Welcome to my blog, "The British Are Coming, Y'all!" The week of 29 June – 5 July, I'm participating with more than two hundred other bloggers in the "Freedom to Read" giveaway hop, accessed by clicking on the logo at the left. All blogs listed in this hop offer book-related giveaways, and we're all linked, so you can easily hop from one giveaway to another. But here on my blog, I'm posting a week of Relevant History essays, each one focused on some facet of the American War of Independence. To find out how to qualify for the giveaways on my blog, read through each day's Relevant History post below and follow the directions. Then click on the Freedom Hop logo so you can move along to another blog. Enjoy!
Relevant History welcomes Christine Blevins, who writes what she loves to read – historical adventure stories. The Turning of Anne Merrick is the second in a three-book series set during the American Revolution, and the companion book to The Tory Widow. A native Chicagoan, Christine lives in Elmhurst, Illinois, along with her husband Brian, and The Dude, a very silly golden-doodle. She is at work finishing the third novel inspired by a lifelong fascination with the foundations of American history and the revolutionary spirit. For more information, check her web site.
Because I find so much pleasure in cooking and eating, I tend to feature comestibles and cooking in my novels. These types of delicious historical tidbits are among the most fun to research, and it is always such a delight to try and weave the tastiest of them into the story.
While writing The Turning of Anne Merrick, I would easily get lost in learning about Iroquoian techniques for cooking and eating indigenous woodland ingredients, like the snack "chips" made from the inner bark of a white pine the Oneidan scout Neddy made for Jack Hampton. It was fascinating to find out how soldiers like Titus Gilmore prepared standard but ingenious Army rations like Pocket Soup, and then compare that to the elaborate meals prepared in the "French Style" by the British General Burgoyne while in the middle of the wilderness on campaign. [Note from Suzanne Adair: In my first book, Paper Woman: A Mystery of the American Revolution, Sophie Barton and her friends use pocket soup aka "soup squares" while on the trail.]
Though most goodwives might write down and keep a collection of their receipts, published cookbooks of the period were few and far between. One of the best sources I used is considered the first American cookbook. With the ponderous title of American Cookery, or the Art of Dressing Viands, Fish, Poultry and Vegetables, and the Best Modes of Making Pastes, Puffs, Pies, Tarts, Puddings, Custards and Preserves, and All Kinds of Cakes, from the Imperial Plumb to Plain Cake. Adapted to this Country, and all Grades of Life by Amelia Simmons, it was first published in 1796.
When I read these recipes, not only can the ingredients and preparations seem odd (and sometimes gross) the recipe "prose" quite often brings a smile to my face. I am always struck by the quaint and descriptive terminology used — a stew is "simmered softly," and one should "milk your cow directly into" the syllabub. Without standardized measurement, 18th-century cooks relied on "handfuls" and "pinches," or most often, the recipe didn't even bother with exact amounts.
The founders would have a hard time recognizing most of the food and drink we 21st-century Americans consume. Here is a sampling of what you might find to eat and drink once you climbed out of your time travel machine in 1776:
Sons & Daughters of Liberty! Give memorable Proof of your patriotism and abstain from the Pernicious Custom of drinking British tea.
A Receipt for a Proper Liberty Tea
Blend in equal parts: Lemon Balm, Rose Petals, Lavender Flowers and Crushed Red Root. Steep a generous pinch in a pint of boilt water. Pour and strain. If you are fortunate, sweeten with a lump of shop sugar and a good measure of rich cream.
Mom not only brewed the libation, she made the yeast!
Take four ounces of hops, let them boil half an hour in one gallon of water, strain the hop water then add sixteen gallons of warm water, two gallons of molasses, eight ounces of essence of spruce, dissolved in one quart of water, put it in a clean cask, then shake it well together, add half a pint of emptins (see below) then let it stand and work one week, if very warm weather less time will do, when it is drawn off to bottle, add one spoonful of molasses to every bottle.
Emptins (yeast):Take a handful of hops and about three quarts of water, let it boil about fifteen minutes, then make a thickening as you do for starch, strain the liquor, when cold put a little emptins to work them, they will keep well cork'd in a bottle five or six weeks.
Who can resist a recipe that begins with the words "Take a large rattlesnake…"?
Take a large rattlesnake; skin, gut, and wash it until clean; cut into pieces no longer than the two joints on your finger. Set meat into a clean pot and put to them a gallon of water. Season well with a handful of salt, a blade or two of mace, whole pepper black and white, a whole onion stuck with six or seven cloves, a bundle of sweet herbs, and a nutmeg. Cover the pot and let all stew softly until the meat is tender, but not too much done. Pick the meat out onto a dish. Strain the pot liquor through a coarse sieve. Return the meat; cut carrots into coins and add with peeled Irish potatoes. Take a piece of butter as big as a walnut and roll in flour. Put into pot with one cupful each of catchup, and sack; Stew till thick and smooth and send to the table speckled with minced parsley.
Got cow? Then you got dessert!
To make a fine Syllabub from the Cow
Sweeten a quart of cider with double refined sugar, grate nutmeg into it, then milk your cow into your liquor, when you have thus added what quantity of milk you think proper, pour half a pint or more, in proportion to the quantity of syllabub you make, of the sweetest cream you can get all over it.
Notes: Liberty Tea and Snake Stew recipes were adapted and written by Christine Blevins (after much and thorough research). The Snake Stew recipe appears in The Turning of Anne Merrick as a device for hiding the a secret message sent from Anne Merrick to Jack Hampton, and written between the lines in invisible ink.
A big thanks to Christine Blevins. She'll provide giveaways (see below) to three people who contribute legitimate comments on my blog today or tomorrow. Make sure you include your email address. I'll choose the winners from among those who comment on this post by Wednesday 4 July at 6 p.m. ET, then publish the names of all drawing winners on my blog the week of 9 July. And anyone who comments on this post by the 4 July deadline will also be entered in the drawing to win one of two copies of my book Regulated for Murder: A Michael Stoddard American Revolution Thriller.
1st prize: One autographed copy each of The Tory Widow and The Turning of Anne Merrick in trade paperback format. Delivery is available worldwide.
2nd prize: A Revolutionary Survival Kit which includes black tea, liberty tea, lavender soap, lavender sachet, bayberry candles, a tin of sugar comfits, a bottle of lavender water, and a lace hanky. Delivery is available worldwide.
3rd prize: An 18th-century stationery bundle that's perfect for keeping track of your favorite recipes. The bundle is decorated with a quill and wrapped for convenient stowing in your cupboard. Delivery is available worldwide.
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