cooking language from 1797

Cooking in 1797 was a much different affair than it became even a few years later. Benjamin Franklin had invented a stove but it was not yet commonly used, for cooking especially, so much cooking took place over an open fire. In a previous post I discussed leavening. Up to this point, yeast or beating to incorporate air were the methods to achieve lightness in baked goods. But sometimes in the 1790s an American cook discovered chemical leavening, i.e. pearlash. we now use baking powder, a combination of an acid (cream of tarter) and baking soda (a base) to make carbon dioxide and raise the dough. Failing baking powder, which had not been invented yet, cooks used buttermilk for the lactic acid.

But I digress. Besides the new foods with their own (usually American Indian names such as squash), some of the names for tools and methods are not familiar today.   I’ve already mentioned Hannah Hill, the name for sea bass. And pearlash. What is that? Also called potash, it is potassium carbonate (lye) and is the result of soaking wood ashes in water. It is bitter beyond belief!

Other terms:

amber gun, probably ambergris, from the sperm whale. It is now used in perfumery but once was used as a cooking ingredient.

Bladder and leather – the items used to tie over jars of jelly. (Give me paraffin wax any day!)

calavance – an early variety of bean

calapash – the part of the turtle adjoining the upper shell

emptins – semi prepared liquid yeast.

gallipot – a small earthen pot

jump in the pan – a characteristic action of eels when cooked in a pan.

What it tells me is how difficult  time travel would be, even a few hundred years in the past. Not just the clothing is different but even simple homey actions like cooking.


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