Experience the growing, harvesting, and historical process of making cocoa in Westport Museum’s hands-on exhibition that explores the connection between chocolate and Westport’s mercantile past in the 18th and 19th century. Learn more about the history of the cocoa industry in the American colonies and how the Saugatuck River and other regional waterways supported this trade.
Enjoy late hours to view this new exhibit and light refreshments.
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Exhibit openings are free but we’d appreciate your support! Suggested donation of $5, continues our unique exhibitions. Visit our donation form.
Throughout much of American history, immigrants were encouraged to “assimilate” to life in the United States, putting aside language, dress and social morés from the “old country.” Many retained their ethnic foods as visceral links to home. By the 1960s and 70s Americans were expressing a growing interest in world cultures. As part of this movement there was a renewed sense of celebration of Americans of all ethnicities and food was an egalitarian and popular medium to explore these themes.
Time Life publishing produced a series of recipe-based books about world foods, including American Cooking: The Melting Pot about the American melting pot featuring the Kowalsky family of Westport—Polish immigrants who were successful farmers and then, later, building contractors.
To make 28 pancakes
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 cup water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
12 ounces fruit preserves (cherry, raspberry or strawberry)
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
To make the pancake batter in an electric blender, combine the flour, eggs, milk, water, sugar and salt in the blender jar and blend them at high speed for a few seconds. Turn off the machine, scrape down the sides of the jar with a rubber spatula, and blend again for 40 seconds.
To make the batter by hand, stir the eggs and milk together, then beat in the flour, water, sugar and salt with a whisk or a rotary or electric beater. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve set over a bowl.
In a small mixing bowl, stir together the fruit preserves and grated lemon rind. Set aside.
Heat a 60 inch crêpe pan or skillet over high heat until a drop of water flicked onto it evaporates instantly. With a pastry brush, lightly grease the bottom of the pan with about ½ teaspoon of the melted butter. Pour 3 tablespoons of batter into the pan and tip the pan so that the batter quickly covers the bottom; the batter should cling to the pan and begin to firm up almost immediately.
Cook the pancake for a minute or so, until a rim of brown shows around the edge. Turn it over with a spatula and cook for another 1 or 2 minutes, or until pancake is lightly browned. When the package is done, spread it with 2 heaping tablespoons of a fruit-preserve filling, roll it loosely into a cylinder, and place it in a baking dish in a 200 degree Fahrenheit oven to keep warm. Repeat the process with the rest of the pancake batter, adding butter to the skillet as needed. Serve the pancakes warm, sprinkled with confectioners’ sugar.
In 1947, the Westport Woman’s Club published The Connecticut Cookbook which is held in the Museum’s collection. The cookbook featured recipes from local ladies and was illustrated by noted Connecticut Artists such as Samuel E. Brown who lent this illustration to the Bread Chapter. This recipe for Sweet Milk Bran Bread was offered by Lillian Lambdin, wife of the noted Westport artist Robert Lambdin. This whole grain loaf is sweetened with molasses and dates—both of which add plenty of iron to the bread but raisins can be substituted or the dried fruit can be omitted altogether.
2 cups white flour (sift before measuring)
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup bran
1 cup molasses
2 cups sweet milk (whole milk)
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 package dates or raisins, cut up
Mix all ingredients well. Place in a well-greased bread pan.
Bake at 300 degrees for 90 minutes.
Let cool on a wire rack to room temperature before removing and serving.
In the past, the dandelion was well known as a folk medicine cure-all. Used in soups or tinctures or made into wine, dandelion was long thought to be a blood cleanser, good for the liver and the kidneys and rejuvenating as a spring tonic, This recipe is inspired by Clara’s Kitchen, a web site dedicated to Depression era cooking by Clara Cannucciari (1915-2013) based on her own experiences living through that era. It was tested and prepared by Charlotte D’Anna, a sophomore at Staples.
Salads from foraged greens have been popular for centuries before and after the 1930s and this particular one will change your mind about dandelions being a nuisance weed to a delicious and elegant salad green with a zesty bite.
Before foraging, dandelions please be sure you are picking from an area untreated with pesticides or commercial fertilizers. The best way to pick and clean dandelions are by digging them up from the root using a common weeding tool. In a pinch a flat head screwdriver or butter knife will do the trick too.
