Tuesday, February 24, 2015

14th c. British Apple Fritters

Apple Fritters, c.1390, The Forme of Cury

About the Recipe

In 1397 a great feast was held in honor of King Richard II of England. The feast was given by Lord Spencer possibly to honor the King and Queen on their marriage that occurred in 1396. The list of dishes served at this feast is immense, but there is one dish that interested me, and I thought it would be fun to make 14th century style Apple Fritters. 



What makes cooking this dish even more fun is that I chose the Apple Fritter recipe from The Forme of Cury, a manuscript cookery book compiled by the master cooks for King Richard II around 1390. It is the oldest known manuscript recipe compilation in the English written language! The recipe is for fritters made with apples and root vegetables; however, I chose to make them just with apples.



Frytour of Pasternakes of Apples XX.VII.IX 

Take skyrwater and pasternakes and apples, & parboil hem, make a batour of flour and ayrenn, cast perto ale. safroun & salt. Wete hem in be batour and frye hem in oile or in grece. Do perto Almaund Mylk. & serue it forth. 

Recipe Translation in Modern English 
Take skirrets (a root vegetable also known as water parsnips) and carrots and apples, & parboil them, make a batter of flour and eggs, cast there-to ale/yeast, saffron & salt. Wet them in the batter and fry them in oil or in grease. Do them in almond milk & serve it forth. 


Modern Recipe Adaptation: Apple Fritters
Yield: 10 Fritters

Ingredients:
  • 1 Cup Flour
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 Tablespoon Lard (or butter), Melted
  • 1/2 Cup Ale
  • ½ Teaspoon Saffron
  • 1/8 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Sweet Variety of Apple, Chopped in Small Bits
Directions:

1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except the apples until smooth. 


2. Let batter stand, covered, for about 15 minutes before using. 

3. Add the chopped apples. If you want to use larger pieces of apple, you can parboil them first.

4. Heat the fat of your choice (lard, shortening or vegetable oil) until it reaches 360º F. 

5. Drop the batter into the hot fat in 2 tablespoon measures. 

6. Fry until golden and light. 

7. Remove from the fat, drain, and sprinkle with powdered sugar, or . . . 

8. To be true to the recipe, serve in a bowl of almond milk. 


_____________

Sources:

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Anadama Bread: A New England Tradition

The Latest in the Eponymous Epicurean Delights Series


Anadama Bread

Folk traditions have a way of infiltrating our lives with both pleasure and confusion, and the history of Anadama Bread is no exception. The New England tradition of making this bread using cornmeal, wheat flour, and sometimes rye flour brings pleasure to anyone lucky enough to have ever eaten it. However, for those of us trying to untangle the history behind the recipe, including how the bread was named, confusion abounds. 

Supposedly, the bread was created sometime before 1850 by either a fisherman or a Finnish stonecutter from the Rockport or Gloucester, Massachusetts areas. The legend claims that a disgruntled husband lashed out at his wife, Anna, for serving him boring cornmeal mush one too many times. In a fit of exasperation, he yelled, "Anna, damn her!", as he added flour, yeast, and molasses to the cornmeal to make something new and different, a cornmeal-based risen bread. Interestingly, a 1936 recipe for the bread in The New England Cook Book, 300 Fine Old Recipes, compiled and edited by Kate Morrow by the Culinary Arts Press has a recipe called Amadama Bread, with an M instead of an N. It is listed this way in both the index and the recipe. I wonder what the story is behind this misspelling, an actual mistake or another angle to the folklore of this recipe?  Here is the recipe:


There are many variations of this story and there is no way to actually trace its origins with documented evidence, but there is no place for the truth where folklore is concerned!

What is known is that according to the records of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Anadama bread was introduced as a brand of bread in 1850, and the first use in commerce was July 1, 1876 for Anadama Mixes, Incorporated. Around the turn of the 20th century, Baker Knowlton of Rockport, MA made the bread and sold his version of it in horse-drawn carts. Additionally, other 20th century bakeries made and sold Anadama bread throughout the New England region.

Anadama Bread
The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, 12th edition. Bantam Books: 1979.

Brown and crusty with a chewy, springy texture, this old fashioned batter bread, quick and easy to make, is an American classic.

