Distillation became an important household activity for many women in early modern Europe in the seventeenth century; we have ample evidence that they wrote, purchased, collected, annotated, and shared recipes for medicinal, hygienic, and sweet-smelling waters and spirits. I’m sure it was the same on this side of the Atlantic as well: indeed, the “secrets” of distillation might have been even more valued as opportunities to purchase ready-make substances were more limited. This is a big topic in women’s history, at the intersection of women’s work and domestic life. There are three ways to get into it: the prescriptive way, through popular printed books on distillation, the archival way, through extant written collections of recipes, and the ephemeral way, through advertisements by women who were producing distilled spirits for sale—this latter entry is more of an eighteenth-century window. Recipe-rich resources for the distilling activities (or goals) of English women in the early modern era are pretty ample: but do we have any evidence of distilling activities among women here in Salem?
Distillation is one of the “Accomplished Lady’s” (or her servant’s) responsibilities on the title page of Hannah Woolley’s Accomplished Lady’s Delight, 1684, Folger Shakespeare Library; inset of the frontispiece to The Accomplished Ladies Rich Cabinet of Rarities, 1691, Wellcome Library; Recipe for a classic cordial, Orange Water, in the Folger Shakespeare Library’s MS V.a.669, c. 1680.
I went through the Phillips Library’s FindingAids and couldn’t find the kind of domestic journals I’ve seen kept by English women, which include general household account books and more specialized recipe books or some combination of both, but there is a presentation on Elizabeth Corwin’s household book next week so that might be an opportunity to learn more about a Salem woman’s domestic economic life in the seventeenth century. That left me with advertisements, and I did find two in which Salem women were selling distilled spirits, both of the medicinal kind and the alcoholic kind. Before I get to Anna Jones and Eunice Richardson, however, a word (or several) about the evolution of these spirits. Distilled waters start to appear in the later fifteenth century in England, and are generally referred to as “cordials” as their primary purpose was to invigorate the heart and thus one’s spirits: depending on the recipe, other waters were designated “surfeit” and prescribed for indigestion. By about 1700 or so, it’s clear that these waters are being consumed for pleasure as well as their perceived medicinal virtues. The line between medicine and merriment was fuzzy: aqua-vitae, for example, is a term used for a strong and pleasant drink, generally brandy, but was also an ingredient in several medicinal “spirits”. That said, the two Salem women who entered into this business—or carried on their husbands’ businesses—represent two sides of the distilling spectrum in the later eighteenth century.
Salem Gazette, 1770,1772,1796.
Anna Jones was clearly a small-time distiller, carrying on her husband’s business on Charter Street in the 1770s: the recipes for all of those cordial waters, with the exception of snake-root (an American plant), go all the way back to Tudor times. These were medicinals, but I’m sure they were pleasant to drink too! Mrs. Richardson, by contrast, was a purveyor rather than a distiller herself: rum was a much bigger business and was not made in the backroom stillroom (45 hogsheads!). The two big spirits of the eighteenth century, gin and rum, had no recognized medicinal virtues and thus the line between domestic medicinal distilling and commercial distillation became more sharply drawn in the later eighteenth century: Anna Jones and Eunice Richardson represent either side in Salem.
A seventeenth-century stillhouse, and two recent books on distilling women: domestic and commercial.
Food history is not necessarily women’s history, but I’ve been reading and writing about Elizabethan recipes over the past month and I’m tired of menstealing the show. The most prominent authors in my sources, John Partridge, Thomas Dawson, Hugh Plat, Gervase Markham and more, all offered up popular recipe books in the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in which they vaguely refer to certain gentlewomen but steal all the credit for themselves: Partridge even inserted an illustration of himself writing out his recipes in his Treasury of Commodious Conceits. At the same time I was dealing with these gentlemen, I was trying to figure out who exactly was the authoress of a conspicuous cookbook entitled The American Matron, or Practical and Scientific Cookery (1851): the anonymous “housekeeper” signed her preface with a place, Salem, and a date, July 7, 1851, but no name. I’ve browsed through all the books about historic cookbooks, but no one seems to know who she was.
John Partridge (with his fancy florets) getting all the credit and a Salem housewife getting none!
