Museum of Old York, Maine Jeffords’ Tavern

On Friday evening, I had the opportunity to work with a great group of volunteers and staff members of the Museum of Old York in Maine. It was the once- a-month Tavern Night at the Jefferds’ Tavern.

Chris, Nancy, Larrissa, Nola, Eileen, Sandie, Jack

We had two cooking fireplaces going, one beehive oven, plus the two fireplaces in the tavern rooms for the guests. Jack helped me lug wood and I kept the fires going while peeling vegetables and other chores. There were many things to do in preparation for our guests, and everyone helped where they could.  

Thirty-two guests who came to dine on, cod cakes with sweet pepper relish , fresh baked oatmeal bread with honey butter ,corn chowder, top round roast sizzled on the hearth, pommes Anna with butternut squash, rosemary, winter greens with caramelized onions, bacon and, if that was not enough, it was finished off with Indian pudding and homemade ice cream.

 As tavern mistress, I greeted one of our returning soldiers who was on his way home from Boston and the battle against the British. We fed him as much as he could eat. It was a small thing to do for the patriotism he showed our cause. He stayed a while and chatted with the guests and told stories of Indians and the war. Nola was busy tending the onions and winter vegetables over the fire.

The guests relaxed by the fire while they were serenaded by Katie on the violin while Larissa, our junior volunteer, stood ready to help serve the food. Chris cooked the beef and carved it for our guests. It was served with a wonderful wine reduction sauce.

It was a busy evening and Eileen, our director of Adult Education, sat to enjoy the fire, Indian pudding and homemade ice cream.  Doesn’t she look like a Vermeer painting?

The Art and Mystery of Cookery

The Art and Mystery of Cookery

       Joseph Lyman Homestead 1740

Bill of Fayre

 To Boil Prawns

The complete house-keeper, and professed cook, Mary Smith 1772

 Sallets Simple and Plain

 Acetaria, a Discourse os Sallets, John Evelyn 1699


 The English Hus-wife, Gervase Markham 1615

 Roast Fillet of Beef

 The Accomplisht Cook, London, Robert May 1660

 Morels a~la Cream

 The Compleat Englifh Cook, Robert Smith 1725

 To Boyle Rice

 The Closet of the eminently learned Sir Kenelme Digby Kt., opened 1669

Apple Fritters

 The Receipt Book of Mrs. Ann Blencowe 1694

The Joseph Lyman house is a charming colonial of “two over two” construction with an ell that holds the early kitchen and a large stone fireplace with a bake oven. I was privileged to help the owners make an evening meal, using recipes from the 17th and 18th Century, just as they would have during the time Joseph and his wife lived there in the 1740s. As we prepared each dish,we used many tools and techniques that are more than two and three centuries old.

We began the day with firing up the bake oven in which we would bake the bread. There would be four of us working around a central table in the early kitchen and we divided up the receipts. Barbara and Bob, the owners of the home, mix the beer and yeast into the flour while the fire heats up in the bake oven. They are using Gervase Markham’s 1615 receipt for manchets. 006

Barbara starts right in kneading the dough for the manchets and sets it by the fire to rise. first rising takes about 45 minutes.011


With such an extensive menu, many ingredients were needed and we assembled them on the table. My husband Allan sat down to read the receipts the men would be using.014

When the bricks in the bake oven were hot, the embers were shoveled out and used to start our main fire and get our trivet ready to boil some water for the shrimp. Over the trivet went a pan with water, salt and lemons to boil the shrimp for our first course. 018

The dough is given its last knead, and divided in three, ready for the bake oven while the tenderloin comes to room temperature.


Robert Mays receipt for Roast Fillet of Beef is stuffed with spinach, herbs, garlic and oranges. Allan and Bob waste no time chopping up the stuffing for the tenderloin and cutting strips of lard to porcupine the beef. I test the bake oven by throwing a handful of cornmeal onto the oven floor to check the temperature. The corn meal turned a slight golden brown so we were ready to add the manchets.


In goes the bread, one on the floor and two in a pan on a trivet, we did this as an experiment to see if they would cook differently one way or the other. The door was put on to keep in the heat.


With the stuffing made, Allan made a slice in the beef and filled it with the spinach and herb mixture and then trussed it up. Bob used the larding pin to place the lard all over the outside to insure moist and brown tenderloin. The beef starts to resemble a porcupine.