(2 Loaves)

1/2 Cup Yellow Cornmeal
1 Package Dry Yeast
1/2 Cup Molasses
2 Teaspoons Salt
1 Tablespoon Butter
4 1/2 Cups White Flour

Put the cornmeal in a large mixing bowl. Bring 2 cups water to a boil and pour it over the cornmeal. Stir until smooth, making sure that the cornmeal does not lump, Let stand for 30 minutes. Stir the yeast into 1/2 cup warm water and let stand for 5 minutes to dissolve. Add the molasses, salt, butter, and dissolved yeast to the cornmeal mixture. Stir in the flour and beat thoroughly. Spoon into 2 buttered loaf pans, cover, and let rise in a warm spot until double in bulk. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Bake bread for 45-50 minutes. Remove from pans and cool on racks.

___________
References

  • Foodtimeline.org
  • Yankee Magazine
  • Wikipedia
  • Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, Andrew F. Smith [Oxford University Press:New York] Volume 1 (p.37)


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Blueberry History and a Recipe for Berry Tea-Cakes

Berry Tea-Cakes

About Blueberries
One of my favorite soft fruits is genus Vaccinium, or more commonly referred to as the blueberry. One of the interesting albeit frustrating parts of searching for recipes for blueberries prior to the 20th century is that there are so few of them.  The blueberry is a fruit that is native to North America and has probably been around for more than 13,000 years. Native Americans used them  in soups, stews, and meat dishes so why the lack of vintage recipes for them? 

The following history helps to explain the lack of recipes that use the word "blueberries":

Nomenclature, or What's in a Name?
In Central and Northern European, a species of soft fruit similar to the North American genus Vaccinium blueberry was known as the bilberry. To further add to the confusion, New England colonists referred to the native fruits as hurtleberries, whortleberries, huckleberries, and also as bilberries. It is therefore not surprising that there are few recipes that use the name "blueberry".

Formal Cultivation:
Blueberries were only available wild until they were cultivated for the first time c.1915-1920 in New Jersey by the daughter of a farmer, Elizabeth White (no relation!), and Dr. Frederick Coville, a USDA botanist. It is reasonable to assume that once they were cultivated they then entered the recipe repertoire of 20th century cookbooks using the uniform name of "blueberries" to refer to the mass-marketed cultivated variety of the once wild-only berry.

The historic recipe I chose blueberries is non-specific as to the type of berries to use, therefore I took this as an invitation to use blueberries, as I am sure many people who lived near wild blueberry bushes would have done the same back in the 19th century when it was written. 

Recipe: Berry Tea-Cakes
Source: Mrs. F.L. Gillette and Hugo Ziemann (Steward of the White House), The Original White House Cook Book, 1887 edition.
Nice little tea-cakes to be baked in muffin-rings are made of one cup of sugar, two eggs, one and a half cups of milk, one heaping teaspoonful of baking-powder, a piece of butter the size of an egg and flour sufficient to make a stiff batter. In this batter stir a pint bowl of fruit--any fresh are nice--or canned berries with the juice poured off. Serve while warm and they are a dainty addition to the tea-table. Eaten with butter.

Modern Recipe Adaptation: Berry Tea-Cakes
Yield: 28 Cakes

Ingredients:
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 1 1/2 Cups Milk
  • 4 Tablespoons Butter, Melted
  • 1 Dry Pint Fresh Blueberries or 1 1/2 Cups Frozen Blueberries
Directions:
  1. Heat the oven to 375º F. Grease muffins tins.*
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder. Set aside.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, mix together with a whisk or fork the eggs, sugar, milk, and butter.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and mix by hand just until well-blended with no lumps.
  5. Gently fold in the blueberries.
  6. Spoon about 2 Tablespoons of the batter into each muffin cup.
  7. Bake for 20 minutes.
  8. Eat with butter while still warm.
  9. Reheat leftovers in the microwave or on a greased griddle. 

*Variation:  You can also cook these on a griddle just as you would for pancakes.
__________
References

  • Alan Davidson, The Penguin Companion to Food, 2002
  • www.blueberrycouncil.org/about-blueberries/history-of-blueberries/


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Brunswick Stew


Another Recipe in the Eponymous Epicurean Delights Series!
Brunswick Stew

Brunswick Stew History
I have been making variations of Brunswick Stew for more than 25 years. It is a very rich, thick stew noted for its signature items of meat, tomatoes, and fresh vegetables such as sweet corn. Brunswick Stew was one of the first stews I ever cooked on an 18th century open hearth at the Square House Museum in Rye, New York. It's a great dish to make because it's almost impossible to get it wrong!

