Jane Carson’s Colonial Virginia Cookery: Procedures, Equipment, and Ingredients in Colonial Cooking

Colonial Virginia Cookery: Procedures, Equipment, and Ingredients in Colonial Cooking, by Jane Carson (1968, reprinted 1985).

Filled with the kind of details that come only from wallowing in primary sources, Jane Carson’s synthesis of several cookbooks written by a number of seventeenth- and and eighteenth-century English cookery authors offers modern readers an interpretation of how daily cooking took place in colonial Virginia. The most popular English cookbooks of the times, according to Carson, were Mrs. Smith’s (The Compleat Housewife, 1727), Mrs. Glasse’s (The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Simple, 1747), Mrs. Harrison’s (The House-keeper’s Pocket-book …, 1733), Mrs. Raffald’s (The Experienced English House-keeper, 1769), and Mrs. Bradley’s (The British Housewife …, 1770).

Colonial Cookware

The author described her book in these terms: “Readers interested in learning how colonial housewives managed to serve the elaborate meals that tradition ascribes to them must consult the historical sources. Collectors of antique cooking, too, want to know how all the pieces were used and how to arrange them in a working colonial kitchen. It is to these antiquarians and collectors that I address my study of the procedures in colonial cooking.”

One thing that strikes the modern reader of these old recipes is just how nothing is really new under the sun.

In Chapter 2, Carson presented brief verbal portraits of the cooking equipment likely used by colonial cooks. One of the pans, called a Naples Biscuit Pan, looked vaguely familiar, especially when illustrated by Linda Funk’s realistic pen-and-ink drawings.

Mary Randolph included a recipe for Naples Biscuits in The Virginia Housewife :

Beat twelve eggs light, add to them one pound of flour, and one of powdered sugar ; continue to beat all together until perfectly light ; bake in in long pans, four inches wide, with divisions, so that each cake, when done, will be four inches long, and one and a half wide.

Karen Hess made some interesting comments about Naples Biscuits in Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery to the effect that Tudor- and Stuart- era cookbooks called for Naples Biscuits, but rarely included recipes for the same. She suggested that cooks may well have used ready-made confections.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I do the same thing these days — I buy ready-made ladies’ fingers.

In other chapters of Colonial Virginia Cookery, Carson covered cooking methods:

Chapter 3: Boiling and Stewing

Chapter 4: Roasting, Broiling, and Frying

Chapter 5: Baking

And the last two chapters delve into “Sauces, Garnishes, and Made Dishes” and “Food Preservation.” The latter chapter provides fascinating information about various preservation methods, including the use of sugar.

Colonial Virginia Cookery, out-of-print as it is, nonetheless analyzes colonial cookery processes more than most books attempt to do.

©  2009 C. Bertelsen

5 Comments

  1. Thank you so much. Any history would be such a help. It appears this item is a one-of-a-kind for someone rather wealthy who obviously loved the game or a very tough souvenir or a gift from the one who won that game that night!
    Silver lining—-I bought your cookbook tonight and will purchase your others—I love to cook and have collected so many from Estate Sales for fifty years! Thank you!!

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  2. This is such a long shot….but your cookbook sitting Jane Carson’s Colonial Virginians—-I am prayerful you know of her “games” book on Colonial Virginians. I have a very elaborate handpainted “Loo” box full of more handpainted trays and pearl/ivory figurines all as part of this “Loo” “game” Jane Carson wrote of George Washington (1794) and the players from the 17th and 18th century who were addicted to this game and the fascination of this game. What I have, had to belong to Royalty as the box and trays are very detailed, intricate and elaborate—-claw feet on the bottom of the box—it is all in mint condition. I am trying to appraise it and thus sell it but assume I have a one of a kind, so I am desperately searching for anything else Jane Carson may have written on this game.

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