By Ryan Cornell
Back in 2004, Stacey Nadeau was scouring the archives of the Virginia Military Institute when she struck gold.
While reading through an account book belonging to the Bushong family, she came across a collection of recipes written by family members in the early 1900s.
A dozen of those recipes as well as a handful of others from that era have been published in "Mother Bushong's Sponge Cake," a new cookbook compiled by Nadeau and published just in time for the Battle of New Market's 150th commemoration this past May.
There are 48 recipes included in the cookbook, ranging from desserts, baked goods and beverages to side dishes such as sauerbraten and main dishes such as venison steaks and pork chops.
Over the past two years, Nadeau, a supervisor of historical interpretation at the Virginia Museum of the Civil War, worked with test cooks and bakers to adapt the recipes for the modern kitchen, bringing them to life after two centuries of dormancy.
The Bushong family lived on their New Market farm from before the Civil War, when it was used as a battlefield for the Battle of New Market, until 1942.
Had they been alive today, Nadeau said they would recognize the foods, though there would be some differences.
"My guess has always been that it was more flavorful with more distinct flavors back then," she said. "And I think they would be very surprised at our ability to produce foodstuffs free of disease and insect damage."
Other than refraining from constantly eating during the production of her cookbook, Nadeau said the hardest part was ensuring that every recipe was going to end up as a delicious product.
"Some of them just did not stand the test of time," she said. "One of them in particular was a cake so mammoth, it would've been used for a wedding or something, and just would not shrink down to a modern limited size."
During her research, Nadeau came across a recipe for lemon ice cream --included below -- from an 1846 cookbook titled "Miss Beecher's Domestic Receipt Book." She recalled taking home a sample for her father, who recognized it as the same recipe her great-grandmother used.
Nadeau said recipes used in her cookbook are focused on cooking using whole, basic ingredients and can be followed by novice cooks.
"Mother Bushong's Sponge Cake" retails for $14.95 at the Virginia Museum of the Civil War. All of the proceeds from the sales benefit the museum.
Lemon Ice Cream
2 cups milk
2 teaspoons arrowroot
1 ½ cups sugar
1 lemon, the zest and the juice
2 cups heavy cream
Reserve 2 tablespoons of milk. Mix arrowroot and reserved milk. Set aside.
Heat remaining milk and lemon zest until boiling. Remove from heat and stir in arrowroot mixture and sugar. Let cool to room temperature. Strain to remove bits of lemon zest and combine with the cream. Freeze in an ice cream freezer according to manufacturer's directions.
When the mixture in the freezer just begins to thicken, add the lemon juice. Finish freezing according to manufacturer's directions.