Madeira Mondays: A cheap and delicious 18th century recipe

I love potatoes. Mashed potatoes, boiled potatoes, baked potatoes, potato chips…they’re all great.

Today I wanted to share with you a super simple recipe for potato pancakes from the 18th century which I discovered on the brilliant YouTube channel Townsendswhere they recreate 18th century recipes. As the host John Townsend says in his introduction to this recipe:

Potatoes were an important part of the diet of the 18th century in Great Britain and in North America. They were important especially for the poorer sort of folks who didn’t have those expensive foods available. 

The recipe Townsend uses is originally from 1732 and, as he mentions in the video, it was a recipe you might use if you were eating a lot of potatoes and wanted to vary up how you cooked them. Or if you had old potatoes lying around. Or if wheat was too expensive. Apparently this recipe shows up in lots of different cookbooks of the time (he quotes from Primitive Cookery from 1767, which was a recipe book filled with inexpensive recipes).

Like everyone else, I’ve been in quarantine and thought now would be the perfect time to give this super affordable and tasty looking recipe a go!

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll know that I love making 18th century food and drink, partly for book research and partly because it’s fun! Sometimes that turns out really well, like the time I made syllabub. Sometimes, the results are less appetizing, like the time I made ‘Flip’!

These potato pancakes were a moderate success (I’ll tell you more on that below), but, for now, let’s get into how I made these. This is my version of the recipe, inspired by the 18th century recipe I mentioned above and from Townsend’s video. Enjoy!

Potato Pancakes from 1732

Ingredients:

  • Some potatoes (it really depends on how many cakes you want to make. We used three medium sized potatoes)
  • Salt
  • Milk (about 1/4 cup)
  • Butter

And that’s it. If you think it sounds like we’re making mashed potatoes, you’re pretty much right!

How to make them

Step 1: Peel the potatoes and cut into bite-sized pieces.

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Step 2: Boil the potato pieces for about 15 minutes or until they’re tender. Then drain and let them cool.

Step 3: Mash them!

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Step 4: Add a big pinch of salt and a splash of milk (maybe like 1/4 cup or a teeny bit more, depending on how many potatoes you have). NB Don’t put too much milk here. You want the potatoes to retain a doughy consistency and if you add too much milk, they’re gonna be too runny).

Step 5: Add butter to a hot pan (like you’d do for typical pancakes)

Step 6: Flatten the potatoes into little pancakes.

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Step 7: Then put them into the pan. Flip them like pancakes after a minute or two on each side. They should be golden brown.

And that’s it! Serve hot.

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As you can see, they turned out pretty well in the end! They were a bit like hash browns, only more compact. We ate them with mustard, which wasn’t especially period appropriate for a poorer sort of 18th century person’s diet, but it was delicious. You could of course have them with ketchup. Or any sort of dipping sauce. I really wanted to try eating them with apple sauce and I realized that was because they reminded me a bit of latkes which I always ate with apple sauce at a friend’s for Hanukkah.

So the trickiest thing about cooking this, we found, was trying to keep the potatoes together when they were frying in the pan. Now, I grew up in the USA and I’ve had some experience flipping good ol’ American style breakfast pancakes, so I didn’t have as much trouble with this. But if you’re not as used to flipping pancakes, it might take some practice. I’d say: don’t flip too soon. And it’s a process of trial and error (our first few were definitely the messiest).

The real problem is that they don’t have flour to keep them all stuck together and make a heartier dough. But that was ‘authentic’ to the recipe, which was eaten by folks who would have made cakes like these if flour wasn’t something that they could afford. This is not like the sweet, rich and decadent syllabub recipe I made. This is hearty, simple food that will fill you up.

For me, these pancakes were, overall, pretty good. But my partner seemed to really enjoy them. So they’re worth trying out one afternoon if you fancy it and definitely let me know if you do!

Recommended Reading/Viewing:

‘Madeira Mondays’ is a series of blog posts exploring Early American history and historical fiction. I’m not a historian, but an author and poet who is endlessly fascinated by this time period. I am also currently writing/researching a novel set during the American Revolution and recently finished a Doctorate of Fine Art looking at how creative writers access America’s eighteenth-century past. Follow the blog for a new post every Monday and thanks for reading!

