As a homeschool parent, you know that teaching history comes with challenges. It’s hard enough to get kids to remember the facts – let alone have fun while doing it! Luckily, we’ve figured out the secret. Food.
At Home School in the Woods, we’ve learned that food and history combine admirably. Since the beginning, we’ve been recreating ancient world recipes in our curriculum as a way to make learning history educational and delicious.
In this post, we’re going to share the benefits of using archaic recipes to learn about eras, people, and events. We’ll also share a few of our favorite recipes that you can use in your history curriculum at home.
What Are the Benefits of Combining History and Food?
Whether you’re the teacher or the student, everyone can benefit from using food as a way to learn history. Of course, you get to indulge in some unique ancient recipes, but moreover, you get to step back in time and experience history with your tastebuds.
It can be amazing for children to realize that influentials like Cleopatra, George Washington, and Louis XVI ate the same foods as they do today. That’s why eating a historical figure’s favorite dish can help them better remember their story and identify with their lifestyle.
Not only does cooking old recipes make studying history fun and tangible, but it also helps kids practice other school subjects like math, reading, and home economics. Being able to follow a recipe is a skill worth having, plus it equips them with the knowledge they need to pitch in a little more at dinner time!
It’s also a great way to bring family and friends together – so don’t forget to invite others over to enjoy the meal you and your children have made. This will also give your kids a chance to discuss what they learned out loud to others, which can all the more help them better remember the lesson.
Recipes to Incorporate in Your History Curriculum
Without further ado, here are six historical recipes, each one picked to spice up a different part of your day!
Breakfast: Johnny Cakes
“Johnny cakes” or “journey cakes” is a 17th-century recipe believed to originate in New England. This pancake-like bread made of cornmeal, water, and salt was introduced by the Native Americans to the pilgrims who landed at Plymouth in 1620.
This recipe has been used all throughout American history – especially for those traveling long distances, such as soldiers during the Civil War. It’s believed that the word “journey” often got mispronounced as “Johnny” (hence the name Johnny cakes!).
Recipe for Johnny Cakes by Little House on the Prairie
1 cup of cornmeal
1 teaspoon of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 1/4 cup of boiling water
Oil or shortening
- Combine the cornmeal, sugar, and salt together in a bowl.
- Add the boiling water in slowly. Stir until the ingredients are just combined. Try not to over-mix it!
- Warm your griddle or frying pan to medium heat and then add your oil or shortening.
- Pour a quarter cup of batter per Johnny Cake onto the griddle.
- Once you see dry edges, wait for a half a minute and then flip.
- Once the flipped Johnny Cake is cooked (the second side shouldn’t take as long) remove the cakes and repeat steps four through six until all of the batter is used up.
- Serve them warm along with some maple syrup for a sweet option or gravy and baked beans for a savory take!
For directions with pictures, check out Little House on the Prairie’s blog here!
Note: If you use an aluminum pan, your Johnny cakes may stick. Try to use a griddle, cast iron frying pan, or another method with a non-stick coating.
Another kind of cake that was popular during the colonial era was “hoe cake.” There were a few different versions, some as simple as the Johnny cake and others with more spices, giving them a taste of fall.
Recipe for Colonial Hoe Cake
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
3 Tbs. brown sugar
1 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup cold butter
1/3 cup molasses
1/4 cup milk
1 egg, separated
sugar (for sprinkling)
- Preheat the oven to 400°.
- Combine flour, baking powder, brown sugar, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt into a large bowl, mixing well. Cut in the butter until granular.
- In another bowl, mix molasses, egg yolk, and milk, stirring until smooth.
- Slowly add the wet mixture into the dry mixture until dough is just moist.
- Turn out to a lightly floured surface and gently knead dough mixture 6-10 more times.
- Create an 8” wheel with the dough, patting smooth. Cut the wheel into 12 wedges.
- Place the wedges on a greased cookie sheet.
- Beat the egg white and brush atop the pieces. Sprinkle with the sugar. Bake for 12-15 minutes.
Lunch: Senate Bean Soup
Just as it sounds, Senate Bean Soup is a tradition amongst senators. According to the United States Senate, the soup is an old recipe from the 1900s that originated by the request of Senator Fred Dubois of Idaho. This soup has continued to be on the menu in the Senate's restaurant every day for over 100 years!
