30 April 2009

The New England Butt’ry Shelf Cookbook

As a child, Mary Mason Campbell began compiling a "Buttery Book" of family recipes dating back to her great-grandmother. A buttery or butt’ry as it is called is a kind of country pantry or storeroom off the kitchen that is filled with bowls and dishes and provisions. It is a great place for a kid to sneak into, as there was often a jar of cookies or part of a cake nestled in a tin box.

When Campbell edited the recipes into her cookbook, The New England Butt'ry Shelf Cookbook, she arranged
for famed illustrator Tasha Tudor to do a series of illustrations.

For her Spring Tea Party, Campbell suggests serving hot gingerbread. In her recipe, she instructs the cook to bake the gingerbread in gem pans. A "gem" pan is a cast-iron muffin pan.
Not only did she make her gingerbread for teas, but she also made this gingerbread for the County Fair and it always won the 75 cent first prize.


1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 egg, beaten
1 cup molasses
1 cup hot water
1 1/2 cup raisins
2 1/2 cups sifted flour
1 1/2 tsp. soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. powdered cloves
1/2 tsp. salt

Cream butter and sugar together, add beaten eggs and the molasses. Then add dry ingredients sifted together. Add hot water and beat until smooth. Fold in the raisins. Bake in well-buttered gem pans (or in a loaf or cake pan) in a medium oven (350 F) until it tests done with a broom-straw. This makes 24 gems.

Unless your gem pans are really well seasoned, I would advise cooking your gingerbread in nice non-stick muffin pans. But if you want to follow the recipe, make sure you have a thick patina on your gem pan!

I adore larders! As a child, they were magical places filled with amazing objects or desire. Jars filled with unknown concoctions, tins awaiting discovery and the aroma of a faraway landscape. In the country house in Alabama, the larder was situated in an unusual place,the center of the house. For me, that is where they should always be. It was dark and mysterious, with the refrigerator, freezer and a small table to arrange things. One entire wall was filled with shelves laden with canned goods and there was always a gigantic crock fermenting away.

In town, the larder sat in the kitchen, hidden behind the swinging door that went to the dinning room. It had a bright window, shelves on either side and in the middle a small table with benches on either side. As a child my Great-aunt Ruth would let me sit in on the bench and serve me cake as I stared at the jars of dried apples and bags of meal.

If you are interested in pantries, buttery or larders, check out Catherine Seiberling Pond’s book The Pantry.

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