On Sunday, March 7, 2010, guests were invited to Woodville Plantation to visit the Neville family and their friends as they went about their daily business. Visitors were given a glimpse of everyday life, as it occurred at Woodville Plantation in 1794.
Mr. Presley Neville, his wife Nancy and daughter Anna, spent the afternoon entertaining Mr. James O’Hara and his wife Mary. The early afternoon was spent in the parlour as the ladies worked on their sewing and the gentlemen discussed current events and business. Mr. O’Hara, a prominent shop owner in Pittsburgh, and Mr. Neville spoke of the opportunities available in providing provisions for the military as they travel westward along the Ohio River. Cherry bounce, made by the Nevilles, was served as an aperitif before dining.
At 2:00 pm, the Nevilles and O’Haras went into the dining room to enjoy a fine meal. The table was set à la française, in the French manner of serving. A roasted pheasant, caught the day prior, and roasted pork, from the plantation, were served along with freshly baked bread, boiled potatoes, peas and forced asparagus. To drink, the diners enjoyed spruce and small ales. After the meal was finished, an apple tart and a pot of chocolate were brought out, much to the delight of all.
Upon finishing these delicacies, the gentlemen excused themselves to partake in more of the cherry bounce, as the ladies retired to the parlour to discuss current fashions. Mrs. Neville once again proved her reputation as a fashionable hostess, as an enjoyable time was had by all.
One of the receipts enjoyed during the dinner was asparagus forced in French rolls, an original 18th century recipe published in Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy. Mrs. Glasse was one of the most influential cookbook authors of the 18th century. Her cookbook was first published in London in 1747.
To the left, you can see Mrs. Glasse’s original recipe for asparagus forced in French rolls. In this recipe, the word forced actually means stuffed. Mrs. Glasse believed that all things green should have crispness and that “over-boiling took away the sweetness and the beauty” of vegetables. As a result, the asparagus are only lightly simmered, not over cooked. Below is a modern adaptation of the recipe, as prepared by the cooks at Woodville.
Asparagus Forced in French Rolls
30 fresh, thin asparagus spears
4 Tbsp butter
6 small French rolls
6 egg yolks, beaten
1 pint light cream
½ tsp ground nutmeg
Salt to taste
Take 6 small French rolls and cut off the top crusts. Remove the inside bread from each roll. In each of the 6 top crusts, carefully make 3 holes. Melt he 4 Tbsp of butter in a frying pan and brown the rolls on all sides.
Meanwhile, rinse the asparagus and trim the stalks. Cover and simmer in salted water for 7-9 minutes, or until asparagus is tender but not overdone. Remove from heat and drain. Cut the tops of 18 asparagus spears (about 3” in length) and put aside. Take the remainder of those spears, plus the others that you cooked, and cut into fine pieces.
In a saucepan, combine the cream, egg yolks, nutmeg and salt and stir over medium heat until the mixtures thickens and comes to just a boil. Add the cut up asparagus and stir well. Remove saucepan from heat.
Fill the center of each roll with the asparagus mixture. Put the top crusts back on the French rolls. Using the asparagus tops that you put aside, place 1 asparagus spear in each of the 3 holes on the top crusts. The asparagus should look like it’s growing from the top.