Recipe for Senate Bean Soup Recipe by the United States Senate
2 pounds dried navy beans
4 quarts hot water
1 1/2 pounds smoked ham hocks
1 onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper to taste
- Begin by washing the navy beans. Continue to run hot water through them until they become slightly whitened.
- Next, place the beans into the pot with hot water.
- Add the ham hocks and proceed to simmer in a covered pot for approximately three hours, stirring occasionally.
- At this point, remove the ham hocks and set them aside to cool.
- Dice the meat and then return to soup.
- Lightly brown the onion in butter before adding it to the soup.
- Bring to a boil, season with salt and pepper, and serve!
Dinner: Marengo Chicken
According to The French Cooking Academy, this recipe from the 1800s was made as a celebratory dish for Napoleon Bonaparte after his victory against the Austrian army in Italy, near the village of Marengo. With only a few ingredients scavenged from nearby farms, his cook created this famous dish.
It’s claimed that when Napoleon tasted it for the first time, he told his chef, “you will cook me one of those at the end of each battle.”
Recipe for Napoleon Bonaparte's Marengo Chicken by The French Cooking Academy
1 whole chicken, cut in pieces (make sure to keep the carcasses and bones for the stock)
1 can of good quality chopped tomatoes (14 ounces)
2 cups of water
4 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup of Cognac (Courvoisier)
4 slices of white bread (crust removed)
7 ounces of button or forest mushroom
Salt and pepper to season
1/2 cup of olive oil
Parsley to garnish
We'll let the French Cooking Academy demonstrate this one in action!
Note: This recipe includes alcohol, which is highly flammable. Please exercise extreme caution.
Dessert: Lincoln's Cake
If Honest Abe had a sweet tooth, it was for his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln’s Cake. According to historians, Mary is said to have baked this cake for the president when they were courting, and well after they were married.
Recipe for Lincoln’s Cake by The Godey’s Lady’s Book Receipts and Household Hints.
NOTE: This recipe can also be found in our Time Traveler’s Civil War Unit Study!
2 cups of sugar
1/2 cup of butter
1 cup of milk
3 cups of flour
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon lemon extract
- Begin with all ingredients at room temperature. Sift together cream of tartar, baking soda, and flour.
- In a large bowl, cream butter at high speed, and slowly add the sugar one tablespoon at a time to keep the fluffy consistency.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, and the lemon extract, beating until well incorporated.
- Adding the flour mixture in thirds, add one-third of the milk between intervals, beating at a low speed.
- Once all ingredients are in, beat at high speed for 3-4 minutes.
- Pour the liquid batter into a greased and floured loaf pan.
- With the oven still cold, place the pan in the center rack and set the temperature at 300º.
- Allow to bake for 2 hours until a knife comes out clean and the top is golden.
- Cool before cutting.
Every gathering needs a bowl of punch. Wassail, both a verb and a noun, meaning “be in good health” or “be fortunate,” has been a beverage in England Christmas tradition since the 17th century. This historical English/medieval recipe is a sweet, tart-like punch made of apples and various spices. It’s the perfect drink for celebrating with those you love!
Recipe for Wassail by Homeschool in the Woods
1 gallon apple cider
1 quart orange juice (or other complementary juice)
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons allspice
1/4 cup brown sugar
Cinnamon sticks (optional)
- Pour the juices in a large pot and bring to a low boil.
- Add sugar and stir until dissolved.
- Whisk in other ground spices.
- Serve warm with cinnamon sticks.
PRO TIP: For a more advanced version, core several small apples and fill with 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon. Stick 1-2 oranges with several whole cloves. Bake both apples and oranges in a baking dish with 1/4” water in the bottom. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes. When baked, use a fork to poke several holes in the oranges and float all the baked fruit in the warm punch.
Food for Thought
At the end of the day, we all need to eat. This is why food can be a helpful tool when teaching history. We hope these recipes can inspire your lessons and bring your family together. If you would like more information regarding history recipes, all of our history studies feature recipes to some capacity. From recreating ancient Egyptian fare to recipes from World War II, you can find meals based on the era you’re interested in by viewing our studies on our website!
And don’t forget to comment on your favorite historical recipes below! Also, be sure to share this article with other homeschool parents that could benefit from it.
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- Tags: American history, Hands-on history, Historical Food, Historical Recipes, Kinesthetic Learners, Learning Styles, U.S. history, World History