While searching for the author of The American Matron, I put together a Salem menu of recipes which are generally attributed to our city in a variety of old cookbooks and books about cookbooks. The brand Salem gets used quite a bit at the turn of the last century, especially for anything that is particularly spicy or made with rum, so I’m not sure all of these are authentic “Old Salem” recipes, but I cross-referenced as many as possible. Some of these dishes were definitely more inspired by Salem than derived from Salem!
Old Salem Smash: Next to “WhistleBellyVengeance“, this gets mentioned the most often as a traditional Salem beverage. Mix together 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons water, and a handful of mint. Rub together to bring out the flavor of the mint, and then add rum–anywhere from 2 to 4 ounces!
Salem Soft Clam Soup: Remove the bellies from 2 dozen clams and put the remainder, with their juice, in a casserole. Add a quarter of water, herbs & salt and bring to a boil, then strain over the clam bellies. Bring to a boil again and add a pint of thick cream and butter. Season with salt and cayenne pepper and serve in a tureen with broken crackers. (From the Hotel St. Francis Cookbook by Victor Hirtzler, 1919).
“afinePotatoePye” whichisreallyanOysterPie: Kathleen Ann Smallzried found several authentic old Salem recipes in the Essex Institute and published them in her wonderful 1956 book The Everlasting Pleasure (see title page above). I presume they are in the Phillips Library up in Rowley. This is the one that later food historians seem to get the most excited about!
To Alamode 20 pounds of Beef: for banquets! Another recipe found by Smallzried in the Essex Institute:
Salem Codfish Balls & Carbonnade of Mutton: both of these recipes are referred to as of Salem origin in several sources but I have my doubts. The codfish balls are pretty generic, and I found Carbonnade of Mutton in a 1594 English recipe book!
A side? The Famous Salem Suet Pudding! No question that this is a Salem Recipe—it is mentioned in 18th, 19th, and 20th-century sources. Not sure when you would eat it though: is it sweet or savory?
Timothy Pickering’s Pumpkin Custard: do we know if this is an old Pickering family recipe? Maybe the folks at the Pickering House do. This particular recipe (and assertion) comes from The early American cookbook : authentic favorites for the modern kitchen (1983) by Kristi Lynn and Robert Pelton: I can’t speak for its authenticity but as I was just at the Pickering House I felt that I had to include it (plus it’s pumpkin time, of course). There’s no question that Salem was a major cake city, if only because “fancy cake maker” Nancy Remond lived here for decades: while serving as Hamilton Hall’s resident caterer with her husband John, she also maintained her own cake business in the later 1840s and 1850s, offering a variety of cakes upon request. I was actually hoping that Nancy might be the mysterious author of The American Matron but I imagine that her approach to food was more creative than “scientific”.
I’m a bit late with this summer reading list: it’s August! And this list is more intentional than actual, so I’m not going to be able to give informed commentary on most of these books. I planned to read all of them, but as soon as the end-of-semester responsibilities were over, intensive gardening began. And as soon as intensive spring gardening ceased, family trips were taken. And then I returned home and BOOM: big book contract! So the last month has been all about writing rather than reading. Yet I have heard from many of you that you like my book lists, so I thought I would offer up one: I did choose these carefully, and many of them are sitting by my bedside, but I usually pass out before I can pick one up! I didn’t even have time to go back and look at my previous book lists but I bet there is a trend of increasing interest in historical fiction over the years: I used to be pretty snobby about that genre, but after reading several titles which were researched meticulously and crafted beautifully—enabling one to really plunge into the world in question—I have changed my tune. I think there are a few of these on this list: you’ll have to forward your assessments, and after my own book is finished I will either return to these books—or I won’t!
So let’s start with fiction. I am dying to read James Meek’s To Calais, in Ordinary Time, which is set in England and France during the Hundred Years’ War and Black Death, and the publication date of Emma Donoghue’s 1918 book was moved up to Corona time. Talk about plunging into the past: I read Andrew Miller’s previous historical novel, Pure, last year and was definitely plunged into the world of an eighteenth-century engineer in Paris; Free is set in Scotland during the Napoleonic Wars, and I really want to go there. I always want to go to sixteenth-century England, even into the somber Shakespeare household following the death of Hamnet, from the plague, of course. Big jump in terms of both chronology and topics: I’ve been reading my way through Evelyn Waugh and his era over the years, and I loved these new covers so purchased them for my bedside stack (I purchased Martin Green’s Children of the Sun a few years ago for some context and insights into this era, but have read it only in snippets so far). And another favorite era in fiction and fact: the Daphne Du Maurier’s novel is from the 1940s, Nadine Akkerman’s scholarly book on female spies in the seventeenth century is much more recent.