 

 

 

Madeira Mondays: Historical Short Stories

When we think of historical fiction, we tend to think about novels. It seems like a collective decision was made, somewhere down the line, that fiction set in the past should be EPIC in its scope. That historical tales were best suited to sprawling tomes with many sequels. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love a good historical novel (I’m writing one as we speak!). And I understand the appeal of getting wholly immersed in another time period, which one can do with a novel: learning about the minutia of life, meeting a big cast of characters, covering several years etc. BUT there is also something to be said for the short story as a medium for exploring history too.

Why are short stories such a brilliant form for historical fiction?

Well, for one thing, they reflect the way that the past often comes to us, which is in brief, fragmented, incomplete bursts. An old photograph discovered in an attic. A torn out page from a diary. Pieces of historical evidence often provide tiny windows to another world, but so much is left unknowable. Similarly, short stories are tiny windows into another world. A brief flash, a glimpse, but with much that you have to fill in and guess for yourself.

Also, maybe I am greedy, but sometimes I would rather read a collection with many different settings and characters, rather than commit to a whole book with just one time period and one setting. Enter Karen Russell. One of my absolute favorite writers. She writes both short stories and novels and many of her stories take place in the past – whether that is the old American West, 17th century Greece, or 19thcentury Japan. Lots of her stories are set in the present too. But all of her tales have fantastical or magical realism elements to them and they are all ridiculously well written. I actually feel wiser after reading her stories, like I have understood something new about human nature. Or, at least, have recognized something that I had not thought about before.

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I was so excited to read her new collection last week – Orange World – and it exceeded my (very high!) expectations. So, for today’s ‘Madeira Mondays’, I wanted to point you towards some of my favorite, historical fiction stories by Karen Russell! Even though, regrettably, none of her short stories are set in 18th century America (Please write a story set in 18th century America, Karen! Please!!), lots of them explore other periods of American history and the American landscape. Here are four of her stories that I recommend reading ASAP.

1 – ‘from Children’s Reminiscences of the Westward Migration‘, in St Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

Russell is an American writer originally from Florida, and many of the stories in her first collection, St Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, take place in a weird, heightened version of a Florida swamp. But she’s also clearly interested in the landscape of the American West and one of my favorite stories from that collection is titled: ‘from Children’s Reminiscences of the Westward Migration‘.  The title suggests a historical document, that the story we’re about to read is one from a larger collection of children looking back on their experience moving out west. But this expectation is playfully subverted in the very first line when we release that our boy narrator has a father who is a MINOTAUR. Yup. A Minotaur. Half-man, half-bull.

Thus begins a story that is really about myths: the myth of the American West (versus the harsh reality of life there), the myth of the Minotaur, the myth of this particular Minotaur character who, our narrator tells us, was once a famous rodeo star, AND about how parents seem like myths to their children, until we start to see their flaws.

You can hear Russell reading the beginning of the story here, to see if it might be your cup of tea!

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2 – ‘Proving Up’ from Vampires in the Lemon Grove

Russell’s second collection, Vampires in the Lemon Grove, is my personal favorite and there’s another story about the American West in it, although this one is much darker than ‘Westward Migration’. It is about the rapacious desire for land and ownership, and this dark greed manifests itself as a very dark force that threatens the characters, who are settlers on the American frontier. The ending is so sinister it took my breath away! Apparently it has also been turned into an opera.

3 – ‘The Barn at the End of Our Term’ from Vampires in the Lemon Grove

This is a goofy story which is dear to my heart, about US Presidents reincarnated as horses. Yes. Horses.

I actually wrote about it for part of my PhD thesis, which looked at different iterations of John Adams in fiction, because Adams the horse is a central character in the story. He tries to lead the other Presidents-turned-horses to rebel and break out of the barn. Sure, it’s a silly and fun concept, but it’s really about legacy and what kind of ‘afterlife’ these Presidents have in our imaginations. So it’s not so much ‘historical fiction’ as fiction ABOUT history. It’s also funny as hell and insightful.

4 – ‘Black Corfu’ from Orange World and other stories

Okay, so this story is definitely historical, but not set in America. The setting is the island of Corfu, 1620. I included it on this list because it is my favorite story from her latest collection and I’ve read it twice already. This story is about an ambitious, intellectual physician whose job it is to cut the hamstrings of corpses so that they do not rise from the dead and become zombies. He once aspired to be a great doctor, but his dark skin color and his class have prevented him from rising in his profession. When rumors start to spread that a dead woman has been seen roaming the island, the doctor is blamed and chaos ensues.

