Hearthside Cooking

Hearthside Cooking: Early American Southern Cuisine Updated for Today’s Hearth and Cookstove

By Nancy Carter Crump

Due out in November 2008,  the second edition of Nancy Carter Crump’s Hearthside Cooking: Early American Southern Cuisine Updated for Today’s Hearth and Cookstove looks like it will be one my “crowned princes,” sitting on the small shelf in my kitchen with the rest of my cooking “Bibles.”

Culinary historian Nancy Carter Crump founded the Culinary Historians of Virginia and lectures at historic sites and other venues throughout the South. She is also a descendant of the famous Carter family of Carter’s Grove Plantation located on the James River in eastern Virginia.

For cooks who want to experience a link to culinary history, Hearthside Cooking is a treasure trove of early American delights. First published in 1986, it has become a standard guide for museum interpreters and guides, culinary historians, historical re-enactors, campers, scouts, and home cooks interested in foodways and experimenting with new recipes and techniques.

Flaming Hearth (Used with permission.)
Flaming Hearth (Used with permission.)

Hearthside Cooking contains recipes for more than 250 historic dishes, including breads, soups, entrées, cakes, custards, sauces, and more. For each dish, Nancy Carter Crump provides two sets of instructions, so dishes can be prepared over the open fire or using modern kitchen appliances. For novice hearthside cooks, Crump offers specific tips for proper hearth cooking, including fire construction, safety, tools, utensils, and methods.

More than just a cookbook, Hearthside Cooking also includes information about the men and women who wrote the original recipes, which Crump discovered by scouring old Virginia cookbooks, hand-written receipt books, and other primary sources in archival collections. With this new edition, Crump includes additional information on African American foodways, how the Civil War affected traditional southern food customs, and the late-nineteenth-century transition from hearth to stove cooking. Hearthside Cooking offers twenty-first-century cooks an enjoyable, informative resource for traditional cooking.

About the recipes, Nancy says, “I selected recipes I wanted to try, then worked with the ingredients to come up with amounts, etc. They were tested at least 3 times, both on the fire and in the modern kitchen. Many were discarded, but that’s another story.” Probably a great story, because who hasn’t tried recipes and ended up throwing stuff in the trash? Anyway, all the recipes include both “Hearth” and “Modern” instructions, so that those without a hearth can cook everything and those with a hearth can enjoy the timeless sensation of cooking as our ancestor did.

Sweet Potatoes with Crusty Glaze (Used with permission.)
Sweet Potatoes with Crusty Glaze (Used with permission.)

One recipe that made the cut was “Mrs. Cringan’s Sweet Potatoes Baked with Wine,” a recipe reflecting native American ingredients (sweet potatoes), along with Madeira, a symbol of the exploding trade between the New World and the Old. Many manuscript and printed cookbooks of the early years of the United States included similar recipes.

MRS. CRINGAN’S SWEET POTATOES BAKED WITH WINE
Serves 6

4 large sweet potatoes
4 to 6 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup Madeira wine

Ron Miguel)
Cooking in the Hearth (Photo credit: Ron Miguel)

Hearth:

1. Scrub potatoes. Put in an iron pot and cover with water. Cover and bring a boil over flames. Adjust height of pot on crane and simmer potatoes until they can easily be pierced with a fork. Remove potatoes from heat, drain thoroughly in colander, and cool until they can be easily handled.

2. Peel potatoes and slice crosswise into 1″ pieces. Layer with butter and sugar in buttered heatproof dish, ending with a layer of butter and sugar. Sprinkle with salt.

3. Combine water and Madeira wine. Pour over prepared potatoes.

4. Place filled dish on trivet in warmed Dutch oven. Cover and set over hot coals. Bake about 30 to 45 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed and tops of of sweet potatoes are a light brown.

Modern:

1. Follow hearth directions, 1 through 3, simmering over low heat until tender. Butter a 2-quart casserole dish.

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and bake potatoes uncovered in the prepared casserole until done, as in hearth directions 4.

© 2008 C. Bertelsen. Recipe used with permission of Nancy Carter Crump.

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