For the first time every, I think I have more fiction books than nonfiction—-probably because I’m all nonfiction all the time for by work: both writing and teaching. I don’t really have time to indulge my curiosity this year, but if I did, I would move Ivory Vikings by Nancy Marie Brown, about the medieval LewisChessmen, up to the top of my bedside stack: I’ve been curious about these guys forever. The other books are somewhat related to my book so I supposed I can categorize them as research: I’m writing about gardening and cooking right now, in my Chapter Three, so Floud’s and Dawson’s books are right by my side, offering some great insights and context supplementary to my primary sources. Newton is a little late for me, but I’ve got to read all about alchemy for my book as it creeps into several topics (medicine, beauty, even agriculture), so William R. Newman’s Newton the Alchemist will be illuminating, I’m sure.
I was reading and writing about the 1563 plague in London—very deadly and very overshadowed by later Tudor and Stuart plagues—when I had to take a break for ice cream in the midst of a stifling afternoon. The break went on a bit longer than expected because I became diverted into the history of ice cream: I just opened up an old cookbook I had for a moment (really!) but the recipe looked similar to some that I had seen in the seventeenth-century cookbooks that I am going to be writing about later in this chapter that I’m working on so I indulged myself for a bit longer in the name of “research”……and before you I knew it I had abandoned early modern England and was looking into the history of ice cream in Salem. From the plague to ice cream in a half hour: the balance of book and blog will not work well if I continue to be so indulgent (but it was hot).
Take three pints of the best cream, boyle it with a blade of Mace or else perfume it with orang flower water or Ambergreece, sweeten the Cream, with sugar[,] let it stand till it is quite cold, then put it into Boxes, e[i]ther of Silver or tinn, then take, Ice chopped into small peeces and put it into a tub and set the Boxes in the Ice covering them all over, and let them stand in the Ice two hours, and the Cream Will come to be Ice in the Boxes, then turn them out into a salvar [salver = dish] with some of the same seasoned Cream, so sarve [serve] it up to the Table.
This is Lady Ann Fanshawe’s handwritten recipe for “icy cream” from the mid-seventeenth century and the Wellcome Library’s digitized recipe-book collection (MS.71113) . It is unusual when compared to the first published recipes for ice cream in the next century, which are more custard-style creams, made with egg yolks, and then frozen. But Lady Fanshawe’s ingredients–mace, orange-flower water, and even ambergris (well maybe I should exclude ambergris)–were not that unusual: early ices were made with a wide range of ingredients: all sorts of fruits and herbs, honey, tea and coffee, crumbled cakes and biscuits. Ice cream history in the nineteenth century is marked by two big developments, both in the US: the development of the portable ice cream “freezer” and “Philadelphia-style” ice creams, made without eggs. But nineteenth-century ice creams, sorbets and sherberts were still more exotic than we think they were, or at least I thought they were: Mrs. Lincoln’s Frosty Fancies and Frozen Dainties, published in the late nineteenth century for best-selling freezer manufacturer White Mountain, feature lots of interesting ices, and ice creams made with arrowroot, cornstarch, and gelatin for their foundation, rather than eggs.
And yes: I think this is yet another aspect of Salem’s history which seems notable, although I did not extend my break to make a city-by-city, town-by-town comparative analysis of ice-cream production and consumption. Salem had a very early ice cream “manufactory”, from at least 1856, as well as several antebellum retail shops or saloons. And these multiplied over the later nineteenth century and then of course opened up in the tourist destination that was (and remains) Salem Willows. Salem also had ice cream “peddlers” from the late nineteenth century on, and even a “millionaire milkman”: Gilbert H. Hood of the famous H.P. Hood Company, still very much with us, who spent the summer and fall of 1921 “learning the business from the ground up” while based at Hood’s Salem ice cream factory, now the site of luxury condominiums.
