What Americans Ate for Dessert 200 Years Ago: Watch Re-Creations of Original Recipes

Many of us avoid turn­ing on the oven dur­ing a heat­wave, but how do we feel about mak­ing cook­ies in a Dutch Oven heaped with glow­ing embers?

Jus­tine Dorn, co-cre­ator with oth­er half, Ron Ray­field, of the Ear­ly Amer­i­can YouTube chan­nel, strives to recre­ate 18th and ear­ly 19th cen­tu­ry desserts in an authen­tic fash­ion, and if that means whisk­ing egg whites by hand in a 100 degree room, so be it.

“Maybe hot­ter,” she wrote in a recent Insta­gram post, adding:

It’s hard work but still I love what I do. I hope that every­one can expe­ri­ence the feel­ing of being where you belong and doing what you know you were born to do. Maybe not every­one will under­stand your rea­son­ing but if you are com­fort­able and hap­py doing what you do then con­tin­ue.

Her his­toric labors have an epic qual­i­ty, but the recipes from aged cook­books are rarely com­plex.

The gluten free choco­late cook­ies from the 1800 edi­tion of The Com­plete Con­fec­tion­er have but three ingre­di­ents — grat­ed choco­late, cast­er sug­ar, and the afore­men­tioned egg whites — cooked low and slow on parch­ment, to cre­ate a hol­low cen­ter and crispy, mac­aron-like exte­ri­or.

Unlike many YouTube chefs, Dorn doesn’t trans­late mea­sure­ments for a mod­ern audi­ence or keep things mov­ing with busy edit­ing and bright com­men­tary.

Her silent, light­ly sub­ti­tled approach lays claim to a pre­vi­ous­ly unex­plored cor­ner of autonomous sen­so­ry merid­i­an response — ASMR His­tor­i­cal Cook­ing.

The sounds of crack­ling hearth, eggs being cracked into a bowl, hot embers being scraped up with a met­al shov­el turn out to be com­pelling stuff.

So were the cook­ies, referred to as “Choco­late Puffs” in the orig­i­nal recipe.

Dorn and Ray­field have a sec­ondary chan­nel, Fron­tier Par­rot, on which they grant them­selves per­mis­sion to respond ver­bal­ly, in 21st cen­tu­ry ver­nac­u­lar, albeit while remain­ing dressed in 1820s Mis­souri garb.

“I would pay a man $20 to eat this whole plate of cook­ies because these are the sweet­est cook­ies I’ve ever come across in my life,” Dorn tells Ray­field on the Fron­tier Par­rot Chat and Chew episode, below. “They only have three ingre­di­ents, but if you eat more than one you feel like you’re going to go into a coma — a sug­ar coma!”

He asserts that two’s his lim­it and also that they “sound like hard glass” when knocked against the table.

Ear­ly Amer­i­cans would have gaped at the indul­gence on dis­play above, where­in Dorn whips up not one but three cake recipes in the space of a sin­gle episode.

The plum cakes from the Housekeeper’s Instruc­tor (1791) are frost­ed with an icing that Ray­field iden­ti­fies on a solo Fron­tier Par­rot as 2 cups of sug­ar whipped with a sin­gle egg white.

“We suf­fered for this icing,” Dorn revealed in an Insta­gram post. “SUFFERED. Ya’ll don’t know true pain until you whip icing from hand using only egg whites and sug­ar.”

The flat lit­tle pound cakes from 1796’s Amer­i­can Cook­ery call for but­ter rubbed with rose­wa­ter.

The hon­ey cake from Amer­i­can Domes­tic Cook­ery, Formed on Prin­ci­ples of Econ­o­my, For the Use of Pri­vate Fam­i­lies (1871), gets a lift from pearl ash or “potash”, a Ger­man leav­en­ing agent that’s been ren­dered vir­tu­al­ly obso­lete by bak­ing pow­der.

Those who insist on keep­ing their ovens off in sum­mer should take a moment to let the title of the  below episode sink in:

Mak­ing Ice Cream in the 1820s SUCKS. “

This dish does­n’t call for blood, sweat and tears,” Dorn writes of the pre-Vic­to­ri­an, crank-free expe­ri­ence, “but we’re gonna add some any­way.”

Find a playlist of Dorn’s Ear­ly Amer­i­can dessert recon­struc­tions, includ­ing an amaz­ing cher­ry rasp­ber­ry pie and a cheap seed cake here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

What Amer­i­cans Ate for Break­fast & Din­ner 200 Years Ago: Watch Re-Cre­ations of Orig­i­nal Recipes

Thomas Jefferson’s Hand­writ­ten Vanil­la Ice Cream Recipe

Emi­ly Dickinson’s Hand­writ­ten Coconut Cake Recipe Hints at How Bak­ing Fig­ured Into Her Cre­ative Process

Dessert Recipes of Icon­ic Thinkers: Emi­ly Dickinson’s Coconut Cake, George Orwell’s Christ­mas Pud­ding, Alice B. Tok­las’ Hashish Fudge & More

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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