Rice Ice Cream, Paradise

Written By David S. Shields

Originally appeared in the Rice Paper Newsletter, Spring 2012


In debates about who was the greatest chef working in the United States during the 19th-century, when haute cuisine came into being, the name of Charles Ranhoffer often receives mention. This French-educated culinary genius presided as chef de cuisine at Delmonico’s in New York City from the Civil War to the Gilded Age. 

Early in Ranhoffer’s career he spent four years, 1856-60, under F. Lefevre in New Orleans learning how to treat Southern ingredients. There he came to know and cherish Carolina Rice. In Ranhoffer’s published treasury of recipes, The Epicurean, he invariably specifies Carolina Rice when rice is featured in a dish. 

Of the several rice recipes in this book, one speaks to the refined taste that came to typify the offerings at Delmonico’s. It is a masterwork of simple luxury:

Rice Ice Cream, Paradise Recipe

Wash and blanch 12 ounces of Carolina rice; drain. Take four ounces of it and cook it thoroughly in four quarts of milk; strain through a sieve. Put 32 egg yolks in a tinned basin, add two pounds and a quarter of sugar, and beat both together, then put in the rice pulp; set it on the fire and beat steadily until the preparation covers the spatula; leave stand till cold; run it through a sieve, and replace it in the basin after it has been well cleaned; lay it on ice; whip to have the mixture light, and stir in as much whipped cream. Cook the remainder of the rice in a vanilla syrup at 20 degrees; cool off, drain, add it to the composition, and freeze. 

The Epicurean, p. 988.

If one craves more complexity of taste, Ranhoffer offers a variation with citron and truffles.

Guinea Squash

Written by David S. Shields

Originally Published in The Rice Paper Newsletter, Spring 2011


Certain foodstuffs that crossed the Atlantic with enslaved Africans had their African genesis recognized by prefixing the common English name of the generic item with "Guinea," the west African territory in which the Mandingo and Fula peoples lived: Guinea corn (Sorghum vulgaris), Guinea fowl (Numida meleagris),  Guinea pea (Abrus precatorius), and Guinea squash or eggplant (Solatium melongena).

While introduced into England as a horticultural novelty at the end of the sixteenth century, the Guinea squash did not gain a foothold in European cuisine until the middle of the 19th century. In the American colonies, however, it became a fixture in those regions that used African slave labor: the West Indies, the mainland south, Central America, Brazil. In the United States the regions divided about the merits of the vegetable. A northern commentator observed in a 1839 issue of The Farmer & Gardener, and Live-Stock Breeder and Manager magazine, “This is considered a delicious vegetable; but little attention has, however, been paid to its cultivation, and it is seldom seen in our markets; but in the southern States great quantities are cultivated, and sold in their markets.”

Antebellum southern markets were controlled by whites, so the eggplant joined okra, benne, and the cowpea as foods that spread from the black hearthside to general consumption. In the earliest printed descriptions from white southerners of how guinea squash should be prepared for the table, we encounter the African mode of preparation — the preference for frying. William N. White, the south‟s most eloquent horticulturist on the eve of the Civil War, preserved a version of the traditional preparation in his 1857 handbook, Gardening in the South: “Cut the eggplant in slices a quarter of an inch thick. To remove the acrid taste, piles the slices on a plate with alternate layers of salt; raise one side of the plate, that the juice may run off. In half an hour wash them well in fresh water, and fry them quite brown in batter.” White observed that eggplant was an acquired taste; “they are not commonly liked at first, but after a few trials become very agreeable to most tastes, and are esteemed a delicacy.” 

In states where African-American cooking did not greatly influence public taste, the penchant in dressing guinea squash as if it were a winter squash by transforming it into a form of baked pudding predominated. Like a pumpkin pie filling or a squash pudding, the guinea squash was boiled, mashed, mixed with egg yolks, bread, and spices before being baked. Despite prepping the vegetable in ways greatly similar to favorite familiar foodstuffs, New Englanders took their time embracing guinea squash's qualities. When the vegetable gained treatment in cook books (mostly printed in Boston, New York or Philadelphia), it did not appear under the southern name, but as "eggplant" — that moniker affixed to the plant by Europeans in the late 18th century to describe the small, white colored ornamental eggplants grown as specimens and exhibition plants, not the purple-blue, gourd-fruited vegetables that dominated culinary use. The name's eventual universal adoption testifies to the dominance of the agricultural press and the international cohort of horticultural savants who filled its pages.

Throughout the 1800s, instructions on how to grow the plant did not greatly very from the first directions published by Bernard M'Mahon in 1806: “This delicious vegetable may be propagated, by sowing the seed, on a slight hot-bed, the beginning of this month [April], or in March; and towards the middle or latter part of May, they should be planted in a rich warm piece of ground, at the distance of two feet and a half asunder, for the purple, or two feet for the white kind; and if kept clean, and a little earth drawn up to their stems, when about a foot high they will produce plenty of fruit.” Eggplants are annuals, grown from seed that takes substantial time to germinate. While growing care had to be take to limit the depredations of the potato bug, that particularly savored eggplant foliage and fruit. While the insect throve on egg plant leaves, neither animals nor man can eat them without suffering narcotic poisoning. Gardener Robert Buist recommended regular watering of the plant.