Brunswick Stew is one of those classic folk traditions that occurs in different regions but often times with local variations.  Each place known for making it will claim to be the birthplace of the dish, but as with most folk traditions it is frustratingly impossible to pinpoint an exact source for the tradition with any kind of evidence or certainty. 

The only seemingly indisputable fact about the origins of Brunswick Stew is that it is a meat based thick stew with vegetables and most of the recipes for it seem to originate in the southeastern United States. Here are some sources of its origins:

Brunswick County, Virginia:

Here is what an historical marker in Brunswick County, Virginia on Route 58 between Charlotte and Virginia Beach reads:


"According to local tradition, while Dr. Creed Haskins and several friends were on a hunting trip in Brunswick County in 1828, his camp cook, Jimmy Matthews, hunted squirrels for a stew. Matthews simmered the squirrels with butter, onions, stale bread, and seasoning, thus creating the dish known as Brunswick stew. Recipes for Brunswick stew have changed over time as chicken has replaced squirrel and vegetables have been added, but the stew remains thick and rich. Other states have made similar claims but Virginia's is the first."

Supposedly, Dr. Creed served this stew at a fundraiser for presidential candidate, Andrew Jackson.  It was supposed to symbolize Jackson's image as a "common man" and was such a hit that attendees of the dinner copied it and made it popular. It makes a good story but who knows if it is true!


Brunswick County, Georgia
In Brunswick, Georgia, there is a 25 gallon pot on top of a plinth with a plaque attached stating that it was the vessel in which the first-ever southern favorite, Brunswick Stew, was made in 1898.

Brunswick County, North Caroline
Lately there are versions of Brunswick Stew attributed to North Caroline, often with the famous vinegar-based BBQ sauce as an ingredient.

While there are many who claim to be responsible for this rich, thick meat and vegetable stew, its origins probably go back to the days when Native American Indians lived in the south. In addition, stews were very popular among the farmers who settled the south because they could be made very easily with whatever ingredient was on hand at the moment.  Therefore, you will find recipes for Brunswick Stew that still include squirrel, but oftentimes the meat is chicken, pork, or any wild game available. Enjoy my version of this beloved dish.  It's so good you won't care where it actually comes from!

Modern Recipe Adaptation for Brunswick Stew

To Make the Chicken and Stock:
One 4-5 Pound Chicken, Gizzards Removed
1 Large Onion, Quartered with Skins On
2 Carrots, Chopped in Large Chunks
2 Stalks of Celery, Chopped in Large Chunks with Celery Leaves 
6 Dried Bay Leaves
1 1/2 Teaspoons Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 Teaspoon Ground Thyme
6 Cups Cold Water

1.   In a large Dutch oven, place all of the ingredients.  

2.  Place on the stove over a medium high heat. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 2 hours.  
3.  Remove any scum that may rise to the surface.
4.  After the cooking time has been reached remove the stock pot from the stove and allow to cool.
5.  Once the stock is cool, remove all of the large chunks of chicken meat from the bones and set aside for use in the stew.
6.  Drain and reserve all of the liquid from the remaining bones and vegetables. Set aside the finished stock until time to make the stew. Remove some of the fat that will settle on top of the stock to prevent your finished stew from being too greasy.


Chicken Stock Ready to be Cooked
To Make the Stew:
2 Tablespoons Butter, Divided
Half a Large Onion, Diced
2 Large Carrots, Diced
2 Stalks Celery, Diced
2 Cups Potatoes, Diced in 1-Inch Chunks (or Butter Beans)
4 Ear of Fresh Corn, Cut Off the Cob
6 Large Tomatoes, Cut in Eighths
2 Teaspoons Ground Thyme
Salt and Pepper to Taste
Reserved Chicken Meat (About ? Cups)
Reserved Stock (About ? Cups)

1. In a large stock pot, melt the butter. Add the diced onions and sprinkle with salt (about 1/2 teaspoon or to taste) and allow to cook 8-10 minutes over medium heat, until softened but not too brown. 


2. Add the rest of the butter and the diced carrots, celery, and potatoes. (You may substitute the potatoes for butter beans.) Add more salt, pepper, and the thyme. Cook until all of the vegetables are coated with butter and are just starting to get soft, about 10 minutes.


3. Add the reserved chicken meat. Then add enough of the reserved chicken stock just to cover the chicken and vegetables (about half the stock).  Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium low and stew for 1 hour. 


