Quaker Recipes in 1821 Reflected a Multitude of Cultures
Montgomery County, Maryland’s 93,000-acre Agricultural Reserve is a nationally recognized model of farmland and open space preservation, and a thriving diverse place. From this remarkable act of stewardship, especially in the face of intense development pressure in the Washington, D.C. area, the Reserve has generated clean air and water, natural habitat, diverse jobs, a connected […]
Montgomery County, Maryland’s 93,000-acre Agricultural Reserve is a nationally recognized model of farmland and open space preservation, and a thriving diverse place. From this remarkable act of stewardship, especially in the face of intense development pressure in the Washington, D.C. area, the Reserve has generated clean air and water, natural habitat, diverse jobs, a connected community and lots of good, local food.
Independent writer, Claudia Kousoulas and producer, Ellen Letourneau have created more than a cookbook. Its recipes, profiles, essays and photographs trace the Reserve’s history, but also the contemporary challenges faced by family farms trying to establish a new generation, new farmers seeking land and markets, and the shared community efforts required to preserve this special place.
When we began working on Bread & Beauty, A Year in Montgomery County’s Agricultural Reserve, we knew we’d be talking to farmers in their fields, testing recipes on friends and family, and researching everything from canal boats to apple varieties.
We didn’t realize we’d have a guiding hand from history. Elizabeth Ellicott Lea was a Quaker farmwoman in Sandy Spring, Maryland, on the western side of Reserve. She recorded her recipes, those of her family, and of her wider community into what eventually became Domestic Cookery, Useful Receipts and Hints to Young Housekeepers, a portrait of Mid-Atlantic cooking in the early 19th century and for us, a source of inspiration.
Lea began her manuscript in 1821 as a young married woman in Delaware; it was a guide for herself, with recipes from relatives, family cookbooks, and contemporary published sources. In 1823, she moved to Walnut Hill, the 81 hectares (200-acre) farm she inherited near the Quaker communities of Brookeville and Sandy Spring in Montgomery County.
By 1842, her personal cookbook was extensive and two manuscripts were created—one for her and one for her married daughter. In 1845, a Baltimore doctor had it commercially printed, and in 1847 a publisher took it on. In a second edition, it was enlarged from 180 to 247 pages. The 1851 third edition totaled 310 pages and included non-culinary information such as how to work with servants. By 1879 it was out of print, after 19 editions. Part of the reason may have been that Lea made no attempt to advertise or set herself apart among competitors as a Quaker. Then, as now, a successful cookbook needs a hook.
Historian and author, William Woys Weaver has combed through Lea’s book and her papers. In his introduction to A Quaker Woman’s Cookbook, The Domestic Cookery of Elizabeth Ellicott Lea, he supposes that Lea had a personal reason for continuing the cookbook. Her own early widowhood left her with responsibilities she was unprepared for and she didn’t want her newly married daughter to face the same situation.
In Montgomery County, the Quaker community were a practical and progressive group. By 1790, tobacco farming had depleted the County’s soil and the Sandy Spring Quakers were instrumental in agricultural reform, promoting crop rotation, diversified plantings, and mechanization. Lea’s neighbor, Thomas Moore, Jr. invented an early refrigerator to transport butter to District of Columbia markets. In 1803, another community member, Isaac Briggs, worked with James Madison to found the American Board of Agriculture, a forerunner of the Department of Agriculture. Lea’s book — recipes and housekeeping advice — fits into this sensible environment. Weaver points out, as her manuscript notes show, she repeatedly tested her recipes — unusual at the time.
Weaver also notes that her recipes are a record of “regionalities,” and it is one of the first American cookbooks to include a recipe for scrapple. Dishes such as apple butter, bacon dumplings, and bologna reflect a Pennsylvania Dutch influence. English foodways contributed recipes for Blackberry Cordial, Ginger Wine, and Rose Brandy but Quaker temperance reserved them for medicinal use. Weaver postulates that the book’s Southern recipes can be traced to her son-in-law Henry Stabler, son of Edward Stabler whose Virginia apothecary served George Washington. From American Indians, Lea gathered recipes for squash, terrapin, and green corn, and from Africans for okra and gumbo. As Weaver writes, “everyone sat at the table.”
Take a pound and a half of flour,* three-quarters of sugar, and a quarter of a pound of butter; dissolve a teaspoonful of salaeratus in as much cider as will make it a soft dough, and bake it in shallow pans; season with spice to your taste.
Domestic Cookery recipe
Ginger Tea. With remarks on its Use
Strong ginger tea, sweetened and taken hot on going to bed, is very good. Where persons have been exposed to the air, and think they have taken fresh cold, keep the feet warm by taking a hot brick to bed, and do not increase the cold the next day. If it is not deeply seated, taking this a few nights will give relief. A piece of ginger root, kept about the person to chew, is good for a tickling in the throat, which many persons are subject to, when sitting in close heated apartments, in lecture rooms, or places of worship.
Domestic Cookery recipe
Whenever we were stalled, looking for something new to do with chicken or how to plow through piles of sweet potatoes, we turned to Lea for inspiration. And we found ourselves sharing her diverse approach, though rather than German, English, and Native American foods and foodways, we included a Burmese pepper stew from a local temple, and flavors from the Middle East and Southern Europe.
And, of course, we shared her simple, seasonal, and local approach. Lea was working with what was available from her farm and in her kitchen. She didn’t have the internet to deliver the latest food or gadget to her door. And while we enjoy that luxury, we also see the luxury in fresh, local produce that provides local jobs in an environmentally sustainable way.
For more information about Bread & Beauty, visit https://www.breadandbeauty.org
*1 1/2 pounds = 680 grams, 3/4 pound=340 grams, 1/4 pound=113 grams, 1 teaspoon-5 ml
Salaeratus was a leavening agent. For 5 ml (1 teaspoon) salaeratus substitute 1/4 teaspoon (1.2 ml) baking soda.