Big Food Season

Is upon us.

And we at Southern Muses are here for you in your frantic pre-Thanksgiving preparations to help you be all the hostess/host you can be .

Turn to any magazine and you will find dozens of ideas for the latest greatest recipes, table and home decor, how to make swanky place card holders out of wood ornaments and some gold spray paint, as well as clever things to do with all those magnolia leaves, pine cones, and spare citrus fruit you have lying around the yard and the house. Or how to make Bacon-Grits Fritters or Pancetta-wrapped boeuf tenderloin with Whipped Horseradish Cream.

You don’t need us for that. Trendy recipes are a dime a dozen.We have better than that; we have heirloom recipes carefully culled from that culinary classic

This season we offer the opportunity to reach back into your pedigreed family’s –or more properly someone else’s family’s –antique collection of receipts. Take that you bourgeois parvenues in Ballantyne!

Mary Mason covers any and every possible problem or dilemma you may encounter in the course of domestic duty. For example, should you ever need to know how to clean a calf’s head consult p. 171. (Scald it in weak lye, scrape off the hair, and , after washing it thoroughly, soak it over night in clean, cold water. Boom. Done). Or little tips to help you get through a big evening of entertaining,

I have always found it most convenient to lay the dinner-table early, that is, as soon as the dining room is put in order after breakfast, placing the entire equipage on which is intended, corresponding to the number of dishes proposed. This will enable your servant to know exactly where you wish each article placed.

And speaking of servants, part one of this book deals with how to handle them, but in a nutshell, Miss Mason recommends you remember servants are not the brightest bulbs on the  string. So you should take care to explain their duties in exacting detail, you should provide them with the best materials and tools to do their job, and you must pay them on time. If you follow these simple guidelines, you will deprive your domestic staff of any occasion to slack off or work half-measure.

And now, without further ado, we humbly submit some suggestions for a plain, yet elegant Thanksgiving table.

We begin with a simple, yet tempting recipe for

Lemon Biscuits.

Three spoonfuls of butter

Four eggs.

A teacupful of sour milk.

Two cups of white sugar, with grated lemon-peel.

Flour sufficient to make a soft dough.

Add a teaspoonful of soda before the flour is sifted, and pass both together through the sieve; roll out thin and cut them; then bake in a moderate oven.

No one ever makes Lemon Biscuits, probably because such things are not available in your grocer’s freezer. Make these and you’ll be the talk of the town.

Now, moving on…

Oyster Pie.

Cover a baking-dish with puff paste, fill it with oysters, butter, pepper, and salt; the butter rubbed up with a spoonful of flour. Cover the dish with puff paste, and bake of a light brown. You may ornament the top crust with paste leaves.

Puff Paste No. 1.

For one pound of flour weigh one pound of fresh butter, well washed, and dried in a clean towel. Take out one teaspoonful of butter and replace it with one of sweet lard. Now wet up your flour with cold water, and one spoonful of butter, into a moderately stiff dough; roll it out on a marble slab or board into a thin sheet, cover it with butter, and fold it up, then roll it out again, and fold as before seven more times, each time spreading the sheet of dough with butter, sprinkling it every time with a little flour from the sieve. Now roll up your sheet of dough, and it is ready to use. Take care, in covering your plates with this paste, never to disturb the folds, or mash them with the hand; if you do, they cannot blow apart, and display your superior skill in pastry making.

We all know nothing irritates people more than to realize you have superior skills in pastry making.

And now for the pièce de résistance:


AFTER having cut off the head, and suffered your fowl to bleed thoroughly, pick it carefully. Do not break the skin. Singe off all the fine hairs. Then lay your fowl on a board, and with a sharp knife cut a slit over the intestines, just under the thigh, and another on the back of the neck. Now insert a finger of one hand into the latter incision, and push down the crop and its contents, while the other hand draws the intestines out at the lower incision, which was made under the thigh. Do this gently and slowly, for if you, through haste, should break the intestines, nothing can ever remove their disagreeable odor and taste from your fowl.

Having drawn your fowl, put your knife inside the lower incision, and cut off the piece of external skin attached to the lower intestine. This done, lay your fowl in a tub of clean water, wash it thoroughly, and change the water several times; then take it out, and wipe it dry, inside and out: after which rub it slightly with salt and pepper (inside as well as outside).

If a turkey or chicken, make a filling of breadcrumbs, butter, pepper, and salt, moistened with egg; and having filled your fowl, place the thighs and wings firmly by the side with skewers; tie a cord around the neck, and the extreme ends of the legs, with the extremity of the fowl. Dredge on flour, as directed for beef, and other roast meats, and proceed as before directed.

If your turkey or fowl is to be boiled, have ready a pot of boiling water, dip a towel into it, then, after rubbing it with flour, inclose your fowl or turkey; tie it tightly, and drop it into your pot of boiling water. A large hen will take an hour and a half or two hours, a turkey hen two hours. When you think it is done, thrust a large darning-needle into the breast or thigh; if it goes in readily, it is done, if not, let it boil longer.

When done, turn it out on a dish, with its own gravy; cut up two hard-boiled eggs in thin, round slices, lay them over the fowl, with fresh sprigs of parsley. Drawn butter, with hard-boiled eggs, is the usual sauce. Some use oysters.

If your fowl is roasted, cut up hard-boiled eggs for the gravy.

We also recommend:

Celery Sauce.

Cut up the well-bleached parts of two fine heads of solid celery, stew the celery in one pint of water till tender, then rub into a large spoonful of butter a small spoonful of flour, add these to the celery, with a cup of sweet cream. Let it boil a little, and serve hot. This is a delicious sauce with poultry or wild fowl.

And finally, no Thanksgiving Day Dinner would be complete without a traditional dessert

Sliced Potato Pies.

Boil sweet potatoes till slightly done; slice them, and fill a deep plate with alternate layers of sliced potatoes, butter, sugar, spices, and brandy, say about one wineglass of brandy to a large pie; sugar and butter as you like. Cover your pie with puff paste, and bake it. It should be served hot. It is a good substitute for minced pie.

This menu should have your guests bloated and snoring on the living room sofas (just like they always do) in record time.

In the event you find any of your guests tedious or annoying, there is a section in this book on Poisons and Antidotes. Miss Mason certainly does not in any way suggest you should stoop to poisoning anyone, no matter how distasteful they may be, she merely includes a useful section identifying common poisons, just so you know what they are, and the antidotes in case you change your mind, I mean in case medical assistance is not immediately available. I’m just saying, holidays are stressful.

Now get out there and have a nice Thanksgiving Day with your people, whomever they might be.

A complete copy of  The Young Housewife’s Counsellor and Friend is available for perusal at your leisure at Documenting the American South. Check it out here and enjoy the household tips and hundreds of no-nonsense recipes. The recipes cited in this article may be found as follows: Lemon Biscuits p. 136; Oyster Pie p. 183; Puff Paste p. 255; How to prepare fowl for roasting or boiling pp. 216-218, and Potato Pie p. 257.

From the desk of  Paula M. Stathakis

This entry was posted in Big Food Season, Historic Recipes for the Holidays, Thanksgiving and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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