From start to finish the manchets takes about 2 ½ hours. Using a long-handled peel, they are brought forth from the bake oven that is situated in the back wall of the fireplace. To test their doneness we rapped on the top with our knuckles and heard the hollow thud which meant they were ready. The manchet that was baked on the floor had a richer color on the bottom; however it had the same texture as the others.


The shrimp was taken out, peeled and cooled. Now the pot was free to make our rice; this receipt and the boiled prawns are one of the few simple receipts I’ve found in the 17th and 18thCentury cookery books.

It was time to sit a spell and wait for the fire to be ready to cook our beef and sauces. We had our first course of boiled shrimp that was cooked with lemon and a bit of salt, they had a subtle background taste of the lemon and having a bit of the raw parsley contributed to its excellent taste.


It was time to broach the beef in the tin oven. Finding the holes in the broach was a puzzle at first, however, leaving it to an engineer to do a bit of measuring with the skewers, it was soon fastened. The meat, set before the fire in the tin oven, intrigued Barbara so, she had a peek.


Bob made a simple sauce of butter and onions to baste the roast. When the roast was done, the gravy saved in the bottom of the tin oven was added to the simple sauce, along with a good store of parsley, a few sweet herbs chopped small, the yolk of an egg, salt and pepper, and the peel of an orange. These were boiled together, with a spoonful of strong broth to make fine gravy for our beef.


Next came the Morels a- la Cream. Having no morels we substituted crimini mushrooms. These were sautéed in a pan sitting on a trivet over the coals and when soft, Barbara added the spices, herbs, a little broth and some thick cream. I started our batter for our dessert, the apple fritters.


While Barbara and I worked at the table, the men discussed the construction of the fireplace and checked on the beef. It was a very cold and windy day outside, however, we were toasty warm by the fire. Every once and a while a puff of wind would send the smoke into the room. The men determined that the four pound roast was done, it took about 45 minutes. They carefully took it off the broach and on to a pewter platter.



Barbara made a simple salad to go with our meal and, with the table set and the food ready, we sat in front of the warm fire to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

The beef was cooked to perfection, rare to medium rare and carved. The stuffing was mild with a slight acidic taste. Even the word outstanding can’t come close to describing the beef and the sauce. The Morels a-la Cream mingled with the rice on the plate and gave it a creaminess that was delicious. The lightness of the simple salad and the fresh baked bread, with its wonderful aroma, added another layer to our taste buds and our sense of smell.

Together we had prepared a wonderful meal using 17thand 18th Century receipts. As we consumed the reward for our hard work, we discussed the tools and utensils we used and the management of the fire in the hearth and bake oven. We marveled at how everything came together and just how long it took to do so. We were sure that our ancestors didn’t cook like this every day.


Then on to enjoy our final receipt of the day the Apple Fritters for dessert. I picked this receipt from Pepys At Table, in his diary he writes on 1661 February 26th Shrove Tuesday.

‘I left my wife in bed, being indisposed by reason of ceux=la – and I to Mrs. Turner’s who I find busy with The [Theophila] and Joyce making of things ready for Fritters. . . . Back to Mrs. Turners, where several friends, all strangers to me but Mr. Armiger, din’d. Very merry, and the best fritters that I ever eat in my life.’

The authors Divers and Johnson write that ”Fritters or ‘fritours’ in early English cooking usually refer to pancakes — the traditional Shrove Tuesday dish – but by Pepys’s time the word was also acquiring its more modern sense of a batter coating for a fruit or savory morsel of some kind.”

And that is just what we had, a very savory morsel to cap off a fun day of hearth cooking.

We all enjoyed this journey and we each learned something about the different combinations of herbs and spices used in the receipts. It was wonderful to see Bob, Barbara, and Allan each take a receipt and turn it into something so tasty and memorable.

My next journey will bring me to the Jefferds’ Tavern at the Museum of Old York in Maine. A wonderful dinner has been planned and I will be cooking at the hearth once more.




 Happy Valentine’s Day 

What better meal can you make for Valentine’s Day than steak, salad, toasted bread and cheesecake?  Looking through Robert May cookery booke, I found Carbonadoes of Beef, raw, roasted, or toasted; reading through the receipt, it looked very similar to marinated beef that we might throw on the grill. The marinade has wine, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Interesting, so we gave it a try.

Back in 1440 a Dominican recluse, Galfridus Grammaticus wrote the first English-Latin Dictionary called the Parvulorum, and the word Chesekake shows up, it is defined as a cake or tart. Not having any cookery receipts from the 1400s I went, back to Robert May to a  1685 original receipt for my cheesecake. Now, not wanting to spend several days making cheese I remembered that in the Plymouth Plantation Cook Book there was a receipt I have used before that was adapted from an original. I have posted both receipts in the file. The ricotta in the receipt is very much like what would have been used in the 18th Century, just homemade instead.