This story, like all of her stories, is about many things at once. Its themes are super relevant to us today, although they are explored in a historical context: class, race, science, superstition, ambition and the power of fear.

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Have I convinced you to read her yet? I hope so! And I hope that you will enjoy these strange historical stories as much as I do.

Recommended Reading:

Orange World and Other Stories; Vampires in the Lemon Grove and St Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell (obviously!)

Voices Against the Wall: The Hilarious Terror of Karen Russell’s “Orange World and Other Stories” (in-depth review of Orange World and other stories) from the LA Times

‘Bog Girl’ by Karen Russell in The New Yorker (also featured in Orange World)

‘Madeira Mondays’ is a series of blog posts exploring Early American history and historical fiction. I’m not a historian, but an author and poet who is endlessly fascinated by this time period. I am also currently writing/researching a novel set during the American Revolution and recently finished a Doctorate of Fine Art looking at how creative writers access America’s eighteenth-century past. Follow the blog for a new post every Monday and thanks for reading!

 

 

Madeira Mondays: The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (R through Z)

This is the final installment in my series of three posts looking at historical slang words! The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue by Francis Grose (1811) has been an endlessly entertaining historical source, a compendium of ‘vulgar’ phrases, swears, oaths, insults, drinking games and much more. If you missed the first two posts in this series, you can find them here and here.

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Now I’m pulling out the best words in this unusual little dictionary from the letters R-Z. I hope that you enjoy them and let me know which is your favorite. Mine is probably ‘sea lawyer’ and ‘spoil pudding’. Happy reading!

RIGMAROLE. Roundabout, nonsensical. He told a long rigmarole story. (Good to see that this one has stuck around! Although I often hear it used more in the context of something being long and complicated, e.g. ‘signing up for that thing required filling in lots of papers, it was a huge rigamarole!’)

SAINT GEOFFREY’S DAY. Never, there being no saint of that name: tomorrow-come-never, when two Sundays come together. (See you on St Geoffrey’s Day aka NEVER!)

SANDWICH. Ham, dried tongue, or some other salted meat, cut thin and put between two slices of bread and butter: said to be a favourite morsel with the Earl of Sandwich. (I thought it was interesting that a sandwhich was a recent enough food that they felt they had to include a definition of it, plus the fact that this definition pretty much still holds!)

SEA LAWYER. A shark. (I guess back then people were already poking fun at lawyers a lot. But I mostly included this one because it makes me picture a shark in a business suit.)

TO SHOOT THE CAT. To vomit from excess of liquor; called also catting.

SLY BOOTS. A cunning fellow, under the mask of simplicity.

SPOIL PUDDING. A parson who preaches long sermons, keeping his congregation in church till the puddings are overdone. (I’ve certainly been to some lectures given by ‘spoil puddings’!)

TARRING AND FEATHERING. A punishment lately inflicted by the good people of Boston on any person convicted, or suspected, of loyalty: such delinquents being “stripped naked”, were daubed all over with tar, and afterwards put into a hogshead of feathers. (I included this one mostly because of its connection to the American Revolution. This was something that Patriot mobs did to Loyalist citizens.)

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British propaganda print from 1774: The Bostonians Paying the Excise-Man. The print depicts a customs official being tarred and feathered by a Patriot mob.

VICE ADMIRAL OF THE NARROW SEAS. A drunken man that pisses under the table into his companions’ shoes. (You will recall from my first post about this dictionary that an ‘Admiral of the Narrow Seas’ is one who throws up on someone across from him from drunkenness. So the VICE admiral is someone who pees on someone’s shoes. Both are oddly specific and I wouldn’t want to go drinking with either of these ‘admirals’, I have to say.)

WHIPT SYLLABUB. A flimsy, frothy discourse or treatise, without solidity. (This entertained me because syllabub was a popular dessert drink which involved whipped cream. So this phrase obviously alludes to that!)

WOLF IN THE STOMACH. A monstrous or canine appetite.

