Welcome to “Eating History,” a series in which Jaya Saxena of the New-York Historical Society mines the vast archives of the museum and library in search of vintage images and ephemera that offer a look into how New Yorkers used to dine. Follow the museum @NYHistory for more.
The Thirteen Colonies Cookbook, published in 1982, presents a selection of recipes and histories from thirteen homes, one from each colony. Recipes range from traditional Dutch doughnuts, to Pennsylvania-German pot pies, to “New Jersey Stone Fence Punch.” But the most intriguing recipe comes from the home of Catherine Moffatt Whipple in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It promises a condiment that “reminds one of truffles and might deceive a gourmet.”
Catherine Moffatt Whipple was the wife of William Whipple, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, so it’s safe to say they lived a fairly comfortable life with access to numerous culinary influences (another recipe from her kitchen is for “East India Soup”). Still, it’s likely that black truffles would have been hard to find at the time. So, is this black truffle hack real? Do we never need to shell out $30/ounce on Fresh Direct again?
Here’s the recipe:
1 pound mushrooms [it does not specify which kind; I used cremini]
2 teaspoons onion powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon mace
Wash mushrooms and put them in a stew pan (without water) with the onion powder, cloves, pepper and mace. Simmer and shake until all the liquor has dried up, but be careful not to burn. Lay them on tins in a very slow oven (225 degrees) until they are dry. Chop very fine. Store in a closed bottle and keep in a dry place.
After almost two hours in the oven, the mushrooms were finally dry, and I placed them in a spice grinder for a few pulses. The aroma certainly hit the earthy, sweet, and savory notes associated with black truffles, but not quite in the same combination. It smelled like someone drizzled your French onion soup with pumpkin spice syrup. Obviously, I couldn’t eat it on its own, so I opted for a simple lunch of fake truffle powder sprinkled on top of pasta with olive oil.
Eating it was like that scene in Ratatouille, where Remy tried to get his brother to understand the spark, magic, and possible synesthesia that comes from combining flavors. There were moments where I could convince myself this was it, and others where it just tasted like mushrooms and cloves. So unfortunately, no, if this recipe can’t deceive me, I’m pretty sure it won’t deceive a gourmet. But if you do make it, I can guarantee it’ll taste like something new—in a lot of ways, that’s just as exciting.