First thing to do was to start the cheesecake. The dough was made and refrigerated for an hour. The ingredients brought to room temperature. Once again, I have my granddaughter here to help. You can see her hands creaming the butter and sugar together.

I had pre baked the pie shell. It is interesting to note that this was a common practice in the 1600s, and was called in Robert May’s cookery booke as Dry the coffin. He also makes several tarts in a heart shaped pan. I searched all over for mine, then realized that I gave them to my daughter. So we are using a fluted cake tin instead.

Now, here is where we deviate a bit from the original receipt. This is a Valentine’s Day dinner, so you just have to have RED! My granddaughter mixes all the ingredients together per the receipt and took a bit of the batter out and poured in the red food coloring. We cover the bottom of the pie shell with red, saving some for the top, then in went the rest in white.

Everyone wants a red heart on Valentine’s Day, so we take the leftover red and decorate the top. Now, this is still an original way to make cheesecake, just the decoration is updated. So into the bake kettle it goes. Now all the cheesecakes I have made were done in a bake oven in a water bath so I was a bit worried about not having some water in the bake kettle.

We kept turning the kettle a half turn every ten minutes or so. Having a small working area, I wanted to be careful that we did not burn the cheesecake. Things cook faster and make for a very hot hand and face. I did lift the lid a few times to check that it was OK. The cheesecake only took 30 minutes to bake and was taken out to cool. Not having any water did not seem to affect its baking and the top did not crack.

While all this was happening, my husband made the marinade and let the sirloin tips soak it up for a few hours. Then we took it out and brought it to room temperature for an hour. I decided I’d make a side dish of a salad, having endives and spinach along with some other ingredients. It looked like a painlessly way to get some veggies into my husband.

In section V of Robert Mays cookery booke, you can find a receipt called, “To make a grand Sallet of divers Compounds, “ this includes the white endives. The next receipt is called, “Another way for a grand Sallet.” This receipt calls for putting all the greens into a clean napkin and swinging them to get them dry. I’m sure we have all done this; nothing new under the sun.

With the grill now hot the carbonadoes of beef are placed over the heat.

 In the toaster I placed several slices of bread to warm and left my granddaughter and husband to watch the fire. I went off to compose the salad. First I roasted the endives, and then put in the apples and shallots together, and when done, I added this to the spinach, along with goat cheese and hazelnuts. I topped it all off with a pomegranate dressing.

So we made our plates and sat down for dinner. The meat had a nice char on it, and even though marinated sirloin tips can be tough, we had plenty of tender pieces. The nutmeg taste was interesting, and again, an acquired taste. I think if I do it again, I would not be so heavy handed with the fresh nutmeg, and marinate the meat longer. I would rate the carbonadoes of beef as a good 18th Century receipt. However, it was the cheesecake that became the star.    

The crust was crisp and delicious, the cream cheese mixture firm and smooth to the taste. The combination of the ground almonds and mace mixed with the cream cheese and ricotta almost gave it a coconut taste. The rosewater was not strong and gave off just a hint of summer roses. However, it was all in the presentation. Decorated with red hearts and browned to perfection, it was a fitting end to a Valentine’s Day Feast.

Side note,

I have been invited to Connecticut to make a full 18th Century meal in an beautiful 1740 home home with a big fireplace and bake oven. So, next week, no red dye or bread from the store. I’m excited and will share this journey with you next time. ‘Til then.

 We wish you all a very happy Valentine’s Day.




Robert May

In Martha Washington’s, Book on Cookery, Karen Hess writes that, “American oysters are different in flavor from those of European waters, being fatter and blander.” I have never tasted European oysters, so have no reference for them.  I do eat a lot of oysters, however, and from many regions up and down the Eastern coast, and I do have my preferences.  The oysters from the Damariscotta River in Maine are my favorites. However, I’ll eat whatever the local fish market or restaurant has.

In Portsmouth at Jumping Jays restaurant they have “Shuck a Buck Tuesdays” oysters for a dollar apiece.  Each week they have three choices. The new oyster on the block is the Little Bay from the waters up the river from Portsmouth; I did try them and found them mild in salinity, however, extremely small.  Personally, I think they should close the oyster beds and let them grow. This brings me to a great book on oysters by Mark Kurlanskt called “the Big Oyster. “’ In his bestseller, Mark explains about the Indians of the New York region and of the oyster piles that were like small mountains. Also, if you go to Damariscotta River, they discovered a pile of oyster shells more than thirty feet deep.