4. After one hour of stewing, add the chopped tomatoes. Continue to stew over medium low heat for another hour.

5.  Add corn and season with more salt, pepper, and thyme, if needed. Continue to stew for another 45 minutes-1 hour.


5. Adjust seasoning to taste, if necessary. Serve at once.

References

http://www.cookedanimals.com/2012/01/brunswick-stew.html

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Sally Lunn Bread: Moist and Delicious Every Time!

Sally Lunn Bread

Sally Lunn is a very rich, usually yeast-risen, eggy sweet bread that is best served warm with butter, preserves, or clotted cream.  It can be made in the form of individual rolls or tea cakes or as one large bread (best baked in a tube pan to allow air circulation in the middle of the bread).  The history of Sally Lunn Bread is very difficult to pinpoint with accuracy and, consequently, rumors abound regarding its provenance. 

First, based on the bread’s name, it would seem logical that the recipe was developed by a woman named, Sally Lunn.  Evidence places Sally Lunn bread in Bath, England as early as 1780.  Supposedly, a woman, named Sally Lunn, hawked these type of bread rolls in the streets of Bath and therefore the rolls became known by her name—however, there is no reliable evidence to prove this part of the story.[1] It is even more difficult to believe this Bath story because there is an American version of a Sally Lunn recipe that predates it by ten years.  It is a circa 1770 recipe penned by the granddaughter of Virginia’s Governor Spotswood.[2] 

On a visit to Bath, England in 2010, I had afternoon tea at Sally Lunn's Historic Eating House & Museum. Despite the sketchy history, I enjoyed the tour of the historic house/bakery, and the food was tasty. Here are some pictures from Sally Lunn's in Bath:


Sally Lunn's, Bath, England

"Sally Lunn" Baking her Buns!

Close Up of the Cooking Hearth at Sally Lunn's.

Second: Eliza Acton has a recipe in her c.1845 cookbook for a similar type of yeasted bread she refers to as a 'rich French breakfast cake' called, Solimemne. Solimem is also another name likely based on the Solimemne version of the name for this cake/bread.[3] These names may derive from the French soleil et lune (sun and moon to reflect the contrast of a dark crust and a very white center) which degenerated into, sol et lun, and then finally transformed simply into  Sally Lunn. This theory seems the most logical to me. 

Third: Another theory suggests that the bread came from The Alsatian region of France.  This theory suggests the French origins of its name; however, it is difficult to prove this theory either.  As a matter of fact, the first French record of Sally Lunn is from 1815 by the French chef, Antonin Careme who visited Brighton, England to cook for the Prince Regent at the Royal Pavilion.  At Brighton, the French chef was supposedly introduced to Sally Lunn bread; but then when he returned to Paris, he introduced this bread to the French claiming it as his own creation.  There are many holes in this story, too, but the biggest one is the fact that Careme did not go to Brighton until 1816![4]  So how did he learn about it before he ever even visited England?

It is not surprising that there is no easy answer explaining the origin of this recipe. Folk traditions get passed on from one generation and/or region to another and therefore, while there is a lot of repetition, there can also be a lot of variation in both the history of the tradition and in its execution (in this case variations in the recipe).


Sally Lunn Bread Recipes
While the origin of Sally Lunn Bread may continue to be an enigma, there is no doubt as to the deliciousness of the bread. Below are several examples of historic recipes for Sally Lunn. Both the c.1770 Virginia and the c.1824 Baltimore recipes use yeast as a leaven but there is no mention of any flavorings such as mace. Rutledge’s, The Carolina Housewife, (1847), includes chemical leavenings of tartaric acid and soda (either sodium bicarbonate or potassium bicarbonate) instead of yeast, and she also instructs cooks to flavor the bread with mace. I offer a simple modern adaptation below combining elements of each of these recipes.

Sally Lunn, c. 1770
Recipes from the Raleigh Tavern Bake Shop, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Publication. Williamsburg, VA: 1984.


Beat four eggs well; then melt a large Tablespoonful of Butter, put it in a Teacup of warm Water, and pour it to the Eggs with a Teaspoon of Salt and a Teacup of Yeast (this means Potato Yeast); beat in a Quart of Flour making the Batter stiff enough for a Spoon to stand in. Put it to rise before the Fire the Night before. Beat it over in the Morning, grease your Cake-mould and put it in Time enough to rise before baking. Should you want it for Supper, make it up at 10:00 o'Clock in the Morning in the Winter and 12: o'Clock in the Summer.