Notice of Salem’s first ice cream manufactory in the Salem Register, June 30, 1856; Salem Willows postcards from 1905; The manufactory at 271 Essex became a “saloon” in the 1870s and another popular ice cream parlor was the Holly Tree on Central Street (Collections of Historic New England); “Ira Moody Chute standing in front of his ice cream wagon, Salem, Mass., ca. 1898,” (Historic New England); The Newburyport Daily News, August 19, 1889; Gilbert H. Hood in the Boston Herald, October 9, 1921.
More! The SERVING of ice cream was serious business a century ago, and Historic New England has some great examples from the Phillips House: ice cream forks, scoops, molds, trays, etc….: check them out here.
After a pandemic—or in the midst of one? Obviously the answer is very carefully. I grew up in a summer tourist town, York, Maine, and have lived in a seasonal–going on all-year tourist town, Salem, Massachusetts, for several decades, so the question is very interesting to me, and obviously far more than interesting to the residents and business owners of both communities. I’m in York now, so I thought I would start with some observations of what is going on here, and then follow up with Salem (whose many restaurants started opening up yesterday—in the streets) when I return in a few weeks. The policy in Maine is self-quarantine for two weeks for all people coming from outside: I am following that policy I believe: I came up with two weeks’ worth of groceries and supplies and am going to no public places, with the exception of parks and walkways near our home which are open. Self-quarantining in Massachusetts allowed daily exercise as well as essential shopping, so I was assuming that the former is allowed here: I found some contradictory information, but if I am the wrong let me know, Maine authorities! I stay far away from everyone on my daily walks and wear my mask at all times. We have the perfect situation here, as we have a big family house where my husband, stepson and I are staying, and my parents–who are Maine residents—are in their condominium less than a mile away. So if we run out of anything they can go and get it for us! The one time I was walking in rather public place, with my Maine parents and mask on, they insisted on going to the walk-in counter of Rick’s All-Season Restaurant for Bloody Mary’s: I stayed far away from the window and we imbibed at home. There is an ice-cream take-out window in Salem, but I don’t know if we have a Bloody Mary one—-yet.
The Take-Out Window at Rick’s Restaurant in York Village
I was quite accustomed to seeing masks on the streets of Salem as well as inside public places: here in Maine there seems to be less mask-wearing outside, but as I haven’t been inside anywhere but our home I’m not sure what’s going on there. Obviously Maine is a much larger state than Massachusetts with a much smaller population, so there is less concern about population density: in York the population typically swells in the summer, but with this two-week self-quarantine policy in effect I would guess that this would not be the case this summer. That is the pressure point. York is a really large town, geographically, with a lot of public outdoor space: three major beaches, a mountain with trails, parks, ponds, pathways—lots of room for social distancing. The beaches are open for active use: no sunbathing, but walking, swimming, fishing are allowed. In York Harbor, where we live, there are two coastal paths: the Cliff Walk and the Fisherman’s Walk. I grew up walking on the former in four seasons: but there have been some access issues over the past decade or so, and the owner of one abutting property has built a fence to block pedestrian access to part of the walk. It has been Covid-closed, but the nearby Fisherman’s Walk is open so that is where I will be taking most of my harbor walks. As you can see, it’s lovely, and very uncrowded: we’ll see what happens as June progresses.
Fisherman’s Walk, York Harbor, Maine, with a new house (next-to-last photo) rising over the Harbor.
Sorry I’m a bit late today with my #SalemSuffrageSaturday post: I’ve migrated up to Maine for several weeks and the wifi situation is a bit challenging! But I think I have it together now. I’m going to move into some national suffrage history for a few weeks and then go back to the parochial, because the long-term suffrage movement was successful ultimately because it operated at several levels: the national and the local, the exterior and the interior. I have been continually impressed, as I studied this movement this year, at how adept the marketing was, with every concern taken into consideration: messaging, branding. graphics, audience. Lately I’ve been reading some wonderful suffrage cookbooks, which in many ways were the perfect venue for the Suffrage message: not too radical, traditional really, but also containing themes of practicality, self-sufficiency, and above all, femininity. The first Suffragist cookbook,the Woman Suffrage Cookery Books, was edited and published by Mrs. Hattie Burr of Boston in 1886 with exactly that message in its forward: Alarmists of both sexes will shrink back abashed before this cook-book, for at least two recipes, which she has tested with success, will be given over the signature of each fair suffragist who contributes to its pages. It will be a confession book, a proof that, even if they wish to vote, the suffragists cherish a feminine interest in culinary matters.
