Summer of…whenever. Family vacation to the beach includes a day spent a bit inland at Colonial Williamsburg. A full afternoon beneath the broiler (aka, the southern Virginia sun) spurs the appetite something fierce. Then, from a distance, an aroma. Faint at first, but soon it surrounds and captivates. The beautifully transcendent scent of a wood-fired grill, enticing pedestrians to the King’s Arms Tavern, craving increasing with every step.
Then, inside and seated amidst the gloriously cool air conditioning (the one aspect that’s not absolutely authentic, but who’s going to quibble?), and a even colder tankard of lemonade on hand, a dinner platter arrives from the kitchens. On it, with outliers, is a juicy leg of fowl, covered in a tangy, savory barbecue sauce and infused with that gloriously smoky fragrance that cast its spell and summoned diners through the swelter. Rapture.
That memory has glistened for years now, and The Colonial Williamsburg Cookbook provided the first step toward recreating the magic with its recipe for Williamsburg Barbecue Sauce. In this a chicken leg marinates, just as was prepared at the King’s Arms Tavern many summers ago. The menu promises, “Savory Victuals expeditiously served after the best Manner.” Indeed, they are.
From there a good smoke is crucial to make the nostalgia real again, and this took a little reference work. It turns out 18th century Virginians used a combination of cherry, hickory and peach woods to smoke their chicken. After considerable searching, peach wood was located, thus completing the preparations. The table was set.
Metaphorically speaking, that is. The actual dining table was done up in proper 18th century style. Seemed appropriate to the purpose to which it was called:
It sets the mood, as does a local house near the market where most of the dinner’s ingredients were purchased. The residence dates to the 1760s, back when it, along with Williamsburg, still was part of the British Empire:
(Along Barnes Lake Road, near Irwin, for those of you in the area.)
Elsewhere in the cookbook one found recipes for Corn Pudding and Scalloped Tomatoes and Artichoke Hearts. Though they’re archived separately (and, indeed, the Corn Pudding comes from a different establishment, Christina Campbell’s Inn), the three entrees make up a meal that surely would have been received eagerly 250 years ago.
More important, the collection delights the imagination, as it recreates one of youthhood’s happiest recollections. One taste, and those glowing memories became present reality, bringing about time travel more enveloping, more profound, than anything an exquisitely preserved city can manage on its own.
Williamsburg Barbecue Sauce
- 1 cup finely chopped onions (*1)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 3/4 cup butter
- 1 cup ketchup
- 1/2 cup sherry
- 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 cup vinegar
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
Place a large saucepan over a medium flame. Add the butter and, when it’s melted, add the onions and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, for 3 to 4 minutes.
Add the remaining ingredients and 1/3 cup water, and bring to a boil.
Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for an hour, stirring frequently to prevent scorching.
Strain through a fine sieve.
To prepare chicken “after the best Manner,” marinate chicken legs, at room temperature, in half the sauce for an hour.
Soak cherry, hickory and peach chips in water for an hour as well, then fold them into a foil packet, perforating the top a few times. Place the packet under the grates on one side of the grill. Set the flame on that half of the grill at a medium-high setting. Set flame beneath the other half at medium.
Place the marinated chicken legs on the “medium” side of the grill, turning occasionally, for 45 minutes. Baste frequently with the remaining barbecue sauce.
1 – Shallots would effect a fine substitution.
Scalloped Tomatoes and Artichoke Hearts
- 1 35-oune can of whole plum tomatoes
- 1 14-ounce can of artichoke hearts
- 1/2 cup onion, finely-chopped
- 2 tablespoons shallots, finely chopped (*2)
- 1/4 pound butter
- 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped basil
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- salt and freshly-ground pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 325°.
Spritz a medium casserole with cooking spray. Drain the tomatoes and the artichokes. Rinse the artichokes with cold water and quarter them. Leave the tomatoes whole.
Place a large skillet over a medium flame and add the butter. When the butter has melted, add the tomatoes, artichokes and basil. Cook, stirring gently, for 2 minutes. Add the sugar, salt and pepper.
Add the mixture to the prepared casserole and cook for 15 minutes.
2 – As with the barbecue sauce, a little more than half a cup of shallots allows the palate greater enjoyment.
Corn Pudding (*3)
- 3 eggs
- 2 cups corn kernels
- 1-and-1/2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- 2 cups milk
- 1/2 cup light cream
- 2 tablespoons chopped chives, for garnish (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Spritz three large ramekins with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs until they’re light and fluffy. Whisk in the corn, sugar, salt, bread crumbs and butter. Add the milk and cream and mix them in well.
Divide pudding among three ramekins and place them in a deep cooking pan. Fill with hot water until it comes 3/4 of the way up the sides of the ramekins.
Bake for 60 to 75 minutes, until the custard sets. Garnish with chives, if using, and serve.
3 – The original recipe is formulated for a single large casserole. but I’ve split that into three ramekins. This allows for each to be presented and served individually, more in keeping with what one would’ve found in restaurants then and now.