In the north market gardeners grew the eggplant as a hot house plant. But a robust market for the crop did not develop until the late 1870s when French recipes for the Aubergine gave the vegetable cachet among persons maintaining a fashionable table. Because the Guinea squash requires sustained heat (67-70 degrees Fahrenheit) for germination and early growth, it developed a reputation as a difficult plants in regions with variable spring weather. In the south what became apparent to regular planters of the vegetable was its resilience once established. “No vegetable with which I am acquainted, can withstand drouth better than the eggplant, which bears and matures its fruit under a degree of heat and dryness that would be fatal to other crops.” (A. Oemler, Truck Farming at the South (New York: Orange Judd Co., 1884), p. 177.)  One could plant the Guinea squash in the sandiest portions of one‟s land, provided compost or manure had been well intermixed, and produce a thriving crop. The standard garden rotation was the plant the Guinea squash in succession to a heavily manured plant, such as cabbages or onions, followed by a root vegetable, excepting the potato.

While experimental gardeners played with the white eggplants, kitchen gardeners early in the 19th century cultivated the smooth-stemmed purple, which comes to maturation rather quickly, and the prickly stemmed purple, a later season variety. In the mid-century the “Long Purple” came into favor. After the Civil War the latter variety was tweaked by plant breeders into the “New York Improved Purple.” In the early 1880s the darker colored, more compact “Black Pekin” came into wide cultivation, while fancy gardeners amused themselves with the Scarlet-fruited and Guadaloupe Striped novelty varieties.

The recipes below illustrate the regional variations in treatment. The first six are from southern sources, the last five from northern and western books. It should be noted, however, that the southern recipes were contained in books printed in northern cities for the most part, and so substituted eggplant for the local usage of guinea squash. Guinea squash remained the favored designation in horticultural books and the southern agricultural journals. Many of the latter imprints were published in southern locales.

A Final World from the New England Kitchen Magazine 3 of 1895: “There are dozens and dozens of real Southern dishes that delight the souls of those who eat them when prepared properly—sugared sweet potatoes, guineas squashes, corn fritters, etc. — but the Northern built menus seldom or never mention them. They tell us to eat hominy with sugar for breakfast, and salmon with egg sauce for supper!”

Fried Egg Plant 

Purple ones are best. Take young fresh ones, putt out the stem, parboil them to take out the bitter taste, cut them in slices an inch thick without peeling them, dip them in the yolk of an egg, and cover them with grated bread, and a little salt and pepper; when one side has dried, cover the other in the same way, then fry them a nice brown. They are very delicious, tasting much like soft crabs.
Mrs. Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife: or, Methodical Cook (Baltimore: Plaskitt, Fite & Co., 1838), p. 108.

Broiled Egg Plant 

Split the egg plant in two, peel it, and take the seed out, put it in a crockery dish, sprinkle on chopped parsley, salt, and pepper; cover the dish, and leave thus about forty minutes; then take it off, put it on a greased and warmed gridiron, and on a good fire; baste with a little sweet oil, and seasoning from the crockery dish, and serve with the drippings when properly broiled. It is a delicious dish.
Pierre Blot, What to Eat, and How to Cook It (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1863). p. 182.

To Bake Guinea Squash, or Egg-Plant

Parboil the squashes until they are tender, changing the water two of three times, to extract the bitterness. Then cut them lengthwise in two, and scoop out the inside, being careful not to break the skin. —Season the pulp of the squashes with pepper, salt, crumbs of bread, butter, and a slice of onion, chopped fine (this last ingredient, if not liked, may be omitted). Mix all well together, and fill the skins of the squashes with the mixture lay them on a plate, and bake in a Dutch oven. They do not take long to boil, but require two or three hours to be baked brown.
[Sarah Rutledge], The Carolina Housewife, or House and Home: by a Lady of Charleston (Charleston: W. R. Babcock & Co., 1847), pp. 100-101.

Breakfast Egg Plant

The purple egg plant is better than the white ones. Boil them whole in planty of water until tender, then take them up, drain them after having taken off the skins, cut them up and wash them in a deep dish or pan; mix with them some grated bread, powdered sweet marjoram, and a large piece of butter, and a few pounded cloves. Grate a layer of bread over the top, and brown it in an oven. Send it to table in the same dish.
Mrs.L. G. Abell, The Skillful Housewife’s Book: or Complete Guide to Domestic Cookery (New York: Orange Judd & Co., 1852), p. 106.

Stuffed Egg-plants a la Creole 

Parboil the egg-plants; cut them in halves; scoop out the inside, being careful not to break the outside skin, which you refill later with the following stuffing: Mix up the insight of the egg-plant with a slice of boiled ham chopped very fine, bread crumbs, butter, salt, and pepper — shrimps if you have them, make a delicious addition; bind this stuffing with the yolk of an egg and fill your egg-plant skins; sprinkle with powdered bread crumbs, put a small lump of butter on each piece, and bake.
Mrs. Washington, The Unrivalled Cook-Book and Housekeeper’s Guide (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1886), p. 192.

Egg-Plant Pudding

Quarter the egg-plant and lay it in salt and water the overnight, to extract the bitterness. The next day, parboil, peel and chop fine, and add bread crumbs (one teacup to a pint of egg-plant), eggs (two to a pint of egg-plant), salt, pepper, and butter to taste; enough milk to make a good batter. Bake in an earthen dish twenty minutes.
Mrs. R. L. O. Marion Cabell Tyree, Housekeeping in Old Virginia (Louisville: John P. Morton, 1879), p. 249.