First and Second Editions of Mrs. Hattie Burr’s Woman Suffrage Cookbook, 1886 & 1890: you can read the text here.
Indeed there was nothing at all alarming about this cookbook: no radical recipes! In addition to recipes for everything from soup to nuts, there are sections on the care and feeding of invalids and helpful household hints, followed by “Eminent Opinions on Woman Suffrage” (starting with Plato!) only at the very end: an appendix. I think the relative banality of this book must have helped the cause considerably, and it certainly inspired regional editions as well as the first British Suffrage cookbook in 1912. I also think it inspired valuable support, in the form of advertising, from commercial food producers, such as Fleishmann’s Yeast (referenced in several of the recipes) and Kellogg’s Cereals. All in all, it seems like the cookbook was a very nourishing genre for the Suffrage movement.
Suffrage cookbooks from Washington State (1908), western Pennsylvania (1915) and the UK (1912), from the Ann Lewis Women’s Suffrage Collection. Fleischmann’s Yeast and Kellogg’s advertisements from the 1890s and 1914. I bet that Laura Kumin’s All Stirred Up, which will be published in August, will have lots more details about the publication and impact of these cookbooks.
Though Salem is very much a foodie town today, I don’t think it has a historical culinary reputation, but there are four foodstuffs that do stand out in its long history: a daunting sour beer beverage called whistle–belly vengeance, a “Salem” suet pudding, Gibralters, a hard candy invented and marketed by Mrs. Spencer–atop–her carriage, and Molly Saunders’ gingerbread, which came in two varieties: top-shelf and lower-shelf. The latter received acclaim even in mid-nineteenth-century Boston, which liked to lord over fading Salem at every opportunity. In her reminiscences of A Half Century in Salem, Mariane Silsbee gives us perhaps the best description of this storied item: Anybody who has never tasted “Molly Saunders’ gingerbread” has missed a pleasure. In a small shop on Central Street was a door, half wood, half glass, such as formerly were so universal, and the children could peep at the destined feast before lifting the latch, thereby tinkling a bell to give notice of a customer. The common name of this gingerbread was “upper shelf” and “lower shelf”. Upper shelf had butter in it, lower shelf had none; “upper shelf” was three cents a cake, “lower shelf” was two; and both were so delicious that whoever chose the one longed also for the other, but youthful funds were limited. It appeared and disappeared with the maker. Whether she was a Mrs. or a Miss is not now known; if she retired from business during life, or left it in dying, is a doubt not to be settled. The Bedneys were the next occupants of the shop; their election cake was good, but they were merely successors, not rivals, to the immortal Molly Saunders. There was a reappearance of Molly Saunders’ gingerbread in the twentieth century in the form of recipes in What Salem Dames Cooked (1910) and my favorite Hamilton Hall Cookbook (1947), but who knows which of these (variant) recipes are authentic—if either? (The Dames top shelf recipe doesn’t even have ginger in it, and contrary to what Mrs. Silsbee asserted, both varieties have butter as an ingredient). How were they passed down from the “immortal” though rather mysterious Molly Saunders?
Recipes & stories of Molly Saunders’ famous gingerbread were passed down in a variety of publications over the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries…..
I am no culinary detective but I don’t really trust any of those twentieth-century recipes. Instead, I decided to refer to a publication closer to Molly Saunders’ own time: Mrs. Putnam’s Receipt Book, and Housekeeper’s Assistant, first published in Boston in 1849. This is such a great book: it has such an air of confidence about it and also of tradition: Mrs. Putnam and Mrs/Miss Saunders were coming from the same place and time and so I think their gingerbread recipes would be similar. New England cooks in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries discerned between hard and soft sugar and molasses gingerbreads, and I think this might also be the distinction between Molly Saunders’ top- and lower-shelf varieties, but whether it’s the hard or the soft or the molasses or the sugar I do not know! In any case, here are Mrs. Putnam’s receipts, and it is perfectly clear that we are talking about cake gingerbread here, and not the snaps or cookies that were sold more on the fly, at musters and fairs. And in addition to all of these recipes, I’m also offering up a book recommendation in this post (or two, as I think I have recommended Mrs. Putnam as well): Helen Oyeyemi’s Gingerbread, which also references a mysterious gingerbread recipe and started me on my little quest.