One of the reasons the piles were so big is that back then oysters grew to be around 8 to 10 inches in size. That is one big gulp of an oyster.  British novelist William Makepeace Thackeray complained that eating an American oyster was “like eating a baby,” evidently not his thing. Yet, this was not to last, as the oysters began to be over- harvested and therefore smaller, and many areas were putting limits on what could be harvested, and started passing conservation measures. In 1715 the colonial government banned oystering in the months without an R, when the oysters were laying their eggs. Today in New Hampshire you can harvest oysters any month with the exception of July and August.

 So while reading some of the receipts in the early cookery books, I now understand that when they say to clap a piece of bacon on one side of a piece of meat and an oyster on the other, it’s just one oyster.  Or when  Robert May’s receipts calls for you to dry the oysters and lard them with eight or ten lardon’s though each oyster and then put it on the spit, he is not talking about the little oysters we have today (see receipt file).

So off to the fish seller I went. I picked up some oysters and shrimp to make Robert Mays “To Fry Oysters.” The market only had Martha Vineyard’s oysters, however, they were nice and fresh looking and big.

This was a great receipt to pick as my husband did most of the work. He loves to cook and so I really just sat there and instructed him as to the next step in the receipt. He did read it over beforehand.

First order of the day was to clean the shrimp and boil the shells for the sauce. Roberts May’s receipt calls for just butter and cream yet there are many other receipts that call for the addition of fish broth. Then the oysters were scrubbed clean.

Here is where my husband really shines, opening oysters.  We had three dozen of them.  That’s a lot of work.  Now you can tell that these were of a good size and filled with oyster liquor, however, they were not 10 inches long. Into the bowl they went.

When they were all shucked, they were strained out and dried off. The liquor was saved to put with the shrimp broth, and the oysters were ready to cover with the flour. I went off to check on the shrimp shells; these I handed off to my husband to concoct a sauce. I thought I’d do something light, a salad came to mind.

Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn were contemporaries and friends. However, with the exception of new peas and sparrow grass found in the market of London, we have little knowledge if Pepys ever ate many salads or other vegetables. So I took a look in The English Huse-Wife, by Gervase Markham, 1683. There is a whole section on herbs and a lady’s skills in her garden, from her choice of seeds, gathering them, and “Of Cookery and the part thereof. “‘

He starts with” Of Sallets simple and plain,” as follows.

“First then to speak of sallets, there be some simple, and some compounded, some only to furnish out the table, and some both for use and adornation: your simple sallets are chibols peeled, washed clean, and half of the green tops cut clean away, so served on a fruit dish; or chives, scallions, radish roots, boiled carrots, skirrets, and turnips, with such like served up simply; also, all young lettuce, purslane, and divers other herbs which may be served simply without anything but a little vinegar, sallet oil, and sugar; onions boiled, and stripped from their rind and served up with vinegar, oil and peppar is a good simple sallet, so is samphire, beancods, asparagus, and cucumbers, served in likewise with oil, vinegar, and peppar, with a world of others, too tedious to nominate”

I started our salad. It may not be spring but I do love a good Sallet. Doubt I can find some skirrets or purslane, however, spinach, a good fried red beet and a dakon radish, which dates back to Europe 1548, and was a common garden variety in England, will do fine. I had boiled the beets earlier and fried them in olive oil.  

The flouring of the oysters was almost done and we sat and ate our warm beet salad. Like Pepys, my husband would have liked to skip this part altogether, however, for good health he grins and bears eating vegetables and fruit.

After our salad, the shrimp broth and oyster liquor was mixed with the butter and cream and warmed on the fire. The shrimp were put into the broth to cook, and the skillet was hot and ready for the oysters.

Golden brown the oysters were plated, the shrimp done in its cream and broth, and two hungry people sat down to eat.

The best part of this meal was the broth; the shrimp were a tad overcooked, and the oysters a bit insipid for our more gourmet palates. Give me salt, pepper, panko and corn meal and I’d have been happier. I’m not saying they were awful, just not what I’m use to in a fried oyster. However, what did I expect of a 1685 receipt, likely very tasty in that day? There was no Food Channel or Food TV, or Iron Chef. May did what he knew best for the times and I never expected to have all the early receipts be my cup of tea.  I’ll keep trying them anyhow. After all this is the journey I have chosen.