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Colonial Recipes

Sampling of America’s Historical Foodways

Try these early colonial recipes – also known as “receipts” during the time period – to create at home. Many dishes are prepared during “Foods & Feasts of Colonial Virginia” on November 26 and 27. And for more 17th- and 18th-century historical dishes to make in your 21st-century kitchens, click here.


“To Butter Onions” or Apples & Onions on Toast

“Take apples and onions, mince the onions and slice the apples, put them in a pot, but more apples than onions, and bake them with the household bread, close up the pot with paste or paper; when you use them, butter them with butter, sugar, and boiled currants, serve them on sippets, and scrape on sugar and cinnamon.” — The Accomplisht Cook (1660)

1 pound tart cooking apples
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 medium-large white onion, minced or grated coarsely
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons currants, parboiled
2 slices buttered toast, quartered

Quarter, core, and peel the apples and slice them in 1/2-inch thick slices. In a small saucepan, simmer the onion with two tablespoons of the butter until transparent. Then stir in the sugar, cinnamon, and currants.

Arrange a layer of the apples in a casserole with a cover. Spoon a little of the onion mixture over them. Continue to alternate layers of apples and onions, finishing with a layer of apples. Dot the remaining tablespoon of butter over the top, cover the casserole, and bake at 375º until the apples are soft – about 45 minutes. Serve hot, over buttered toast.

Adapted from “Dining with William Shakespeare” by Madge Lorwin (1976)
“The Accomplisht Cook” by Robert May (1660)

Main & Side Dishes

How to Stew Potatoes“How to Stew Potatoes”

“Boyle or roast your Potatoes very tender, and blanch [peel] them; cut them into thin slices, put them into a dish or stewing pan, put to them three or foure Pippins sliced thin, a good quantity of beaten Ginger and cynamon, Verjuice, Sugar, and Butter; stew these together an hour very softly; dish them being stewd enough, putting to them Butter and Verjuice beat together, and stick it full of green Sucket or Orrengado [candied citrus peel] … and scrape Sugar on it, and serve it up hot to the Table.” — The Art of Cookery Refin’d and Augmented (1654)

2-3 large sweet potatoes
2-3 tart green apples
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
4 tablespoon butter, diced small
5 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup candied orange peel, diced
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon ginger

This is more like a casserole or crustless pie than a stewed dish. Bake the sweet potatoes for around 30 minutes or boil for around 20 minutes, peel them, and slice them thin. Core, peel and thinly slice the apples. Mix 3 tablespoons sugar with the cinnamon and ginger. Butter a baking dish and put on a layer of sliced apples. Sprinkle a little sugar-spice mix and bits of diced butter over them. Cover with a layer of sweet potatoes, likewise sprinkling with sugar-spice mix and dots of butter. Continue layers until all are in the dish. Pour the wine vinegar over the top and sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Cover and bake until tender. Dot with candied orange peel and serve hot.

“The Art of Cookery Refin’d and Augmented” by Joseph Cooper (1654)

“To Bake a Turkey” or Turkey Pie

“Take a turkey, bone it, and lard it with pretty big lard, a pound and a half will serve, then season it with an ounce of pepper, an ounce of nutmegs, and two ounces of salt, lay some butter in the bottom of the pye, then lay on the fowl, and put in six or eight whole cloves, then put on all the seasoning with good store of butter, close it up, and baste it over with eggs, bake it and being baked fill it up with clarified butter… to be eaten hot, [give] but half the seasoning, and liquor it with gravy and juyce of orange. Bake this pye in fine paste, for more variety you make a stuffing for it as followeth; mince some beef-suet and a little veal very fine, some sweet herbs, grated nutmeg, pepper, salt, two or three raw yolks of eggs; some boiled skirrets or pieces of artichokes, grapes, gooseberries, etc.” — The Accomplisht Cook (1660)

1 5-6 pound cleaned turkey
2 tablespoons of salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cloves
4 tablespoons of butter

1/2 pound veal, minced fine
1/4 pound beef suet, ground
2 egg yolks
1 artichoke bottom, cooked & diced
1/4 cup minced parsley
2 tablespoons of minced chives
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

2 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup cold butter
1/2 cup cold, clear chicken broth (approximate)
1 egg, separated

1 1/4 cups chicken broth
6 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon pepper
2 egg yolks

Remove the giblets from the turkey, rinse the turkey under cold running water, and dry it with a clean cloth. Put a large clean white cloth on the work surface while boning the turkey – it will help to keep it from slipping around. Place the turkey breast side down on the cloth and with a sharp boning knife, cut through the skin down along the backbone from the neck to the tail. With the knife at a slight angle and against the neck end of the bone, slowly but firmly cut and push the meat away from the frame in the direction of the wings and legs. When you reach the joints attached to the body of the bird, use scissors to cut the tendons and loosen the joints so that they are free from the bony frame of the body. Cut off the tips and the first sections of the wings.

