Skillet Cranberries

colonial skillet cranberries

“Arrived at Dr. Tufts where I found a fine Wild Goose on the Spit and Cranberries in the Skillet for Dinner”

– John Adams, April 8, 1767

For the first of my colonial Thanksgiving recipes, I’m starting with the basics.

Even I, a former picky eater, would have to agree that no Thanksgiving is complete without cranberry sauce. The modern variety is often mixed up with citrus peel and a variety of other ingredients that might not have been readily available in colonial era New England.

When I saw a version of this recipe online, I knew I had to try it. Thank goodness for good instincts, because it’s great. Simple enough to make over a campfire, I’d wager, this recipe is about as basic as it gets, but no less delicious for all that. The finished cranberries retain enough of their structure to be more easily added to a fork than modern sauce. Especially if one’s fork only has two or three tines, as many colonial forks did. The brandy taste is there, but because it cooked off, it’s mostly the tasty flavors left, rather than the alcohol. Just sweet enough, with the tartness of the berries shining through, it’s a great and easy addition to a holiday table.

(Sidenote: My mother’s family grew up calling cranberry sauce, “plutz”. Anyone else heard of that?)

 Skillet Cranberries Recipe

Serves 4-6, so at least double for a large group

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound fresh cranberries
  • 2 cups turbinado or other raw sugar
  • ¼ cup brandy or rum

Spread the cranberries in the bottom of a skillet. Sprinkle the sugar over them and place in an oven set to about 275F for about an hour, or until the berries are very soft. Remove from the oven and carefully pour in the brandy or rum to deglaze the pan, careful of hot spatters. Stir gently if needed to unstick any berries from the bottom of the skillet. You can either return the skillet to the oven or cook on the stovetop until the alcohol evaporates.

Can be made several days ahead of time, and kept in the fridge. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Colonial Thanksgiving

Colonial Farm Kitchen

“Thanksgiving we eat and drink of ye best.”
Dated Nov. 24, 1748 from
William Haywood’s journal, Charlestown, NH

 

Without gushing too much, I have a lot to be thankful for this year, but on a daily basis, I’m surprised and delighted by waking up in my new old house. The oldest part of it was built in 1795, when George Washington was still president. The brickmaker who built it is buried in the old, old cemetery up the hill. There’s a brick-floor section of the cellar that never gets wet. Talk about fantastic engineering.

So when I started to think about this year’s Thanksgiving festivities, I decided to do something a little different. I really wanted to make up a spread that would delve into history, and reflect what might have been served at very early colonial-era Thanksgiving celebrations. My mother, on hearing this, wondered aloud if she could cook cod for the occasion on a bed of coals out in the firepit.

At least you know I come by it honestly…

I haven’t gone full Pilgrim with the meal (never go full pilgrim), for a couple of reasons. The main consideration is that the early pilgrims were met with a coastal array of fare, while I live in VT. Rather, I’ve tried to think about what meal might have been served when the house was still new, in the late 1700s.

As always when researching recipes, I begin with actual excerpts from the text, and go from there. Let’s start off with a great historical anecdote. For a citation just past the colonial period, this is too fantastic not to consider.  From a 1779 letter from Miss Juliana Smith to her ‘Dear Cousing Betsey’, we learn that some staples of this meal have been around just about since the beginning, like pumpkin pie.

‘This year it was Uncle Simeon’s turn to have the dinner at his house, but of course we all helped them as they help us when it is their turn, & there is always enough for us all to do. All the baking of pies & cakes was done at our house & we had the big oven heated & filled twice each day for three days before it was all done & everything was GOOD, though we did have to do without some things that ought to be used. Neither Love nor Money could buy Raisins, but our good red cherries dried without the pits, did almost as well & happily Uncle Simeon still had some spices in store. The tables were set in the Dining Hall and even that big room had no space to spare when we were all seated… of course we could have no Roast Beef. None of us have tasted Beef this three years back as it must all go to the Army, & too little they get, poor fellows. But, Nayquittymaw’s Hunters were able to get us a fine red Deer, so that we had a good haunch of Venisson on each Table.’ There was an abundance of vegetables on the table…Cider was served instead of wine, wiht the explanation that Uncle Simeon was saving his cask ‘for the sick’… ‘The Pumpkin Pies, Apple Tarts & big Indian Puddings lacked for nothing save Appetite by the time we had got round to them…We did not rise from the Table until it was quite dark, & then when the dishes had been cleared away we all got round the fire as close as we could, & cracked nuts, & sang songs & told stories.”

To sum up, her Thanksgiving dinner was made up of:

  • Haunch of Venison, Roast Chine of Pork
  • Roast Turkey, Pigeon Pasties, Roast Goose
  • Onions in Cream, Cauliflower, Squash
  • Potatoes, Raw Celery
  • Mincemeat Pie, Pumpkin Pie, Apple Pie
  • Indian Pudding, Plum Pudding
  • Cider

I certainly wouldn’t turn my nose up at that! What I find especially delightful is that the even seems not to have changed considerably in the last 200 years. Even with our improved technologies in the modern era, the cooking/baking still takes days to complete. When the family assembles, there is still barely enough room at the table for all the guests, nor enough room in bellies by the time dessert is served.

