Claire observes that the food of the 18th century is either very fresh and very good… or very, very, bad. Preservation methods were limited to what could be stored in root cellars or springhouses, drying, salting, smoking, using fermentation, and, with a nod to cheese, molds. Cheese is milk’s attempt at immortality! 18th century recipes reflect certain realities of life before refrigeration, but also economies practiced to make every bit of food stretch as far as possible.
Recreating the flavors of the 1700s involves more than just teasing apart an old recipe. If the recipe calls for “squash” a variety introduced in 1870 is not going to produce the same flavor in the dish as a variety available in 1770. Flour was stone ground, and sifted to separate the rougher grind from the fine, and wheat flour was stretched by adding cornmeal, rye, oat, or buckwheat. Spices were dear, to be used carefully, but also had a completely different consistency to what we’re familiar with today (see the experiment with ginger), sugar was kept under lock and key… and almost everything was cooked over an open fire.
But it is well worth the effort to recreate the flavor of the past. It’s pure geeky fun to bite into a loaf of bread made from a sourdough starter alive over 225 years ago. With period recipe books and some sleuthing we can recreate the flavor of the 18th century. Come along and see what Claire meant when she said “it could be very good…”
We do have an special section on 18th century vegetable gardening, if you want to plant heirloom varieties for the full time travel experience.