We’re traveling around New England with Clementine Paddleford as she collects recipes and their stories for her cookbook, How America Eats (1960). She’s in Massachusetts now, telling us about the one-plate meal (pg. 24).
The one-plate meal of early New England was the boiled dinner, a twice-a-week joy from the early autumn until the sap rose in the maples. The meal was cooked in the big iron pot swung from the crane and let bubble merrily over the maple log blaze; the pot lid heaved to the rhythm of regular breathing.
Desert was the boiled pudding, a substantial sweet made with India meal steamed in a floured, flannel bag, hung over the pot’s side. Some preferred it baked in the hearthstones, after the pies and bread came out. Down East the pudding arguments are raged over the boiled pudding techniques. Vermont women would add a few bay leaves and garlic to the sugar-sweetened water for boiling the beef and salt pork, Maine women would say no.
[snip; more pudding arguments]
This boiled dinner was given to me by the late Herman Smith, the writer of the Stina cookbooks. Herman Smith was living in the Westchester Hills and for a brief period one winter was snowbound. Nearby friends with a large family who had been locked up together for days to the point of battle, implored him to let them come to his house for dinner, even though the drifts were waist-high. He warned that his larder was depleted. “No matter,” they said, “we want a change.” The idea occurred to Herman to give them the kind of food they would have had when such a predicament was a common lot not merely for days but often for weeks. Here’s Herman’s boiled pot with the Indian pudding. Also the Red Flannel Hash which is to be enjoyed the day after to use up the leftovers. The essentials are corned beef, potatoes, and beets, to which may be added in small quantities carrots, cabbage, anything else left from the meal.
Scanned photos from Early Homes of Massachusetts: from material originally published as the White pine series of architectural monographs, edited by Russell F. Whitehead and Frank Chouteau Brown (1977)
How America Eats. Clementine Paddleford. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. 1960.