Holiday recipes from the pages of history

“I don’t know how they did it back then,” says Ellen Phelan as she prepares to remove fresh gingerbread out of the Dutch oven in the fireplace of the Elmendorph Inn. “It’s constant hot, heavy, sometimes dangerous work.”

Fresh, hot slices of Ellen’s bread, slathered with sweet, hand-churned butter, are a huge favorite at the Elmendorph’s annual Olde Dutch Christmas, which was celebrated this year on Dec. 2.

Were he to miraculously appear like Dickens’s ghost of Christmas past, Ellen’s forbear, Diell Rockefeller, who immigrated to Germantown in 1730, would feel right at home –- with a piece of his direct descendant’s gingerbread in hand and a mug of hot mulled cider to wash it down.

In honor of the holiday season and in closing tribute to Red Hook’s 2012 Bicentennial celebration, the Elmendorph Inn, Red Hook’s priceless community gathering spot, has joined with the Egbert Benson Historical Society and The Friends of Elmendorph to share two of Ellen’s favorite vintage recipes with you, dear readers. Happy holidays!

Three-Grain Bread

4 cups boiling water 2 cups cornmeal 2 teaspoons salt ½ cup warm water 2 pkg. yeast (4 ½ teaspoons) 1 teaspoon sugar 2 cups rye flour 2 – 2 1/4 cups white wheat flour, preferably unbleached

Prepare a sponge (a wet batter with yeast added to it): Measure corn meal and salt into a bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Let it sit until the water is absorbed and the mixture has cooled (approx. 1/2 hour). Dissolve the yeast and sugar in the warm water. Add the dissolved yeast and 1 cup rye flour to the cornmeal mixture and mix together. Cover the bowl and refrigerate over night.

Next day: Remove the yeasty mixture from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature (approx. 1-2 hrs). Add: 1 cup rye flour and 2 cups wheat flour. Knead for 10 minutes on a board sprinkled with wheat flour Divide the dough in half. Shape into 2 round loaves*. Sprinkle 2 circles of corn meal on a cookie sheet and place a loaf of bread on each circle. Set in a warm place to rise until the loaves have risen to double their original size (can take 1 – 2 hours). Bake the bread in the oven preheated to 400°. Reduce the heat to 375°. Bake for 50 minutes. The bread should sound hollow when the bottom is tapped with your finger. *The bread may be baked in greased bread pans if preferred. Old Sturbridge Village Cookbook Edited by Caroline Sloat

In American Cookery (1796), Amelia Simmons included receipts (recipes) using cornmeal—the first known use of this ingredient in a cookbook. Cookbooks prior to American Cookery had been written by European authors and brought to America. Ms. Simmon’s five receipts using corn meal included three for “Indian Pudding,” one for “Johny Cake, or Hoe Cake” and one for “Indian Slapjacks.” Early receipts did not use the word “cornmeal.” They used “Indian” or “Indian meal” for this ingredient, which was introduced to early settlers by the Native Americans.

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