Thursday, March 26, 2015

Spring 2015 Dining Room Display at the C. 1801 Riversdale House Museum, Maryland

The menu for this spring's seasonal dining room display was based on the book, A Complete System of Cookery . . . Containing Bills of Fare for Every Day of the Year, by John Simpson (cook to the Marquis of Buckingham. London: 1806. This is one of my favorite references because a complete and detailed menu with recipes is given for each and every day of the year. I looked at the menus for the very end of March and beginning of April to create this menu for the Riversdale display:

The spring dining room display was accordingly inspired by seasonal foods that would have been both available and fashionable with the landed classes in Maryland such as the Calverts, the family who built  Riversdale in the early 1800s. (Click here to read all about the Rosalie Stier Calvert, the owner of Riversdale House Museum and her family.) For example, ham, greens, asparagus, turnips, carrots, cabbage, potatoes, and custard cream would have all been food items available in the early spring in Maryland.

Importantly, this meal display shows a first course in the French service (meaning food was served family style in 2-3 broad courses). Soup almost always accompanied a first course in this style. The soup chosen for this meal is called "Spring Soup" and consists of using young turnips and carrots in this recipe for Soup Sant'e:

Recipe from Simpson, referenced above.

At the top of the first course of the meal, the soup would be served from the tureen and then the tureen would be replaced with a "remove" of another dish; in this case, there is a roll of roasted beef waiting on the sideboard to take the place of the removed soup tureen.

The roasted beef and potatoes are waiting on the sideboard to replace the "removed" soup tureen.

Additionally, each place at the table is set in the traditional historic manner of placing a bread roll inside each person's napkin, presumably to be kept warm until dinnertime.

The bulges in the napkins are the bread rolls.

Riversdale House Museum is located at 4811 Riverdale Rd. in Riverdale Park, Md 20737. They are open Friday and Sunday afternoons for tours.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Maryland Beaten Biscuits

Why Beat the Biscuits?
The Maryland Beaten Biscuit is a product of the days before chemical leavening agents were widely available (pre-1840s). Bakers pounded or beat the biscuit dough to introduce air into it, and the beating also served to disintegrate the dough’s protein (gluten). The extensive and exhaustive beating yields a final biscuit product that is tender, puffy, and flaky (because of all of the folding). Kneading the dough would not have been done because that would produce a chewy bread product, which was not desired for this recipe.

The earliest recipe for a beaten biscuit was published in 1824 in Mary Randolph’s, The Virginia Housewife, and it was called Apoquiniminc Cakes. In this recipe the dough is made from salt, eggs, butter, flour, and milk, and the recipe instructs the cook to beat the dough with a pestle for half an hour. Other later recipes for beaten biscuits do add baking soda or powder, which is really not needed because of the beating. Eventually, the beating was completely eliminated.

Beaten biscuits were traditionally made every day by baking them in small cast-iron bake kettles (Dutch Ovens), fried in a pan, or cooked on a griddle. These biscuits are perfect for dipping into stews and soups, or they can be split and coated with butter and jam, or filled with ham or other cold meats.

Apoquiniminc Cakes
(The earliest known published recipes for a beaten biscuit.)
Source: The Virginia Housewife by Mary Randolph, 1824

Put a little salt, one egg beaten, and four ounces of butter, in a quart of flour; make it into a paste with new milk, beat it for half an hour with a pestle, roll the paste thin, and cut it into round cakes; bake them on a griddle and be careful not to burn them.

Modern Recipe Adaptation
Yields: About 21 1.5-Ounce Biscuits

4 Cups All Purpose Flour + More for the Board
1 ½ Teaspoons Salt
4 Ounces/1 Stick Salted Butter, Cut into Pieces the Size of Peas
1 Large Egg
About 1 Cup Milk


1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and the salt.

2. Add the chopped butter to the flour and use your fingers to work it into the flour until it is distributed evenly.

3. In a small bowl, beat the egg until foamy. Add it to the flour/butter mixture.

4. Add just enough of the milk to make a dough that is smooth and not sticky.

5. Lightly flour a board and place the dough on the board. Knead the dough enough to make sure it is not sticky at all.

6. Now for the fun part: Take a rolling pin and beat the dough for 30 minutes. Turn and fold the dough often to make sure it gets beaten evenly. You will know it has been beaten enough when air bubbles come to the surface of the dough and pop or blister, and the dough will feel soft and squishy.

