Tomorrow is Family Day and Heritage Day in Ontario. I thought it was time to try making at least part of a traditional Sunday dinner in 1912. I selected Mrs. Jacob Gilcher’s recipe for Roast Chicken Stuffed with Chestnuts (p. 48) from the 1906 Berlin Cook Book. I decided to also try the unattributed recipe for Stuffed Potatoes (p. 66).
I can’t find Mrs. Jacob Gilcher in the Ontario census or on the Generations website. There is a Jacob Gilcher in Syracuse, NY during this time and several recipes in the Berlin Cook Book were submitted by people from Syracuse. There is also a Jacob Giller living in Berlin during this period. His wife’s name is Mary according to the Generations website. The switch from Giller to Gilcher would be a dramatic spelling error in this cook book. Most of the errors are transpositional rather than complete misspellings.
The first step is to roast the chestnuts something unfamiliar for many people today. I have roasted chestnuts over an open fire but I wasn’t sure how to do it in my fireless home. I know it is important to cut an X in the shell of the chestnut to prevent it exploding and to make it easier to open later. It is important to do this carefully. Most of my chestnuts had a flat side which made it easier. A quick internet search provided the time and temperature for roasting in an oven. I placed the chestnuts in a baking pan with the cut side up and roasted them in the oven at 425 degrees F for 20 minutes. Using a gloved hand to hold the chestnut I started peeling them as soon as they came from the oven. They must be peeled while still warm. Most of mine did not come out whole which is okay for this recipe since the next step was to mash them. I added butter, salt and pepper.
Step 2 is to prepare the chicken, something much easier today than in 1906. I had a 2.2 kg roasting chicken from the grocery store and simply removed the packet of giblets and rinsed it and patted dry. Some women in 1906 would be butchering the chicken since it was in their own back yard or purchased live. If bought butchered, they still might have to pluck their bird and singe the pin feathers.
Step 3 is to fill the chicken. I put the chestnut stuffing in the bird and placed it in a roasting pan. There is an assumption in the recipe that once stuffed I’ll know the rest of the process. I rarely roast chicken so I wasn’t sure about temperature or time. Should I coat the skin or cover the pan? I turned to Edna Staebler’s Food that Really Schmecks since she was born in 1906 in Berlin (Kitchener) and her recipe for roast chicken is based on her mother’s technique. Following her instructions I rubbed the chicken with butter, sprinkled it with salt and then flour. She recommends 30 minutes per pound so I roasted the chicken at 325 degrees F. for 2 hours. It is only to be covered if a portion is cooking too fast. I basted it occasionally as she suggested. I removed the roast chicken when the legs moved easily. I let the roast rest and worked on finishing the stuffed potatoes.
Baking potatoes is quite simple and clearly the author of the recipe for stuffed potatoes assumes people know how to bake a potato. Scrub the skin clean, dry, and pierce the potato in several places with a fork. I used some baking potatoes from Prince Edward Island and put them in the oven directly on the rack. The size of the potatoes and the oven temperature affect the baking time. Since the oven temperature was low I put the potatoes in half way through roasting the chicken. Once the chicken was out of the oven I turned up the heat to 400 degrees F. to complete the baking.
While the potatoes cooked I turned back to my chicken. I removed the stuffing and carved the bird. Normally I would make gravy at this point but instead I saved the juices to use in another recipe. Gravy seemed a bit much with stuffed potatoes.
Once the four medium potatoes finished baking I took them out. Cut off the tops and scooped all the fluffy potato inside. I quickly mixed with about a tablespoon of butter, a drizzle of cream, a hand full of grated cheddar cheese and an egg. I didn’t add much milk as I was afraid it would be too much liquid. I spooned the mixture back into the potato shells and put the tops on (matching as best I could). I returned them to the oven to bake for the suggested 3 minutes.
The result was a beautifully cooked chicken with crispy skin which was easy to carve. The chestnut stuffing turned out all right, I think. I have never tasted or seen this type of stuffing so I had no comparison. It didn’t look appealing to me. The taste was okay but I still prefer my family’s traditional stuffing of dried bread, sage, onion etc. This is probably a good recipe for anyone who likes or is curious about chestnut stuffing.
This was my first experience making stuffed baked potatoes although I like eating them in restaurants. I will make them at home now. This was delicious! I was afraid the egg would affect the taste for me but it disappeared into the other flavours. I’ll make stuffed potatoes again and will try it without the egg since I’m not sure it is needed.
ROAST CHICKEN STUFFED WITH CHESTNUTS
Prepare chicken, roast 1 quart large chestnuts, when done remove shells, mash, add 1 tablespoon butter; 1 teaspoon salt, a dash of pepper; mix and fill chicken.
STUFFED POTATOES Potatoes baked soft then the tops cut off and the inside mixed with butter, cream and cheese, and then made soft with milk and last two eggs to twelve potatoes, put back into the skin with top on and bake three minutes.