10 December 2011

A Colonial Carolina Dinner of mid-1600s

"As a letter of that time by Mr. Harleston informs me, the great social feature of the period was the dinner, and he records the fact that Sir Nathaniel was present at one which must have been a stately affair. Bills of fare were not known in those days; and it is impossible to supply an accurate list of the delectable things which were provided on such high occasions; but there lies before me an old volume of Markham's Country Contentments, published in 1637'8, which has been carefully preserved by the descendants of Mr. Harleston, and was doubtless a great authority among the house-wives of Carolina about the beginning of the eighteenth century. Markham warns the house-wife that though she "be never so skillful in the parts of cookery, if she want skill to marshall the dishes," failure must attend her. "It is," he says, "like to a Fencer leading a band of men in rout, who knows the use of a weapon, but not how to put men in order. She shall see," he admonishes, "marshall her Sallets, delivering the grand Sallet first, which is evermore compound, then give Sallets, then boiled Sallets; then some smaller compound Sallets. Next unto Sallets she shall deliver fort all her Fricasses; after them all her Boyl'd meats in their degree, as simple broths stewed — broth, and the byling of sundry fowles. Next them all sorts of roast meats, of which the greatest first, as chine of Beefe, or surloyne, the gigger or legges of Mutton, Goose, Swan, Veale, Pig, Capon, and such like. Then baked meats, the hot first, as Follows - deere in pastry, Chicken, or Calves-foot-pie and dowset. The cold baked meates, Pheasant, Partridges, Turkey, Goose, Woodcocks, and suck like. Then lastly, Carbonadoes, both simple and compound." Now, with all these dishes well prepared and arranged on the dresser, the critical moment has only just arrived; for Markham further says that the server must not set the viands down as he received them, "but setting the Sallets extravagantly about the table, mixe the Fricases about them; then the boyl'd meats amongst the boyl'd baked meats among the roast, and carbonadoes, which will both give a most comely beauty to the table and very great contentment to the guesse." This constituted the first course. The second and only remaining one — unless the reader be already surleited — consisting of :Mallard, Tayle, Snipe, Plover, Woodcocks, Chicken, Pigeon, Partridge, Raile, Turkey ... Bitter, Hearne, Shoveler, Crane, Bustard, Puets, Gulls, and such like. Then hot baked Meats, as Marrowbone pye, Quince pye, Florentine, and Tarts. Then cold baked meats, as Red Deere, Hare-pye, Gammon or Bacon Pye," etc.

"At such a feast did Sir Nathaniel sit with Chief Justice Trott, Colonle William Rhett, and the elite of the province, toasting the bride at intervals in Muskadine, "great, pleasant and strong, with a sweet scent and amber color," while they held talk of the prices of indigo and furs, of French intrigues with the Indians to the westward, of the Spaniards tampering with the slaves on the southern border, of the consequence of a servile insurrection, the proportion of whites to negroes being at that time one to ten. Then the talk settled on the subject of silk-making and the growth of rice.

"Ramsey tells us that among the colonists there was an impression that rice was not a very wholesome diet — an opinion to which Markham no doubt largely contributed; for although he says, "If you take a quarter of a pound of Rice, and boil it in a pottle of water till it comes unto an indifferent thickness, and then put into it a good lump of potted or barrelled Butter, and as much sugar as shall saltwise season it to an indifferent sweetness, it is a dish of meat meet for an Emperor at Sea, wholesome, good, and light of dejesture, and will be as much as foure reasonable men can eat at a meal," yet he adds, "I doe not wise any man of shipboard to make this a continale feeding dish, for it is both too pleasant and too strong; and — may breed inconvenience in strong bodies; but rather to use it once a week as a physical nourisher, or for the comfort of sick and diseased men."

Attributed to Harper's Magazine. From the December 17, 1882 issue of the Salt Lake Daily Herald. In some instances when abbreviated words were used, they are given in their entirety, i.e., bak'd as baked or stew'd as stewed, to improve readability.

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Specific bird species which can be identified — or possibly known — in the account include:

¶ Pheasant: most likely the Ruffed Grouse
¶ Goose: any one of several species along the coast
¶ Swan: most likely the Tundra Swan, prevalent along in coastal waters
¶ Turkey: the domestic turkey as well as the Wild Turkey of those times
¶ Woodcock: obviously could be the American Woodcock, but might also include similar sorts of birds such as the Wilson's Snipe.
¶ Mallard: obviously known even four centuries ago
¶ Tayle: teal which - depending upon the season — might be the Blue-winged Teal or Green-winged Teal, or maybe even the Cinnamon Teal
¶ Snipe: any one of many species of shorebirds that occurred along the eastern coast
¶ Plover: represents a view of species such as the American Golden-Plover or Black-bellied Plover, but might include the Eskimo Curlew or similar species during a period when there was not much consideration for particular species but rather, notes referred to some sort of bird which was similar to the observer's perspective of a plover
¶ Chicken: domestic farmyard chicken with its variegated coloration, and prevalent at a nearby farmyard, and ready to butcher to eat
¶ Pigeon: the Passenger Pigeon would be included in any meal if these birds had been taken during a migratory flight or whilst resident during a sojourn where conditions suited their needs; otherwise the Rock Pigeon would have been the species eaten
¶ Partridge: most likely the Northern Bobwhite
¶ Rail: might have included the larger Virginia Rail, but also perhaps the Sora
¶ Turkey: both the wild and domestic variety
¶ Bitter: the bittern, possibly the American Bittern or Least Bittern
¶ Hearne: heron, which might have been the Great Egret or Great Blue Heron
¶ Shoveler: the large-billed Northern Shoveler
¶ Crane: either the Sandhill Crane or Great Blue Heron
¶ Bustard: the Canada Goose taken during its expressive occurrence
¶ Puet: a record from 1672 refers to the American Oystercatcher, but with a dearth of details (despite a search of notations for more than 131,000 records of bird occurrence prior to 1886), designating this term to a specific species would be nothing more than a guess
¶ Gulls: one or another among any number of species

Whatever the birdly meat eaten in hearty enjoyment — some time after it had been shot in nearby wilds — each of the species, properly prepared, would have been a tasty portion at the dinner table.