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Not to be Forgotten

Not to be Forgotten


Not to be Forgotten

Old recipe, Old Bananas

Chess Pie.
Three eggs, two-thirds cup sugar, (half-cup milk may be added if not wanted so rich); beat butter to a cream, then add yolks and sugar beaten to a froth with the flavoring; stir all together rapidly, and bake in a nice crust. When done, spread with the beaten whites, and three table-spoons sugar and a little flavoring. Return to oven and brown slightly. This makes one pie, which should be served immediately. Miss J. Carson, Glendale.
From Buckeye Cookery, by Estelle Woods Wilcox [Buckeye Publishers:Minneapolis] (p. 187) 1877.



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Me in the kitchen of the house I rent with my mother’s circa 1970’s Cuisinart all set to pulverize some graham crumbs.

Chess pie was the featured recipe on the back page of one of my glossy food magazines this month. I had been flipping pages absently, and it held my attention. I love old recipes. But this one looked odd: a gooey caramel-like filling too soft and messy for its pastry shell. Still, the combination of rich and sweet ingredients promised something delicious if I could find or invent a good recipe.

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Old bananas, gouache and watercolor on paper, Nancy Gail Ring

I had all these old bananas ready to be used in something wonderful and I just couldn’t imagine making yet another banana bread. How about a Banana Chess Pie? Was that crazy or would it work?

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Not to be Forgotten

The Picayune Creole Cookbook

Not often is there romance and a golden glamour about a cook book.
From the introduction to The Picayune Creole Cook Book, 1916,



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I found this great old cookbook during a house sale at my friend’s Dad’s house after he passed away at the age of 111. It was on the cluttered shelf of his butler’s pantry. The beautiful frayed leather cover and fragile yellowed pages opened to reveal a 1916 publication date. Turns out it’s quite a book.

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First of all, New Orleans Creole style cooking is fascinating: think Spanish spices, tropical fruits from Africa, native Choctaw Indian gumbos, all with a French influence.

Its namesake is a turn of the 20th century Crescent City newspaper, The Picayune, that embarked on a quest to

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Not to be Forgotten

A Search for Hot Cross Buns

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From The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Real Mother Goose
Illustrated by Blanche Fisher Wright, 2004

I am intrigued by Hot Cross Buns. They look delicious. I cannot find a good recipe, however, for making them from scratch. Apparently, few people make them. A lot of childhood memories of them involve cardboard boxes from bakeries or supermarkets. I have a feeling, though, with my baker’s intuition, that the homemade kind would be worth the effort.

Granted I don’t participate in Good Friday traditions, and I only tasted the commercial version once, finding them

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Not to be Forgotten

More on Shepherd’s Pie

A Casserole of Mutton
Butter a deep dish or mould, and line it with potatoes mashed with milk or butter, and seasoned with pepper and salt. Fill it with slices of the lean cold mutton, or lamb, seasoned also. Cover the whole with more mashed potatoes. Put it into an oven, and bake it till the meat is thoroughly warmed, and the potatoes brown. The carefully turn it out on a large dish; or you may, if more convenient, send it to table in the dish it was baked in.”
---Directions for Cookery in Its Various Branches, Miss Leslie, Philadelphia, 1849



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Vincent Van Gogh, Peasant Man and Woman Planting Potatoes, 1885

Shepherd’s pie is one of those old dishes that endure.  The recipe you see above is 150 years old and still so appealing, especially on a cold winter night. 

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Not to be Forgotten

Calling All Recipe Detectives — Shepherd’s Pie

“Shepherd’s pie
1 pound of cold mutton
1 pint of cold boiled potatoes
1 tablespoon of butter
1/2 cup of stock or water
Salt and pepper to taste
The crust
4 good-sized potatoes
1/4 cup cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Cut the mutton and boiled potatoes into pieces about one inch square; put them in a deep pie or baking dish, add the stock or water, salt, pepper, and half the butter cut into small bits. The make the crust as follows: Pare and boil the potatoes, then mash them, add the cream, the remainder of the butter, salt and pepper, beat until light. Now add flour enough to make a soft dough--about one cupful. Roll it out into a sheet, make a hole in the centre of the crust, to allow the escape of steam. Bake in a moderate oven one hour, serve in the same dish.”
---Mrs. Rorer’s Philadelphia Cook Book, Mrs. Sarah Tyson Rorer Philadephia: 1886 (p. 117)



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Aelbert Cuyp, Seated Shepherd with Cows and Sheep in a Meadow, 1644
It’s the deep, dark of winter, and I crave a shepherd’s pie. Not any potato-topped casserole of stew, but the very one that steamed up the kitchen of my childhood, made by the Scottish nanny I wrote about in my last recipe detectives post. Her’s as I’ve mentioned, was a deep brown mix of meat and vegetables covered with a blanket of mashed potatoes three inches thick. 