7. Roll the dough out and cut into circles, or pull off 1.5 ounce pieces and roll into a circle. Dock the top of each biscuit with a fork to prevent scorching during baking.

8. Baking Options: 
  • Grease a griddle with lard, shortening, or butter. Cook the biscuits in the fat until they bottoms turn golden. Turn and repeat. 
  • Or, you can bake the biscuits at 375ยบ F. until lightly golden brown and cooked throughout, about 15 minutes.

9. Serve immediately with butter, jam, apple butter, maple syrup and/or honey. These can also be eaten with soups or stews, or use them to make ham sandwiches.

Fold the dough in between beatings, every few minutes.

Notice how soft the dough looks after it has been beaten for about 20 minutes.

Notice the blistered air pockets on the dough after it has been beaten for 30 minutes.

Cutting into the dough reveals lots of air pockets!

Dock each ball of dough with a fork to prevent scorching on the top.
Maryland Beaten Biscuit Ready to Eat!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

A Fine Cream Flavored with Orange Flower Water and Rosewater

A Fine Cream

About Orange Flower Water
Orange Blossom Water was a very popular flavoring in the 18th and 19th centuries in American and English cookery. It is derived from the distillation of orange flowers from the Seville Orange tree or other varieties of orange trees. The use of orange blossom water in cookery comes to the west from North Africa, The Middle East, and the Mediterranean. The flavor of this distilled water is flowery but not too overpowering. Rose Flower Water was also very popular in American and European cookery, and also of Middle Eastern origins.

About Rose Water
Rosewater has been made by steeping the petals in water, oil or alcohol since the days of the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. The process of distilling rosewater evolved in the 3rd-4th centuries AD in Mesopatamia. Persia became a rosewater distillation center by the 9th century, and the fragrant essence made its way to Europe in the 11th century with the crusaders and subsequently became very popular in Medieval English cookery.

The Recipe: To Make a Fine Cream
Source: Amelia Simmons, American Cookery, 1798 edition.

Amelia Simmons, American Cookery, 1798 edition

Modern Recipe Adaptation
Yield: 5 Four-Ounce Servings


  • 1  Pint Heavy Cream
  • 1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Grated Nutmeg 
  • 1 Teaspoon Orange Flower Water
  • 1 Teaspoon Rose Water
  • 2 Teaspoons White Wine
  • 4 Whole Eggs, Large
  • 2 Egg Whites, Large

  1. In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan or stockpot, combine all ingredients except for the eggs. Whisk all these ingredients together.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and egg whites.
  3. Add the whisked eggs to the cream mixture.
  4. Set the saucepan on the stovetop and heat on medium-low until the cream mixture starts to boil. Do this slowly and stir frequently. It should take at least ten minutes to get to this point. Let boil for just a minute and then remove from the heat.
  5. Strain the cream mixture through a medium mesh sieve to remove any cooked egg bits.  You can spoon the cream into individual serving dishes/glasses or into one large bowl.
  6. Refrigerate until completely cold and set, at least one hour.
  7. Serve cold.

Alan Davidson, The Penguin Companion to Food, 2002

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Queen of Puddings

Queen of Puddings

This is a dish I have often read about but never tried, until recently, as part of a “Royal Tea” served on board the Regal Princess Cruise Ship. The dish is made up primarily of a custard base (sometimes the custard sits on a lining of breadcrumbs), and is topped with a layer of jam and meringue. It also can be referred to as a Manchester Pudding.

This recipe’s history is sketchy at best but most likely dates back to the turn of the twentieth century when Queen Victoria may have commented favorably on the dish, perhaps even on a trip to Manchester. However, there is no solid evidence to support this theory and there are similar recipes that date as far back as the 17th century.  

Whatever the origins, this dish can be enjoyed by anyone, whether you are a queen or not!