Monday, February 15, 2016

An 18th Century President's Day Dinner

After 6-7" of snow fell today, ice began to descend. Here's a peak at the 18th century inspired Ha-Ha Wall across the street.

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Since I was snowed in today, I got to spend some time cooking 18th century style for President's Day!
Because 4 of our first 5 presidents ate at Williamsburg taverns, I decided to plan our dinner menu around food that would have been familiar to them. Fortunately I have The Colonial Williamsburg Tavern Cookbook, which reflects the food served in the historic area taverns today.

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Tonight I happened to notice what the actual cookbook looks like without its book jacket. Ooooo, I like the 18th century look so much more!

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George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and  James Monroe all spent much time in Williamsburg before they became presidents, mostly as burgesses from their representative districts before the American Revolution. James Monroe was a student at the College of William and Mary right before the revolution broke.

Many of these recipes reflect not only foods that were grown, raised or hunted in the Tidewater but also the numerous spices that arrived through the Far Eastern trade via Britain, known as mercantilism

I confess I altered most of these recipes, to either lighten up the dish or to add more flavor with Far Eastern spices. We're from Texas so we like more flavor!

Tonight I cooked the following recipes from the cookbook:
  • East India Company Fried Chicken-I only lightly fried it but kept it super crispy, with my personal choice of spices: white pepper, black pepper, and chipotle pepper. It was a hit!
  • Peanut Soup from King's Arm Tavern-I confess that I don't like this soup as it's typically served in Virginia, thick and pasty. I keep mine light but flavorful with the addition of some chipotle pepper. I also used beef broth which I like better than the chicken, so it's not so bland in appearance. I also like to garnish it with green onions...but we didn't have any and we were being iced in after snowfall. My husband has claimed the left overs for his lunches this week. He loves this soup. I've read that George Washington was a fan of this soup as well. 
  • Toss Salad with Walnut Dressing-This was actually a recipe for the dressing. I used olive oil and added walnuts, preferring that to the oils mentioned in the recipe. It was nice to have a touch of crunch in the salad. It also reflects in a fun way one of the many legends about George Washington, that he could crack walnuts with his knuckles. I have met Mr. Washington in person many times (through the wonderful Colonial Williamsburg interpreter). One President's Day weekend someone asked him about cracking walnuts with his knuckles to which Mr. Washington replied that he most unfortunately and regrettably cracked open walnuts with his teeth
  • Carrots Glazed with Two Gingers-I made this recipe as written with some crystallized ginger I have purchased at Tarpleys, one of the historic shops of Colonial Williamsburg. I'd like to top these with chives from my garden, that I originally purchased from the Colonial Williamsburg Nursery. However at the time they were under snow and ice.

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We followed dinner, which we all enjoyed, with Peanut Pie from Chownings Tavern! We've actually eaten this at Chownings Tavern, our absolutely favorite dessert from the historic area! The only change I made was that the only fat I used in the crust was butter.

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As good as the savories were for dinner, the best part was dessert. Ohhhhh, it brought back great memories. So peanutty.

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These recipes and more reflect the many food offerings of the taverns of Colonial Williamsburg: Chownings Tavern, Shields Tavern, The King's Arms Tavern, and Christiana Campbell's Tavern. The recipes are easy to cook with modern day ingredients and instructions. I highly recommend it! This cookbook is a practical souvenir for guests of Colonial Williamsburg, who are hungry for some tasty 18th century memories but live too far away to eat at one of the taverns.

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