We were reading "The Courage of Sarah Noble" for school and the main character is a young girl. At one point, she was cooking johnny cakes, which are somewhat like cornbread cooked in small round patties. It turned out to be one of our vocabulary words and I decided there HAS got to be a way to make these. Sure enough, I located this recipe for Johnny Cakes, which has no frills, but I feel that is more appropriate to have a simple meal since our family is not wealthy now, nor would likely have enjoyed the luxuries of wealth had we lived in an earlier time period. I adapted the recipe to be dairy free:
Allergy Friendly Johnny Cakes Recipe- A recipe early settlers with limited supplies could make even if they were lacking the sugar (can be omitted) or milk (can sub more water)
1 T. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups boiling water
approx. 1/2 cup almond or rice milk
oil or butter substitute for frying in (you will need generous amounts, butter substitute is recommended over oil as it will add some flavor to the otherwise very bland johnny cakes)
1. Stir together cornmeal, sugar and salt. Stir in boiling water to form a paste.
2. Gradually add milk while stirring until you have a thin mashed potato consistency.
3. Melt generous amount of butter substitute (or pour oil) onto cast iron pan or griddle. Scoop a Tablespoon or so of batter onto the pan and use the back of the spoon to spread it out to 2-3" diameter. Allow to cook until browning at edges before flipping over (much of the middle will cook when browning the first side, so it will take less time to cook the second side) and browning the second time. If they are coming out with uncooked centers, you need to reduce your heat and let them cook a bit longer before flipping them. Add more butter substitute as often as necessary to be sure they are able to soak some up while cooking and not stick during frying.
4. Serve with butter substitute or plain with most meals as a biscuit, would pair well with any meal you would usually eat cornbread with. I found them very bland, my family enjoyed them (likely because of the excitement of eating something so 'old fashioned').
Succotash - Grown with the "Three Sisters" (beans, squash, corn) Native Americans planted together and taught early settlers how to plant
1 butternut squash, 2 cans corn kernels, 1 bag frozen lima beans, butter substitute, salt & pepper to taste
Peel, remove seeds, and chop into cubes one butternut squash. Put the squash cubes into a large pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat, cover and simmer until cubes are tender. When squash is tender, add 2 cans of corn kernels and frozen lima beans. Allow to cook until corn and lima beans are tender. Drain water and top with butter substitute, salt & pepper to taste.
There are some recipes that add in tomatoes, and some even fancier ones (probably tastier!) that have ham and seasonings, but they don't include the squash like the basic simple, recipe above. It's up to you which one you choose to serve, and you can always serve baked butternut as a side dish. Just wash the squash, chop it in half lengthwise (might want to knock the stem off first for easier cutting), scoop out the seeds and bake it on a baking sheet cut side down for 30-50 minutes at 350 degrees until it is tender when pierced with a fork. The longer you cook it, the softer/mushier it will get. I throw a piece of parchment paper under mine for easy cleanup. We bring the whole cookie sheet to the table, flip the squash cut side up, scoop out what we want and add our own substitute butter.
Don't feel the pressure to be fancy, we make the simplest ones for the experience of what it would have been like to eat without all the frills (ketchup, garlic powder, etc, etc) available to us these days. Likewise, if you feel making the simple recipe would result in great waste, and want to go the extra mile- feel free!
Toasted Pumpkin Seeds- While many modern Americans use whole pumpkins primarily for decoration, the "waste not, want not" attitude of olden days can be demonstrated to students in many ways today. This recipe can use the seeds from a carving pumpkin or pie pumpkin.
Prepare the seeds by scooping them out of the pumpkin, rinsing them and picking out any orange fleshy strings that are attached. Dry them by spreading out on a paper towel for a few hours. Then remove the damp paper towels and let them dry overnight in a single layer on a cookie sheet.
Lightly toss seeds with oil, adding just enough to coat seeds while stirring (so add it slowly!). Alternately, you could spray the cookie sheet with oil spray, then layer the seeds and spray them thoroughly. Shake salt heavily over them (it won't likely stick if you add it after, and much may fall off on the pan) and bake at 250 degrees, stirring every 10 minutes, until lightly browned. This can take anwhere from 30 min to an hour. I take them out when I first see a few starting to brown. Allow to cool before tasting. (They crisp up)
More involved recipes usually call for butter, but you can use a butter substitute that you like the flavor of. For really flavorful ones that may remind you of chex mix, try using the following seasoning per 1 1/2 cups of raw seeds:
4 Tbsp. butter substitute
1/8 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
3 drops hot sauce
1/4 tsp seasoning salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp celery salt
1/8 tsp salt
Corn tortillas and Fresh Salsa- Studying the Spanish settlements or South and Central American groups?
Fresh Pico de Gallo is a simple salsa that would be very kid friendly to make. As long as you don't have a genetic aversion to cilantro that makes it taste like dish soap, you should be able to customize this recipe to fit your palate.
Kettle Corn (Popcorn)- Why all the corn in these recipes? Scholars believe corn (and popcorn) originated in the Americas. Read "Popcorn: Ingrained in America's Agricultural History" to glean some additional facts to share with students.
Pea Soup- Pea soup has been around a long, long time. A chef in Canada traced pea soup all the way back to French explorer Samuel de Champlain. Listen to a 4 minute interview and see some additional recipes here.
Pumpkin Bread- This article explains that America's first folk song "New England Annoyances" includes a verse about how MANY pumpkins early Settlers ate. While this may have been dull, it was nourishing when other crops failed.
Julienne Soup- "Julienne" is a French word describing how to cut vegetables into a small, thin match-stick like shape. Julienne soup was popular enough to make it into early cookbooks in France with Americans writing about the new dish.
This should be a quick soup, one that would've been easily made from a summer or fall garden and the pantry staple of stock.