In the first few months of 1918, the Boston-area newspapers all carried a story about a local Salem family, the Gibneys of Oak Street, who had received a letter from President Woodrow Wilson thanking them for the service of their four eldest sons. All the stories printed the President’s letter verbatim, and detailed the service of the young Gibney soldiers, but they also directed a spotlight on their mother, Mrs. John (Alice) Gibney, who clearly represented the perfect wartime mother: an expert war gardener, frugal cook, and Red Cross volunteer. There are lots of stories about women rising to the challenges (and opportunities) of the home front during World War One, but I think Alice Gibney’s service was quite simply her life (and vice-versa).
Boston Sunday Post, February 3, 1918 & Boston Sunday Globe, April 7, 1918.
So let’s look at the life of Alice Marion O’Brien Gibney (1869-1945) in the Spring of 1918. She was a Lynn girl who married a Salem boy in 1890: they had fourteen children, three of whom died in infancy. The family home on Oak Street looks like it might have acquired some additions over the years, but even in its expanded state it’s a bit difficult to envision it containing a family of thirteen although obviously there was more room with the four oldest boys in the service. At around the same time that Alice and John Gibney received their letter from President Wilson, he was laid off from his job at a Lynn shoe factory, so he fell back on what seems to have been a secondary line of work, ferret-breeding (and later, extermination). So Alice not only had a houseful of children but also ferrets out back. Nothing phased her: she told the Boston Post reporter that “surely we haven’t the right to grumble over a little personal discomfort” when boys such as hers “have taken their lives in their hands for the sake of their country.” In addition to her work as one of the founding members of the Bowditch (School) Parent-Teacher Association, she established the Company H Woman’s Auxiliary, which “carefully looked after 150 boys….even if they are far away in France (with her son Alfred): for Christmas of 1917 she personally packed 150 Christmas parcels for these soldiers. Along with the ferrets, there were several gardens out back: a vegetable garden which enabled Mrs. Gibney to can 150 quarts of tomatoes and 32 quarts of beans and “put down” bushels of carrots, parsnips, and celery in her cellar, and a flower garden “which brought forth 10,000 blossoms” in 1917, which were sold in the market. She made jars of pear preserves and grape “catchup”, all the while also supervising the war gardens of her younger children, who took top prize in the Salem Chamber of Commerce garden contest several years in a row.
The standard war-time recipe for grape “catchup”, sometimes called catsup and later ketchup: it evolves into a relish over the twentieth century, but earlier in the century there were many different types of catchups: cranberry, mushroom, any fruit or vegetable really, and it was recommended that such sauces be served with roasts. I bet Mrs. Gibney had a more economical recipe for her grape catchup as 2 pounds of sugar would have been very dear in 1918.
Every day, in her free time, Alice Gibney went to the Red Cross headquarters in Salem to work on surgical dressings, baby layettes, or knitting projects, “wherever the need is greatest”. She also turned her practical experience at provisioning and feeding her large family to account in the service of Salem’s food conservation campaign. All four Gibney soldiers came home at the end of the Great War, several had families, and Mrs. Gibney lived to see her grandsons go off to war as well. She died at the close of World War II and is buried in Harmony Grove cemetery, not very far from her lifetime home.
We just discovered that Hamilton Hall served as a Surgical Dressings center for the Salem Red Cross in the summer of 1918, so Mrs. Gibney might have worked there—my attempt at a ghost sign for the Hall!
