Celebrating 10 years of History Bites

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It is amazing how a tiny conversation can turn into something big and delicious! Two words…History Bites!

What’s History Bites, you ask? It is a fabulous food event that has served as the finishing touch of the Museum’s annual Commemoration of the Battle of Hampton Roads for the past 10 years! Local restaurants and caterers show off their culinary talents by recreating historical dishes from the time period. The evening is topped off with awards like Best Entree, Best Dessert, People’s Choice, and of course, the crowning honor of the night, the Ironclad Chef Award for Historical Accuracy.

The Ironclad Chef Award! Remember that tiny conversation, I mentioned? Back in 2011, I was chatting with my then-supervisor, Anna Holloway, one day and somehow we got on the subject of food. The television show, Iron Chef, came up and we found that it was a favorite of both of us. She made a comment that it would be amazing to do something similar but with a Mariners’ Museum twist. Anna knew that I, along with one of the museum’s longtime costumed interpreters, Eric Jeanneret, had extensive backgrounds in historical cooking.

“You two could battle each other and we can have a few judges to taste test and choose a winner. We started laughing and said we should call it the “Battle of the Ironclad Chefs” in honor of USS Monitor, our precious ironclad. We later decided to call it History Bites! Thus, a delicious event was born! And I won the top award two years straight!

A woman and man sitting back-to-back
Wisteria Perry and Eric Jeanneret, “Battle of the Ironclad Chefs/History Bites” March 2012 The Mariners’ Museum and Park

Since then, Eric and I have crowned a number of participants like The Chamberlin, Harpoon Larry’s, and The Catering Company, last year’s winner of the Ironclad Chef Award for Historical Accuracy. This year, 2021, marks the 10-year anniversary of History Bites. And even though we are not able to host such a high-touch in-person event due to the pandemic, I still wanted to find a way to celebrate this incredible milestone. Inspiration hit!

Let’s go once more down memory lane to how it began with just two historical cooks! Instead of a battle outside over a hot fire, I would like to share a 3-course menu with two drinks based on the favorites of the original Ironclad chefs, Eric and me.

Drinks- Cherry Bounce and Barbados Lemon Punch

Cherry Bounce“Extract the juice of 20 pounds of well-ripened Morrella Cherries. Add to this 10 quarts of Old French brandy and sweeten it with white sugar to your taste–To 5 gallons of this mixture add one ounce of spice such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg of each an equal quantity. Slightly bruis’d and a pint and half of cherry kernels that have been gently broken in a mortar-After the liquor has fermented. Let stand close-stopped for a month or six weeks- then bottle it remembering to put a lump of loaf sugar into each bottle.”

Traditional: 2 qts. cherries, unpitted (sweet, sour, or wild), 1 qt. Bourbon, 3 cups of sugar, 2 sticks of cinnamon. Combine the cherries, sugar, cinnamon in a glass container or earthen crock. Cover with cheesecloth or screen, and sit in a warm place for two weeks to two months. There’s no rule here. Just look for a sticky brown syrup to develop. Pour bourbon into the mixture and let set a week and up to another month. Then strain all ingredients into bottles, and either drink immediately or seal and wait until Christmas.

Glass pitcher filled with alcohol
Cherry Bounce adapted from mountvernon.org/inn/recipes

Barbados Lemon Punch

1.5 cups sugar, 2 cups fresh lemon juice, 4 cups dark rum, 2 cups brandy. Mix ingredients and serve.

glass filled with alcohol
Barbados Lemon Punch recipe can be found in Heartside Cooking by Nancy Carter Crump

Soup- Clam Chowder

Chop fifty clams. Peel and slice ten raw potatoes. Cut into dice six onions and half-pound fat salt pork. Slice six tomatoes )if canned use a coffee-cup full). Add a pound of pilot crackers. First, put pork in the bottom of pot and fry out. Partially cook onions in pork fat, and remove the mass from pot. Put on a plate bottom side up. Now make layers of the ingredients, season with pepper and salt, cover with water. Boil an hour and a half, adding chopped parsley to taste.

Clam Chowder
this recipe can be found in The Cook’s Own Book, N.K.M. Lee, (Boston) 1854

Entree- Chicken Marengo “Poulet a la Marengo”

Ingredients.–1 large fowl, 4 tablespoons of salad oil, 1 tablespoon of flour, 1 pint of stock or water, about 20 button mushrooms, salt and pepper to taste, teaspoonful of powdered sugar, one very small piece of garlic.

Cut the fowl into 8 or 10 pieces; put them and the oil in a stewpan, and brown over a moderate fire. Dredge in the above proportion of flour; he that is browned, pour in the stock or water; let it simmer very slowly for rather more than 1/2 hour, and skim off the fat as it rises to the top; add the mushrooms; season with salt, pepper, garlic and sugar. remove the fowl, which is now arranged pyramidically on the dish, with the inferior joints at the bottom. reduce the sauce by boiling it quickly over the fire, keeping it stirred until sufficiently thick to adhere to the back of a spoon. Pour over the fowl and serve.

food on plate
Chicken Marengo recipe can be found in Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, Mrs. Isabella Beeeton, facsimile 1861 abridged edition, edited with an Introduction and Notes by Nicola Humble [Oxford University Press: London] 2000 (p. 217)
Dessert- Apple pudding

Beat Six eggs very lightly, add a pint of rich milk, pare some apples or peaches–sliced thin. Make the eggs and milk into a tolerably thick batter with flour, add a cup of melted butter, put in the fruit, bake in a deep dish. enjoy eating with sugar, butter, and nutmeg.

dish of apples
Sliced apple pudding recipe can be found in The Virginia Housewife by Mary Randolph 1824

I hope you have enjoyed this look at some of our favorite historically accurate recipes that can be recreated right in your kitchen! Believe me, when I say, History really does bite. And it is memorably delicious!

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