1 dozen dandelions, washed
1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
Juice of 1 lemon
1 garlic clove, minced
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons raw honey
6 grape or cherry tomatoes sliced in half
1/3 cup shaved parmesan cheese
1. Wash the dandelions: Hold each dandelion plant under cold running water, hold each dandelion by the root to wash off dirt and debris. Have a large bowl filled with cold water ready and place each dandelion into it. Swirl the dandelions around and pour off the water when cloudy. Rinse the bowl and repeat until water is clear.
2. Add 1 teaspoon of the sea salt and half of the lemon juice to the dandelions and fresh water in the bowl and set aside for 10 minutes. Pick off the flowers from the stem base and set aside on a doubled-up paper towel to dry.
3. Turn each dandelion upside-down, root facing up and softly collect the leaves in one hand then pinch and twist off the leaves 1/4 inch above the root base with the other hand. Place the leaves in a colander and discard the roots. Dry using paper towels or a salad spinner.
4. Place the dried dandelion leaves in a large salad bowl along with the cherry tomatoes
5. Whisk together the remaining salt and lemon juice along with the pepper, olive oil and honey. Pour over the dandelion salad and toss lightly. Garnish with shaved parmesan cheese and dandelion flowers.
This recipe for hoecakes is adapted courtesy of George Washington’s Mount Vernon. The first president was a fan of these cornmeal pancakes and often had them for breakfast generously drizzled with honey—of which he was particularly fond. Washington’s affinity for the stuff was so well known that during the time of the first presidency, so many well-wishers left local honey at Washington’s Philadelphia door, that there was always a surplus.
We call for baking spray or safflower oil to fry the hoecakes. You may use any flavorless oil that you like as long as it has a high scorch point, including lard or shortening.
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups white or yellow cornmeal, divided
3 to 4 cups lukewarm water
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Safflower oil or baking spray as needed
Melted butter for drizzling
Honey or maple syrup for serving
Mix the yeast and 1 1/4 cups of the cornmeal in a large bowl. Add 1 cup of the lukewarm water, stirring to combine thoroughly. Mix in 1/2 cup more of the water, if needed, to give the mixture the consistency of pancake batter. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 200°F.
Make the hoecakes: Stir 1/2 to 1 cup of the remaining water to the batter. Stir in the salt and the egg, blending thoroughly. Gradually add the remaining 1 1/4 cups of cornmeal, alternating with enough additional lukewarm water to make a mixture that is the consistency of waffle batter (similar to cake batter). Cover with a towel, and set aside at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes.
Heat a griddle or large, wide skillet on medium-high heat, and brush 2 teaspoons of safflower oil. Alternatively, you may spray the griddle with baking spray. Drop a scant 1/4 cup of the batter onto the griddle and cook on one side for about 5 minutes, or until lightly browned. Repeat but do not crowd the griddle or pan. Make sure there is at least 2 inches between each hoecake.
With a spatula, turn the hoecakes over and continue cooking another 4 to 5 minutes, until browned.
Place the hoecakes on an oven-proof platter, and set it in the preheated oven to keep warm while making the rest of the batch. Drizzle each batch with melted butter.
Serve the hoecakes warm, drizzled with honey or maple syrup.
It may be surprising but chocolate cream pie, or chocolate tart was a common dessert during Colonial times. Chocolate arrived in America via the West Indies and was used in drinking chocolate (cocoa) and the shells of the cocoa beans were used to make a light tea.
Eighteenth century chocolate was far different from what we know today—it was a grittier product and usually flavored with spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice in a recipe similar to traditional Central American and Mexican preparations. The smooth, creamy chocolate we know today wasn’t available until later in the 19th century when machinery was invented to grind the pure cocoa paste more finely and add back cocoa butter and sugar during the refining process.
Chocolate Tart recipes are quite common in cookbooks of the period such as Englishwoman Hannah Glasse’s 1747 book The Art of Cookery Made Plain And Easy. Modern readers might be surprised that Glasse’s recipe (and most others of the time) calls for rice flour which is used as a thickening agent. Rice and rice flour were commonly used at the time since rice came to England and later America, via the robust British trade with the East and West Indies. Later, rice was grown in the southern American colonies as well. This recipe uses cornstarch as a more effective thickener however you can harken back to tradition and substitute rice flour instead.
Traditionally this tart would have been served with a sugar crust on top like a crème brulee but we prefer to serve it with Chantilly cream (sweetened whip cream). You can find that recipe here.
