A Taste of History Cookbook

The Flavors, Places, and People That Shaped American Cuisine


By Walter Staib

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The delicious, informative, and entertaining cookbook tie-in to PBS’s Emmy Award-winning series A Taste of History.

A TASTE OF HISTORY COOKBOOK provides a fascinating look into 18th and 19th century American history. Featuring over 150 elegant and approachable recipes featured in the Taste of History television series, paired with elegantly styled food photography, readers will want to recreate these dishes in their modern-day kitchens. Woven throughout the recipes are fascinating history lessons that introduce the people, places, and events that shaped our unique American democracy and cuisine. For instance, did you know that tofu has been a part of our culture’s diet for centuries? Ben Franklin sung its praises in a letter written in 1770!

With recipes like West Indies Pepperpot Soup, which was served to George Washington’s troops to nourish them during the long winter at Valley Forge to Cornmeal Fried Oysters, the greatest staple of the 18th century diet to Boston’s eponymous Boston Cream Pie, A TASTE OF HISTORY COOKBOOK is a must-have for both cookbook and history enthusiasts alike.


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From Many, We Are One


In this cookbook, you will find recipes for the dishes that you have seen on my television program, A Taste of History, complete with detailed step-by-step instructions, ingredients, and measurements that will allow you to successfully re-create delicious, historic fare in your own kitchen. And you won’t need a hearth with burning hardwood logs—the recipes have all been tested with modern equipment and then retested to ensure that you will get eighteenth-century results in the comfort of your own home. Each recipe also indicates the show that featured it so that you can revisit (or watch for the first time) how each dish was made 250-plus years ago.

Avid fans of A Taste of History will notice that I couldn’t tackle every recipe they’ve seen on the show. If we’d included the hundreds of dishes that have been prepared over the years, you’d be holding several encyclopedia-size volumes. Plus, I took into account the availability of ingredients: while I may have the luxury of traveling to Malaysia or Guyana to prepare historic fare, I understand that very few people travel across oceans to complete their shopping trips. I want home cooks to see that these amazing dishes, while rooted in the past, can find a place on today’s table.

That said, you may find dishes here that call for ingredients you have never used, such as tongue, or calves’ feet, or tripe. I encourage you to try them! Our forebears were frugal and inventive cooks, as you know from watching A Taste of History and will learn in the pages that follow. The colonists used every part of the animal and every bit of the plant that they could. This is not to say eighteenth-century dining was a slog; to the contrary, it was a delight, a highlight of the day, as the beautiful and delicious dishes these recipes yield will show you and your guests again and again.

You will also learn a bit about the immigrants who came here and the culinary traditions they brought with them. Our nation has been shaped by them, both our democracy and our cuisine. The United States has often been referred to as a melting pot because of the diverse countries of origin of its people. E Pluribus Unum, first used on the Great Seal of the United States in 1782 and which means “From Many, We Are One,” reflects that truth. It is one that is deeply meaningful to me, and that I believe we should all be proud of.

This book is a project I have long envisioned—the culmination of many years operating City Tavern in Old City Philadelphia and my knowledge of authentic historic cuisine. City Tavern is a landmark building that originally opened its doors to the public in 1773. When I took over operation of this grand building in 1994, my goal was to create a truly authentic eighteenth-century dining experience. The restaurant has become both my test kitchen and office; it’s here that I spend hours perfecting recipes or diving into research. Fortunately, the building is part of the National Park Service, and through this relationship I have been granted access to records and historical documents that would otherwise be unreachable. Through their files and the assistance of the PhDs and other geniuses that are a part of this wonderful organization, I was able to build City Tavern into the destination for colonial fare—the restaurant I’d always dreamed of.

City Tavern had been a local hotspot long before I stepped into its kitchens. The National Park Service’s records included Benjamin Franklin’s newspaper the Pennsylvania Gazette, which featured a fascinating social column. It detailed the events in high-society Philadelphia, and City Tavern was often mentioned as the venue in the colonies. It was not just the site where Franklin would drink ale; it was where Washington and Lafayette started their lifelong friendship, and it was the setting for the treasonous meetings of the Continental Congress!

I wasn’t the only one with a passion for historical accuracy when it came to City Tavern—the National Park Service spent a total of twenty years doing painstaking research to ensure the historical accuracy of the building. Every detail had to be researched, from the colors of curtains to the carving style of the crown molding.

