Cooking food recipes in colonial Virginia

Cooking food recipes in Virginia has been a tradition for over three centuries. Virginia was famous for its good food and hospitality. By 1699, when Williamsburg was founded, Virginians were enjoying meals unrivaled in any of America’s other colonies. 

Colonial chocolate makingColonial chocolate making demonstration.

Food recipes in the Tidewater area of Virginia were prepared with fish and game from the Tidewater forests and waterways. Domestic animals, vegetables and fruits from England thrived in the new climate. The first settlers had brought wheat with them, but were introduced to corn by the Native Americans. Soon they were growing more corn than wheat. Engaged one way or another in tobacco growing, almost all Virginians lived on the land.

The taverns of Williamsburg offered meals, drinks and lodging. Each tavern-keeper was expected to provide his patrons with a choice of fish, meat, fruits and vegetables in season. In addition to a choice of wines, only those taverns with good cooks in the kitchen following cooking food recipes were profitable.

The Virginia housewife depended on the use of English cookbooks for cooking food recipes. Two of the most popular eighteenth-century cookbooks used in Virginia were The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy by Mrs. Hannah Glasse and The Compleat Housewife by Mrs. E. Smith. First published in London in 1727, The Compleat Housewife was reprinted by William Parks of Williamsburg in 1742. It was the first cookbook published in British America.

Four eighteenth-century taverns, the King’s Arms, Christiana Cambell’s, Josiah Chowning’s and Shields provide dining facilities for modern day visitors. Menus, printed in old-style Caslon, a typeface used in colonial America, list modern dishes along with the old familiar southern foods: chowders, fried chicken, spoon bread and cornsticks, pecan pie, and the Tidewater’s specialties – Virginia ham and Sally Lunn.

Cooking food recipes for a king or queen

The President of the United States invites may foreign heads of state officially visiting the United States to come to Williamsburg, Virginia. These dignitaries have an opportunity to learn about colonial America through the many exhibits on display in the Williamsburg buildings. Foreign guests are given the opportunity to spend a quiet evening following the long flights from their homelands before taking a helicopter trip the next morning to the White House in Washington, D.C.

Turkeys in a cage.These turkeys might be on a menu one day.

On the last lap of a three-week tour of the Eastern United States in 1957, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip came to Williamsburg, at the invitation of Governor Thomas B. Stanley of Virginia, to attend the 350th anniversary celebration of the founding of Jamestown. 

Colonial Williamsburg’s dinner in their honor was carefully planned. The royal couples’ preferences were discreetly discovered. The menu that was to be presented to them in Washington the day before, in addition to the New York City menu the following day offered these clues to their Williamsburg hosts of the couples’ cooking food recipes preferences. 

The dinner set before the royal couple compared with the lavishness of colonial entertaining, was simple, but it did include some traditional dishes in modern dress. In her letter of thanks, Queen Elizabeth wrote that she and Prince Philip had enjoyed that dinner more than any other dinner in their travels anywhere.

Here is the menu of the dinner in honor of Her Majesty, Queen Eliabeth II and His Royal Highness, Prince Philip at the Williamsburg Inn. Clear green turtle soup, amontillado and cheese straws. Mushrooms Bordelais (Williams and Humbert Dry Sack), boneless breast of chicken with Virginia ham, baby green beans, Amadine (Batard Montrachet, 1953). Avocado slices with French dressing. Fresh strawberry mousse (Veuve Clicquot Yello Label, Dry), demitasse and liqueurs.

In colonial days royal governors celebrated British sovereigns’ birth nights. On a May evening in 1976, the members of the British Bicentennial Heritage Mission were invited to a supper at the Governor’s Palace to honor one of their number, the Earl of Dunmore. The celebration marked the first time a descendant of a royal governor of Virginia had dined at the Palace since Virginia became a commonwealth. The Earl’s ancestor, the 4th Earl of Dunmore, was the last royal governor of Virginia. He fled the colony in 1775, ending 168 years of British rule.

This affair was modeled after a party Governor and Lady Dunmore gave on the evening of January 18, 1775, the birth night of Queen Charlotte. The announcement read as follows. “Wednesday last being the day for celebrating the birth of her Majesty, his Excellency the Earl of Dunmore gave a ball and elegant entertainment at the Palace to a numerous company of Ladies and Gentlemen. The same day his Lordship’s youngest daughter was baptized in the name Virginia.”

The cooking food recipes supper was similar to those served in the governor’s house in the eighteenth century. Governor Dunmore had large farm holdings that provided a wide variety of meats, fruits and vegetables. The entertainment was colonial in style also. Musicians, singers, a conjurer, a juggler, and several acrobats added to the gaiety of the evening.

Here is the menu based on cooking food recipes for the supper given for the British Bicentennial Heritage Mission in honor of the Earl of Dunmore Governor’s Palace. Cold plantation beef (Chateau St. Paul, Haut-Medoc). Roast Virginia quail, peach garnish, King’s Arms Tavern Sweet Potatoes. Garden salad greens, stilton cheese, bicentennial tart (Charles Heidsieck, Brut), demitasse and cordials.

For the dinner in honor of their majesties the King and Queen of Thailand cooking food recipes prepared at the King’s Arms Tavern here is the menu. A dish of Chesapeake Bay crabmeat, artfully arranged in natural shell. Boneless breast of Rockingham County chicken, fried brown with curls of Surry County Ham. A variety of choice vegetables form the tavern garden. Greengage plums jellied in Chablis wine from an eighteenth-century Receipt brought out from London, Sally Lunn and Indian corn muffins. For dessert, a fig ice cream devised from an eighteenth-century Receipt brought out from Paris and King’s Arms confections. Demitasse and wines included Batard Montrachet, 1955 and Bollinger, Brut.

 Cooking food recipes for family meals, then and now     

Tidewater Virginians continued the English custom of a hearty breakfast, usually between eight and nine o’clock, of venison, game or poultry and ham. A new item added to cooking food recipes was the fresh-baked hot breads, often Indian cakes, in what came to be recognized as “the Virginia fashion.” Dinner was served from around half-past two to four. The choice of cooking food recipes dishes was wide. Beef, roast pig, mutton, fish, ham, greens, pudding and cheese to round it off. Cooking food recipes for supper were light and usually consisted of oysters, “battered” eggs or bread and cheese. Wine or cider, fruit and a light dessert completed the menu choices usually served around eight pm.

Caged geeseThese geese and other fowl like chickens were popular for cooking food recipes in the Tidewater, Virginia area.

Families were larger in those days and Virginians kept open house. Relatives arrived unexpectedly and might stay for weeks at a time. Even passing strangers were welcome guests in these hospitable households. Or way of living and consequently our eating habits are very different. Today’s cooking food recipes family menus reflect these changes.

Some family cooking food recipes are Chowning’s Tavern Brunswick stew, Virginia ham and brandied peaches, ginger beef, Chesapeake oyster bisque, baked eggs in casserole, King’s Arms Tavern cream of peanut soup and Christiana Campbell’s Tavern salmagundi. Other dishes are Shields Tavern chicken with Virginia apple dressing, Chowning’s Tavern sauteed backfin crabmeat, Christiana Campbell’s Tavern spoon bread, Shields Tavern onion soup and melon balls with Virginia ham.

Christiana Cambell's Tavern is one of four popular colonial Williamsburg taverns to visit and experience a colonial dining adventure.

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