Egg Plant Dressed as Oysters

Wash an egg plant, and boil it until it is perfectly soft, but not broken. Take out all the inside, mash it and season with a piece of butter, pepper and salt to your taste. Beat the yolks of three eggs very thick. Crumb a stale baker‟s loaf, and season it with salt and pepper. Have ready a pan of hot lard and butter mixed; take a spoonful of the plant, dip it into the egg, cover it with the crumbs, and drop it into the pan to fry. Take the back of the spoon and flatten the top of the plant, so as to form the shape of an oyster. When the under side is done, put some egg and bread over the top, turn it and fry a light brown. Serve hot for breakfast.
Hannah Widdifield, Widdifield’s New Cook Book; or, Practical Receipts for the Housewife (Philadelphia: T. B. Peterson, 1856), pp. 105-06.

Mashed Eggplant — A very fine way to dress Egg-Plant

Take as many eggplants as the size of your family requires — pare, quarter and boil them till soft enough to mash like turnips. Mash them, add a little bread crumb soaked in milk, butter, chopped parsley, an onion boiled and mashed, some butter, pepper, and salt. Mix these well together, and pour it into a baking dish; cover the top with grated bread, and bake it for half an hour.
Sarah Josepha Hale, Mrs. Hale’s New Book of Cookery (New York: H. Long & Brother, 1852), p. 234. 

Stewed Egg Plant 

Slice and cut into dice half of a peeled egg plant, and throw into cold, salted water half an hour. Cook till very soft in boiling, salted water, and drain in a colander; throw back into the saucepan, and pour over it a pint of rich milk thickened with an every tablespoonful of flour; add one of butter and teaspoonful of salt. Let it cook till it thickens. Meantime, have one or two beaten eggs in the ish in which the vegetable is to be served, into which pour the egg plant while stirring briskly, to prevent the curdling of the egg. This makes a rarely excellent dish.
“Stewed Egg Plant,” Good Housekeeping a Family Journal 5 (May 14-Oct 29), p 237.

Vegetable Marrow Tart

Peel and core the marrow, cut into small pieces, boil until quite soft, drain the water well from it, and beat with a fork until all the lumps are out. Have ready three eggs, well beaten with a little milk, mix with the marrow until it is in the consistency of custard; sweeten it, and add a little grated nutmeg; pour into shallow dishes, lines with short paste, similar to baked custards.
Mrs. J. C. Croly, Jennie June’s American Cookery Book (New York: Excelsior Publishing House, 1878), p. 139.

Egg Plant Salad 

Peel two middle-sized Egg Plants, cut them in slices a quarter of an inch thick, sprinkle each slice with a little salt, and put them together again. After half an hour press them gently, to extract the moisture. Then dry them on a napkin. Fry them lightly in clarified butter, then drain them on a napkin. When cold cut them in small pieces, put them in a salad bowl, with some scalloped pickled sturgeon, a spoonful of grated horse-radish mixted with mustard, a clove of fine chopped garlic, a little fine chopped parsley, and a handful of water cress. Season them with salt, pepper, olive oil, and vinegar. Mix the whole well together, then arrange them properly, and garnish them with stoned olives and hard boiled eggs cut into quarters.
Jules Arthur Harder, Physiology of Taste: Harder’s book of Practical American Cookery, 6 vols. (San Francisco, 1885), p. 155. 

Rice in the Morning

Written By David S. Shields

Originally published in The Rice Paper Newsletter, Spring 2011


Before The Quaker Oat Company wheeled out its gun in 1904 and began puffing rice — before Snap, Crackle & Pop excited the ears of sleepy children in 1928, hot rice dishes graced the breakfast table. Now they have disappeared from the family table and vanished from the breakfast bill of fare. Here we will recall rice's place at the morning meal before the rise of cold cereal with milk as family fare in the early 20th century.

Edmund Ruffin, the volatile Virginia-born agronomist who many viewed as the savior of the south's cotton-starved soil, published a landmark survey of South Carolina‟s agriculture in 1844. It paid acute attention to rice, the state's staple grain. In Appendix B, Ruffin provided four culinary and two household recipes for rice that were “common with us” yet “may not be found in all the manuals of house-keeping:” instructions how to boil plain rice, two recipes for breakfast rice bread, a related recipe for rice griddle cakes, and domestic directions for making glue and starch from rice. Ruffin's brief foray into the kitchen is most interesting in its indication that the Carolina breakfast table was where one encountered rice in its baked and fried forms. (SOURCE: Edmund Ruffin, Report on the Commencement and Progress of the Agricultural Survey of South Carolina (Charleston: SC, 1844), p. 29.)