At a certain hour before dinner, we will light the house only with candles and oil lamps. I expect it will be a cozy and intimate evening, during which we reflect on what makes us truly thankful. Everyone who is coming is encouraged to bring something period to read aloud during the digestion part of the evening in the living room.

And now, without further ado, I’m very excited to present to you my Colonial Thanksgiving menu! Anything with an *asterisk* will be posted in time for the holidays, and while this is a starting point, I’m sure it will change over the coming month. I also welcome any suggestions!

 

Starters:

pemmican, cheese, cured sausage, *acorn cakes*

Soup:

 Venison Stew? with *Wheatsheaf Breadsticks*

Main and Sides:

Heirloom Turkey with concord grape sauce

Scalloped Turnips with Cheese

Skillet Cranberries

Dessert:

17th century Pumpkin Pie, with ground acorns instead of almonds

Indian Pudding

Drinks:

Hard Cider

Homemade Birch Wine – coming soon to Game of Brews!

*Syllabub*

Pumpkin Butter, from the Eyrie

Spiced Pumpkin Butter

“The boy is fond of sweets… Cakes and pies, jams and jellies, honey on the comb. Perhaps a pinch of sweetsleep in his milk, have you tried that? Just a pinch, to calm him and stop his wretched shaking.”

-A Feast for Crows

 

People of the Northern Hemisphere.

Autumn is upon us, and that means obligatory recipes involving pumpkins.

Although, I have to admit that making and testing this recipe was not exactly a hardship. I did eat a great deal of the finished spread, just to make sure it was fit to share. You see the sacrifices I make for you?

Totally worth it.

I had the craving several months ago to make some pumpkin butter, but it was well before those lovely gourds came into season. I even eyed the canned pie filling in the pantry. And then the summer was over, as well as half of autumn, and now you can’t drive 10 minutes anywhere in New England without seeing a heap of pumpkins.

The smooth spread, made from a smallish pie pumpkin slow roasted in the oven, tastes of the season. Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and clove complete the classic pairing. It’s warm and comforting, despite the knowledge that with the appearance of pumpkins, winter is coming.

I haven’t made enough to put up yet, but rest assured that I soon will. Although, I bet that in a mid-winter pinch, one could use canned pumpkin to great effect. Perhaps I’ll test that in the grimness of February, when any taste of any other season is very welcome. You know. For science.

Where in Westeros?

The Vale, for starters.

While pumpkin butter isn’t specifically mentioned, the Vale is known to produce pumpkins. Given the unpredictable political scene across Westeros, I imagine a savvy cook would put away whatever she could get her hands on, both as straight canned pumpkin, and as its fancier cousin. We know from the books that little Robin Arryn loves sweet foods, and I can easily imagine him scarfing down more than his fair share of spice pumpkin butter to break his fast, while Alayne nibbled elegantly at a piece of toasted bread with a bit scraped over the top.

 

 Spiced Pumpkin Butter Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 small pie pumpkin, about 4 lb.
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup or honey (but definitely go for the maple)
  • 1-2 Tbs. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup apple juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoons ground ginger
  • pinch each nutmeg, cloves

Preheat the oven to 350°F, and line a small baking dish with aluminium foil or parchment paper. Place the pumpkin on this dish, and roast in the oven until it’s very soft and starting to slump. Remove from oven.

When the pumpkin has cooled, slice it up. Remove the seeds (they’re delicious roasted!) and scrape the now-soft flesh from the skin. Using a submersible blender, puree the pumpkin until it reaches a smooth consistency. Move the puree to a saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the remaining ingredients and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until it has thickened considerably, and is a nice rich color, probably at least 30 minutes.

The finished pumpkin butter should be great for several weeks in the fridge, and if you pop some in the freezer, it should keep until you can get a hold of next year’s pumpkins…

Pemmican

So, when I asked on Facebook and Twitter what you all suggested for real-world foods that would be at home in Castle Black, a number of you suggested Pemmican.

I’d never heard of it, but when I looked it up, I knew you’d nailed it.

Pemmican is a Native American Indian food consisting of dried and ground meat and berries, held together with fat.

I know, it doesn’t sound very appealing, does it? But this amazing food has sustained not only natives, but also early colonial fur trappers, AND (here’s the good one) Arctic explorers. Shackleton and Peary, among other, relied heavily on pemmican’s relatively dense calorie count for survival. As soon as I read up on it, I knew it was getting made.

Pemmican

Making it, however, is no light task, but rather a drawn out preparation for such a relatively plain meal-replacement. The meat has to be completely dried (which would be done over a fire in Westeros), then ground to a powder (with stones. STONES.), and combined with equally dried berries and tallow (rendered from the same fat as the butchered animal). I sorely pity anyone who had to grind their dried meat between stones. I even gave my food processor a peck on its little plastic cheek. Even with modern conveniences, this took the better part of a day to complete.