Even with the help of the team at the National Park Service, we encountered many surprises as we immersed ourselves in the historical accuracy of the building and of our menu. Yet at the same time, it felt oddly familiar. The Mid-Atlantic region during the colonial period had a very heavy German presence. Being a German-born American, I immediately felt at home with the food of this period. The old-world traditions I had learned watching my relatives when I was growing up were not considered old world; there was an unbroken link of tradition going back to antiquity. This was not a throwback to another time, it was just how things were done, which is why the line between historical and “modern” food has always been blurred in my mind.

In addition, many of the recipes and techniques that I discovered during my research for City Tavern were the same that I had learned as a young man beginning my career at Hotel Post in Nagold, located in the heart of the Black Forest in Germany. Hotel Post, a European landmark, opened in 1773—the same year as City Tavern! Hotel Post hosted heads of state and other famous figures in Europe, such as Napoleon himself, at the same time that City Tavern was providing Madeira and meals to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. The parallels were uncanny. It was as if I’d been preparing for A Taste of History, and in turn, this book, my whole life.

When I began the television show, A Taste of History was a unique concept; there was no guarantee that the public would respond. It wasn’t your typical cooking show—I questioned if people would be interested in a program that spanned the gap between historical documentary and a cooking program, one that shows the labor, techniques, and finesse of cooking in the eighteenth-century manner. I needed to start the series with a bang. So I delved into the genius of Ben Franklin; the story of Washington’s chef, Hercules; and, the pièce de résistance, an epic four-part episode filmed at Monticello. I was able to cook in the kitchen of Jefferson, an opportunity that had not been granted before—nor has it since.

It took a monumental effort to make that first season happen and I was thrilled to have received such a positive response from viewers as well as the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences with my very first Emmy. There were more to come in the years that followed, and while I am very proud of the awards the show has won, I’m always moved when I hear from the viewers themselves—other like-minded food-lovers who have reignited their passion for the history of our nation and the culinary arts.

I am on-site at City Tavern every day (unless filming abroad), so I often have the wonderful opportunity to speak with our guests personally. I have received countless requests for this cookbook, which is my seventh to date, and I am honored to share it with you.

All of the photographs in this book feature not only authentic recipes but also the actual china on which our Founding Fathers may have dined! With those visuals and the dishes they may inspire you to create, I hope you will enjoy the escapism and education of cooking your way through A Taste of History.

After all, it is for you that I have written this book. This book features the figures that helped shape America’s history, the places that inspired them, and the flavors that have become quintessentially American. But history does not stop. It is happening every day and is kept alive by enthusiasm. I am doing my part and I know that you, the reader and viewer, will do yours as well.

—Walter Staib



From Fritters to Terrine

Appetizers were not commonly part of a meal in eighteenth-century America, at least not as we think of appetizers today. Inviting friends over for a casual evening of drinks and “small plates” was simply not done in America’s early days. And starting a dinner party with a single item as a first course—something we regularly do today—would have been a strange sight on an eighteenth-century table.

While cookbooks from this era do not identify “appetizers” as a distinct category for recipes, we do know that in well-to-do households of the eighteenth century entertaining called for extravagant dinners of many courses with multiple dishes per course. My research for A Taste of History has yielded a wealth of recipes that can stand alone as modern-day appetizers or first courses.

In this chapter, you’ll find delicious dishes to use when entertaining—whether you are hosting a small intimate gathering or a large celebration. In some cases, after you’ve tried a recipe here as part of a “drinks and small plates” menu, you may decide to use it for a light, weeknight family dinner—just add a green salad and you’re done.

I’ve offered some context for each recipe in the headnotes that fans of A Taste of History will surely enjoy—these factoids and stories should come in handy at any dinner party. Your guests will get a kick out of learning the history behind the dishes. You can even kick off the evening with a fun toast to the men and women who helped shape our democracy.

The recipes I selected for this chapter include dishes you are likely familiar with, such as Baked Stuffed Clams, as well as ones that highlight more unusual ingredients like kohlrabi, beef tongue, calves’ feet, conch, and venison. I did this to expand your repertoire and because these dishes and ingredients were popular in eighteenth-century America. When you make, serve, and enjoy these less-familiar foods, you will be experiencing a true taste of history and, I hope, realizing that trying foods that are new to you and your family is a worthwhile adventure.

Some of these dishes are served hot, some are served chilled, and some at room temperature. In many recipes, you’ll find you can prepare parts in advance. Also note that some call for frying an ingredient in hot oil; be sure to use a cooking thermometer so that the oil has reached and is kept at the proper temperature. Oil that is not hot enough can result in a soggy finish, while oil that is too hot will burn the batter.


