Dining in the Chesapeake

Class preparations this morning made (all about) me unusually hungry:

The gentry at their tables have commonly 5 dishes or plates of which Pigg meat and greens is generally one, and Tame fowl another. Beef mutton, veal, and lamb make another. Pudding, often in the middle, makes the 5th. Venison, Wild fowl, or fish a 4th. Small beer made of molasses with Madera Wine and English Beer is their Liquor . . They have good Cyder but will not keep it but drink it by pailfulls never workt. (Hugh Grove’s observations about colonial Virginia from Rhys Isaac, The Transformation of Virginia, 44)

Sounds like the sort of fare that H. L. Mencken, another resident of the region, grew up with:

Our favorite Winter Lunch was typical of the time. Its main dishes were a huge platter of Norfolk spots or other pan-fish, and a Himalaya of corncakes. Along with this combination went succotash, buttered beets, baked potatoes, string beans, and other such hearty vegetables. When oranges and bananas were obtainable, they followed for dessert — sliced, and with a heavy dressing of grated cocoanut. The calorie content of two or three helpings of such powerful aliments probably ran to 3,000. (from “Baltimore of the 1880s” in Happy Days)

Yum yum.


11 thoughts on “Dining in the Chesapeake

  1. Don’t let Bobby see this – he prefers to dine on kale and quinoa while fellow travelling with his angry feminist cohorts. But as for me and my house, bring on the veal and madeira!


  2. No account of dining in early Virginia is complete without the mention of OYSTERS, including oysters with eggs for breakfast. My grandparents remembered plucking them right out of the James River. I still use the family recipes for oyster stuffing for Thanksgiving, and fried oysters with scrambled eggs for breakfast on Christmas morning.

    Thank you for this, DGH.


  3. “They have good Cyder but will not keep it but drink it by pailfulls never workd”? Does that mean they drink apple juice before it has time to ferment?


  4. Linda – OK, now you’ve really got my mouth watering. I absolutely love oysters and dream of the day when I could be wading in some Atlantic backwater, find an oyster with my bare feet, shuck it right then and there, and slurp it off the shell fresh, fresh, fresh. I also love oyster dressing. Haven’t been able to enjoy it for decades, though, because no one else in the family likes the shell fish and they refuse to eat/prepare it.


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