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Markets And Cookery

( Originally Published 1902 )



OWNERS of country-seats could bountifully supply their tables from their own possessions with dairy produce, fruits, vegetables, flesh, fowl and sometimes with fish also. For the rest of the community, there were public markets to which the country people of Staten Island, New Jersey, and Long Island brought provisions every day. Kalm says that as he was sailing up the North River in 1748 :

" All the afternoon, we saw a whole fleet of little boats, returning from New York whither they had brought provisions and other goods for sale ; which, on account of the extensive commerce of this town, and the great number of its inhabitants, go off very well. During eight months of the year, this river is full of yachts and other greater and lesser vessels, either going to New York or returning from thence, laden either with inland or foreign goods. The country people come to market in New York twice a week much in the same manner as they do in Philadelphia ; with this difference—that the markets are kept in several places."

Poultry and game were always plentiful and good. Wild geese and ducks, and other water-fowl were very abundant. During their migration in Spring and Autumn, dense flocks of pigeons sometimes darkened the sky. In April, 1754, the public were informed : " We had such great quantities of pidgeons in our markets last week, that no less then six were sold for one old penny."

Outside the markets, no shops existed where meat, fish, or fruit was offered for sale. But, in 1763, " Hyam Myers at the Sign of the Poulterers in Broad Street, near the City Hall takes this method to inform the public that he intends to keep a proper poulterer's shop in the same manner as they are kept in London."

With few exceptions, the authorities required all perishable provisions to be sold in the markets. There were many regulations for the benefit of the citizens. In 1731, a law stated that as the city was chiefly pro-visioned by the country people coming by water from the neighbouring counties and colonies, who arrived at different times and seasons as the tides, winds and weather permitted, for which reason no certain dates could be conveniently appointed for holding the markets without injury to both buyers and sellers, therefore every day except Sunday was to be a market day, from sunrise to sunset.

The places appointed were " at the market-house at the Slip, commonly called Counties Dock, at the market-house at the Old Slip, commonly called Burgers Path, at the market-house at the lower end of Wall Street, commonly called Wall Street Market House, and at the Market House at or near Countess Key, commonly called Countesses Slip." Since the markets were principally intended for the benefit of housekeepers who bought for their own use, hucksters and retailers were not allowed to go to the markets to make their purchases till the afternoon. Fore-stalling was strictly prohibited. Penalities were provided against the exposure for sale of bad or stale meat, or other food. Butter in pounds, rolls, pots, dishes, or other vessels, not exceeding six pounds, was to have its weight stamped upon it. If any fraud was discovered, the butter was forfeited to the poor. All weights and measures were to be sealed, and the clerk of the market was to receive one penny for sealing each piece. Severe weather sometimes prevented supplies from reaching the market, and then prices naturally rose. On Febry. 9th 1747, we read :

" The deplorable circumstances this city is under, from a long service of cold and freezing weather, is matter of concern to all. This now not only hinders our foreign navigation (and so consequently prevents news) but occasions our fire-wood to be so scarce and dear as was never equalled here before; the price being from 40 to 58 sh. a cord and almost half the inhabitants in want. Provisions also are excessive dear ; a good turkey, which scarcely ever before exceeded 3s. 6d. has lately been sold for 5s. a fat fowl for is. 6d. a pound of butter for 14d. and many other things proportionable. Under all these disadvantages, what must our poor suffer ? "

In 1740, an Act declared that " of late years great numbers of Negroes, Indians and Mulattoes, slaves, have made it a common practice of buying, selling and exposing to sale, not only in houses, out-houses, and yards, but likewise on the public streets, great quantities of boiled Indian corn, peas, peaches, apples, and other kinds of fruit ; which pernicious practice is not only detrimental to their owners because of neglect of service, but is also productive of infectious diseases." Offenders in future were to be publicly whipped.

Milk was one of the articles excepted from the necessity of being sold in the public markets. It was usually carried from house to house in big pails suspended from a yoke resting on the shoulders, as is still often done in England.

