Friday, July 23, 2010

Historical Cooking Classes

Part 1 (in an ongoing series)

I love studying food anthropology, the history of food and its societal and political meaning and influence.  It really is one of the most enjoyable ways to learn about a culture.  Check out my blog I Cook the World as I make dishes from every country on Earth in a very tasty education.

I've begun researching cooking classes designed to teach us a little history.  The first classes I found in the search are held in historic venues, using centuries-old recipes, historically correct ingredients, cooking tools, and methods.  Exactly what I'm looking for in this type of class.  This is Part 1 of an ongoing series on Truffles, Chestnuts, Cherries.  If you've taken an historical cooking class, I'd love to hear about your experience.

Southwestern Pennsylvania's Woodville Plantation was the home of one of Pittsburgh's wealthiest families, The Nevilles, from 1780 to 1814.  Seasonal cooking classes are held in the original kitchen at Woodville using recipes from the The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse.  This cookbook was first published in England in 1747. Glasse's story is a poignant tale of a woman's struggle to earn a living in 18th Century England.  Glasse fell on hard financial times after the death of her husband, which forced her to sell the copyright to her book.  She even spent several months in debtor's prison.  Though she wrote two other books after The Art of Cookery, neither achieved the wild popularity of her first work.   Flip through some of the pages of this cookbook at Amazon.   It is very possible that recipes, recipts or receipts as they were called at the time, from The Art of Cookery were used in the Woodville household.

Woodville Plantation Kitchen
At one point, John Neville had 21 slaves registered to the Woodville Plantation so there is little doubt it was the slaves who were doing the cooking in the kitchen. Makes me so sad to even write the word slave. In fact, it makes me physically ill.  I hope the people who organize the cooking series find a way to incorporate the culinary input of the slaves into future classes.  As we know, this input was significant throughout the United States.

Here is an excerpt from Hannah's book on how to make an inexpensive gravy:

If you go to Market the Ingredients will not come to above Half a Crown; or, for Eighteen-pence you may make as much good Gravy as will serve twenty People. Take twelve Pennyworth of coarse lean Beef, which will be six or seven Pounds, cut it into a little Pot or large deep Stew-pan, and put in your Beef: Keep stirring it, and when it begins to look a little Brown pour in a Pint of boiling Water; stir it together, put in a large Onion, a Bundle of Sweet Herbs, two or three Blades of Mace, five or six Cloves, a Spoonful of Whole Pepper, a Crust of Bread toasted, and a Piece of Carrot; then pour in four or five Quarts of Water, stir all together, cover close, and let it stew till it is as rich as you would have it; when enough, strain it off, mix with it two or three Spoonfuls of Catchup, and Half a Pint of White Wine, then put all the Ingredients together again, and put in two Quarts of boiling Water, cover it close and let it boil till there is about a Pint; strain it off well, add it to the first, and give it a boil all together. This will make a great deal of rich good Gravy.
The BBC 4 did a documentary on Hannah Glasse in 2007 hosted by Clarrisa Dickson Wright of Two Fat Ladies fame.

Upcoming classes at Woodville include carrot puffs in autumn and Cheshire Pork Pie in winter.  If Cheshire Pork Pie wasn't served at Woodville, I bet something quite similar was served up using a Neville family recipe.  Would love to know if any of the historic recipes from the Woodville kitchen are available, either from the Nevilles or the subsequent owners the Cowan family.  Cowan descendants lived at Woodville from 1816 to 1975.

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