I was researching the major tea importers and purveyors in Salem in light of the upcoming anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, but another commodity kept popping up in the sources: turkey figs. I didn’t look at any customs records, but newspaper adverts both before and after the Revolution provide evidence of large imports of Turkey figs in Salem, and presumably a corresponding demand. I’m wondering if this is a by-product of what we now know was a very vibrant trade in fish and wine between Salem and the Iberian peninsula? It’s clear that figs were used for both medicinal and culinary purposes, although some purveyors favored one utility over the other. The very entrepreneurial apothecary Philip Godfrid Kast, for example, who had prosperous businesses in Boston, Salem, and Haverhill, clearly marketed them as a medicine in the 1770s and 1780s (though it also looks like he is providing Salem cooks with many of the ingredients for a Christmas “figgy pudding”). This was nothing new to me—I’ve spent the last year reading early modern medical manuals for the book I’m working on and figs are always listed as one of the few “useful” fruits by Elizabethan authors—and the prescription of figs for various cough syrups and digestive tonics continued into the twentieth century. I presume New Englanders were eating lots of figs too but I can’t find any recipes in the early American cookbooks, and apparently Thomas Jefferson brought back a cutting of this particular variety, now called Brown Turkey Figs, only when he returned from Paris in 1789.
Philip Godfrid Kast’s advertisements for Turkey figs in the 1770s and his 1774 trade card, American Antiquarian Society; Figs for sale in Salem, 1804-1829.
Not only do I not know what is happening to all those cases of figs being sold in Salem in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries; figs are also difficult to identify as a culinary commodity in English cooking before the twentieth century. The classic “figgy pudding” seldom has any figs in it as the word was just a synonym for “plum”, denoting any dried fruit. Figgy pudding originated as a steamed savory potage and evolved into its sweeter, more Dickensian ideal over the early modern era and into the nineteenth century. Of course the Victorians invented Christmas as we know it, and the recipe for figgy pudding of Queen Victoria’s own chef, Charles Francatelli, contains no figs at all. In America, fig cultivation seems to have become centered on the South and California (particularly the valley surrounding Fresno) and so growers marketed a variety of fig recipes, encompassing everything from ices to jams to whips to “pickles”, and the use of figs in syrups for coughs and constipation continued into the twentieth century.
I’ve been collecting all sorts of information and anecdotes about the Remonds of Salem, an African-American family who are in the center of many movements and activities in mid-nineteenth-century Salem: they were zealous pursuers of the abolition of slavery and the desegregation of schools and transportation and every aspect of daily life and work, but they also advocated for other forms of social justice in their day, including women’s suffrage and the abolition of capital punishment. They were extremely entrepreneurial: the parents, John and Nancy Remond, served as the resident caterers of Hamilton Hall right, while also operating a number of sideline businesses until well in their seventies, and their children followed suit, pursuing advocacy work and building up successful businesses in the fields that were open to them. I’ve been fascinated with the Remonds—all of the Remonds—for quite some time, I guess ever since I moved into this house, right next door to what was their base of operations at Hamilton Hall, almost twenty years ago. I posted about them several years ago when Salem announced it would be naming a new park after the prominent abolitionists Charles Lenox and Sarah Parker Remond, but I know a lot more now. The Board of Hamilton Hall secured a grant last year to prepare educational materials on the Remonds, and I supervised a Salem State intern named Katherine Stone to help with the research: she uncovered some great family history, I kept going this summer, and I’ll be offering a general presentation of the family’s activities and networks on September 24 and 29 at Hamilton Hall as part of Essex Heritage’s annual Trails and Sails programming.
Some of my Remond files; for some reason I’ve been keeping all of the genealogical information in a notebook I bought in Portugal.
There’s a lot to say about this family: and that’s my central theme, that they worked together as a family, and as part of network of African-American families, both in Salem and up and along the northeastern coast, who all worked together to improve their lives and the lives of other African-Americans at a contentious but somehow still-hopeful time. At least it seems that way to me; I’m not trained in American history so my knowledge is impressionistic. The Remonds are kind of like my window into this time, and they are so gung-ho, I’m like, let’s go! But certainly they had their share of disappointments: they left Salem from 1837 to 1842 after Salem’s schools were re-segregated, transferring all of their energy, entrepreneurialism, and activism to Newport, Rhode Island, and poor Charles Lenox Remond, intrepid agent of the Massachusetts and American Anti-Slavery Societies, was always appealing for reimbursement of his expenses. The networks are so amazing: it’s no accident that Charlotte Forten, now herself the namesake of a Salem park, ended up with the Remonds when they returned and Salem’s schools were desegregated yet again, as well as another famous future educator, Maritcha Remond Lyons.