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Not to be Forgotten

Gnocchi alla Romana

Fried Cream Wheat from the Ancient Romans

Accipies similam, coques in aqua calida ita ut durrissimam pultem facias, deinde in patellam expandis.  Cum refrizerit, concidis quasi culdia et frigis in oleo optimo.  Levas, perfundis mel, piper aspergis et inferes.  Melius feceris, si lac pro aqua miseris. 

Take flour [semolina], cook in hot water so that it becomes a very firm polenta, then spread it on a plate.  When it has cooled, cut it as for sweet cakes and fry in oil of the finest qualty.  Remove, pour honey over, sprinkle with pepper, and serve.  You will do even better if you use milk instead of water. 

The De re coquinaria of Apicius

as found in A Taste of Ancient Rome, by Ilaria Gozzini Giacosa, Translated by Anna Herkolotz



You probably haven’t read Latin in a while, so I included the English translation.

What you have here is “polenta” made with semolina and fried.  How intriguing that it’s covered with a combination of honey and pepper. Today we think of polenta as cornmeal mush.  But before corn reached Europe from the Americas, polenta was a sort of porridge that could be made with various grains or even chestnut.  This comes from the De re Coquinaria, attributed to a gourmand named Apicius who lived in ancient Rome during the first century A.D. (though he alone did not solely write it).  When you read through the recipes for cabbage and vinegar sauces, porridges and roasted pigeons, so much seems to be missing that would seem to be “Italian” food: No tomatoes, potatoes, hot peppers, corn, and even pasta as we know it.  This is because what we know today as “Mediterranean cuisine” is very much rooted in the Middle Ages, not the Romans.

Which gets you thinking about the endlessly deep story of Italy and its food and language--ever changing and so deep.  All these ruminations because I had such a wonderful time last night with a large group of Italians and Italian Americans in Princeton.  I was there to do a talk about Genoese food and my ravioli memoir at a culture center called Dorothea’s House.  This is a very special place with a huge following.  Check it out if you live anywhere close. 

It’s very strange how writing is such a solitary experience and requires years of loneliness, yet because of the world we live in, the book is published, and a writer must become a public person.  Sometimes it is very difficult (and at times terribly embarrassing).  Other times you can’t believe how lucky you are to meet such wonderful people.  Last night was one of those wonderful times and I’m sure it was the warmth of the people, who share long bonds to Italian history and culture.

There was a reception and pot luck following, where I even tasted some pesto that made me feel as though i was in Genoa.  But the dish that left a huge impression was Gnocchi alla Romana..  I’d never had it before.  It was little cookie sized circles of polenta baked to crisp brown in layers on a dish.

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Not to be Forgotten

Brown Bread and a Trip to Ballycotton

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Ballymaloe Brown Bread

3 3/4 cups whole meal (whole wheat) flour
1 1/2 cups (or more) warm water (around 100 to 115 degrees)
2 tablespoons black treacle (molasses)
2 teasp. salt
2 teaspoons dry active yeast (1 1/2 packages granular)

Mix flour with salt and warm it in a cool oven.  (Here Myrtle is telling us to put it in the oven on the lowest possible setting. She wants the flour and bowl to be warm when you mix the bread.) Mix treacle with some of the warm water (about a half cup) in a small bowl and add the yeast.  Grease a loaf tin and put it to warm, too.  Also warm a clean tea towel.  Look to see if the yeast is rising, it will take five minutes, approx and should have a frothy appearance on top.  Stir it well and pour it with remaining water into the flour to make a wettish dough.  (Myrtle says that “The dough should be just too wet to knead.” So you may need to add more water, or if it’s too liquid depending on the weather and brand of flour you’re using.  Use judgmentto make sure it’s “just too wet too knead.") Put the mixture into the warm loaf pan and put this pan back in the same position as used previously to raise the yeast.  Put the tea towel over the pan.  (Or you may wish to use plastic wrap.) When it has risen by twice the original size, it is ready.  Now bake it in a hot oven (450 F) for 35 to 45 minutes or until it looks nicely browned and sounds hollow when tapped.  Remove and cool.

