I Try Colonial Cooking

Sometimes old cookbooks are a hysterical window into what people ate (or thought others would like to eat). And, sometimes, they are a hysterical window into what editors thought would sell a few cookbooks. From Williamsburg Kitchens, a compilation originally published in 1968, is happily the latter.

I was flipping through the pages trying to see if I could make a meal inspired by colonial Williamsburg through the eyes of the late 1960s. The illustrations are of lovely lads and lassies in tri-corner hats and Betsy Ross bonnets, so I assumed the colonial bit. (The back cover has a giddy lady feeding a patriot a slice of pie whilst he does time in ye olde stocks… so, this wasn’t such an off-base assumption.)

When, lo and behold, in the meat chapter, I found a recipe for “Armenian Shish-Kabob.” I might be an armchair historian, but I really don’t remember there being a large contingent of Armenians down colonial Virginia way. Then, a thought struck me. This must be a cookbook put together by the guides of said colonial village dressed in their Revolutionary finery. They’re just sitting there, churning their umpteenth tub of butter for the tourists, thinking, “Man, I could really go for a kabob right about now.” So, they put together a cookbook to sell in the gift shop.

I flip to the front for confirmation. Um, nope. This is meant to be a colonial cookbook: “Turn your tastebuds back to the gracious days of Colonial Virginia. Picture the cheerful atmosphere of a plantation kitchen with its homey fireplace, hanging utensils and sparkling copper pots.” Yes, let’s harken back to those halcyon days when happy slaves kept a kitchen gleaming. Can you hear them humming a joyful tune while they skewered lamb and pimento-stuffed olives for that traditional kabob?

The only explanation at which I can arrive is that the editors were dropping a lot of acid. Unfortunately, I didn’t have lamb on hand. But I found two recipes that made an easy dinner. I chose the first one just because it’s fun to say. Obviously, I do not vouch for the Williamsburg authenticity of either of these recipes.

Scalloped Scallops

  • 1 pt scallops
  • ½ C butter (one stick)
  • 1 C cracker crumbs
  • ½ C soft bread crumbs
  • ⅔ C cream or top milk
  • Salt and pepper

Wash and pick over scallops. Melt butter and add cracker crumbs and bread crumbs. Put layer of crumbs in buttered baking dish, cover with scallops, half the cream, and season; repeat; cover with buttered crumbs and bake about 25 minutes at 350°.


Scalloped scallops in baking dish

A few things to note: Make sure you read 25 minutes at 350° I read 25 minutes at 325°. So, then had to do the dumb person crank up the heat and cook it through bit. Also, make sure your crackers are unsalted. If they do have salt, don’t bother adding any extra. (Another rookie mistake on my part.)

I’d suggest torching the top to make it brown and crispy for a better presentation. In fact, I’d suggest making individual ramekins if you’re really going to make this recipe. (See below for plated version.) But, all in all, seared with beurre blanc sauce is probably a much better way to serve scallops.

Spring Salad with Basil Dressing

  • ½ head lettuce
  • 2 C raw spinach
  • ½ C sliced radishes
  • 1 C sliced spring onions (otherwise known as scallions)
  • 2 C diced fresh tomatoes
  • 1¼ t salt
  • ¼ t pepper
  • ½ t crumbled whole basil leaves (um, what? I just did a chiffonade.)
  • ¼ t garlic powder (you know, that ye olde colonial processed garlic powder)
  • 3 T fresh lemon juice
  • 3 T olive oil

Chill all vegetables. Tear lettuce and spinach into bite-size pieces and place in salad bowl with other vegetables. (I just opened a bag of half spinach and half mixed greens and called it a day.)

Mix seasonings, lemon juice, and oil; add. Toss lightly. Serve at once.


Spring salad with basil lemon dressing

I’d cut the salt in half or less, but the dressing is good. (I was surprised because I’m always suspicious of garlic powder….) But, this was an easy dressing that I’d use on any salad—not just a pseudo spring salad.

And, here are both dishes on the plate. See? If you want the scalloped scallops to look good, you should probably put them in their own ramekin. But, my money says skip the scalloping and just sear your scallops (with shallots… but that’s another recipe for another time).

Scallops and Salad Plated


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