Rice Breakfast Bread
Mix a spoonful of butter with some hot hominy, very thoroughly, and spread it to cool, then beat up an egg very light, add some milk, then mix in the hominy with rice flour until it is a thick batter, add salt, q.s., stir it well, then drop it from a spoon into an oven and bake quickly. (Vaux)
Another Rice Bread
Have a buck for this special purpose — mix over nigh some hominy, or the eyes of the rice, boiled soft, with milk and rice flour, (having added salt q.s.) into a stiff batter, so that it will just pour —set it where it will not get warm, which injures it; in the morning stir it, pour it into the pan and set it to bake. (Gallivant)
Griddles for Breakfast
Mix a thin batter with milk and rice-flour, adding salt, q.s. have your griddle-iron hot, grease it with lard, pour some batter on, spread it thin, turn it and brown it both sides.

Of the three recipes supplied, only the last retains some familiarity in the eyes of 21st century breakfast eaters, because it it is recognizably a form of pancake. In the 19th-century griddle cakes had already become a breakfast fixture throughout the United States. Best selling cook books, such as Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book (1856), supplied guidance for a whole range of “griddles” — buckwheat, corn, rye, wheat, and rice. The cooking surface was prepared similarly for every sort of griddle. The cook heated the griddle, put a piece of salt pork on a fork, and rubbed it evenly over the surface. This method prevented excess fat from being absorbed into the cakes. Beecher did offer one exception. “Fried Rice for Breakfast” uses day old rice cut into slices and fried brown in sweet lard. When reading through Beecher‟s chapter of breakfast recipes, one learns that the Breakfast breads that Ruffin has procured from Carolina cooks belong to a category of breakfast preparations called "drop cakes," thick batters spooned into tin rounds in Dutch ovens and baked until firm. The Gallivant Rice Bread departs from the norm by eschewing eggs, a usual ingredient in this sort of preparation.

Miss Beecher expanded the repertoire by adding “Rice Waffles” to the breakfast table.

A quart of milk.
A tea-cup of solid boiled rice, soaked three hours in half the milk.
A pint and a half of what flour, or rice flour. Three well-beaten eggs. Bake in waffle irons. The rice must be salted enough when boiled. (pp. 96-97)

The rice waffle, particularly in its form employing rice flour, became a fixture in American breakfast in the 19th century. Light, crusty, and a touch sweet, it paired well with preserves, and, when hot, with a dusting of confectioner‟s sugar. The lightness of the waffle, paradoxically, made it a favored component of hearty breakfasts, preceding a substantial meat: “Breakfast — Rice waffles, mutton croquettes, fried raw potatoes.” (SOURCE: Estelle Woods Wilcox & Ellen Clow, Practical Housekeeping (Minneapolis: Buckeye Publishing Co., 1883), p. 389.)

One notices in the preparations encountered so far the absence of an ingredient that became increasingly prominent at breakfast over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries — sugar. Because the natural starches in rice, when cooked, converted into sugars, there was, perhaps, a sense of redundancy in amplifying the sweetness. Nevertheless, the mid-19th century boom in cookie baking and sweet biscuit manufacture set cooks tinkering with formulae until a creditable sweet rice biscuit could be created. In 1854's The Complete Biscuit and Gingerbread Baker’s Assistant we encounter an early example:

3 lbs of flour, 1 lb. of rice flour, 1 lb. 10 oz. of loaf sugar, 1 lb. of butter, 1⁄2 oz. of volatile salt, and 3⁄4 pint of milk, or 4 eggs, and the remaining portion milk.
Mix the two flours together, rub in the butter with it, make a bay, add the sugar, and make them into a dough. Roll it out in a sheet the six of an inch in thickness, cut them out with a plain round cutter of three inches in diameter, wash the tops with milk, and throw them on rice flour; place them on buttered tins so as not to touch, and bake them in a moderately brisk oven. (SOURCE: 3 George Read, The Complete Biscuit and Gingerbread Baker’s Assistant (London: Dean & Son, 1854), p. 52.)

While breakfast rice — whether boiled, griddled, or baked — dominated regional eating in the Lowcountry, it was reckoned so iconic a morning dish that it became part of the national meal as well. In novels of the 1850s the descriptions of breakfasts may be found with some frequency. Here is a political breakfast in Washington, D.C. featuring dishes from all of the sections of the United States: “We sauntered together into one of the largest, and longest, and handsomest breakfast rooms this side of Texas. A table of great length stretched across its centre, upon which was arranged in great profusion, Georgia potatoes, New Hampshire bacon, Virginia oysters and fried eels, South Carolina rice cakes, and Cape Cod fish balls — all strong incentives to the stomach of a hungry politician.” The fame of Carolina Gold Rice and its market spanned the continent, the hemisphere, and the Atlantic by 1855.

Students of breakfast will note that rice was frequently paired in recipes with hominy — meaning small hominy—or grits. Milled white corn existed in a mental zone of equivalency with rice in the minds of many 19th century cooks. Mrs. Lincoln, of the Boston Cooking School, in her Boston Cook Book, offers a version of griddles that announce complete substitutability: “Rice or Hominy Griddle-Cakes.” 

During the Civil War the Union Commissary Department specified a daily allotment of “fifteen pounds of beans or peas, and ten pounds of rice or hominy” for every 100 men. There were, of course, regional inflections, to this idea of gustatory proximity. A southern correspondent to the New England Kitchen Magazine observed: “ No southerner in good health and in his right mind ever eats 'hominy with milk and sugar' for breakfast . . . .  Hominy in this part of the country is dressed with butter or a little of meat gravy, and is eaten with a chop, or a steak or bacon and eggs, or boiled ham, etc. Hominy thus served is a standard breakfast dish in the South and is fit for a king. It needs no sugar or cream or nutmeg, and to put either on it is to commit a crime against gastronomy. The same observations apply to rice, the standard dinner dish of the South, which the Northern menu-makers tell us to serve with cream and sugar.” 

