Visitors to the second floor Hands on History rooms at the Old State House will find a new display among the timelines and reproduction clock. Our Hands on History Board is all about colonial food this fall, and we’d like to share a “taste” of this history with our blog readers.
A new Hands on History interactive in the museum this fall teaches younger audiences about the midday meal of three 18th century Bostonians: Jeffrey Hartwell, Jane Franklin Mecom, and John Hancock. The ingredients, menus, and objects associated with these meals differed depending on social rank, race, gender, and education. An effective way to understand some of these differences is to look at a common dish among our three Bostonians: pudding.
It is important to note Boston’s understanding of “pudding” has changed. In 18th century Boston, a pudding most commonly referred to a batter that was steamed or boiled for several hours. Both sweet and savoury puddings were consumed by colonial Bostonians. In their simplest forms, these dishes consisted of easily obtainable ingredients, and recipes could be adjusted based on what ingredients were available at a given time. We’ll take a look at three pudding recipes: hasty pudding, rice pudding, and plum pudding to see what they can tell us about how different Bostonians ate in the 18th century.
Hasty pudding, named for the relative ease and speed with which it can be cooked, was a common pudding in colonial America. As a member of the lower sort in 18th century Boston, Jeffrey Hartwell would likely have eaten this throughout his life as a slave, a soldier, and later a farmer. In its most basic form, hasty pudding is oats, cornmeal, or in the case of this recipe, flour, boiled in milk or water until thick. Hasty pudding was often eaten warm like porridge or set out to harden and dry before consumption. Though this recipe is a savory one, it could have been sweetened with molasses.
This recipe for rice pudding is one that Jane Franklin Mecom could have made for her family or boarders at her house. Jane, a landlady and the widow of a saddlemaker, was of the middling sort in colonial Boston. Ingredients in this pudding, like spices, sugar, or rosewater, and the cookware supplies needed to make it, reflect that Jane could afford some things more regularly than Bostonians of the lower sort. Unlike the other two puddings described here, this one is very similar to our 21st century understanding of pudding because it is prepared in a saucepan and baked in a dish.
Finally, the most elaborate pudding recipe- in terms of preparation and ingredients- would have been consumed by someone of the better sort, like John Hancock. The batter contains more expensive ingredients like sweetmeats and spices and it would have been wrapped in a cloth, then boiled, as the recipe states, for about 5 hours. Slices of the warm pudding were commonly served with a sweet sauce.
So while many Bostonians ate pudding, the flavor, preparation, and ingredients of these dishes often depended on their class, gender, and race. The same can be said for many dishes. If you are interested in learning more about 18th century foodways, we recommend Savoring the Past, a blog by Jas. Townsend and Son Inc. They make colonial recipes and ingredients accessible to modern audiences. For example, watch their video to see how plum pudding is made. Happy cooking!