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A cookbook with a past. August 29, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. No, I’m not talking about Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, now at #2 on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list and still climbing. (Go Julia!!!) Not that I’m not even more thrilled than usual to have bought a first edition at my favorite used book store, The Saucony Book Shop in scenic Kutztown, PA, a couple of years ago.

Actually, I’m talking about a wonderful discovery I made at our local library last weekend. I was feeling a bit under the weather, so I asked our friend Ben to drop me off at the library while he took our black German shepherd puppy Shiloh for a walk at the nearby Kutztown Park. Of course I went to check out the cookbook shelves, and I saw a book that was old in spirit but new to me, The Lewis & Clark Cookbook: Historic Recipes from the Corps of Discovery & Jefferson’s America, by Leslie Mansfield (Celestial Arts, 2002, $17.95 softcover).

Well, if you’re like me, you’d have assumed that a corps of discoverers crossing uncharted America in the first decade of the 1800s would have been lucky to find a piece of venison jerky or a wormy hardtack biscuit to chew on. Not the stuff from which great cookbooks are made! But as I flipped through the pages, I was delighted to see a wide range of recipes that represented some of Thomas Jefferson’s favorites (and remember, he remains to this day the most famous American gourmet of all time), and to discover that Lewis, Clark and company actually enjoyed a wide range of dishes based on native foods during their travels. (Mind you, modern health-obsessed cooks who shudder at the thought of a quarter-pounder will be appalled to hear that, on average, every man in the Lewis and Clark expedition ate 9—count them, 9—pounds of meat a day.)

Corn on the cob is still in season here in Pennsylvania, and since OFB and I both love it, I’ve been trying to cook this Native American crop as often as I can. So in the spirit of Americana and seasonality, I’m going to share the Corn Chowder recipe from The Lewis & Clark Cookbook. Sort of. Being a vegetarian, I’ve given the recipe “the Silence treatment.” To restore it to its original form, add 2 ounces salt pork, finely chopped, and reduce the butter to 1 tablespoon; replace the veggie stock with chicken stock; add 1 teaspoon sugar and omit the curry powder; replace the 1 cup diced yellow summer squash with 1 cup chopped tomatoes; and replace the cup of light cream with half-and-half. Got that?

Want to be really adventurous? If you’re making the vegetarian version, add a tablespoon or two of pumpkin puree, stirring well to blend, when you add the cream and heat through. And/or add a splash of warming apple brandy or bourbon just before serving. Yum! (Don’t try this if you’re recreating the original version, since none of these additions would taste good with the tomato. But for either version, you could also add a cup of minced mushrooms, suateeing them with the onion.)

Ready for the recipe? Here goes:

              Corn Chowder

4 ounces salted butter (1/2 stick)

1 cup finely chopped sweet onions (Vidalia, WallaWalla, 1015, or Candy type)

4 cups veggie stock (any of the boxed stocks are fine)

2 cups corn kernels, preferably cut fresh off the cob

2 cups diced potatoes

1 cup diced yellow summer squash

1 teaspoon salt

1-2 teaspoons curry powder

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup light cream

Melt the butter in a heavy Dutch oven or stock pot. Add onions, salt, curry powder, and pepper, and saute until onions clarify. Stir in the corn and potatoes, stirring briefly to coat with butter and spices, then add the veggie stock. Simmer, stirring often, until the potatoes are tender. Stir in the cream and heat through. Serves four as a meal and eight as a first course.

It’s traditional to serve some sort of crackers with chowder, be it plain old Saltines, Vermont common crackers, beaten biscuits, or table water crackers. Some might be broken into or tossed onto the chowder’s surface, others buttered and eaten alongside. I think the point of this was to add a little crunch, but it might also have been to make the soup more filling in the old hard times. Whatever the case, add or omit to suit yourself and your company.

I enthusiastically recommend The Lewis & Clark Cookbook to you, both for a fascinating glimpse into our past and for some great recipes (including Jefferson faves like Chocolate Pots de Creme, Macaroni and Cheese, Almond Blancmange with Strawberries, and—though not known by Jefferson by that name—Baked Alaska, as well as sturdier fare like Steamed Maple Pudding with Caramelized Maple Sauce, Bread and Butter Pudding with Cherries, Homemade Elk Mincemeat, Cornmeal and Blueberry Mush, Pawpaw Ice Cream, and Venison Shanks Braised with Fennel and Onions). Needless to say, I rushed home from the library, got online, and immediately ordered a copy of the book from Amazon (at discount, naturally). I suggest that, if you love history and cooking, you do the same!

           ‘Til next time,




1. Lzyjo - August 29, 2009

MMM! Corn chowder is one of my favorites, now i just need to convince DH to make it!

Kudos to you on scoring a first edition a few years ago! I don’t even what to know how much that baby is worth! I have fond memories of leafing through Julia’s cookbooks as a kid, I found those pictures of dead fish horribly fascinating.

I’m going to copy and paste this recipe and email it to DH, maybe he’ll get the hint. 😉

Ha! Good luck, Lzyjo!!!

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