While this 1895 opinion informs us that boiled hominy had supplanted boiled rice as a southern breakfast dish, and that steamed rice had migrated to the dinner menu, the greatest point of interest is the resistance to sweetening grain porridges in general.

The objection voiced here was not universal. Hominy and molasses had been a staple dish of the laboring classes from the 1830s on. Yet the preference for gravy and butter certainly dominated the middle class tables and those of gentry folk. The cookbook writers and arbiters of taste, too, frowned upon adding saccharine to boiled grits and boiled rice. This ban, however, did not extend to dishes prepared by other cooking techniques: frying or backing.

Many testimonies survive to the distinctive qualities of a traditional southern breakfast — the presence of both hominy and rice — the variety of cooking technique — boiling, baking, and frying — and the conjunction of grains and meats. William Gilmore Simms, the novelist and cultural critic, reflected on its character in As Good as Comedy: “A Georgia, indeed a Southern breakfast, differs in sundry respects from ours at the North, chiefly, however, in the matter of breadstuffs. . . .  Hominy itself is a breadstuff; a dish that our must but poorly represents. It is seldom eatable out of a Southern household. Then there are waffles, and rice cakes and fritters, and other things of like description, making a variety at once persuasive to the palate and not hurtful to health.” Simms noticed the familiar rice cakes. Yet adds a new dish to the southern breakfast table: the rice fritter, or rice beignet. In this light concoction, rice, sugar, spice, and eggs are transmuted into some fine by boiling lard.

Boil the rice in milk with some powder-sugar, orange-flower water, a pinch of cinnamon powder, and a little butter; when quite soft put to it a liaison of yolks of eggs, pour it into a pan to cool. Make your preparation into balls, about the size of an egg, dip them in egg, fry them, sprinkle them with sugar, and serve.

Jules Harder, San Francisco's great celebrity chef of the 1880s, refined this basic croquette into its most splendid form.

Wash one pound of Rice in cold water and drain it. Then put it in a saucepan with two quarts of boiled milk, the peelings of one lemon and one stick of cinnamon. Cover the saucepan set it on a slow fire to cook gently, and when the Rice is nearly done add six ounces of powdered sugar and two ounces of butter and let it cook until thoroughly done. Should the Rice get too dry while cooking add a little more milk to it. Take it off of the fire, take out the lemon peelings and the stick of cinnamon, mix the Rice well together, and when it is somewhat cool, add to it the yolks of six raw eggs, a little essence of lemon or orange-flower water, (whichever may be desired). Mix it well together and put it into a buttered pan. Cover it with a buttered paper cover and let it get cold. Then roll the Rice in any croquette shapes desired, dip them in beaten eggs, then in fresh bread crumbs, arrange them in proper shape, fry them in hot lard, drain them, roll them in powdered sugar into which add a little ground cinnamon, and then dish them up on a napkin.

His unsweetened version incorporated three ounces of grated parmesan cheese and six egg yolks, frying the fritters in butter rather than lard.

There is something inexplicably satisfying about the lightness, crispiness, sugariness, mellowness of a beignet de riz — or the browned splendor of a rice waffle — or the filling rice griddle. Some pleasures that became passé are novel enough to become pleasurable again. Do Snap Crackle and Pop have to maintain their monopoly over breakfast. Or may their reign be ending? 



The Vanquished Banquet: Fritters

Written by David Shields

Originally Published in The Rice Paper Newsletter, Fall 2009


The mid-19th century was the heyday of the fritter. A traditional dish of southern Europe and West Africa, the fritter was any ingredient incorporated into a batter of wheat, rice, or buckwheat flour, or corn meal, shaped into a roundish mass, and fried in lard or vegetable oil. A fritter could be savory or sweet, depending upon the chief ingredient incorporated into the batter. In Louisiana they were called beignets, in the Midwest, dodgers, in the south fritters. They were often dipped into a sauce, or melted butter, or gravy, or drizzled with syrup or molasses. Savory fritters were side dishes, sweet fritters, desserts. Both the cymling (pattipan squash) fritter and the okra fritter were standard dishes of the early southern table.

Cymling Fritters

Squashes came to the southern table from the native nations of the Southeast. Of the various indigenous varieties of C. pepo grown in the eastern half of the continent, northerners gravitated to the crookneck ‘winter’ squashes, southerners to the scalloped summer squashes which they called cymlings. The exterior shell of the cymling hardens as it matures.

A Virginian of the Reconstruction Era advised, “In selecting cymlings take none that the thumb-nail cannot easily penetrate, and the white ones are preferable. Cut them into pieces, and boil in just enough water to cover them for about three-quarters of an hour, or until soft enough to mash.”

Cymlings were invariably boiled or fried as the first step in any dish. One of the great debates of the latter 19th-century about cooking squashes concerned whether to add bacon to the pot. Some thought it too greasy, others a necessary flavor additive. Since it does not appear in any surviving cymling fritter recipe, we sidestep the controversy.

