Cooking Like a Colonist With Frank Clark

Georgann Dolfay

In the kitchens of Colonial Williamsburg, Clark and his devoted staff members are keeping our young nation’s culinary background alive

As a younger kitchen area apprentice at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, Frank Clark faced a demanding process. To reveal his expertise, he had to prepare a 3-class food for eight company at the Governor’s Palace.

On the menu: onion soup, roasted leg of lamb, house-salted and -smoked Virginia ham, salmon with shrimp sauce, savory cheesecake, battered and fried cauliflower, and French-design chicken—all for the initially training course. For the next class, there have been fried crab cakes, Italian-fashion asparagus, carrot pudding, eggs a la crème, fried beefsteaks in ale sauce, potato balls, and apples in shock (custard-stuffed, meringue-coated baked apples). A 3rd study course of candied almonds and ginger, strawberry fritters, a marzipan hedgehog, and chocolate and lemon creams concluded the food.

The friends loved the feast, and Clark passed the test.

A native of Williamsburg, Clark has been doing the job full-time at Colonial Williamsburg—a historic, 301-acre residing history museum—since 1988. His mother experienced worked as a trainer there for 30 yrs, and he begun when he was a faculty university student. By likelihood, when he was top college excursions a single summer months, administration moved him to the kitchen to support out.

“After operating there for two summers, a full-time career came up, and I became an Historic Foodways apprentice,” he claimed.

Right now, as the site’s master of Historic Foodways, he researches, cooks, and shows colonial recipes to maintain our nation’s culinary heritage alive.

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A recreation of the very first program of an 18th-century food at Colonial Williamsburg. (Courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg)

When Clark begun his kitchen operate, the cookbooks of the 18th century were his primary useful resource. “I study them and was fascinated by them,” he reported. He started studying all that existed in printed cookbooks from the period of time, frequently going to all the community libraries to find them. “Now the online has aided me and other food items historians. I can just search online,” he said.

“The key to examining the 18th-century textual content is understanding that it is all established out in paragraphs,” he mentioned. Looking through a recipe was like looking at a tale, not just a checklist of ingredients and guidelines. He discovered to stick to the language of the time. For instance, a piece of butter may well be measured as “the dimensions of a hen’s egg, or a walnut, or a nutmeg.” Some writers ended up better than some others, he noted. Sometimes vital particulars ended up remaining out, and he and his personnel would have four different interpretations of the identical recipe.

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A stuffed—called “forced” at the time—pumpkin. (Courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg)

Despite the challenges of interpretation, the cookbooks offered valuable insights into how early Virginians cooked, ate, and lived. “Learning how people eat tells about their religion, modern society, and quirks of lifestyle,” Clark claimed. “Primarily, pork and corn were being the markers of early American meal plans.”

Clark observed that Virginians are acknowledged even today for their salted pork. They also ate distinct animal components, including offal, for which several recipes existed—such as one particular for a full barrel of pickled beef tongues. He explained a different recipe for pickled asparagus, which referred to as for dipping bundled asparagus held by their roots into boiling h2o, then putting the bundle into a mix of generally vinegar and salt. “These are recipes you never see in a Betty Crocker cookbook,” he reported.

He considers the recipes to be a way to train today’s persons about how substantially healthier the 18th-century traditional diet program was, due to the fact there had been no contemporary-working day processed foodstuff.

“We have been governed by seasonality in this period, and most of our foodstuff arrived from a 20-mile radius around city,” Clark said. In Williamsburg, few—if any—households had been self-sufficient, so folks relied on the sector. “The materials in the industry were furnished by the numerous compact farmers and households that surrounded the town. There is also heaps of proof that absolutely free and enslaved African People in america delivered a great deal of the seafood and poultry [there].”

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Salamagundy, a cold hen salad. (Courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg)

Clark also famous that the space was “part of just one of the greatest trade empires the planet had at any time observed.” Imported goods from other British colonies, from Indian spices to Jamaican sugar and rum, were being “available to all who could manage them.”

Meals weren’t comparable in between folks of differing financial position. For the rich, it was all about supplying as quite a few alternatives as probable, and they would make use of numerous competent cooks who could get ready attractive food items and table settings. Foods at the Governor’s Palace have been lengthy, bountiful feasts, with a number of dishes at every single study course.

When the middle course entertained, “they would attempt to offer options like the wealthy, but they would not have as much meals nor as lots of possibilities, and would likely not have substantially in the way of decorations,” Clark reported. Families in poorer households could have employed salted pork to taste other elements.

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A “Turk’s cap with ice-cream”—a pound cake hollowed out and filled with ice product. (Courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg)

Dwelling Background

Of program, periods have modified. But to hold the culinary heritage alive, Colonial Williamsburg maintains two still-running kitchens: at the Governor’s Palace for formal foods and at the James Anderson Armory for a lot more casual foods.

Dressed in colonial garb, Clark and his workers get ready meals in these kitchens at least 4 days per 7 days, location out four or five various dishes using 18th-century recipes. “The cookbooks are a wonderful resource. We can’t dig up a 200-yr-previous pie, but [we] can make it all over again by using the recipes in the cookbooks,” he explained.

Though visitors aren’t ready to taste the displayed dishes, they can dine at many onsite taverns and other eateries. Clark consults with the cooks there, particularly with the intention of receiving 18th-century foods into the taverns. He’s pleased that they’ve captured the essence of early American cooking.

Even though he’s not a trained chef, Clark treasures his cooking everyday living: “This is the most effective cooking career on earth. I get the pleasure of cooking without having the tension of a cafe grind. … I can just take my time and appreciate chatting to our visitors as I go.”

He has also embraced what he discovered on the job. “It has given me skill sets I in no way assumed I would have—I can butcher a cow, salt meat, and bake bread,” he mentioned. “It has built up my knowing of where we are from, and what is the process to go by means of right before we can prepare dinner and consume.”

Alexandra Greeley is a writer and editor with extra than 20 several years of practical experience. Her get the job done has appeared in the National Catholic Sign-up, the Vegetarian Times, and other people. She has penned 36 cookbooks.

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