Adapted from The Ballymaloe Cookbook,
Myrtle Allen, 1984



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I made my first trip to Ireland last September.  I was quite taken with a number of things--the rocky coves by the ocean, the low-hanging sky, big bales of hay piled in fields and all the quirky bustle of Cork City.  But way at the top of my list of favorites was brown bread.  I found it everywhere, usually in a basket with other breads served at dinner, but also at breakfast, and in shops.  The best of them were wholesome, slightly sweet, nutty, and moist.  A wonderful staple of daily life.  When my friend Elizabeth and I visited her cousin Bridget, I pointed to the brown bread she’d offered us with tea and asked, “Do you make this often?” She laughed at me and said something like “My husband would kill me if I didn’t.”

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Not to be Forgotten

Green Granny’s Leftovers

Bread Pudding

A nice pudding may be made of bits of bread.  They should be crumbled and soaked in milk over night.  In the morning, beat up three eggs with it, add a little salt, tie it up in a bag, or in a pan that will exclude every drop of water, and boil it little more than an hour.  No pudding should be put into the pot, till the water boils.  Bread prepared int he same way makes good plum-puddings.  Milk enough to make it quite soft; four eggs; a little cinnamon; a spoonfu of rose-water, or lemon-brandy, if you have it; a tea-cupful of molasses, or sugar to your taste, if you prefer it; a few dry, clean raisins, sprinkled in, and stirred up thoroughly, is all that is necessary.  It should bake or boil two hours. 

--The American Frugal Housewife

Dedicated to Those Who Are Not Ashamed of Economy

By Mrs. Child,

Twelfth edition, Boston, 1833

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Frugality is the buzz word these days.  So I’m sharing a recipe from my favorite frugal housewife of all time, Lydia Maria Child.  (For modernized version of this recipe, follow the jump.) She was a novelist and abolitionist, but she wrote cookbooks to pay the bills.  She came to her power during the “New Republic,” when Americans believed they’d need to be thrifty and virtuous to survive as a new nation.  Lydia offers ideas for using up heart and lungs of cow, pigsfeet, tripe, and all the rest of those budget cuts.  To pull off these dishes required some skillful cooking, good techniques, and often the use of herbs from the garden or wine.  Lydia was also a fabulous gardener, pickle-er, and philosopher.  She believed women should be educated.  But she didn’t want them to let good food go to waste.  What’s interesting is that her real passion was the abolition of slavery.  And when she wrote about it, she was blacklisted and fired from her magazine job.  Society at that time was more interested in its women being frugal--fussing with leftover scraps--than being vocal about issues like equality. 

Well all those battles were long ago fought.  And the ideas of frugality were ultimately swept aside and then brought back again--during wars and depressions--as needed--times such as now.

In the food world of recent years, the basic M.O. of our cooking “teachers,” —and by this I mean celeb chefs, food writers, and food show hosts—has been to tell us we must use the VERY best quality ingredients we can possibly find--whether imported porcini from Italy or the sweetest grass fed lamb.  In this way, doing good shopping (say at the farmer’s market or Whole Foods) sure enough leads to a delicious dish.  The only problem is that sometimes I think this is not really cooking, but shopping.  Consider the simplest meal--wild salmon at seventeen bucks a pound, and, say, organic greens steamed and tossed with sea salt and expensive olive oil… roasted yukon gold potatoes with rosemary....  You don’t need to do much to these ingredients to create a good meal for four.  You just need to plunk down about $27 bucks at Whole Foods.  This adds up for a family. 

But most people have limited and merely average ingredients. You need a lot more skill to turn ordinary materials into a good meal.  Herein are the TRUE COOKS, in my opinion.  And all the more if you can pull it off 6 or 7 nights a week.  But of course this sort of ordinary cooking has been less interesting during the last couple decades when we simply buy instead.

