A few weeks ago, I spent some time with AAS’s cookbook collection. As promised in my earlier post, I whipped up a batch of fish chowder from Mrs. Bliss’ Practical Cook Book (1851). The overwhelming consensus was, simply put, “not bad.” It wasn’t great. I certainly wouldn’t entertain with this recipe. However, it was entirely edible, and I may even go so far as to say I enjoyed it. I could definitely imagine folks from 1851 enjoying this chowder on a chilly winter evening. It was very hearty and packed a lot of flavor, especially considering the small amount of ingredients.
The simplicity of the recipe, from its pared down ingredients to its minimal cooking instructions, is what made the transition from 1851 to modern day possible. Not having to translate measurements or research old cooking methods certainly helped, but what really made the chowder palatable was the fact that, with five ingredients, how wrong can you really go?
While beneficial for us cooking their recipes over 150 years later, the lesser variety of ingredients available in 1851 had an impact cooks’ creativity. Flipping through Mrs. Bliss’ book, it was hard to find unique recipes – the chowder was actually one of the most unique I could find. The addition of turnips to a stew, for example, automatically created a new dish and required a new recipe. But they had to work with what they had, and came up with some unique combinations that we wouldn’t think of trying today. Take the chowder for example. I would have never thought to put clove in my chowder, and it actually proved to be the tastiest aspect of the dish.
Not surprisingly, the crackers did prove to be the most interesting component of the recipe. While the mushy crackers did an excellent job of thickening the chowder, they also gave it a very slimy consistency. It was certainly not the rich, creamy chowder we’re all use to. And of course, not using cream or flour as the thickening agent meant the chowder was not creamy white, but more chunky brown.
I’m now on the hunt for a new recipe, so if anyone wants to see a recipe of a specific kind of dish, or from a particular era, let me know!