In 1763, provisions had become too dear to suit the authorities ; and, so to the great discontent of butchers and others, an Assize of Victuals was enacted. This ordered that " No kind of provisions or victuals are to be. sold anywhere but in the common Market Houses of this city (except live fish, bread, flour, salted beef, salted pork, butter, milk, hog's lard, oysters, clams and muscles) under the penalty of 40 for each offence." No huckster may buy to sell again before 11 A. M. (3 penalty). Following this appeared a list of fixed prices for a good number of articles.

A correspondent signing himself Plebeanus said :

" There was never a more just or necessary law. The impositions of the butchers and the extravagant demands of some of the-neighbouring country people have loudly called for redress, and must soon have proved to the poorer sort absolutely ruinous. As to the affront offered to the dignity of the butchers, and the airs they assume on the occasion, I doubt not they will soon be made sensible that the law is not like a sirloin, to be rescinded with broad-ax and cleaver; and should they refuse to continue their business on the law's taking place, I hope the gentlemen of the city will not hesitate a moment to raise an adequate sum by subscription to supply the market at a lower rate than that prescribed by the ordinance; upon which the Corporation 'tis hoped will instantly turn every butcher's stall out of the market, nor ever suffer them to be replaced till after suitable proofs of contrition and remorse. For we have really been imposed upon by one of the most impudent combinations that was ever suffered among a free and thinking people. Was it not astonishing and beyond all human tolerance that beef should be sold from 7d. to 8d. per lb. when it might be offered for 3d. and 4d. and yield a sufficient profit ? Cattle were perhaps never plentier or cheaper in the country than the greater part of the time during which this exorbitant price has been exacted."

This law excited a mutiny among the butchers, and, after further consideration, the prices of butter, milk, and meats were slightly raised. An interesting light is cast upon the marketing manners of the day (1763) by the letter of a lady who complained :

" I have frequently observed, and sometimes felt, great rudeness and ill manners in our public markets especially when any kind of provision appeared of which there was a scarcity. I have seen people press and shove with such rudeness and violence as sufficiently showed an intention truly hostile and that force alone could determine the purchasers; and sometimes the prey has been seized and in danger of being torn to pieces by two furious combatants, equally voracious, who seemed by their actions to be upon the point of starving and to contend for their lives. I, who am a woman unused to war and of a peaceable disposition, have been obliged to give up my pretensions to the goods, half-purchased, and give place to one of more strength and resolution, being not quite reduced to the necessity of fighting or starving.

"All that are weak and peaceable like myself have been excluded from purchasing in the market by rudeness and force. It is to be hoped that persons guilty of such misbehaviour need only to be told of it to avoid it, and, as they value their own liberty, not encroach upon that of their neighbours. Such conduct has also a direct tendency to raise the price of provisions in the market to the extravagant price that we all have had reason to complain of."

Some dealers were none too scrupulous at times. The authorities kept a close watch on " blown " meat and other provisions that were dishonestly manipulated. Three examples follow :

"Saturday morning last, several parcels of butter were seized in the Fly Market for being deficient in weight; although it was sold for 18d. per lb." (1762.)

"A quantity of bad butter was seized in our market be-longing to one Mr. Rosea of Staten Island. The rolls were very artfully cased over with excellent fresh .butter, and the inside so bad that it was fit for no other use than the soap tub." (1763.)

" Some days ago, nine pigs were seized in the Fly Market as perfect carrion, which on the mayor's view were sentenced to be burnt publicly on the common, and the owner of them fined 40/. The sentence was immediately put in execution and part of the fine taken to purchase wood to burn them with." (1768.)

The markets thus being so well supplied, and their gardens, orchards, fields and meadows producing whatever they required, the New York gentry's tables were provided with all the delicacies of the season.-Great attention was paid in the kitchen to the culinary art, and good cooks were in great demand. Some of the advertisements show that black men as well as white women ruled in that domain, and, in contemporary phrase, could " send up a number of dishes."

