London, it became so widely celebrated across the British colonies that by the 1660s, King Charles II announced it a holiday. The event continues to be celebrated today in England, marked with fireworks, bonfires, and parades.

So why did the American colonies pick up and celebrate the tradition? The English-dominated colony in the 17th century was more than happy to join in a holiday that involved bonfires, parades, burning effigies, shooting off guns, and drinking to the health of the King and Parliament. Moreso, according to historian Brendan McConville, the British frequently viewed the American colonists as inferior, and so colonists spent nearly two centuries trying to prove themselves every bit as British as the mother country. The colonists took to obsessively adopting British customs, fashions, and holidays, with overseas travelers penning down their dismay at the ladies in Williamsburg dressing in finer clothes daily than their wives in England do on Sundays. British soldiers during the French & Indian War tromping through the backcountry were shocked to discover fine porcelain on the shelves in small rustic cabins. Historian Timothy Breen remarks that the common British subject knew fairly little about the colonists, and held stereotypical beliefs of Americans. A New England preacher, Reverend John Barnard, went to visit London, and conversed with a local gentlewoman after a church service, who was surprised that his skin was white and that he spoke English, for she supposed all Americans to be natives. With such false beliefs circulating, who can blame the colonists for their obsessive Anglicism?

The early/mid 18th century saw non-English waves of immigrants reach American shores. The Germans and the Northern Irish came to America, escaping deteriorating conditions in Europe, and seeking the opportunity and promises of land America offered. They had no reason to care for the health of bygone English kings or Parliament. And yet, they enthusiastically picked up the celebration in America with their English neighbors! WHY? One simple reason. Guy Fawkes was Catholic, and the holiday had picked up a decidedly anti-Catholic tone. They not only burned an effigy of Guy Fawkes, but of the Pope! And the uber Protestant Germans and devoutly Presbyterian Northern Irish could easily get behind an anti-Catholic movement.

The holiday spread from New England to Charleston, SC, referred to as "Gunpowder Treason Day," but perhaps most commonly as "Pope Day." As mentioned, Americans held parades, made large bonfires, shot off guns, and drank. They burned effigies of the Pope (Clement XII from 1730-40, and Benedict XIV starting 1740). They occasionally threw in Guy Fawkes, and sometimes The Pretender (from the Tudor/Stuart dynasty who claimed to be the rightful heir to the throne after William & Mary took over). But the main feature seemed to be the Pope. The holiday was one of few that nearly all the major groups of immigrants could bond together to celebrate, and helped unite us under the British monarch.

Whew. So this past Monday, November 5th, our 1740s staff showed visitors and school groups a jolly good patriotic time. We shot off the smooth-bore, built a bonfire, had school kids find a good-sized stick, lined them up, and had them yell, "GOD SAVE THE KING!" as they threw their stick into the bonfire. I couldn't get photos of that, but here is the excitement of building the bonfire, and burning our "effigies."

We put the bonfire in the center of our cornfield. Our intention is to spread the ashes through the soil. We decided to leave two cornstalks in our field, and built the fire around them. They represented Benedict XIV and The Pretender.We didn't have time to make a real effigy.
The stalks catch, and quickly fall.
With both corn stalks down, we admire our bonfire, and burn piles of brush and rotten wood we had lying around the site.
With the timely end of the Pope and The Pretender, we made one final effigy. I'd like to introduce you to Bean Fawkes:
 Bean Fawkes is a scarlet runner pole bean. Here he is, all comfortably enjoying his life.
What's that behind you?
 Oh no!
 Bean Fawkes is sentenced. Burn him! His final moments draw nigh.
We'll spare you further gruesome pictures of Bean Fawkes succumbing in the hot coals.

So there it is. Guy Fawkes Day, Pope Day, Gunpowder Treason Day. Whether British or American colonist, let's all be glad that that no one blew up Parliament.

Don't you Remember,
The Fifth of November,
'Twas Gunpowder Treason Day,
I let off my gun,
And made 'em all run.
And Stole all their Bonfire away. (1742)