Wednesday, February 22, 2006

A commentary on domestic manners.

Today, February 22nd …

Frances Trollope, the mother of the novelist Anthony Trollope, was in Cincinnati in 1829 escaping an unhappy marriage. On her return three years later, she wrote a scathing commentary on the “Domestic Manners of the Americans” which appealed to the English, and was the beginning of a long literary career.

On February 22nd 1829 Frances had attended a ball to celebrate Washington’s birthday.

I have omitted to mention the Birth-day Ball, as it is called, a festivity which, I believe, has place on the 22nd of February, in every town and city throughout the Union. It is the anniversary of the birth of General Washington … The arrangements for the supper were very singular, but eminently characteristic of the country. The gentlemen had a splendid entertainment spread for them in another large room of the hotel, while the poor ladies had each a plate put into their hands, as they pensively promenaded the ball-room during their absence; and shortly afterwards servants appeared, bearing trays of sweetmeats, cakes, and creams. The fair creatures then sat down on a row of chairs placed round the walls, and each making a table of her knees, began eating her sweet, but sad and sulky repast. The effect was extremely comic; their gala-dresses and the decorated room forming a contrast the most unaccountable with their uncomfortable and forlorn condition.

Some of the food items she mentioned in the book must have intrigued her readers, especially the ones made from corn, such as “Johnny cake”. In England, corn means grain, especially wheat. In America it is indisputably maize.

“Johnny cakes” are a similar concept to English griddle scones, but made of course from maize flour or meal. I give you a recipe for them from “Common sense in the household: a manual of practical housewifery”, by Marion Harland (1872)

Johnny Cake.
1 teacupful sweet milk, I teacupful buttermilk, 1 teaspoonful salt, 1 teaspoonful soda, 1 tablespoonful melted butter. Enough meal to enable you to roll it into a sheet half an inch thick. Spread upon a buttered tin, or a shallow pan, and bake forty minutes. As soon as it begins to brown, baste it with a rag tied to a stick and dipped in melted butter. Repeat this five or six times until it is brown and crisp. Break – not cut it up – and eat for luncheon or tea, accompanied by sweet or buttermilk.

Putting on the Ritz.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That's no way to make a johnny cake. Using salt, cold fresh milk, a spoonful of sugar, and stone ground white flint meal, one mixes a stiff mixture. Boiling water is then added to make a batter slightly thicker than for pancakes. This resulting mixture is dropped by large spoonfuls onto a hot greased griddle, and cooked until goden on both sides. The small amount of sugar(1 T per 1 cup corn meal) gives a crunchy crust. This is the southwestern Rhode island way to make johnnycake, and is by far the best. Eggs should never be used in johnnycake, so Jeff Smith is quite wet on this topic.