1 tablespoon cornstarch or rice flour
¼ cup sugar (or to taste)
4 large egg yolks
2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon whole milk
6 ounces semisweet chocolate chunks or chips
Pinch of salt
1 9-inch pie shell, frozen or use our recipe here
Makes 1, 9-inch pie
In a medium bowl mix together cornstarch or rice flour, sugar and egg yolks and set aside.
Mix together the cream and chocolate in a medium sauce pan over medium heat and bring just to a boil, stirring constantly until the chocolate is melted. Do not allow the mixture to boil.
Add the milk and pinch of salt. Stir well.
Using a ladle, pour 1/2 cup of the chocolate mixture in a very thin stream into the egg mixture, whisking vigorously the whole time. You may also do this in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Add the egg and cream mixture back to the pot with the remaining chocolate cream mixture and whisk well. Heat over medium heat, whisking well until thickened, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.
Preheat the oven to 350F. If using homemade pie crust, line a 9 inch pie plate with rolled out crust. Pour the cooled chocolate mixture into the pie crust and bake until firm—about 40 to 45 minutes.
Remove from oven and cool completely. Wrap in plastic and cool at least 8 hours but preferably overnight. Serve with Chantilly Cream.
Sweetened whipped heavy cream by a fancy name is Chantilly Cream—a popular and delicious accompaniment to everything from fresh fruit to ice cream to pie and more. Culinary legend attributes this delightful airy concoction to the 17th century French chef, Vatel, who worked in the Château de Chantilly in France. In Chef Vatel’s time, as today, a copper bowl works best to whip cream—especially by hand. However, a good stand mixer and balloon whisk attachment make quick work of the job.
1 cup cold, heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Serves 6 to 8
Combine all the ingredients in a copper bowl or metal bowl of a stand mixer.
Whip until firm peaks form that hold their shape when the whisk or whisk attachment is lifted up and out of the bowl.
This simple dish was called “Potatoe Balls” in the 18th and early 19th centuries and an original recipe for this dish appears in Mary Randolph’s cookery book The Virginia Housewife published in 1824. These croquettes are a good way to use up leftover mashed potatoes. While the base recipe is simple, feel free to add spices or herbs to your liking. Nutmeg, imported from the West Indies, was a common ingredient in early American kitchens—even in savory preparations. Minced chives are a good addition as is grated cheese—1/2 cup of grated gruyere or 4 tablespoons soft goat cheese are two choices.
2 Pounds Russet potatoes
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 egg yolk and 1 beaten egg
1 cup or more as needed Italian-style seasoned bread crumbs
1 cup safflower oil
Makes about 18, serves 6 to 8
Cook the potatoes: Boil the potatoes, with their skin, in a large pot with enough water to cover. Cook until tender—about 20-25 minutes.
Drain potatoes and cool slightly until easy to handle and peel. Mash well and stir in the salt, pepper and nutmeg. Allow the mixture to cool completely.
Add the egg yolk to potato mixture and mix well to incorporate.
Lightly wet your (clean!) hands and roll the mixture into golf-ball sized balls.
Dip potato balls in the beaten egg, then roll them in bread crumbs to coat. Repeat with all the potato balls and then refrigerate for 15 minutes up to an hour.
Heat the oil in a large, deep bottomed frying pan over medium heat. Test the oil by dropping a bit of flour into the oil. If it immediately sizzles, then the oil is ready.
Place the potato balls gently into the hot oil, and fry until lightly browned, about 3 to 4 minutes. For a healthier option, place the potato balls on a baking sheet in a preheated 350-degree oven for about 10 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned.
Named for a town in England in the county of Shropshire bordering Wales, the Shrewsbury biscuit is essentially a shortbread cookie. Carried to America via early colonists this cookie was commonly flavored with caraway seeds which impart a faint licorice taste. If you don’t like caraway, you may simply omit it.
1 tablespoon butter
8 ounces (2 sticks) softened butter
1 cup sugar
2 ½ cups flour with additional as needed
1 ½ tablespoons caraway seeds
zest of 1 lemon
1. Preheat oven to 350 F and line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2. Cream together the butter until fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes in a stand mixer. Add the egg and beat until well combined.
3. Slightly crush the caraway seeds in a mortar and whisk into the flour along with the lemon zest. Add the flour to the butter and egg mixture and mix until it comes together in a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.
4. Flour a clean work surface liberally and roll out the dough to ¼ inch thick. Use a 2-inch round or fluted cookie cutter to cut out the cookies and place on the cookie sheet about 1 ½ inches apart.
5. Bake for about 10 minutes or until they begin to brown slightly around the edges. Remove and cool before serving.