Sally Lunn – Mrs. Merryman, c.1824
The Manuscript of Ann Maria Morris, Maryland Historical Society, Special Collections Library

Take about 3 pints of flour, rub in a quarter of a pound or less of Butter; a teacupful of good yeast, quarter of a lb. of sugar, two eggs, half a nutmeg & a little salt, make the dough, rather softer than for bread, set it to rise.butter the pan you bake in, and bake in a moderate oven – serve it hot for tea.

Sally Lunn, c.1847
The Caroline Housewife by Sarah Rutledge, 1847

Two eggs, two small cups of cream, two cups of loaf sugar, one pint of flour, half a pound of butter, one tea-spoonful of mace; the cream and butter to be warmed together and when melted, to be poured into the eggs and sugar, which must be well beaten together; sift the flour into it gradually, add a tea-spoonful of tartaric acid, one and a half tea-spoonsful of soda; the soda must be dissolved in warm water, and mixed in well.  Have the pans buttered and the oven ready; then stir the acid in quickly; put into the oven immediately, before the effevescence eases.

A Sally Lunn, c. 1851
Miss Leslie's Directions for Cookery by Eliza Leslie, Philadelphia, 1851 edition

This cake is called after the inventress. Sift into a pan pound and half of flour. Make a hole in the middle, and put in two ounces of butter warmed in a pint of milk, a salt-spoonful of salt, three well-beaten eggs, and two table-spoonsful of the best fresh yeast. Mix the flour well into the other ingredients, and put the whole into a square tin pan that has been greased with butter. Cover it, set it in a warm place, and when it is quite light, bake it in a moderate oven. Send it to table hot, and eat it with butter.
     Or, you may bake it on a griddle, in small muffin rings, pulling the cakes open and buttering them when brought to table.

Modern Recipe Adaptation for Sally Lunn Bread
This recipe is the one that I have been using of decades. It offers a rich and moist center with a firm but not tough crust. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Note:  This recipe takes many hours to allow the dough to rise several times; therefore, start it in the morning for an evening meal.

1 Cup Warm Water
2-1/4 Teaspoons Active Dry Yeast (One - 1/4 Ounce Packet)
1 Cup Milk
1/4 cup Soft Butter
1 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Mace or Nutmeg 
1/2 Cup Sugar
4 Eggs
5 Cups All Purpose Flour, Divided

1. In a small bowl, mix together the warm water and the yeast. Set aside until it gets bubbly.

2. While the yeast/water mixture is getting bubbly, in a saucepan, mix together the milk, butter, salt, spice, and sugar. Set on medium heat just until the butter melts. Remove from heat and pour into a large mixing bowl.

3. Add the yeast/water mixture, and stir.  Then add the eggs and stir.

4. Mix in 4 cups of the flour. The dough will be very loose and wet. Cover the dough in the bowl with plastic wrap and set it in a warm place to rise for 1 hour.

This is how the dough should look after 
rising for one hour:




5. Stir down dough and mix in remaining cup of flour. I like to use a wet wooden spoon to do this. The moisture on the spoon prevents the dough from sticking to it too badly. It should look like this:





6. Cover the bowl and let it rise for another 3 hours in a warm place.

7. Grease a 9-inch tube pan with butter and pour/scoop the batter evenly into the tube pan. Cover tube pan and let the dough rise in a warm place for 20 minutes. Heat the oven to 350º F while the dough is rising this last time.





8. Place the tube pan on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 45 minutes or until bread is brown on top and sounds hollow when tapped. 


9. Serve warm. Butter, honey, apple butter, jam, and marmalade go very well with this bread when it is hot.  Cooled slices of the bread can be used to make sandwiches.

The inside is moist and rich--perfect with butter or honey!

_______
Notes
1. Alan Davidson, The Penguin Companion to Food, 2002, p. 820.
2. Recipes from the Raleigh Tavern Bake Shop, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation       Publication. Williamsburg, VA: 1984.
3. Alan Davidson, The Penguin Companion to Food, 2002, p. 820.
4. Alan Davidson, The Penguin Companion to Food, 2002, p. 820.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Poor Knights of Windsor: An 18th Century Drunken Version of French Toast





About The Recipe
Poor Knights of Windsor is a dish for what in America is known as French Toast. It was named for an order of knights established by Edward III for knights who had fallen on hard times after the 1346 Battle of Crecy in northern France. The reason the knights from this battle were poor after it was over was because they had to sell their estates to ransom themselves out of capture. The knights were given residence in Windsor Castle, and they worked for their housing by performing duties around the castle. While they may have been poor and could only afford to eat fried bread, they certainly would have been happy if they had eaten this 1755 Scottish version of the dish because it is full of wine! A more descriptive name for this recipe would be Drunken French Toast!