YANKEY, or YANKEY DOODLE. A booby, or country lout: a name given to the New England men in North America. A general appellation for an American.

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Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more discussion of this book in a future post when I talk about the origins of the Revolutionary War-era song ‘Yankee Doodle’.

(Featured Image: ‘A Midnight Modern Conversation’ by William Hogarth c. 1730 via Wikipedia Commons)

Madeira Mondays is a series of blog posts exploring Early American history and historical fiction. I’m not a historian, but an author and poet who is endlessly fascinated by this time period. I am also currently writing/researching a novel set during the American Revolution and recently finished a Doctorate of Fine Art looking at how creative writers access America’s eighteenth-century past. Follow the blog for a new post every Monday and thanks for reading!

Madeira Mondays: Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (Letters G to P)

I used to think that the Elizabethans had the best swear words. Shakespeare in particular really knew how to pen a vivid and hilarious insult: ‘Beetle-Headed, Flap Ear’d Knave’ ‘Canker-Blossom’ ‘A Fusty Nut with No Kernel’! But after reading The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue by Francis Grose (1811), I’m now convinced that the Georgians might very well have had the best slang words and insults.

If you missed my first blog post about The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, this book is basically a compendium of 18th century slang, which ranges from the mild to the extremely crude. In that post, I went through some of my favorite words, from Letters A-F. This time, I’ll be choosing ones from G-M, with some added commentary from me in italics for good measure.

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Cover from recent (1980’s) edition of Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

The book is an entertaining read for those who want a peek at the saltier side of life for our 18th, and early 19th, century pals. So I hope that you enjoy these words from Grose’s peculiar ‘dictionary’ and special points to you if you manage to work any of them into conversation:

GALIMAUFREY. A hodgepodge made up of the remnants and scraps of the larder. (In all honesty, I just added this one because I like the look of the word and we don’t really have a word for this now, although we still do it, throwing together scraps/leftovers into a hodgepodge sort of meal.)

GAPESEED. Sights; any thing to feed the eye. I am come abroad for a little gapeseed. (I liked this one because the idea of ‘feed(ing) the eye’ is an interesting and bizarre mix of the two different senses…)

GIFTS. Small white specks under the finger nails, said to portend gifts or presents. (Okay, what?! Not only had I never really taken notice of those ‘small white specks’ under fingernails, although I think I know what they mean, but I had no idea they used to be thought good luck!)

GINGERBREAD. A cake made of treacle, flour, and grated ginger; also money. He has the gingerbread; he is rich. (‘He has the gingerbread!’)

GREEN. Doctor Green; i.e. grass: a physician, or rather medicine, found very successful in curing most disorders to which horses are liable. My horse is not well, I shall send him to Doctor Green. (There was something charming and kind of sassy about this one. ‘This horse looks pretty bad, Bill. Should we send for a physician?’ ‘Nah, let’s just send him to Doctor Green.’)

GRUMBLETONIAN. A discontented person; one who is always railing at the times or ministry.

HALF SEAS OVER. Almost drunk. (This book contains SO many words for different states of inebriation. It has words to describe being a little drunk, somewhat drunk, and entirely drunk. No matter what your state of drunkenness, don’t worry, there was a word for that!)

HICKENBOTHOM. Mr. Hickenbothom; a ludicrous name for an unknown person, similar to that of Mr. Thingambob.

MONKS AND FRIARS. Terms used by printers: monks are sheets where the letters are blotted, or printed too black; friars, those letters where the ink has failed touching the type, which are therefore white or faint. (This one was just interesting and kind of enlightening about problems that early modern printers had getting their print exactly right.)

POMPKIN. A man or woman of Boston in America: from, the number of pompkins raised and eaten by the people of that country. Pompkinshire; Boston and its dependencies. (I have a hard time telling if this is pejorative or not? I guess mildly so? But I just like the idea that there were so many pumpkins (which was a New World food) in America that people from Boston were called ‘pumpkin’! I also like the fact that it’s a term of endearment now.)

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Taken on a recent trip to Boston where there were, in fact, many pumpkins!

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Thanks for reading and stayed tuned for future posts when more silly, confusing, and fascinating historical slang words will be revealed!

