Monday, November 30, 2015

A Quiet Family Dinner: The 2015 Dining Room Display at the c.19th Riversdale House Museum




Today I created the 2015 Christmas Dining Room display for the c. 1801 Riversdale House Museum in Riverdale Park, Maryland. You can click here to read all about this wonderful historic treasure in Prince George's County.

Normally, I use the festive Christmas season to create an elaborate Christmastide ball supper with an array of buffet items appropriate to the very early decades of the 19th century. This year, in keeping with the museum staff's decision to recreate Christmas traditions from multiple time periods, ranging from the middle of the 19th century to the 1930s, I decided to use an 1889 description of a Christmas dinner given by Juliet Corson in her publication entitled, Miss Corson's Practical American Cookery (New York).

Here is Corson's description of a classic old-fashioned Christmas (or even Thanksgiving):


For the current Riversdale House Museum dining room display, I used Corson's description of the Christmas meal as the inspiration for my display. Here is a schematic of how I interpreted it given the faux food objects available at the museum:



Here are some images of this year's design which clearly reflects a simple family gathering of just two traditional courses, not the pomp and circumstance of a lavish ball supper:

Dining Room Table:


 Sideboard with Desserts Awaiting Service:

Visit Riversdale House Museum on
 Wednesday, December 30, 2015 at 6 pm for Riversdale by Candlelight.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Spicing Up Chestnuts: "Devilled" Chestnuts and Spiced Glazed Chestnuts


As a child growing up in an Italian American household, roasted chestnuts were always a big part of the Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts. I have always loved them and am now exploring other ways in which they can be enjoyed.

Back before the turn of the twentieth century, American Chestnut trees made up one quarter of all of the hardwood trees covering an area of the Northeastern United States estimated at being as large as 200 million acres. Beginning around 1904, a fungus known as Cryphonectria parasitica (formerly Endothia parasitica), reached the United States from an imported Asian chestnut tree and subsequently brought about a chestnut blight that decimated the American chestnut tree population. Growth and distribution of American Chestnuts has still not bounced back since the blight of the early 20th century. Americans looking to add chestnuts to their holiday menus are most likely buying European chestnuts that come from Southern Italy, Portugal , or France (FYI-these chestnuts are actually of West Asian origins).

Historic recipes for chestnuts certainly do reach far back in time. American Indians used them in stews. The ancient Romans used chestnut flour in recipes and cooked them with lentils; the French use chestnuts to make Marrons Glaces (candied chestnuts) and a chestnut puree as a crepe filling; the Italians use them in cakes among many other recipes; and the Austrians use them to make the famous Nesselrode Pudding, a frozen moulded chestnut ice cream. This is just a small slice of the many other ways to enjoy chestnuts.

Here are two spiced and fun ways to present chestnuts at your holiday table, or anytime!



Spiced Glazed Chestnuts

Hand-Book of Practical Cookery by Pierre Blot. New York: 1884

While I love the idea of making candied chestnuts, the Marrons Glaces I had in France seem a bit too sweet for me. I decided to make a recipe that resembles the idea of candied chestnuts without the overpowering sweetness. I've also added a bit of spices to make it more flavorful for the festive holiday season.

Modern Recipe Adaptation

  • 8 Ounces Peeled and Cooked Chestnuts (click here to see how to do this or you can buy chestnuts already cooked and peeled for you)
  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • 1 Cup Water
  • 1 Teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg

Directions:
  1. Place the sugar, water, vanilla, and spices in a medium sauce pan and place over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil.
  2. Add the chestnuts to the sauce pan and bring back to the boil. Boil for just about 2-3 minutes and then remove from the heat.
  3. Let the chestnuts cool in the spiced syrup, about 1 hour.
  4. For extra sweet chestnuts, store the nuts in the syrup in a jar in the refrigerator. If you want less sweet chestnuts, drain the syrup and store the chestnuts in a sealed plastic container in the refrigerator.

Devilled Chestnuts


The Boston Cooking School Cook Book by Fannie Merritt Farmer. Boston, 1896.


Modern Recipe Adaptation
  • 1 Pound Peeled and Cooked Chestnuts (click here to see how to do this or you can buy chestnuts already cooked and peeled for you)
  • 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Paprika (smoked or hot)
  • 1/4 - 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cayenne Pepper
  • Salt to Taste

Directions:
  1. Heat the oven to 400ยบ F.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. In a bowl, mix together the oil and spices using a whisk
  4. Add the chestnuts to the spiced oil and mix until all of the chestnuts are coated evenly.
  5. Lay the chestnuts on the parchment-lined baking sheet.
  6. Place in the heated oven and bake for 15-20 minutes.
  7. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes, or until cool enough to touch. Sprinkle with salt to taste.
  8. Serve warm or at room temperature.
  9. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

References