Sue J. Hendricks and Christopher E. Hendricks, Old Southern Cookery: Mary Randolph’s Recipes from America’s First Regional Cookbook Adapted for Today’s Kitchen (Guilford, Connecticut: Globe Pequot, 2020).
Old Southern Cookery began as a gift. My mother, an excellent cook and journalist, collected cookbooks. One day while he was traveling, my father ran across an early edition of what is arguably the first American cookbook, The Virginia Housewife, which was written and published by Mary Randolph in 1824, and brought it home as a present. Randolph, a cousin of Thomas Jefferson’s, ran a boarding house in Richmond and became famous for her cooking. Her book, the first published collection of Southern recipes, was a huge success and went through nineteen editions before the Civil War and remains available today. The problem is that Randolph uses expressions such as “when the fire by ready” for temperatures and imprecise measurements.
Fascinated, my mother went through the recipes and created contemporary versions of them noting modern temperatures, measurements, substitute ingredients, etc. A few years ago, I was helping my parents move and stumbled my mother’s recipes in a box. I spent time researching the history of cookbooks, Mary Randolph, and The Virginia Housewife, edited the recipes, added headnotes, wrote introductory commentaries, and gave the manuscript to my mother as a Christmas present, with Randolph’s original 1824 recipes on one side of the page and the modern version on the other.
As the book came out around the time the Isaiah Davenport House was built and the museum uses The Virginia Housewife in its presentations and interpretation, we partnered with the Historic Savannah Foundation and gave them the book. All proceeds from sales go to support the Davenport Museum and the mission of the Historic Savannah Foundation.
Good recipes never fade; Randolph’s food is delicious.
Asparagus Chicken Soup
A well-stocked nineteenth-century kitchen would have had a variety of sieves and strainers of different gauges for purposes such as removing chaff from grain, sifting flour, or separating solid and liquid objects. Sieves would have been made with a wooden or metal mesh, or simply by punching holes into sheet metal. For pressing vegetables into a pulp, a wide mesh is best, or if one is not available, a boiling basket or metal colander. Or it is possible to puree the vegetables in a food processor or blender.
1 large bunch asparagus
¼ pound bacon
1 medium onion, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup cubed (Approximately 5 ounces), cooked chicken
1 cup white sauce (recipe below)
For the White Sauce:
2 tablespoons of flour
2 tablespoons of butter, melted
1 cup milk
Wash the asparagus and cut 1 inch off the tops, saving the tops in a bowl of cold water.
Cut the asparagus stalks into 1-inch pieces and place them in a medium saucepan with the bacon, onion, salt, and pepper. Add enough water to cover, and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and continue to simmer 10 to 12 minutes, or until the asparagus is soft.
Remove the asparagus from the saucepan and press through a fine mesh sieve into the stock.
Strain the remaining stock, discard the bacon pieces and onion, and return the broth to the saucepan.
Add the chicken and asparagus tops to the saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer 10 minutes.
To make the White Sauce
In a small saucepan, whisk together the flour and butter; add the milk a little at a time, whisking to incorporate. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until the sauce has thickened. You may add more milk for a thinner sauce.
Add the white sauce to the chicken and asparagus soup, blend well, and return to low heat until warmed through. Serve hot.
Old Southern Cookery, pa. 3
Citrus Apple Pie
Mary Randolph's name for this recipe was "To Make an Orange Pudding." Pudding in Great Britain can either be used as a general word for a sweet dessert, or refer to any number of specific sweet or savory dishes often cooked by boiling in a bag. In this instance, Randolph's recipe describes a pie baked in a pastry crust.
1 large orange, whole unpeeled
1 large lemon, whole unpeeled
2 ¼ cups sugar
6 apples, peeled and sliced
Puff pastry shell and strips of dough (recipe below)
1 tablespoon cornstarch (optional)
In a pot over high heat, boil the whole unpeeled orange and lemon in enough water to cover for 30 minutes. Allow the fruit to cool, then slice thinly, and seed.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Prepare the Puff Pastry shell and dough strips
Combine the sugar with 1 ½ cups water in a saucepan over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, stirring, and reduce the heat to medium. Add the apple slices and cook for ten minutes. Add the orange and lemon slices and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes or until tender. If the juice is runny, stir in 1 tablespoon of cornstarch and mix well to thicken.
Pour the mixture into a pastry shell. Weave the strips of dough into a lattice top, and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the pastry begins to brown.
Old Southern Cookery, pa. 175.
Puff pastry is a light, flakey, buttery pastry used to make croissants and crusts for any variety of dishes. The key is the repeated folding and chilling. Puff pastry is also available in your grocer’s freezer case.
1 cup flour, sifted
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, frozen
Lightly knead together the flour and ¼ cup cold water.
Coarsely grate the butter and cut it into the pastry. Wrap the pastry in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
On a floured surface, roll the pastry out into a rectangle about ½ inch thick. Fold in thirds like a letter. Rewrap and refrigerate for another 30 minutes.
Roll out again, fold, and refrigerate 2 more times. On the final time, chill for 1 hour. If not ready for use, place pastry in a tightly sealed container. It may be refrigerated for several days or frozen for 1 month before using.
Old Southern Cookery, pa. 171