Nelly Custis Lewis’s Hoecakes
Nelly Custis Lewis was Martha Washington’s youngest granddaughter, and was raised at Mount Vernon. In a letter, she gave a recipe for Gen. George Washington’s breakfast of hoecakes, or griddle cakes, which he ate with butter and honey. A cross between cornbread and pancakes, both menu items familiar to Virginia’s colonial settlers, hoecakes require some advance planning, as half the batter is left to rise overnight. Although the recipe calls for white cornmeal, yellow can be used. The Mount Vernon Estate uses this recipe, and along with Lewis’s original recipe, it can be found at www.mountvernon.org/learn/explore_mv/index.cfm/pid/289/.
8 3/4 cups white cornmeal
1 1/4 teaspoons dry yeast
shortening or other cooking grease
In a large container, mix together 4 cups white cornmeal, 1 1/4 teaspoons dry yeast, and enough warm water to give the mixture the consistency of pancake batter (probably 3-4 cups). Cover and set on the stove or counter overnight.
In the morning, gradually add remaining cornmeal, egg and enough warm water to give the mixture the consistency of pancake batter (3-4 cups). Cover and set aside for 15 to 20 minutes.
Add cooking grease to a griddle or skillet and heat until water sprinkled onto it will bead up. Pour batter, by the spoonful, onto the hot griddle. The batter has a tendency to separate, so stir it well before pouring each batch. When the hoecake is brown on one side, turn it over and brown the other. Serve warm with butter and honey.
Settlers at Jamestown commonly ate pottage, a hearty soup that can be either a vegetable complementing the main dish or a meal in itself, according to a report from the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation. A 16th-century version of the recipe and its modern translation is available in the “Life at Jamestown” teaching kit at www.historyisfun.org/pdfbooks/life_at_jamestown.pdf. The recipe — which should be doubled if the results are meant to feed more than a few would-be settlers — seems open to a little flexibility in the quantity of ingredients, particularly with the breadcrumbs and peas, just as many recipes of the colonial era would have varied depending on what was available. Pottage is relatively simple and quick to make, and very warming.
2 tablespoons fresh breadcrumbs
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ginger
pinch of saffron
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups cooked peas
Beat together breadcrumbs, egg yolk, parsley, salt, ginger and saffron. Bring the milk to almost a boil, and pour in the peas and breadcrumb mixture. Bring to a boil over low heat, stirring continuously. Pottage is done when it breadcrumbs have absorbed milk to make a thick soup with peas.