The resulting, ah, food, is… curious. Very dense, and not unpleasant, it’s somewhat bland, if nutritious. The rendered fat helps it harden, so it travels very well. Flavor-wise, it’s not unlike jerky, which makes sense, as it essentially was that before shredding. A friend who tried it also said it resembled a very dry pate in flavor, due in part to the fat content.

I’d wager that with the addition of a few key modern ingredients, such as freeze-dried veggies, it could actually be a pretty decent trail food.

Where in Westeros?

Definitely up north. I imagine that the Wildlings would rely heavily on something like this, and that the rangers of the Night’s Watch, as well as some other lords of the hilltribes surrounding Winterfell, would have picked it up from them. It would make a great source of protein in a small size for rangers out north of The Wall, where foraging can be difficult even at the best of times.

Were I a ranger, I’d add some ground rosehips for the vitamin C content. Once their limes run out, scurvy is bound to become an issue, as Jon muses in Dance. As a wildling, can you even conceive of how much pemmican one could make with a mammoth? It boggles the mind. The more I think about it, though, the more I like what could be done with this. Wild duck, cherry, and thyme? Venison, rosehip, and acorn? *Drool*.

Pemmican Recipe

Cook’s Notes: This is a highly adaptable recipe. You can use your choice of meat, and add whatever berries youlike. Also, if you’ve got a dehydrator, you’re golden. Otherwise, you’re stuck making this in a conventional oven. I suppose you could also use pre-made jerky as a starting point, but the additives in it might throw off the recipe, and it would probably still need further drying.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. steak meat
  • rendered fat, ~2 cups
  • 1/2 cup dehydrated berries
  • pinch of salt

Preheat your oven to its lowest setting (mine was 170F). Slice your meat as thinly as possible, against the grain. Arrange on a cooling rack over a baking sheet, and place in the oven. The ideal temperature for dehydrating the meat is between 130-150F, so you may need to prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon, like I did. The drying process takes many hours; mine was completely dry and no longer pliable after 6-8 hours, depending on the size of the slice.

When the meat is completely dry, place it in a food processor and blitz until it is a light and powdery consistency (this won’t work if the meat is at all still soft). Place in a bowl, and do the same with the dried berries, keeping the two separate.

If you need to render your own fat, you will need to start with suet, often available in the weirder-foods section of the meat department in grocery stores, alongside liver, tripe, and pig feet. Cut the suet into chunks, and place in a tall pot. Cook over medium heat until you have a nice layer of melted fat in the bottom of the pan, then reduce the heat to low. Continue to cook for around an hour, or until the bits of suet have become brown and crispy, and there is a substantial layer of clear golden fat in the pan. Strain into a clean container, and allow to cool somewhat (it should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: hot fat is really hot, and the spatters burninate).

To actually make the pemmican itself:

To the powdered meat add about 1/4 volume of ground berries. Weigh this mixture, and gradually add a little less than the same weight of rendered fat in its liquid form. Mix these as much as possible with a spoon, then by hand once it’s cool enough to handle. Press into cupcake tins to harden, or roll out into flat shapes, and cut into bars. Wrap in parchment or wax paper, and slip into ziploc bags.

By all accounts, it shouldn’t need to be refrigerated as long as it’s kept cool and in a dark place, but it can’t hurt to put it in the fridge. Historical accounts claim it would last for decades, but I’d recommend eating within two weeks, just to be on the safe side.

Pemmican Ingredients

Fried Squash Blossoms

fried squash blossoms

 

When I survived a week of pulling an average of 3 squash a day from the garden, I knew that more drastic measures were called for. A nipping in the bud, as it were. Literally.

These squash blossoms are stuffed with soft goat cheese, lightly battered, then fried to a crisp golden brown. The cheese gets warm and creamy, and the tartness of the cheese goes nicely with the slight salt from the batter. They are light and flavorful, but the real joy is knowing that you are eating squash-that-will-not-be…

Who in Westeros would eat these?

I imagine the Tyrells. Since their plentiful harvest assures them of a well stocked larder, they could easily spare some blossoms here and there.

Recipe for Fried Squash Blossoms

Cook’s Notes: You can also use zucchini and pumpkin flowers! If you like, add some finely chopped herbs to the goat cheese for a little added flavor.

Ingredients:

  • 3 ounces goat cheese
  • 10-12 squash blossoms
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • oil for frying, ~1 1/2 cups

Bring the skillet of oil up to a medium heat.

Make your batter by quickly whisking together the flour, cold water, and salt. Set aside.

Carefully squish about 1 tsp. of goat cheese into the bottom of each squash flower, then sort of squish the petals closed. Holding them by the stems, dip each stuffed blossom into the batter, making sure to coat each side and let any excess drip off.

Drop the battered flowers into the oil and allow to cook for about a minute on each side, or until a light golden brown and crispy. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Sprinkle with a little extra salt, and enjoy!

 

Squash blossoms with goat cheese