Continue cutting downward along the ribs, first on one side of the breast, then the other, to the end of the breastbone. Cut slowly and carefully around the cartilage end of the breastbone so as not to tear the skin, and lift out the bony frame of the turkey.

Mix all the ingredients of the stuffing lightly but thoroughly. Flatten the boned turkey, skin side down, and put the stuffing in the center of the bird, piling it up lightly. Bring the two cut sides up over the dressing so that one side overlaps the other by about an inch. Bring the wings and legs close to the body and fold the cloth up over the stuffed turkey. Just before you put the bird into the pastry, remove the cloth. Mix together the salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cloves and spread them over the entire skin of the bird.

For the pastry, sift the flour and salt together into a large bowl. Add 1/2 cup of the butter and crumble it into the flour until it is like cornmeal. Slice the rest of the butter into 1/4 inch cubes and stir them into the flour mixture. Add enough cold chicken broth to the egg yolk to make 1/2 cup of liquid, and stir until well blended. Pour this liquid into the flour butter mix and stir quickly until a ball of dough can be formed with the hands. If more liquid is needed, add additional broth one tablespoon at a time.

Sprinkle your work surface with flour and turn the ball of dough out onto the flour. Flour your hands. Toss the ball lightly between your hands until it has taken on enough flour to make it easy to handle. Divide the dough into two pieces: 2/3 to make the lower crust, 1/3 for the top crust. Roll out the larger piece and fit it into your baking dish (7 x 11 inch rectangular dish suggested) for the bottom crust. Roll out the pastry for the top crust, loosen it from the work surface so it is ready to use.

Place the prepared turkey (without cloth) in the center of the pastry in the dish, breast side up, bringing the wings and legs close to the body. Cut 4 tablespoons of butter into thin slices and spread them over the top of the bird. Cover the turkey with the top crust and seal the edges with the tines of a fork dipped in water. Cut off any extra pastry (if desired, cut extra crust into turkeys and put on the top crust). Brush the pie with egg white.

Bake at 450°F for 20 minutes, then lower the heat to 325°F and continue baking for 1 1/2 hours. If it seems to be browning too quickly, cover it with kitchen parchment. While the turkey is baking, make the sauce.

For the sauce, put all the ingredients except the egg yolks into a small saucepan and simmer for 15 minutes. Cover and set aside until needed. Just before serving the pie, baste two tablespoons of the sauce into the egg yolks, heat the remaining sauce to boiling, lower to a simmer, and stir in the beaten egg yolks, stirring constantly until the sauce begins to thicken. Remove pan from heat immediately and serve.

To serve, cut the top crust into serving-size portions. Carve the turkey and give each person a portion of crust with the meat. Pass the sauce separately or spoon a little directly over each serving.

Turkeys first arrived in England in the 1530s, via Spain, whose explorers had brought them from Mexico in about 1519. The early English colonists in Virginia depended to some extent upon the native wild turkeys for food, both from their own hunting and from trade with the Powhatan people. Skirrets are a vegetable that was favored in Shakespeare’s day but not found in modern markets. The roots were eaten, similar to parsnips.

Adapted from “Dining with William Shakespeare” by Madge Lorwin (1976)
“The Accomplisht Cook” by Robert May (1660)

“To make Potatoe Fritters” (Pancakes)

“Boil, and then mix the Pulp with Milk, Cloves, Cinnamon, and Loaf Sugar powdered. To this put minced Apples, and fry them as common Fritters, in Hog’s Lard.” — Adam’s Luxury and Eve’s Cookery (1744)

2-3 sweet potatoes, boiled, skinned and mashed (makes 2 cups)
1-2 tart apples, peeled and minced (about 1 cup)
1 tablespoon milk
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons sugar, either brown or granulated
1 cup flour
Butter, oil or lard to grease the skillet

These are really pancakes rather than modern fritters. Mix the ingredients into a thick dough and spoon onto a greased skillet over medium to medium-low heat, turning to cook through. It is common for 18th-century cookbooks to forget to mention flour since its use is “obvious” to the trained 18th-century cook. Many modern cooks will prefer to fry with oil or butter rather than lard. Try these with maple syrup for breakfast!