After boiling and running through a colander, mix with an egg, season with salt, pepper, and butter, make into cakes and fry a light brown.

Marion Cabell Tyree, Housekeeping in Old Virginia (Louis- ville: John P. Morton, 1879), p. 241. 

Okra Fritters


Cut the okra in very thin slices, almost as thin as a wafer, make a batter of flour, egg, and water, or a little milk; put the okra in with a little salt, and fry them in hot lard.

Mrs. Sarah A. Elliott, Mrs. Elliott’s Housewife (New York: Hurd & Houghton, 1870), p. 106


Strain a quart already boiled, mash it smooth, and season with salt and pepper; beat in one or two eggs and add flour enough to thicken into a paste; fried as fritters, and served upon a napkin hot, as fried.

Sarah Annie Frost, Godey’s Lady’s Book Receipts and Household Hints (Philadelphia: Evans, Stod- dard Co., 1870), p. 184. 

The Vanquished Banquet: Stewed Salsify Virginia Style

Written By David Shields

Originally Published in The Rice Paper Newsletter, Fall 2009


In America, the slender, pale salsify root became, curiously, a monument to the people’s insatiable desire for oysters, earning the vegetable the nickname, oyster-plant. Even boiled, mashed, rolled in cracker crumbs, and deep fried like fried oysters, Salsify does not possess the mouth feel, salinity, or unctuousness of a bivalve. So it suffers the fate of being a perpetual disappointment, a failed wish for those who take it up thinking it to be, somehow, the vegetable kingdoms phantom double for a blue point. (Repeatedly in cook books of the 19th century one finds suggestions on how to make salsify taste “more like an oyster,” such as “having a little cod- fish stirred among it” while stewing.)

Let us exorcise the phantom now. Only a 19th-century Midwesterner, haunted by elusive memory and residing far from the railroad depots where barrels of eastern oysters were dispatched, could possibly delude themselves into detecting the briny succulence of an oyster on his tongue when savoring salsify.

The root has its own virtues, whether boiled, stewed, fried, or shaved into a salad. It has a clean, slightly saline toothsomeness, free of the mintyness and occasional fibrousness of a parsnip, the rough sugar of a carrot, or the mealy blandness of a potato. It is wholesome, delicately nutty, and visually appealing when peeled, white, and firm. Salsify’s propensity to dissolve into mush when over-boiled has prompted 21st century cooks to steam rather than boil the root. In traditional European cookery salsify’s whiteness became a point of culinary elaboration. Care was taken to prevent the peeled roots from discoloring by soaking them immediately in vinegar water. Dishes often married the cooked roots with milk or cream.


Scrape and throw into water at once to prevent from turning dark. Boil till tender in a closely covered vessel. Drain off the water and cut the salsify in pieces half an inch long. Throw in a saucepan with 1 teacup vinegar

1 teacup water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon butter salt and pepper to taste

Just before serving add the yolk of an egg beaten up and mixed with a little water. The seasoning above is give for one quart salsify.

Mrs. S. T. Marion Cabell Tyree, Housekeeping in Old Virginia (Louisville: J. P. Morton & o., 1879) p. 250. 

The Vanquished Banquet: Mutton Ham

Written By David Shields

Originally Published in The Rice Paper Newsletter, Fall 2009


In 1837 the editor of the Tennessee Farmer declared that mutton ham was superior to pork. While his opinion seems not to have been sustained by southern culinary history, the pleasures of a cured ram or sheep’s leg were widely known in 19th-century America. Mutton Ham was a traditional English meat, described and lauded in the most popular late 18th and early 19th-century English cookbooks.

The first recipe published in an American periodical, an 1825 receipt published in the New England Farmer, opted in favor of smoking the leg for ten days with green hickory wood. Another school of preparation eschewed smoking but recommended that the ham be soaked and boiled before eating. In the south mutton ham came to be a feature of up-country, rather than coastal cookery, in large measure because the heat and humidity of the coastal south made sheep miserable and thwarted large-scale sheep-breeding.

Once cured, a ham could be shipped anywhere, and hence came to the Lowcountry and Tidewater table. While numbers of recipes survive for the dish, the most extensive comes from Mrs. Washington of North Carolina. With the fall-off in demand for mutton on American meat markets in the twentieth century, the mutton ham languished and has become a forgotten mainstay of the banquet table.


Leg of mutton weighing twelve pounds; one ounce of black pepper; a quarter of a pound of brown sugar; one ounce of saltpeter; one and a quarter pounds of salt.

The day after the sheep is killed, mix the sugar, pepper, and saltpeter, and rub thoroughly into the meat for fifteen minutes, until the outer part is thoroughly impregnated with the seasoning. Put the ham into a large earthenware vessel and cover it with the salt; let it remain thus for three weeks, turning it daily and basting it with the brine, adding to this, after the first week, a teacupful of vinegar. When the ham is removed from the pickle, wash with cold water, then with vinegar, and hang it up in a cool cellar for a week, at least, before it is used. Soak an hour in fair water before boiling.

Or, if you choose to smoke it for several days after it is corned, it can be chipped and eaten raw like dried beef.

Mrs. Washington, Unrivalled Cook-Book (New York: Harpers and Brothers, 1886), pp. 116-17. 

