September 6, 1852

 

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Floating Island

 

Monday Sept 6th  Hannah & Catharine washed

and I had to be about house most of the 

forenoon  made floating island &c &c Mr

Plymton & another man here from Walpole

to dine  Sewed some on shirts  Called

with Mrs S Ames & Mrs Stevens on Abby &

Hannah.  Called on Mrs Wales Sampson Holmes &c

 

“Oeufs a la Neige” is the French name for this lovely dessert, but Americans took their floating island from its Italian name, “Ile flottante.” Whatever one might call it, the basic recipe for the soft custard filled with floating ovals of poached meringue requires milk or cream and eggs.  It would have been a special occasion for Evelina to serve it, which suggests that she wanted to impress the gentlemen from Walpole who came to dinner. It also tells us that she had eggs to spare in her kitchen, which was unusual.

Recipes for this dish are varied, as one might expect. One 19th century “receipt,” printed in the 1870’s in Godey’s Lady’s Book of Receipts and Household Hints*,  tells us that making the dish was quite time consuming, especially when we remember that all that beating, stirring and frothing was done by hand.

Take six eggs, separate them; beat the yolks, and stir into a quart of milk; sweeten to taste; flavor with lemon or nutmeg. Put this mixture in a pan. Put some water in a saucepan, and set it on fire. When boiling, put in your pan, which ought to be half immersed. Keep stirring it until the custard gets thick, which will be in about thirty minutes. Whip the whites of the eggs to a strong froth. When the custard is done, put into a deep dish, and heap the frothed eggs upon it. Serve cold.*

No doubt Evelina’s dessert was a success at the dinner table. She could spend the afternoon in peace of mind, sewing and socializing. She, her sister-in-law, Sarah Lothrop Ames, and her guest, Mrs. Stevens, made a number of calls.

* Godey’s Lady’s Book of Receipts and Household Hints, 1870s, Recorded by Sarah Annie Frost, p. 237

 

March 28, 1851

Egg

1851

March 28 Friday  After making my bed &c went to

mending Mr Ames coat which kept me busy till past

nine Oclock.  A[u]gustus brought me 50 eggs

for which I paid 50 cts  Mother returned from 

Mr Torreys about ten Oclock.  Mrs Witherell

came in at 4 Oclock and staid untill 5 Oclock and 

finished stiching the ninth bosom  Mrs Buck

and Sarah called the Evening  Weather very pleasant

A penny an egg, or 12 cents a dozen.  Not so today.

That Evelina bought her eggs tells us right away that the Ameses didn’t keep chickens.  If they had, Evelina would never have paid for something she could get for free.  These eggs came by way of the Gilmores, either from Augustus who may have been living on a property that had chickens or, possibly, from Augustus’s father, Alson, out on the family farm.

Poultry seldom appeared at the Ames’s dinner table, or at least Evelina didn’t mention it if and when it was served. Beef and pork were the mainstays of their diet, not chicken. Turkey and goose was served, but only on special occasions. The larger animals, once slaughtered, could be preserved in multiple ways, and could stretch to feed more people. Chicken didn’t offer as much variability, although it was acknowledged to be “generally healthful” and for the sick, “a most agreeable and nutritious diet.”*

In the winter, particularly, chicken as a meal was in short supply all over New England. Chickens were vulnerable to the harsh winter of Massachusetts and many people simply didn’t keep any. Come spring, however, they were a welcome change. A “spring chicken” was something young and fresh. An old laying hen, on the other hand, once past her prime, was something to be put in a pot and stewed.

It follows that eggs, which were important in cooking and baking, were in demand. Thus we find Evelina procuring several dozen for her kitchen.

*Sarah Josepha Hale, The Good Housekeeper, 1841.