Mussels and Artichokes

Shrimp Toast

Stuffed Kohlrabi

Pickled Beef Tongue Salad

Lobster and Corn Galettes with Spicy Tomato Relish

Snapper Ceviche

Fried Asparagus with Herbed Rémoulade

Exuma Conch Fritters with Calypso Sauce

Oysters Doré with Béchamel Sauce

Fried Calves’ Feet

Scallops Croustillant with Saffron Sauce

Asparagus and Oyster Ragoût

Baked Stuffed Clams

Venison Terrine



A FEW YEARS AGO, while in France filming an episode, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be present for the installation of the last cannon on L’Hermione—a replica of the frigate General Lafayette sailed to America in 1780 to support the colonists’ cause.

This journey of Lafayette’s was his second trip to the New World; just a few years prior to his journey on the L’Hermione, he had met with George Washington for the very first time right at my establishment in Philadelphia, City Tavern. In the ballroom on the second floor (known as the Long Room) Lafayette spoke with Washington on August 5, 1777, to pledge his service to the revolution. I feel incredibly fortunate to have such a close connection to this moment in history, and I am very proud that guests can still enjoy the very same room to this day while joining us for a meal.

L’Hermione’s home port, Rochefort, France, includes a beautiful open-air market. Inspired by the seafood and produce there, I created this recipe to pay homage to the story of the ship and the men who sailed on it. I include barley as a tribute to the colonists, who considered it a staple. Before L’Hermione set sail to retrace its original trans-Atlantic journey, I was deeply honored to be named its culinary ambassador.

4 artichokes

½ lemon

Kosher salt

Olive oil, for sautéing

2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

1 pound live mussels, cleaned

2 cups dry white wine

2 large heirloom tomatoes, diced

1 bunch pencil-thin asparagus, tips only

2 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves

2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

⅓ cup rice vinegar

2 cups cooked barley (al dente)

Freshly grated white pepper

Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste

3 scallions, chopped

1 cup yellow or red cherry tomatoes, halved, for garnish

In a large stockpot, bring 2 quarts water to a boil and reduce to a simmer over low heat. Using a serrated knife, cut about an inch off the top of each artichoke and trim the end of the stems even with the base of the artichoke; as you work, rub each with the lemon half to prevent oxidizing. Place them in the simmering water with a dash of salt and cook until tender, about 20 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the artichokes to a plate. When they are cool enough to handle, remove and discard the outer leaves. Using a small spoon, remove and discard the choke. What remains is the artichoke heart. Cut each heart into eight pieces and set aside.

Coat a large saucepan with a thin film of olive oil and set it over medium heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the garlic, then the mussels and white wine. Give it a quick stir and then simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes, or until the mussel shells have opened. Remove the pan from the heat and use a slotted spoon to transfer the mussels to a plate. When they are cool enough to handle, remove the mussels from their shells; reserve a few shells for garnish.

To assemble: Combine the diced heirloom tomatoes, asparagus tips, tarragon, and chives in a large bowl. Add ½ cup olive oil and the vinegar and toss lightly; let stand for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to marry. Add the artichokes and barley. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Sprinkle the scallions over the top, add the mussels, and toss to combine.

Transfer the mixture to a serving bowl and garnish with a few mussel shells, if desired, and the cherry tomatoes. Serve immediately.


You can tell an artichoke is cooked when the bottom leaves are easily removed. As a shortcut, purchase artichoke hearts (in cans or jars) at your grocery store.

Be sure to carefully examine the live mussels to ensure that each is firmly closed before cooking. Any opening of the shell, regardless of how slight, means that the mussel is no longer fresh and would be dangerous to consume.

When cooking barley, the best level of doneness is al dente. It loses its pleasantly chewy texture if overcooked.

To watch a demonstration of how this recipe is made, and to learn more about the history of eighteenth-century America, see Season 6, Episode 610.



THE COLONIAL RECIPE FOR this dish was called “To Butter Shrimps,” and it was most often served over a sippet, the colonial term for fried bread. Versions of “buttered shrimp” recipes from this era vary widely; Martha Washington’s called simply for shrimp, butter, and pepper. This recipe more closely follows the elegant version found in Eliza Smith’s The Compleat Housewife: Or Accomplished Gentlewoman’s Companion—printed in 1742, it was the first cookbook published in the colonies.

For this recipe, I like to use a quality bread that is slightly stale. I purchase a loaf of bread and leave it out for a day, a step that makes it firm enough to maintain its form.

2¼ cups all-purpose flour

3 eggs, beaten

2¼ cups whole milk

1½ tablespoons clarified butter (see Chef’s Note, here) or olive oil

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley, plus more for garnish

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives

Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Pinch of kosher salt

Pinch of freshly ground white pepper

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

6 slices Sally Lunn Bread (here) or other fine-crumb bread, cut 1½ inches thick (see Chef’s Notes)

1 garlic clove, minced

1 small shallot, minced

1½ pounds extra-small shrimp, shelled and deveined

¼ cup dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc

1 cup Béchamel Sauce (here), warmed

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, eggs, milk, clarified butter, basil, parsley, thyme, chives, nutmeg, salt, and pepper.