The Vanished Banquet: Baked Sturgeon

Written by David Shields

Originally Published in The Rice Paper Newsletter, Fall 2009


Once Atlantic sturgeon dominated the coastal rives of the south, the largest fish in the food chain. Long-lived and slow-moving, they grew to enormous size, up to fourteen feet in length, cruising in the depths of the main stem rivers in South Carolina. Both meat and roe found ready buyers in the urban markets, so commercial fisherman began the systematic harvest of sturgeon early in the 19th century. Their improvidence caused a drastic reduction of the population in American waters over the course of the 19th centuries and early 20th century.

The collapse of the sturgeon population took place in northern rivers by the mid-20th century. South Carolina in the 1960s and 70s landed half of the nation’s total catch, but this intensive fishing replicated the problems in the north. By the early 1980s the fishery was in dire straits. South Carolina’s Department of Natural Resources prohibited sturgeon fishing in 1985 in a bid to rebuild the species. Unfortunately the damming of several of the sturgeon’s breeding rivers has thwarted its restoration. Only in undammed estuaries, such as the Edisto, has an increase in spawn been detected.

The riverine short-nosed sturgeon, which has never been pursued by commercial or recreational fisherman to any extent, is also an endangered species, primarily because of habitat degradation.

Farm raised sturgeon is available in certain parts of the United States, and the University of Georgia produces excellent caviar from farmed White Sturgeon. Most early southern cookbooks included recipes for sturgeon steaks, cutlets, baked and pickled sturgeon. This classic version, drawn from Mary Randolph’s Virginia Housewife, was prepared in a Dutch Oven.


Get a piece of sturgeon with the skin on, the piece next to the tail, scrape it well, cut out the gristle, and boil it about twenty minutes to take out the oil take it up, pull off the large scales, and when cold, stuff it with forcemeat, made of bread crumbs, butter, chopped parsley, pepper and salt, put it in a Dutch oven just large enough to hold it, with a pint and half of water, a gill of red wine; one of mushroom catsup, some salt and pepper, stew it gently till the gravy is reduced to the quantity necessary to pour over it; take up your sturgeon carefully, thicken the gravy with a spoonful of butter rubbed into a large one of brown flour; — see that it is perfectly smooth when you put it in the dish. p. 57. 

The Vanished Banquet: Boiled Rice Pea Pods in Vinaigrette

Written by David Shields

Originally Published in The Rice Paper Newsletter, Fall 2009


Until the 1920s, the rice pea stood highest of all the field peas in the regard of southern gourmets.

While the soul food cook might cherish the black-eyed pea, and the upcountry farmer loves his red iron and clay peas, those pulses lacked the delicacy for fine cuisine.

I. M., a writer for the Boston Cooking School Magazine in 1915, sang the rice pea’s virtues: “[T]here is a field pea called the rice pea, grown extensively in southern states, which is white, eye and all, with a slightly creamy tinge, and it is even more delicate of flavor than black-eyed peas; these are as delicate as early June peas, and they retain their natural color when cooked, and do not change the color of meat cooked with them. Perhaps the reason rice peas are not grown more generally is that they are not as hardy as black-eyed peas and other field peas. These delicately flavored rice peas, cooked with tender young pork, are far and away more appetizing than pork and beans, and almost or quite as nutritious. They are good, either cooked after they have become dry in the autumn and winter, or when young and tender in the late spring and early summer. Southern ladies often cook the tender young peas, pods and all, as snap beans are cooked.”

While rice peas proved difficult to grow and subject to insect attack, they appeared on the southern table at various points in the year, as the legumes were planted in rotation with corn and other crops. Supplanted by cow pea varieties easier to grow, the rice pea has become a rare variety available from three heirloom seed brokers. Its culinary qualities, however, promise that it will undergo a renovation in regard in the near future. 


Pick the pea pods when they are now fully mature. Wash them thoroughly, for they tend to be buggy. Have a big pot of salted water on a rolling boil. Deposit as many pods as your diners may eat. Do not cook overlong. Ten minutes at most. Drain water and rinse beans with cold water. Try to get them to room temperature. Put in a dressing of oil, vinegar, mustard, and salt. Some add mint to freshen the taste. I prefer it without. 

The Vanished Banquet: Terrapin Soup

Written By David Shields

Originally Published in The Rice Paper Newsletter, Fall 2009

Terrapin Soup ranked among the premier American dishes of the 19th century, found on the bills of fare of the finest restaurants and a fixture at the social dinners of blue book society. Prepared with Madeira or Sherry as a principal ingredient, the vogue for Terrapin soup died with Prohibition in 1919. Because the turtle had been harvested to near ex tinction in northern wetlands, the Volstead Act proved a boon to the species, enabling it to crawl back into healthy numbers in the 1960s. Then the boom in coastal real estate development began playing havoc with its nesting areas in the brackish waters off the Atlantic. While certain states, South Carolina included, do not identify the Diamondback Terrapin an endangered species and maintain laws that permit commercial harvesting, no license for commercial exploitation of the Terrapin have been issued in the 21st century. The turtle is being protected by administrative policy, because there is a widespread conviction that the population is declining. Ongoing studies of terrapin populations are maintained by several groups, reflecting a strong public resolve to bring this most famous of turtles back into a flourishing condition. While it is not illegal to have terrapin soup, no public restaurant in the United States now serves it, sensitive to the sustainability issues, but it still may be had in at least two private clubs in Baltimore and one in Washington, D.C. I include two recipes, representing two schools of thought about the soup. The first reflects the tradition in the Chesapeake region to render it as a thick stew. The second, from one of the earliest cookbooks by an African-American Chef and Housekeeper, The Unrivalled Cook-book (1886), treats in as a high-style soup with forcemeat balls of turtle.