Cooking was reckoned among the accomplishments of the day, and ladies, as well as housekeepers, were expected to know everything about preparing choice dishes, the making of jellies and other sweets and in setting and serving the table. For those who had not the advantages of home-training, there were three valuable books published and sold in 1761 by Hugh Gaine at the Bible and Crown, Hanover Square. The first was The Director, or Young Woman's Best Companion, and contained " about three hundred Receipts in Cookery, Pastry, Preserving, Candying, Pickling, Collaring, Physick and Surgery." It also gave instructions for marketing, directions for carving and " Bills of Fare for Every Month in the year." The second was The Complete Housewife, or Accomplish'd Gentlewoman's Companion, and contained " upwards of six hundred of the most approved Receipts of Cookery, Pastry, Confectionery, Preserving, Pickles, Cakes, Creams, Jellies, Made Wines, Cordials, with Copper Plates curiously En-graven for the regular Disposition or placing of the various Dishes and Courses, and also Bills of Fare for every month in the year." The third was even more exhaustive. It was called The British Housewife, or the Cook, Housekeeper and Gardiner's Companion calculated for the Service both of London and the Country. In addition to its receipts and bills of fare, it gave directions for carving and " the polite and easy manner of doing the Honours of the Table," and also explained fully the " Order of setting out Tables for Dinners, Suppers, and Grand Entertainments in a Method never before attempted."

In these books, a great deal of space was given to the preparation of wines, cordials, shrubs, and other agreeable drinks. Ladies in the Eighteenth Century did not scorn to brew a punch, egg-nog, or posset.

In 1743, The Weekly Post-Boy gives " A Receipt for all Young Ladies that are going to be married, to make a Sack Posset."

"From fam'd Barbados on the western Main
Fetch sugar half a pound ; fetch Sack from Spain
A Pint, and from the Eastern Indian Coast
Nutmeg, the Glory of our Northern Toast.
Or flaming Coals together let them heat,
Till the all conquering Sack dissolve the Sweet.
O'er such another Fire set Eggs twice ten,
New born from foot of Cock and Rump of Hen ;
Stir them with steady Hand, and Conscience pricking,
To see th' untimely Fate of Twenty Chicken.
From shining Shelf take down your brazen Skillet,
A quart of milk from gentle Cow will fill it.
When boil'd and cool'd put Milk and Sack to Egg,
Unite them firmly like the trifle League ;
Then covered close, together let them dwell
Till Miss twice sings—You must not Kiss and tell.
Each Lad and Lass snatch up their murdering Spoon,
And fall on fiercely like a Starved Dragoon."

The ingredients of elaborate dishes were readily obtainable in the city shops, for the groceries of the day were almost as varied as now. All kinds of spice, candied and dried fruits, pre-serves and pickles, both imported and native, were procurable. In 1730, Nicholas Bayard erected a sugar-refinery : " At which Refining-House all Persons in city and Country may be supplied by Wholesale and Retail with both double and single Re-fined Loaf-Sugar, as also Powder and Shop - Sugars, and Sugar-Candy at Reasonable Rates."

Among innumerable articles of this 'class offered for sale may be mentioned : pickled mushrooms in quart bottles, pickled onions from London, choice lemons, ground ginger, sweet oil, Florence oil by the bettee, anchovies, capers, olives, catchup, red herrings, citron, pickled herrings, Turkey figs, Lisbon lemons, currants, China oranges, East India mangoes, English walnuts and jar raisins.

The following typical advertisement will show that the shopkeepers were accustomed to supply the demands of delicate palates, and that the tables of the well-to-do displayed no Spartan simplicity :

" To be sold, wholesale and retail, by William Keen, grocer and confectioner on Rotten Row: Fine Heyson, Green, Congoe and Bohea Tea; Coffee and Chocolate; single and double Refined Sugar; Powder and Muscovado do.; Sugar Candy; Sugar Plumbs and Carraway ; Confects; Jarr Raisins and Cask ditto; Currants, Figgs and Prunes; Almonds in the Shell ; Cloves, Mace, Cinnamon and Nutmeg; Ginger, Black Pepper and Allspice; Dry Citron by the Box or smaller quantity; West India Sweetmeats of all Sorts; Preserves of all Sorts, such as Currants, Jellys, Quinces, Grapes, Strawberries, Raspberries, Damsons, Peaches, Plumbs and sundry other sorts.

"Pickles of all sorts in small quantities, very fit for the Army, such as Wallnuts, Cucumbers, Mangoes, Peppers, Capers, Anchovies, etc. Pickled oysters and lobsters." (1761.)



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