“take A Handful Of Bugloffe…”


Another local grain noticed by Josselyn he calls “Naked Oats, there called Silpee, an excellent grain used instead of Oat Meal. They dry it in an Oven, or in a Pan upon the Fire, then beat it small in a Morter.” With this, he says, they make one of the “Standing Dishes” of New England. (The other he mentions is pumpkin pie.) A “Pottle of Milk,” (the equivalent of two wine bottles in quantity) was brought to the boil, and then about a dozen spoonfuls of meal were added. “So boil it leasurely stirring of it every foot least it burn too; when it is almost boiled enough they hang the kettle up higher, and let it stew only, in short time it will thicken like a Custard; they season it with a little Sugar and Spice and so serve it to the Table in deep Basons … It exceedingly nourisheth and strengthens people weakened with long sickness. Sometimes they make a Water Gruel with it, and sometimes thicken their Flesh Broth either with this or Homminey if it be for the Servants.”

The grain Josselyn has described was probably Avena nuda , also grown in England and called pilcorn or peelcorn because the ripe grains drop from the husks. Pilcorn, according1 to a contemporary English herbal, was favored by Norfolk and Suffolk housewives because it could be used without the aid of a mill. The herbal scorns these housewives, who “delight not to have anything but from hand to mouth” since “while their pot doth seeth” they may “go to the barne and rub forth with their hands sufficient for that present time,” not providing for the morrow but willing to “let the next day bring with it.” What would this stern moralist have said of today’s readymixes? After corn, pumpkins and squashes were the other staples that the Pilgrims had from the Indians. And literally after , since these were the Indian’s chief food when the corn season was over. “Pompions” and “Isquontersquashes” they were called. John Josselyn gives the following recipe for stewed pumpkin:

“The Housewives’ manner is to slice them when ripe and cut them into dice, and so fill a pot with them of two or three gallons, and stew them upon a gentle fire a whole day, and as they sink, they fill again with fresh Pompions, not putting liquor to them; and when it is stewed enough, it will look like bak’d Apples; this they dish, putting butter to it and a little vinegar (with some Spice, as Ginger, etc.) which makes it tart like an Apple, and so serve it up to be eaten with Fish or Flesh. It provoketh Urin extremely and is very windy.”

Captain John Smith, who in 1614 sailed along the New England coast (and named it “New England”), planted his own little garden for “sallets [salads] on a rocky island on the coast of Maine. Hoping to establish a new colony here, he noted the profusion of berries and of cultivated “Indian gardens.” (He had previously carried the Virginia settlement through its first year by coaxing corn from the Indians.)

Strawberries were everywhere in plenty. “This berry,” says Roger Williams, “is the wonder of all the fruits growing naturally in those parts. It is of itself excellent, so that one of the chiefest doctors of England was wont to say, that God could have made, but God never did make, a better berry. In some parts where the natives have planted, I have many times seen as many as would fill a good ship within a few miles compass. The Indians bruise them in a mortar and mix them with meal and make a strawberry bread.” Later he adds that the English followed their example, and also “make a good wine both of their grapes and strawberries … in some places, as I have often tasted.”

We are fortunate to have a recipe for making strawberry wine from the private recipe book of a contemporary English nobleman, Sir Kenelm Digby. Digby was one of the fascinating characters of the seventeenth century, definitely its bright inconstant star, turning up almost everywhere we look, as a gentleman pirate, advisor to kings, refugee from changing political and religious climes, and inventor.

“Bruise the strawberries and put them into a Linnen-bag which hath been little used that so the Liquor may run through more easily. You hang in the bag at the bung into the vessel before you put in your Strawberries. The quantity of the fruit is left to your discretion for you will judge there to be enough of them when the colour of the wine is high enough. During the working, you leave the bung open. The working being over, you stop your vessel. Cherry wine is made after the same fashion. But it is a little more troublesome to break the Cherrystones.”

Sir Kenelm, obviously a gourmet, also provides a recipe for currant wine. “Take a pound of the best Currants, clean picked, and pour upon them in a deep straight-mouthed earthen vessel six pounds or pints of hot water, in which you have dissolved three spoonfuls of the purest and newest Aleyeast. Stop it very close till it ferment, then give such vent as is necessary and keep it warm for about three days, it will work and ferment. Taste it after two days to see if it be grown to your liking; as soon as you find it so, let it run through a strainer to leave behind all the exhausted currants and the yeast, and so bottle it up. It will be exceedingly quick and pleasant and is admirable good to cool the liver and cleanse the blood. It will be ready to drink in five or six days after it is bottled. And you may drink safely large draughts of it.”