I’ve never been to Colonial Williamsburg. I’ve been to Virginia, and even to the College of William and Mary campus but somehow avoided probably the biggest tourist attraction in the area. By all accounts it’s like Disneyland for history buffs with a cast who cosplay as early American settlers. In my mind all I can picture is Dwight arguing with Ben Franklin on The Office. If it’s half as much fun as that I’ll put it on my bucket list. I’m more of a Jamestown settlement kind of guy anyway.
So I don’t have any historical connection to The Colonial Williamsburg Tavern Cookbook. It was a cheap find at a thrift store, and it’s got a lot of pretty pictures and fancy recipes and I’m a sucker for that sort of thing.
The cookbook is published by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, which is the educational non-profit organization that owns and operates Colonial Williamsburg. They are quick to tell me that Colonial Williamsburg is not an amusement park or history-buff-Disneyland, but a “historical living place museum”. There are apparently four operating taverns in this HPLM: Chowning’s Tavern, King’s Arms Tavern, Christiana Campbell’s Tavern, and Shields Tavern. They all have loose ties to taverns that existed in colonial times, with Campbell’s being a particular favorite of George Washington.
By the same token, the recipes have loose ties to dishes enjoyed by contemporary colonials. There’s a spotlight on regional ingredients, like Virginia Ham or local seafood, and Southern specialties like stewed greens and cornbread. Many of the recipes reflect the British roots of the colonists, with pasties, meat pies, and Yorkshire puddings. A handful of recipes exist for the sole purpose of teaching a vocabulary word: the recipe for “sippets” is essentially toast. And while there aren’t any crazy things like pot roast with brandied thyme foam there are a couple of recipes that seem out of place: the bacon-wrapped oyster-stuffed filet mignon seems a little more extra than simply ‘adapted for the modern kitchen’.
The Colonial Williamsburg Tavern Cookbook’s best recipes are for vegetables and desserts – and the Cardamom-Spiced Carrot Pudding is a little bit of both. It’s intended as a side dish, but the fragrant cardamom and a little bit of added sugar brings out the sweetness in the carrots and inches it closer to dessert territory. Think candied yams. Pair it with a dark green vegetable and a big slab of red meat. It would also pair well with poultry and gravy or a Mediterranean-spiced protein, like my cumin-spiced pork roast.
I’ve adjusted the recipe to go all in on the Mediterranean flavors – i’ve added ground pistachios both for flavor and texture, and replaced white sugar with pomegranate molasses. I’ve also added a few more eggs which – surprisingly – makes it lighter and more like a souffle. The end result is kind of a cross between colonial-era side dish and a Middle Eastern halwa.
Cardamom-Spired Carrot Pudding (adapted from the Colonial Williamsburg Tavern Cookbook)
- lbs carrots, peeled
- 1-2 slices french bread or brioche (to create 1 cup of fresh crumbs)
- 4 eggs, separated
- 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
- 1 ⅓ tbsp cornstarch
- 2 cups half and half (divided)
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter
- ½ tsp salt ((omit if using salted pistachios))
- 1 tsp cardamom seeds
- ¼ cup pistachios, shelled
Cut carrots into chunks and steam until soft, about 25 minutes. Mash and set aside. (This can be done in advance. Cover mashed carrots tightly and refrigerate for up to 2 days)
Crumb the bread slices using a cheese grater or chop finely until you have 1 cup of soft bread crumbs.
Preheat the oven to 300° F.
Coarsely grind the cardamom seeds and pistachios with a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.
Beat the egg yolks and pomegranate molasses in a small bowl.
Blend the cornstarch with ¼ cup of the half-and-half and mix with a fork to form a slurry. Heat another ¾ cup of half-and-half in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. When you start to see steam rise from the surface add the slurry in a slow stream, stirring constantly, until the mixture starts to thicken and is heated through.
Whisk small amount of the cornstarch mixture into the egg yolks/molasses mixture, then add it back to the rest of the cornstarch mixture in the saucepan and continue cooking, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes until the mixture resembles a thin custard. If you end up with a few scrambled egg bits it's not the end of the world.
When the custard has thickened stir in the carrots, butter, salt (if using), and bread crumbs. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining half-and-half and cardamom-pistachio mixture.
Beat the eggs whites until stiff peaks form and fold into the carrot custard. Pour the mixture into a greased 9×9 baking dish set in a larger pan of water and cook for 60-90 minutes, or until the custard is set and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
If desired, garnish with pistachio slices before serving.
Pomegranate molasses are available from Middle Eastern or some Indian grocers. You can also find it occasionally at upscale grocery stores. If you can’t get your hands on it (or just can’t be bothered) substitute 2 tbsp of sugar and a squirt of lemon juice.
The Colonial Williamsburg Tavern Cookbook is still in print, and available from Amazon here: https://amzn.to/3qT90ZF