by USA Today Bestselling Author Kristin Holt
Throughout the nineteenth century, American Victorians enjoyed a dish known as “croquettes”—a thrifty dish that routinely “dressed up previously unused or otherwise unwanted meat” (and fish, macaroni, rice, potato, etc.). [American Restaurants and Cuisine in the Mid-Nineteenth Century by Paul Freedman]
What is a croquette?
“Croquettes, small shaped masses of some savory (or occasionally sweet) substance deep-fried, typically in a coating of breadcrumbs, get their name from their crisp exterior: for croquette is a derivative of the French verb croquer, crunch. The range of potential ingredients is limitless—meat, rice, cheese, fish, pasta, vegetables have all been pressed into service—but undoubtedly the croquette’s commonest filling today is mashed potato. It is far from new to the English kitchen; it is mentioned in the 1706 edition of Edward Phillipps’s New World of English Words: On Cookery, ‘Croquets are a certain Compound made of delitious Stuff'd Meat, some of the bigness of an Egg, and others of a Walnut.’” [An A to Z of Food and Drink, John Ayto [Oxford University Press: Oxford] 2002 (p. 98), quoted on Foodtimeline.org]
Vintage sources such as newspapers, cook books (always two words rather than a compound in the era), and historian’s articles, list a wide range of croquettes including but not limited to:
cold meat croquettes
sweetbread croquettes (sweetbread is the culinary name for the thymus gland, or rarely, the pancreas, of an animal, especially as used for food)
“Philadelphia” croquettes (fowl, sweetbread, and calf’s brain)
rice croquettes (both savory and sweet)
“Early instructions suggest this [chicken croquettes] “made dish” was a venerable culinary feat, not to be attempted by inexperienced cooks. Modern frozen products must be a far cry from the original offering. Careful notes on shape and presentation confirm croquettes were originally intended for elegant dinners.” [Foodtimeline.org]
The following sampling of recipes (with their original sources) illustrates the variety of croquettes known within American cuisine, as ‘receipts’ were included within cook books published in the United States and homemakers shared their best methods and ingredients via newspapers.
For sake of organization, I’ve listed recipes in order by date rather than by type. Notice that recipes (or receipts) in the nineteenth century required cooks to read through a paragraph-style accounting of ingredients, quantities, and methods, with vital instructions often listed as a near afterthought.
“To Make Croquets. Take cold fowl or fesh meat of any kind, with slices of ham, fat and lean, chop them together very fine, add half as much stale bread grated, salt, pepper, grated nutmeg, a teaspoonful of made mustard, a tabel spoonful of catsup, and a lump of butter; knead all well together till it resembles sausage meat, make them in cakes, dip them in the yelk of an egg beaten, cover them thickly with grated bread, and fry them a light brown.” (historic spelling preserved) [Source: The Virginia Housewife, Mary Randolph, facsimile 1824 edition with Historical Notes and Commentaries by Karen Hess [University of South Carolina Press:Columbia SC] 1984 (p. 106), quoted by Foodtimeline.org.]
To Make Chicken Croquettes, Parts 1 and 2: New England Farmer of Boston, Massachusetts on February 10, 1877.
Rice Croquettes, The Osage City Free Press of Osage City, Kansas on May 2, 1879.
Rice Croquettes, Washington Republican of Washington, Kansas on August 29, 1879.
Hominy and Hominy Croquettes, Washington Republican of Washington, Kansas on August 29, 1879.
"...croquettes as the attractive French substitute for American hash, and ... how to make them...", The Weekly Star of Plymouth, Pennsylvania on June 12, 1879.
Potato Croquettes, parts 1 and 2, Western Home Journal of Lawrence, Kansas on December 29, 1881.
Apple Croquettes, The Boston Globe of Boston, Massachusetts on December 31, 1885.
Cold Meat Croquettes, The Columbian Cook Book Containing Reliable Rules for Plain and Fancy Cooking, 1892.
Croquettes of Odds and Ends, Three Hundred Tested Recipes, 2nd edition, 1895.
Chicken Croquettes, Dr. Sloan’s Cook Book and Advice to Housekeepers, 1905.
So there you have it. Croquettes: A nineteenth century favorite dining pleasure—leftovers tucked away in a crispy, fried coating. Like tater tots, only with various bits of leftover “hash”, including calf brains. Yummy.
Interested in more details about nineteenth century baking, cooking methods, and holiday meals? See the following links (click on the title images):
Kristin Holt, USA Today Bestselling Author, writes Sweet Victorian Romance set in the American West. She writes frequently about Old West history and contributes monthly to Sweet Americana Sweethearts.
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