In buying terrapins, select those only that are large, fat, and thick-bodied. Put them whole into water that is boiling hard at the time, and (adding a little salt) boil them till thoroughly done throughout. Then, taking off the shell, extract the meat, and remove carefully the sand-bag and gall; also all the entrails. They are disgusting, unfit to eat, and are no longer served up in cooking terrapin for the best tables. Cut the meat into pieces, and put it into a stew-pan with its eggs, and sufficient fresh butter to stew it well. Let it stew till quite hot throughout, keeping the pan carefully covered that none of the flavor may escape; but shake it over the fire while stewing in another pan, make a sauce of beaten yolk of egg, highly flavored with Madeira or sherry, and powdered nutmeg and mace, and enriched with a large lump of fresh butter. Stir this sauce well over the fire, and when it has almost come to a boil, take it off. Send the terrapin to table hot in a covered dish, and the sauce separately in sauce-tureen, to be used by those who like it, and omitted by those who prefer the genuine flavor of the terrapin when simply stewed with butter.

This is now the usual mode of dressing terrapins in Maryland and Virginia, and will be found superior to any other.

No dish of terrapins can be good unless the terrapins themselves are of the best quality. It is mis- taken economy to buy poor ones. Besides being insipid and tasteless, it takes more in number to fill a dish. The females are the best.

Saturday Evening Post 29, 1505 (June 1, 1850), 0_004. 


Clean and cut up a large terrapin with the entrails and bones; remove the gall carefully; put your terrapin in a soup pot with four quarts of water, a soup bunch, a head of celery, onions, thyme, parsley, salt and pepper; let it simmer four hours do not let it cease one moment to cook; strain your soup, thickened it with browned flour, return it to the soup pot; tie up in a muslin bag half a tablespoonful of cloves, allspice, and a cracked nutmeg; let it simmer an hour in the soup, then remove. If the turtle has eggs, boil them and throw in the yolks; if there are no eggs, use forcemeat balls; add a glass of Madeira and thin slices of lemon before serving. The force- meat balls are made by rubbing two hard-boiled yolks to a paste, with butter, and half a dozen spoonfuls of the turtle meat, chopped very fine, and seasoned with salt and pepper; bind with beaten eggs; make into balls; dip, first, into beaten egg, then into powdered cracker, and fry in butter.

Mrs. Washington, The Unrivalled Cook-Book and Housekeeper’s Guide (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1886), pp. 27-28.


The Vanished Banquet: Benne Soup on Carolina Gold Long Grain Rice

written by David Shields

Originally published in the Rice Paper newsletter, Fall 2009


Benne seed, or sesame seed, was one of the five most important foodstuffs brought by slaves from West Africa to North America. An entire African-American cuisine grew up around the plant of which only the benne wafer, a cookie associated with Charleston, and benne candy, a favorite confection of the West Indies, survive. 

White planters took up the plant in the early 18th century as a source for oil, when experiments in olive cultivation proved unsuitable for most of the south. By the early 19th century it was widely planted from Virginia to Missouri. Of the favorite slave dishes — benne and hominy, benne and greens, and benne soup — only the last entered into southern cuisine generally. 

Robert M. Goodwin of Skidaway Island, George, observed in 1824, that for “negroes in this part of the country . . . it [benne] is thought . . . to be much better in soup than okra, and it is used by them in the same manner.” Sarah Rutledge, author of the Carolina Housewife, included a “Bennie Soup” with oysters in her landmark cookbook. But the simpler, classic soup, was consumed more widely, often served over grits or rice, a new world approximation of the Mende treat, fou-fou.

Long grain Carolina Gold was the creation of Joshua John Ward of Brookgreen Plantation in South Carolina. The standard size of a grain of Gold Seed rice was 5/16ths of an inch. Ward, through careful cultivation of a sport of Carolina Gold, managed to grew grain nearly a half an inch long. Requiring extraordinary efforts of seedsmanship and cultivation, it existed on the market from 1840 to 1860, and commanded the highest prices of any world rice on the Paris market. The Civil War brought an end to its availability. The Carolina Gold Rice Foundation has an initiative to recreate the variety in the near future.

Benne Soup Recipe

1 cup benne seed, Enough sesame oil to cover the bottom of a cooking vessel, A handful of wheat flour, Salt & Pepper, onions, A quart of water.
Toast benne seed in a dry skillet stirring constantly 2 minutes until browned, but not burnt. Empty contents of the skillet into a mortar and mash the seed into powder.
In the same skillet cover the bottom with sesame oil (the African-American way of making it is detailed below in the section on oil) and mix in flour. Stir and cook this until you form a brown roux. Fry one large roughly chopped onion. Add finely crushed benne, and then hot water, steadily, stirring constantly. Cook at a constant medium until it is rich and thick and salt to taste.
This is a hearty and flavorful soup. Serve on top of steamed Carolina Gold Long Grain Rice.