These days, I find it a little funny to watch

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Not to be Forgotten

My First Sea Urchin

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I’ve never been one for the “look-at-all-the-fabulous-food-I-get-to-eat” approach to food writing.  Many of my lunches are quick affairs--a melted cheese or salad eaten hastily at the kitchen counter.  I’m a working girl and the deadlines call me back to my office.

However, somehow my life took an interesting twist recently when Lou brought me into the circle of the lunch club.  It’s a quiet under-the-radar group that meets very occasionally.  Perhaps I’ll reveal more in time.  Or perhaps not. (I’m worried, in fact, that even this post may jeopardize my good standing.) It occurs during the off hours of a certain beautiful restaurant in town, hosted by a beautiful chef and attended by some wonderful cooks who bring gifts.  Okay, that’s all I’m saying. Except that recently, at one of these lunches, I had the good fortune to taste my very first sea urchin. 

Those who, like I, have lived their lives in sad ignorance of the sea urchin can see in the photo above that it is a spiny creature.  Beneath those porcupinelike bristles is a shellfish, and you have to crack through underneath and then use a spoon to scoop out just a tiny sweet dollop of meat, which in this case (should I tell you this?--oh, okay) is the sex organs. 

But really--just think of it as a cousin of the oyster.  It has the salty fresh liquor of the sea.  A great delicacy nowadays, though Lou tells me he ate them as a kid in Queens when his family had little money and his Italian mother was accustomed to using all aspects of fish that other people threw away.  I’ve been looking around for a Chinese recipe for sea urchin, or a Japanese recipe.  Something old.  No luck so far.

Anyway, it’s been more than a week since my first encounter with the first sea urchin.  I took its body home and have been letting it dry out on the porch.  I keep wondering why it made such a big impression on me.  My childhood had very little of the natural world, except our visits to the ocean at the New Jersey shore, where we were always happy in the salt and sand and bright light reflecting off the water, and I wonder if that’s why I love the taste of all things of the ocean?  In her “A Book of Middle Eastern Food” (1970), I think Claudia Roden captures this feeling of humans coming to the sea and its creatures with a sense of joy.  Just beautiful. 

“Hunting for ritza (sea urchins) is a favourite pastime in Alexandria. It is a pleasure to swim out to the rocks, dive into the sea and discover hosts of dark purple and black, spiky jewel-like balls clinging fast to the rocks, a triumph to wrench them away, and a delight to cut a piece off the top, squeeze a little lemon over the soft, salmon-coloured flesh, scoop it out with some bread, and savour the subtle iodized taste, lulled by the rhythm of the sea.”


Not to be Forgotten

Champagne Cocktail from 1862

Champagne Cocktail.

(Pint bottle of wine for three goblets.)
(Per glass.)
Take 1 lump of sugar.
1 or 2 dashes Angostura bitters.
1 small lump of ice.

Fill the goblet with wine, stir up with a spoon, and serve with a thin piece of twisted lemon peel. A quart bottle of wine will make six cocktails.

--Jerry Thomas
Bar-Tender’s Guide or How to Mix Drinks, 1862



What Is it About Bubbles?

Nancy called me all excited about her bubbly recipes--bubbly as in the champagne granite and champagne truffles she found from her wild young days as a pastry chef in NYC. 

“Laura can you do a “Not to Be Forgotten Recipe” for champagne? And can you write a few lines and be a little deep, okay?

Sheesh.  I’m still recovering from ravioli. 

This recipe for champagne cocktail comes from the 1862 Bar-Tender’s Guide, book, which many experts say is the very first cocktail book ever published. It will come as no surprise to most of you that Americans first gave the world the invention (if you can call it such) of the cocktail.  You can’t imagine the French adding sugar and ice and bitters to their beloved sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France, now can you?  That said, this sure does seem very simple and fun, and I’m curious, just so long as the bubbles are still there.

Which brings me back to the champagne itself and its most important element:  those bubbles, which get created after the wine is already made and then bottled.  The trick is that a little yeast gets added to each bottle creating a second fermentation process. The yeast gets to work, eating up sugars and creating alcohol and gas--trapped inside the bottles.  After a short time, the yeast dies away, but the fizz remains. Voila.  Bubbles.