Here it is:
Source: A New and Easy Method of Cookery by Elizabeth Clelland, Edinburgh, 1755.

Modern Recipe Adaptation: Poor Knights of Windsor

Ingredients For the Toast:

  • 2/3 Cup Sherry of Your Choice (sack was a term for a fortified white wine imported from mainland Spain or the Canary Islands-Sherry is a form of this type of wine)
  • 1/3 Cup Milk
  • 4 One-Inch Thick Slices of French Bread
  • 2 Tablespoons Butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk


Directions:

  1. Mix together the sherry and the milk.
  2. In a shallow bowl or dish, soak the bread in the sherry/milk mixture for 5 minutes. You can use straight sherry if you dare!
  3. Prepare a frying pan by melting the butter in it over medium high heat. Remove from heat until ready to use.
  4. In a separate shallow pan, mix together the egg and egg yolk.
  5. Once the bread plumps up with the sherry, dip each piece  in the egg and transfer to the frying pan immediately.
  6. Fry each piece of bread until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes per side. Prepare the sauce while the bread is browning.
  7. Remove the golden browned bread from the pan and cover with the sauce (recipe below).

Ingredients For the Sauce:

  • 1/2 Cup Sherry of Your Choice
  • 2 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons Butter
Directions:
  1. In a small saucepan, mix together the sherry, sugar, and butter.
  2. Boil over high heat, uncovered, until the mixture is reduced to a syrup, about 5 minutes.
  3. Pour over the golden browned bread.
  4. Enjoy!


Sunday, February 1, 2015

Regency Era Dining: An Unexpectedly Delightful Scene

Back in 2007, I curated the dining room display for the c.1801 Riversdale House Museum's in Riverdale Park, MD to reflect real life dining based on a painting made by an English woman, Diana Sperling. Sperling painted between 1812 and 1823 while she was living with her family in a country house called Dynes Hall near Halstead in Essex, England. 

What I love about the collection of Sperling's paintings is that they depict everyday life in and around the manor house and include family, friends, servants, animals, and carriages among other things. The events in the paintings range from things you would expect to be depicted of early 19th century genteel life such as dancing, riding horses, playing charades, hunting, and carriage rides.  What is a delightful surprise is that many of the paintings show early 19th century genteel life in a much more interesting, more messy, less dignified, and often humorous way. There is a painting where Diana's mother, Mrs. Sperling and her maid are "murdering" (swatting) flies by standing on a windowsill, there is one where ladies are planting, digging, and subsequently falling over in the garden, a funny one showing a lady slipping on the grass while walking, a very 21st century one showing ladies doing DIY as they try to hang wallpaper in a room, and there is even one of a man and woman having a great time "riding" a newly felled tree trunk.

Of course, while all of these paintings are wonderful, the one that speaks the most to the food historian in me is this one of a dining room scene painted about 1812 or 1813, and a very unusual one it is at that!  Here it is:

From:  Mrs. Hurst Dancing & Other Scenes from Regency Life, 1812-1823 by Gordon Mingay, 1981.

Everything about this Regency dining room scene is wonderfully unexpected and a bit chaotic! The gentleman at the head of the table (the painter's brother-in-law) has just arrived and has just had his coat removed by a servant; and it looks like he untidily placed his hat and a travel bag on a stool. A dog is begging at table and being rewarded with a morsel, and the painter herself is sitting at the foot of the table on a sofa! Even more astonishing than the idea of a sofa drawn up to a fine dining room table is that sitting on that sofa with Diana Sperling is a parrot in a cage!

Riversdale House Museum is the historic site where I have been food historian since 2006. In 2007, I decided to recreate Sperling's dining room painting scene for two very good reasons. First, the time period interpreted at Riversdale is the early part of the 19th century so the timing was just right; and, second, Riversdale's dining room contains a blue sofa just like the one in Sperling's painting in the dining room because the house's original owner, Rosalie Stier Calvert, wrote a letter indicating that there was a sofa upholstered in blue in the dining room. Clearly, enjoying dinner on a sofa may have been all the rage at that period of time. 

Here is the scene as I recreated it in 2007.  I hope you enjoy the scene:

Riversdale House Museum Dining Room Display, a la c.1812 by Diana Sperling, Summer 2007