The downtown location of our library is a short walk from Colonial Williamsburg, the famous living history museum and re-creation of 18th century American life. An entire Colonial American town has been restored and re-created, and the interpreters wear authentic dress as they go about the many tasks carried out 300 years ago, such as the blacksmith working in the smithy. Our location leads to some amusing librarian anecdotes such as seeing Thomas Jefferson with a powdered ponytail and knee breeches coming in to check his email on the public computers. We also get odd reference questions on chilly, rainy nights such as “Where is my car parked? I know I left it by the field with the cart horses.” (And with the help of a tourist map and some local knowledge, my colleague was successful with that question).
Colonial Williamsburg is a great tourist attraction and tourists must be fed, so there are many restaurants, including re-creations of three historical taverns: Christiana Campbell’s Tavern, Chowning’s Tavern and King’s Arms Tavern. The Colonial Williamsburg Tavern Cookbook was published in 2001 by Colonial Williamsburg’s governing body, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, to share the tavern food with interested cooks who have visited the taverns or those who live far away and can’t make it to Colonial Williamsburg. It doesn’t have actual authentic recipes. As the blurb says, “no need to to run out and get some suet in which to cook your mutton over the open hearth.” Rather, they created ”foods suggestive of the past but that suit modern appetites” that were “inspired by old recipes from eighteenth-century Virginia.” They say that to create the tavern meals and the book they researched ”Deeds and other court records, insurance policies, estate inventories, comments in diaries and letters, financial accounts, newspaper advertisements, architectural details from surviving buildings and archaeological evidence [that] shed light on the lives of the individuals who kept these taverns and the customers who frequented them.”
The first section is Appetizers and First Courses, which is standard for many cookbooks, but the introduction points out that in Colonial Virginia the hosts and guests would have sipped punch or wine before their main meal, rather than eaten appetizers. It goes on to Soups, Salads, various types of meat, and most importantly, several types of baked goods and desserts.
I tried making King’s Arms Tavern Apple Cheddar Muffins as apple and cheese was not a combination that I was familiar with, but it sounded good. The recipe said to “serve at once” and this was good advice as they were warm, soft, rich and moist— mmmmmm. I used the scrag ends of Dutch cheese from the back of the fridge which gave them an intense cheese taste. Once they had gotten a bit stale I revived them in the microwave and added butter. One of my colleagues tried cutting one in half and toasting it. She said this refreshed it nicely and “it tasted much more cheesy.”
With lots of great recipes and dozens of crisp, color photos of both the food and Colonial Williamsburg, The Colonial Williamsburg Tavern Cookbook will be of interest to cookbook enthusiasts as well as those interested in Colonial times.
Check the WRL catalog for The Colonial Williamsburg Tavern Cookbook