Signatures of Susan, Nancy, and Maritcha Remond on a petition to abolish the death penalty, 1850, Harvard Antislavery Petitions Dataverse; Trade card from the Remond Family Papers, courtesy of the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum at Rowley, Massachusetts. The Library staff made lovely reproductions of several Remond items for me, and Hamilton Hall, and we’ll be using these in our educational materials.
There’s so much to say that I’m worried that my presentation will not have enough focus: it’s always easier to explain the importance of someone or something if you focus. I wish I could give an entire talk on just one of the Remond’s big dinners—and there were many: for the Marquis de Lafayette, for Chief Justice Joseph Story, for Nathaniel Bowditch, for President John Quincy Adams, and more. But I think the biggest dinner happened TOMORROW in 1828, a feast for the 200th anniversary of the arrival of John Endicott in Salem. It’s probably just because I have more sources for this particular dinner, but it seems to have been a very big deal. The Phillips Library has two menus for the dinner, a clean version and an annotated one: John Remond contracted for a fixed price with the owners of Hamilton Hall for these dinners, but if the number of attendants rose above the agreed-upon number he was paid more. He was not just the cook (in fact, I think Nancy was doing most of the cooking, with his elder daughters Nancy and Susan as they came of age–not for this dinner) he was very much the event planner: and no detail was overlooked. The newspapers recorded every detail of this dinner: all the attendees, all the speeches, and decorations, including “pictures of our distinguished forefathers, and of individuals of more recent date, whose characters, and whose services, were not forgotten in the libations of gratitude poured out upon this joyous occasion.” The article in The Salem Observer also noted “the tables loaded with the richest viandes, and the most delicious wines and fruits served up in elegant style by Mr. Remond. In the centre of the Hall, stood the identical table which belonged to Governor Endicott, and covered with a profusion of pears recently gathered from the tree which he planted.” [Where is that Endicott table?]
Courtesy Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.
And then we have another, anonymous, account of a visitor who was in town for the big anniversary celebration and dinner. It was quite a day, a “grand celebration” in which it “seemed as if all Boston had moved to Salem. Many great men there beside myself.” This observer is constantly remarking upon the festivity of the day and wondering what the Puritan people of Endicott’s day would think of it: at the North Church for the anniversary program, he finds “the house blazing with beauty and fashion. Contrasted ladies with Puritan mothers. Imagined good dames of 1628 coming into assembly, and finding daughters decked out in such trim. Guessed they’d make fine havoc of laced veils, flounced petticoats, love-locks (???) and whole alphabet of sinful finery.” By the time that dinner rolls around in the later afternoon, however, our anonymous observer has forgotten 1628 and is completely in the culinary moment.
Salem Observer, September 27, 1828; turn-of-the-century Turk’s Caps from the Book of Cakes (1903) by T. Percy Lewis and A.G. Bromley.
Tables loaded with dainties of all climes…..went through the whole bill of fare from oyster-patties to transmogrified pigeon. Thought Remond best cook in the universe. I guess he still has 1628 on his mind a bit (before he gets into the champagne), as he “wonders what Pilgrim Dads would have said to such a carnival.” This is a colorful illustration of the authority that Mr. Remond (he is generally referred to as Mr., though also by just his last name) held throughout his career, and it is very clear from all the references I have collected that this is an authority that extended to his family, and that came not only from their professional achievements but also their role in the community, in Salem. So I just have to establish this is my presentation in the most succinct, but yet revealing and representative, way. And regarding this menu: it looks impressive and exotic to us, but these are some pretty conventional dishes for the early 19th century, with recipes that can be found in a succession of European and American cookbooks. I explored Pigeons Transmogrified here, Green Turtle soup is everywhere in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and teals are small ducks. Molded jellies are also very popular in this time, and a “Turk’s Cap” was a tubed and scalloped mold used primarily for cakes: in Remond’s time they look like pottery versions of a bundt-cake mold, but later on they were made of cast iron and resemble muffin tins. The use of the plural in the menu suggests individual little cakes to me, and Nancy Remond was by all account a spectacular baker well-ahead of her time–but I’m not sure her Turk’s Caps would have been quite as “Victorian” as those above. So here you have the other challenge before me: not letting the delicious little details get in the way of the big picture.