Students in Cookbooks and History (MET ML 630), directed by Dr. Karen Metheny, researched and recreated a historical recipe to bring in to class. They were instructed to note the challenges they faced, as well as define why they selected their recipe and why it appealed to them. Here is the fifth essay in this series, written by Anastasia Nicolaou.
Why apple fritters? Because apples are in season! With New England’s rich tradition of cider mills and apple orchards that still attract tourists and locals every fall, I thought an attempt at a classic apple fritter was appropriate, even if the weather is currently unsure if it’s fall or summer.
For the recipe, I used Mary Randolph’s The Virginia House-Wife (1838: 129). Mary Randolph, having fallen on hard times, opened a boarding house to support her family in 1808, and first published The Virginia House-Wife in 1824. It went through many reprints over the next 50 years, and is considered one of the first receipt books in American history (Daley 2013).When considering historical recipes, we have to keep some important things in mind. For one, the layout of the recipe may not be what we are used to as the modern readers. As we can see in the image from The Virginia House-Wife, Randolph does not separate out the ingredients, and measurements are used sporadically. When faced with “some apples,” I decided to peel and seed four, which I sliced thinly but did not core.
The sugar was easy enough to understand – 1lb of granulated sugar is two cups. A quarter would be half a cup. For a glassful of brandy, I took out a small wine glass, measured out the brandy, and threw it in the dish with the apples. Some wine proved a little more challenging – I ended up adding enough to get the liquid barely covering the apples in a single layer (since the recipe mentioned one should turn over the apples in the dish periodically, I figured completely submerging was out of the question). A sprinkling of cinnamon, subjective, and the rind of one lemon went into the pan as well.
My entire kitchen smelled like liquor. That was a potent cocktail the apples were soaking in! I let the apples stand for about an hour total, and turned them over frequently as directed. The batter turned out well – the true measurements of everything but the water was helpful. I ended up adding water until it was the consistency of a crepe batter (my own embodied knowledge).
This is where I started mentally fighting with Randolph. Her recipe did not call for the apples to be totally dried before battering, nor did it mention dredging them in flour before putting them in the batter. I felt disaster was imminent, and I was correct. The batter in the first batch slid entirely off the apples, and in the frying pan the apples dissolved immediately because of their high liquid content. There were bits of burned batter and melted apples everywhere.
Per Randolph, the fritters should have been taken out when they reached a light brown. I did this, sprinkled them with sugar, and voilà! Apple Fritters.
These were great fresh out of the frying pan. They were crispy and warm and still firm because the apple itself was barely cooked in the oil. Unfortunately, as the day went on, the high liquid content in the apples began to seep into the batter, rendering the fritters a mess. In class, people commented that the firmness of the apple somewhat made up for the lack of crisp in the batter, but I wasn’t buying it.
Overall, Randolph’s recipe was a success. As soon as the extra steps were added to prep the apples, they fried up the way I envisioned. Perhaps Randolph assumed the chef reading her book would know to take those steps, or perhaps tastes have changed and melted apples in oil with blobs of fried batter was the way to go (though I doubt it).
Daley, Bill. 2013. “Mary Randolph wrote The Virginia House-Wife cookbook in 1824.” Chicago Tribune, September 18. Accessed October 18, 2017. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-09-18/features/sc-food-0913-giants-randolph-20130918_1_cookbook-star-boarding-house-nathalie-dupree.
Randolph, Mary. 1838. The Virginia House-Wife. Baltimore: Plaskitt & Cugle. PDF e-book.