Three Kinds of Comfort


What better time than Thanksgiving weekend to luxuriate in a satisfying meal’s reassuring warmth?  This week brings three more classics from Williamsburg, as featured in The Williamsburg Cookbook, Cream of Peanut Soup, Sally Lunn Bread and Indian Corn Muffins.  Each one stokes a contented glow, but their combined effect is pure bliss.

Peanut Soup is a Tidewater favorite, and is a staple at The King’s Arms Tavern.  Velvety smooth, it elevates the peanut’s rich texture while keeping it in balance with the onion’s bite and celery’s flavorful herbal notes.  Spoonful after spoonful of divine silkiness.

When the King’s Arms opened in the 1700s peanuts weren’t yet a common food item.  Though Jefferson recorded yields at the time from his own peanut crop, they didn’t win widespread culinary acceptance until the following century.  By the time Williamsburg was renovated in the 1920s, though, Peanut Soup was by then a mainstay of the local cuisine, and it became a beloved addition to the King’s Arms menu.

Corn Muffins have a much more established precedent.  A visitor to Virginia early in the eighteenth century observed,

The Bread in Gentlemen’s Houses is generally made of Wheat, but some rather choose the Pone, which is the Bread made of Indian meal…and so called from the Indian name Oppone,

The Corn Muffins’ denseness and mildly sweet flavor make them perfect for sopping up the soup’s creaminess.  Better yet, take a muffin, still warm from the oven, and apply a dollop of butter.  Watch it melt into the muffin, soaking into the golden crumb.  Utter perfection.

Finally comes the Sally Lunn Bread, a light yeasty concoction with a satisfyingly crunchy crust.  The name is something of a mystery.  Some say it’s a  tribute to the English woman who gained fame selling the bread.  More likely, it’s a corruption of the bread’s original French moniker, Soleil Lune (or Sun-Moon), a reference to the bread’s round shape and its pale yellow color.

Either way, both breads make dandy companions for the soup and contribute to warm, comfortable meal, so welcome this time of year.

*****

King’s Arms Tavern Cream of Peanut Soup

  • 1 medium onion, chopped (*1)
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 3 tablespoon flour
  • 2 quarts chicken stock
  • 2 cups smooth peanut butter
  • 1 and 3/4 cups light cream
  • peanuts, chopped, to garnish (*2)

In a stockpot, saute the onion and the celery until they’re soft, but not yet browned.  Stir in the flour until well blended.

Add the chicken stock, stirring constantly, and bring to a boil.  Remove from heat and puree in a food processor until smooth. (*3)

Return liquid to the stockpot and add the peanut butter and the cream, stirring to blend thoroughly. (*4)

Return to a low heat until just hot, but not boiling.  Ladle out individual servings and garnish.

NOTES:

1 – I substituted a shallot, of course.

2 – In addition to the peanuts, chopped chives are a nice touch.

3 – Using a food processor isn’t strictly necessary.  As long as you chopped the vegetables finely, they’ll melt right into the broth without additional processing.

4 – At this point I also threw in a (generous) splash of sherry.  It’s a nice accent to the chicken-based stock.

*****

Sally Lunn Bread

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 4 cups flour, divided
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 3 eggs

Grease a 10-inch bundt pan.

Heat the milk, shortening and 1/4 cup of water until warm.  The shortening only should begin to melt.

Blend 1 and 1/3 cups of the flour with the sugar, salt and yeast in a large mixing bowl.  With an electric mixer blend in the warm milk-shortening mixture.  Gradually added 1/3 cup of the remaining flour and the eggs.

Add in the remaining 2 cups of flour and continue mixing until the dough is well combined.  Cover and let the dough rise in a warm place until it doubles, about 75 minutes.

Punch the dough down until it “deflates” then turn it into the bundt pan.  Cover and let rise again in a warm spot for about 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

After the dough has risen for the second time, bake it for 40 minutes.  Turn it onto a plate to cool.

*****

Indian Corn Muffins

  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and grease muffin tins. (*1)

Sift together the dry ingredients.  Combine the wet ingredients and add them to the dry. (*2)

Mix until just blended.  Take care not to overmix.

Spoon the batter into the muffin tins, filling each nearly to the top.  Bake for 20 minutes.

NOTES:

1 – It’d be easier just to use paper muffin/cupcake liners.  I skipped this “modern” innovation, though, and did it the old fashioned way, I keeping with the meal’s eighteenth-century visual theme.  Under any other conditions I would’ve used the liners; they’re so much easier.

2 – At this point I also added about 1/4 cup of frozen corn, as it helped to keep the muffins moister.

 

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