PS Who is the dashing gentleman pictured in the Featured Image? He is 18th century English explorer James Cook, painted onto the wall of the bar at Brew York Beer Hall in York, England. (At least, that’s what I remember the bar staff telling me. I visited a few months ago and I may have been ‘half seas over’ when I spotted him!)

Madeira Mondays is a series of blog posts exploring Early American history and historical fiction. I’m not a historian, but an author and poet who is endlessly fascinated by this time period. I am also currently writing/researching a novel set during the American Revolution and recently finished a Doctorate of Fine Art looking at how creative writers access America’s eighteenth-century past. Follow the blog for a new post every Monday and thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

 

Madeira Mondays: Trinity HistoryCon

‘Most of us began our love of history from something we saw on TV, in movies or other pop media.’

This was one of the opening remarks at Trinity History Con 2019, a two day long conference in Dublin at Trinity College, all about the intersections of pop culture and history. And that remark really stood out to me because I think it’s so true! Often the first time that we encounter history is through historical fiction – be that books, TV, films etc. For me it was reading books like Johnny Tremain about the Revolutionary War that ignited my curiosity in that whole time period. I know from speaking to other historical fiction writers, historians, and lovers of history that pop culture media often sparks a love or curiosity in a period that leads to academic research or just a lifelong fascination with a particular place and time.

In one panel at the conference, ‘How We Remember Her’, featuring actress Lotte Verbeek (from TV shows like Outlander and The Borgias), she discussed some of the different reasons someone might watch a historical fiction TV show like The Borgias: to get a sense of the past, to understand a bit, but also (perhaps primarily) to be entertained. Yet a show like that can also ‘open up a world for people’ who might otherwise know nothing at all about the time period and might now be encouraged to seek out further information.

The Borgias was one of dozens of pieces of pop media that were discussed at HistoryCon. While I was there, I saw talks on (to name a few!): Star Wars, Games of Thrones, Star Trek, and the Christmas film It’s a Wonderful Life. There were presentations on Kate Bush’s song ‘Wuthering Heights’ and its relationship to the novel, as well as discussions on Charles Manson and American film. There was even a presentation from two St Andrews researchers, Christin Simons and Elena Romero-Passerin, who research 18th century mercantilism and botany respectively, on the history-inspired board game they have designed based on their research called ‘Mer-plant-ilism’. Basically, this conference was a dream event for a history nerd (and all around nerd, let’s be honest!) like me.

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Conference organizer and presenter Dawn Seymour Klos giving her talk on Leia Organa and 13th century English Women

But in addition to academic talks from researchers from all over the world there was also a brilliant sword fighting demonstration in a college square and a costume contest!

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Sword fight demonstration from Medieval Armoured Combat of Ireland in Fellows’ Square, Trinity College

I was encouraged to enter the costume contest and actually won third place for my John Adams costume. What do you think of the outfit? (We actually had to walk down an aisle and pose in front of a panel of judges and I imagined RuPaul there and calling out, ‘Category is: Revolutionary Realness’).

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My John Adams costume for Trinity HistoryCon

And what I loved in particular about the concept of HistoryCon was that it was free, fun and open to the public. We were told to structure our talks more like Ted Talks, so that the general public (and several people did just wander in on the day) could engage with the material and have something to take away. Academic researchers are often encouraged to do public engagement and to disseminate their research with the wider community, and that is built in to the whole ethos of this event. Breaking down those barriers between the academy and the general public, and hopefully sparking curiosity about the past and the various ways to study and interact with it, was the name of the game.

I, for one, had a brilliant time presenting on representations of John Adams in pop culture. I delivered my talk ‘Obnoxious and Disliked’: John Adams’ Legacy in Popular Media, from 1776 to Hamilton, dressed as Adams and I’m not sure when I’ll ever have the opportunity to do that again!

I learned a lot throughout the busy two days and made so many new nerdy, academic friends. So I’d like to thank the organizers at Trinity College for creating such a fun and accessible conference and for inviting us all to Dublin. Thank you! Live long and prosper.

‘Madeira Mondays’ is a series of blog posts exploring Early American history and historical fiction. I’m not a historian, but an author and poet who is endlessly fascinated by this time period. I am also currently writing/researching a novel set during the American Revolution and recently finished a Doctorate of Fine Art looking at how creative writers access America’s eighteenth-century past. Follow the blog for a new post every Monday!