Time for the April installment of our monthly series in which we post a recipe from The Virginia House-wife, a recipe book published in 1824 by Mary Randolph, kinswoman to Thomas Jefferson. Leni Sorensen, our African American Research Historian and a culinary historian of national repute, has once again made this month's dish and here we include her notes and pictures.

April 2011

First, the recipe from Mary Randolph:

To have them in perfection, they must be quite young, gathered early in the morning, kept in a cool place , and not shelled until they are to be dressed; put salt in the water, and when it boils, put in the peas; boil them quick twenty or thirty minutes, according to their age; just before they are taken up, add a little mint chopped very fine, drain all the water from the peas, put in a bit of butter, and serve them up quite hot. (Mary Randolph, The Virginia House-Wife, 1824; facsimile of first edition, Historical notes and commentaries by Karen Hess, University of South Carolina Press, 1984. pp. 127-8)

You’ll notice that MR doesn’t usually deal with quantities or servings.  I believe that is because she knew that her readers, and their enslaved cooks, were well accustomed to 10-15-20 people sitting down for the dinner meal and the hostess had to vary amounts accordingly.  Imagine being the woman or child shelling those many pounds of peas, probably beginning mid-morning so as to be ready to cook in time for dinner. In the Monticello kitchen, ruled over by Edith Fossett, all the steps that had to be in place for the afternoon’s dinner moved like clockwork.  Peas, being a particular favorite of Jefferson's, meant careful preparation for even so seemingly simple a dish. 

Shelling fresh peas.

Peas in a pod

Peas cooking.

Peas ready to serve.