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cooking like a colonist

touring Maryland’s colonial past

Cooking like a Colonist

This is an excerpt from a book published in London in 1596. Along with recipes, the book contained information about preserving food, brewing ales and other liquors, taking care of sick people and tips about raising animals. This recipe gives you a flavor of what everyday cooks at the time were doing.

Original version:

To frie Chickins
"Take your Chickins and let them boyle in verie good sweete broath a pretie while, and take the Chickens out, & quarter them out in peeces, and put them into a Frying pan with sweet Butter, and let them stewe in the pan, but you must not let them browne with frying, and then put out the butter out of the pan, and take a little sweete broath and as much Vergice, and the yolkes of two Egges, and beat them together, and put in a litle Nutmegges, Synamom and Ginger, and Pepper into the sauce, and then put them all into the pan to the Chickens, and stirre them together in the pan, and put them into a dish and serve them up."
—Thomas Dawson, The Good Huswifes Jewell, 1596

In modern language:
Take your chickens and let them boil in a very sweet broth a pretty while, and take the chickens out, and quarter them out in pieces, and put them into a frying pan with sweet butter, and let them stew in the pan, but you must not let them brown with frying, and then put out the butter out of the pan, and take a little sweet broth as much vergice [sour grape juice] and the yolks of two eggs, and beat them together, and put in a little nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger, and pepper into the sauce, and then put them all into the pan to the chickens, and stir them together in the pan, and put them in a dish and serve them up.

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Corn Cakes
Recipe courtesy of Historic Saint Mary's City

Corn was probably the colonist's most important food crop. They used it in place of wheat or oats to make the bread or cakes that were part of most of the meals they ate. The colonist first learned about corn from the Woodland Indians who had planted it for centuries.

Corn Cakes

Salt Pork 1/2 pound
Cornmeal 2 cups
Boiling Water 3/4 to 1 cup
Salt and pepper to taste
  • Slice salt pork and fry until crisp to render the fat.
  • Meanwhile, mix salt and pepper into cornmeal.
  • Add water to cornmeal by the 1/4 cup, mixing after each addition, until it forms a firm dough. The batter should not be runny.
  • Allow dough to sit for about 10 minutes.
  • Break off 1/4 to 1/3 cup size pieces and shape into patties. The patties should be firm, but not crumbly. If they are crumbly, they need to be mixed again with a little more water.
  • Fry the corn cakes in the hot salt pork fat. Cook until edges are brown, turn over and cook until brown.
Modern Adaptation
  • Substitute bacon or vegetable oil for salt pork.
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Recipe courtesy of Historic Saint Mary's City

Colcannon is a traditional Irish dish. It is named for one of its ingredients-cabbage. In the Irish langauge, cal ceann fhionn means "white-headed cabbage." Colcannon is like another dish called Bubble and Squeak. This is an English dish of leftover vegetables named for the sound it makes when it cooks.


Turnips 5 or 6 medium turnips, cleaned, peeled, and chopped into small pieces
Kale, Cabbage, or both about 2 1/2 cups, stemmed, cleaned, and torn into small pieces
Onions 2 medium onions, peeled and chopped small
Garlic 2 cloves, finely minced
Salt 2 teaspoons
Pepper 1 teaspoon
  • In cooking pot, melt some butter. Add turnips, onions, and garlic. Fry until they are lightly browned and a little tender.
  • Add kale and/or cabbage (and more butter if necessary). Fry for about 10 minutes, or until greens start to soften.
  • Cover with water and bring to a boil. Let cook for about 20 minutes, or until turnips are very soft.
  • Remove from pot and save about 1/2 cup liquid.
  • In a bowl, mash vegetables together, adding enough liquid to mash as smooth as possible.
  • Add butter, salt, and pepper.
  • Serve warm.
Modern Adaptation
  • Substitute bacon or vegetable oil for salt pork.
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Meat Pasties
Recipe courtesy of Historic St. Mary's City

Meat pasties (pronounced PASS-tees) are the forerunners of today's Hot Pockets™. They are a one-dish meal of meat and vegetables folded into a crust. They have been part of English cuisine for a very long time. We know this because there are written references to them as far back as 1100.

Meat Pasties

Cooked meat 1 pound, finely chopped
Onion 1 large, finely chopped
Garlic 2 cloves, finely chopped
Bread crumbs 2 cups
Eggs 2, well beaten
Mixed herbs 2 tablespoons
Salt and pepper
Coffin dough Enough for two pies (coffin dough is dough made from flour and water)
Oil or lard Enough for frying
Cornmeal About 1 cup
  • Mix all of the ingredients together, except for the dough, oil, or lard, and cornmeal.
  • Blend well. It should be firm enough to mound.
  • Roll out dough and cut into five-inch circles.
  • Place about 2 tablespoons of the filling onto half of each dough circle.
  • Fold the circle in half and seal the edges with a little water.
  • Roll lightly in cornmeal and then fry in hot oil or lard until brown (turning over once).
  • Use 1/2 pound of meat and 1/2 pound of cheese.
  • Omit meat and use sautéed vegetables and cheese.
  • Mash cooked sweet potatoes, butter, honey, and cinnamon for the filling.
  • Make a sweet pastie using fruit or fruit preserves for the filling.
Modern Adaptation
  • Use oil instead of lard for frying.
  • May be baked at 350º for about 20 minutes.
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Bean Fritters
Recipe courtsey of Historic St. Mary's City

Beans were one of the "three sisters"-or crops the Woodland Indians planted together: The other two "sisters" were corn and squash. Althpough many kinds of beans had been used for centuries in cultures around the world, there were several types of beans that Native Americans introduced to the colonists. These kinds of beans, called haricot beans, include white or navy beans, runner beans, kidney beans and lima beans.

Bean Fritters

White Beans 1 1/4 cups, cooked and drained
Milk 1/4 cup
Sugar 4 tablespoons
Flour 1/2 cup
Cornmeal 1/2 cup
Oil 2 tablespoons
Egg 1 large, slightly beaten
Salt 1 teaspoon
Chives 1 tablespoon
Savory 1 teaspoon
Lard, fatback, or oil for frying
  • Mash cooked beans and press through a sieve until fairly smooth.
  • Mix in the rest of the ingredients. The batter should be thick, but not stiff. Add more milk if it is too stiff.
  • Heat your oil in a fry pan until it smokes.
  • Drop fritter batter into the hot oil, about 2 tablespoons per fritter.
  • Fry until the edges are golden, then flip and fry other side until done.
Modern Adaptation
  • Use food processor to mash and sieve beans.
  • Substitute vegetable oil, or spray cooking oil for lard or fatback in frying.
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