“Adam’s Luxury and Eve’s Cookery” (1744)

Ugali (Corn Fufu)

4 cups or more water
2 cups fine cornmeal
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt

Add about 4 cups of water to a heavy large saucepan. Add 1/2 teaspoons of salt. Bring to a boil, remove about a cup and set aside. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal, until you have added the whole thing in the pot, a little bit at a time and keep stirring with a wooden spoon to prevent any lumps. Remove the saucepan from the heat while trying to get rid of lumps and to prevent burns. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the mixture thickens.

Then add the remaining boiled water, reduce heat and cover, cooking for about 10 minutes or more. (Note: Be prepared to do some stirring to get a smooth paste. Be mindful that cornmeal hardens as it cools down, so if you want really soft Ugali, add more water). Turn off the heat. Scoop out balls of Ugali in a small bowl; shake and form a ball by rolling around in the bowl.

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Adapted from Imma of Immaculate Bites

African Okra Soup

1 pound okra fresh or frozen
1/2 pound meat oxtail or catfish1/2 pound shrimp, but can also use oysters or crab
1/2 cup medium-sized onions, chopped
1/2 cup crayfish, ground (optional)
1 tablespoon beef or chicken bouillon
3 cups of chopped spinach or collard greens)
1 tablespoon smoked paprika (or garden herbs)
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup ground Egusi (pumpkin seeds) optional (peanuts also can be used if in season)
Salt and pepper to taste

In medium-sized saucepan, boil oxtail or catfish seasoned with garlic salt, smoked paprika, pepper and onions until tender (approximately 30-40 minutes). You can shorten this process to 15-20 minutes by using a pressure cooker.

If using fresh okra, wash the okra, remove the tops and tails, and slice into rounds. Blend or chop the okra to a coarse consistency in a food processor or by using a sharp knife. Add the ground crayfish, bouillon or Maggie and egusi (pumpkin seeds) into the pan of boiled meat, cook for 5 minutes. Add shrimp and cook for another 5 minutes, and add spinach or collard greens and stir for about 1-2 minutes. This dish can be served warm with fufu of any kind.

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Adapted from Imma of Immaculate Bites


“Jumbles” or Knot Cookies

“To make the best jumbles, take the whites of three eggs and beat them well, and take off the froth; then take a little milk and a pound of fine wheat flour and sugar together finely sifted, and a few aniseeds well rubbed and dried; and then work all together as stiff as you can work it, and so make them in what forms you please, and bake them in a soft oven upon white papers.” — The English Housewife (1615, 1631)

3 tablespoons salted butter
1 tablespoon of milk (or rosewater if desired)
2 eggs, beaten
2/3 cup white sugar or 1/2 cup brown sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon of anise seeds or caraway seeds

Beat the butter with the milk (or rosewater if desired) until creamy, add the sugar and beat it in. Mix in the seeds, the beaten eggs and the flour to form a dough. Knead the dough on a lightly floured board and roll into “snakes” or long “rolls” approximated 1/4 inch (5 mm) in diameter and 4 inches (10 cm) long. Tie each roll into simple knots, rings, or braided strips and arrange on lightly greased baking sheets or parchment paper. Bake in a moderate oven (350° F) for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack, then store in an airtight tin until needed. Makes about 15.

Jumbles are a popular recipe that appears over and over in many cookbooks. John Murrell in “A Delightful Daily Exercise” (London, 1621) has more precise measurements than Markham: 2 egg whites, 8 oz. flour, 4 oz. sugar, and 1 oz. aniseeds. He recommends rose-water instead of milk to make the paste, and directs that it be baked in an oven “as hot as for a manchet” bread for a quarter of an hour, with the proviso that they should “not be brown in any case.” The Thomas Dawson version from “The Good Huswifes Jewell” (1596) adds a step of boiling the jumbles and then baking them (rather like a bagel), but only dips the ends of the rolls in rosewater rather than mixing it into the dough. Dawson also specifies making the dough “in little rowles being long, and tye them in knots” for shaping these cookies.

Adapted from “The Art of Dining” by Sara Paston-Williams (1993)
“The English Housewife” by Gervase Markham (1615, 1631)
“A Delightful Daily Exercise” by John Murrell (London, 1621)
“The Good Huswifes Jewell” by Thomas Dawson (1596)

More Historic Recipes

For more 17th- and 18th-century dishes that you and your family can make at home, click here.