Holiday collation at Payton Manor, Virginia

It must be the weather but this has been the week for experimenting with all kinds of old recipes to celebrate the holidays. After reading recipes from the 17 th through early 19th century, I’ve come to the conclusion that, in general, in spite of the processed foods or maybe because of them, Americans do not eat as well as their forefathers. From the Dutch patroons to Tidewater Virginians  to the plantation owners in the Low Country, everybody held collations every New Years. The gentry held open house for any and all comers and buffet tables would groan with all manner of delicate and artistic cakes, cookies and drink. While there is no doubt the food preparation was very labor intensive, there is no doubt that in many cases, it msut have been totally delicious  and delicate even to modern day palates.

“New Year’s Cake.
Take a pint milk, and one quart yeast, put these together over night and let it lie in the sponge till morning, 5 pound sugar and 4 pound butter, dissolve these together, 6 eggs well beat, and carroway seed; put the whole together, and when light bake them in cakes, similar to breakfast biscuit, 20 minutes.”
American Cookery, Amelia Simmons, facsimile second edition printed in Albany, 1796 with an introduction by Karen Hess [Applewood Books:Bedford MA] 1996 (p. 45)

I actually made this recipe yesterday- cut the recipe in half  and used 2 packets of rapid rising yeast, sitting in warm cream for 2 hours.  I crushed the caraway, mixed the ingredients, let the dough rest for an hour and a half , kneaded again and let the dough rest for a half hour. Then I cut rolled the dough out and cut with a biscuit cutter, brushed with egg white and sprinkled them with gold sugar, baked them on parchment paper at 350 for 14 minutes.  These turned out as a wonderful light and fluffy  shortbread  with a delicate taste of caraway(which made 20 biscuit sized cakes)

A similar recipe for cookies is as follows:

3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 tablespoons caraway seeds
Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. Set aside. Beat eggs until very light, beat in sugar, a little at a time, and then the cream. Stir in flour combination and caraway seeds. Refrigerate for several hours until dough is firm enough to handle. Roll about 1/4 inch thick on a lightly floured board and cut with a small cooky cutter. Sprinkle tops with sugar and bake on greased cooky sheets in preheated 350 degree F. oven for about 10 minutes. Makes about 8 dozen.”
American Heritage Cookbook, Helen McCully recipes editor [American Heritage Publishing:New York] 1964 (p. 608)