Heat 6 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Dip the bread slices into the batter, place in the pan, and cook until both sides are well browned, about 3 minutes per side. Remove from skillet and keep warm.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a separate pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and shallot and sauté for approximately 3 minutes, or until translucent but not browned. Add the shrimp and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes, until they are completely pink.

Add the wine to deglaze the pan, loosening any browned bits on the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Cook for approximately 3 minutes, or until the wine is reduced by half.

Stir in the béchamel and remove from the heat.

Using a cookie/biscuit cutter or tip of a knife, cut a 2-inch-diameter round hole from the center of each piece of bread; place a slice of bread on individual plates. Spoon a portion of the shrimp mixture into each hole, being sure to dribble a little sauce over the rest of the slice. Lean the toasted bread cut-out at an angle on the shrimp and sprinkle each serving with parsley. Serve immediately.


It is important to use a serrated knife when cutting bread. A smooth blade will crush a loaf of bread, whereas the saw-like blade of a serrated knife will not.

Making the toast is very similar to making French toast. I recommend that you use a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet or a nonstick skillet; it is impossible to finish this recipe successfully if the toast sticks to the pan.

See Season 2, Episode 204



FOR THOSE NOT FAMILIAR with this exotic-named vegetable, kohlrabi is part of the cabbage family. It has gained in popularity recently, thanks in part to its versatility. The name is of German root: kohl means “cabbage” and rabi means “turnip.” When I was growing up in the Black Forest, kohlrabi was a staple on our family dinner table. Since I was familiar with kohlrabi as a popular German food, I was not surprised to find that the Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch planted and used kohlrabi regularly in the eighteenth century. It was not just the settlers with German heritage, however, who enjoyed this nutritious vegetable; Mount Vernon’s kitchen garden boasted a healthy supply of kohlrabi, and it was a mainstay at Monticello as well.

One of the valuable aspects of kohlrabi is its ease of cultivation; it is one of the fastest growing members of the cabbage family, and it can be left in the field until just before the first frost, after which it can survive the rest of the winter perfectly in a root cellar. All of these features would have appealed to the colonists.

6 medium-large kohlrabi

Kosher salt

Olive oil, for sautéing

1 large white onion, finely diced

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 pounds ground lamb, beef, or pork

3 eggs

2 cups fine fresh bread crumbs

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Freshly ground black pepper

Pinch of paprika

1½ cups grated Gruyère cheese

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Hollow out each kohlrabi to create a bowl, leaving the walls and bottom about ¼ inch thick; set aside along with the scooped-out flesh.

Bring a large stockpot of lightly salted water to a boil. Carefully place the hollowed-out kohlrabi in the water and simmer until fork tender, about 15 minutes; do not overcook. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a plate to cool completely.

Heat a small amount of olive oil in a large skillet set over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until translucent, but not browned. Remove from the pan and allow to cool.

Finely chop the reserved kohlrabi flesh. In a medium bowl, combine the kohlrabi with the cooled onion and garlic, the lamb (or beef or pork), eggs, bread crumbs, parsley, and nutmeg. Mix to combine thoroughly.

Sauté a tablespoon of the meat mixture and taste for seasoning; adjust as necessary with salt and pepper.

Fill the cooled kohlrabi shells with the meat mixture, top with the shredded Gruyère, and dust the tops with paprika. Place in a roasting pan and bake for 45 minutes or until the cheese is nicely browned. Serve immediately.


As you are preparing the kohlrabi, it is important to cut the bottom evenly so that it will sit upright during the baking process. An uneven bottom can cause it to tip over and spill the contents while in the oven.

See Season 9, Episode 910


On Sale
May 7, 2019
Page Count
304 pages

Walter Staib

About the Author

Walter Staib is the chef and James Beard-nominated owner of the historic City Tavern restaurant in Philadelphia. Chef Staib has prior worked at such top European dining spots as Hotel Post, a historic five-star hotel in Germany’s Black Forest region, and the Chessery in Switzerland, one of Europe’s premier resorts. He is the host and chef behind the Emmy Award-winning PBS television series A Taste of History and has appeared on the Today show, 60 Minutes, Iron Chef, The Best Thing I Ever Ate, and others. He is the author of several books about American cooking and baking, and has a passion for historic American cuisine, for which he is determined to share with home cooks everywhere.

Learn more about this author