“What is it about bubbles?” I asked Nancy.  “Why do we like them so much?  And why on New Year’s Eve?”

“Because, bubbles are ephemeral,” she replied.  “They represent that we are only beautiful and young once.  Then it all pops . . . like a bubble.”

And then she sent me to this beautiful painting by Clara Peeters, a 17th century Flemish still life painter, who, using a convention of the era, painted an actual bubble into the air about her head in her self portrait.  Take a look. 

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The bubble is to the right of her face against the back wall. The gold and coins scattered on the table are symbols of material wealth--not to be compared with spiritual wealth. She holds a watch to remind us that time is passing.  And the flowers also suggest fleeting beauty.

“Check it out,” said Nancy.  “Her strong forearms a and ruddy hands give her away. She’s an artist, not a pretty doll. The expression is serious. This is an artist posing herself and allowing us to gaze at her as an object in order to make her point.  Very brave.”

So I say here’s wishing you some fun though ephemeral bubbles for New Years Eve, and more enduring happiness for 2009.  And here’s to Clara too, brave painter. 

Happy New Year.  Now go get the champagne.  Be ready.  The fun has already started. 

see also: Bubbly Recipes



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Not to be Forgotten

Real Old Biscotti


To make little morsels, that is “mostaccioli” in the Milan style

Take fifteen fresh eggs and beat them in a casserole and pass through the sieve with two and a half pounds of sugar fine and powdered, and half an ounce of raw aniseed or partly crushed (aniseed) and a grain or two of fine musk, and put with this two pounds and a half of flour and beat everything for three quarters of an hour, so that it becomes like the pasta for fritters and let it rest for a quarter hour and rebeat it another time.  Then one takes a sheet of paper put into a “lucerne” and greased, or a ‘tortiere’ with wafers beneath that have not been bathed in such a way (not greased) and then put this paste into the ‘lucerne’ or ‘tortiere’ (specific pan types) until it is not higher than the thickness of a finger and immediately powder with sugar and put it into the oven that is hot, or the tart pan, and cook it like a tart and when this pasta is cooked (not wet) and will in all lose the humidity and it will be enough cooked, that is like a tender focaccia, pull out the ‘lucerne’ or ‘tortiere’ and immediately cut with a large thin knife, cut in slices as large as two fingers, and as long as one pleases, and put them in the oven with pieces of paper beneath the biscuits, turn them enough, ensure that the oven is not as hot as the one above (second baking is at a lower temp than first), and when they are well dried, pull them out and save them because they are always better the second day than the first and they will keep for a month in their perfection. 

--Bartolomeo Scappi, 1570
The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570): L’arte et prudenza d’un maestro Cuoco (The Art and Craft of a Master Cook)

Translation, 2003 by Lady Helewyse de Birkestad, CW. 



Ever since Nancy posted her gorgeous biscotti recipe last week in her badass column, I have been thinking about the history of biscotti and cookies in general.  It’s really only during the last 150 or so years, after the arrival of the stove, that cookie baking became so common place among regular people.  Before then, baking was more complicated because you had to do it in your brick or stone (or mud/adobe) oven.  Not to mention that sugar was expensive, so sweets were reserved for special occassions unless, of course you were rich. 

I am posting this beautiful photo so you folks can see what what I mean. 

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This image comes from the Tacuinum Sanitatas, an Arab medical manual from the 11th century.  On baking day, you would build your fire inside the oven, building heat into the walls and floor.  Then you’d sweep put all the coals and ashes and put your bread inside and quickly shut the door to seal in the heat.  Not long after, the oven temperature would start falling. 

Now… back to biscotti.  The name really refers to a technique, not any recipe.  It means “twice cooked”.  You bake a loaf.  Then you take it out of the oven and slice it into pieces (or “morsels” as Scappi says), then bake these a second time at a lower temperature until they become hard and dry.  Now you can see that the invention of biscotti clearly has everything to do with this falling heat of the brick oven.  And by the way....why would you bake these things to death?  Preservation for sure.  With all the moisture gone, they’d last long.  Important before the age of zip lock plastic bags.  I think of biscotti as belonging to the same family of hardtack and many other dried foods that could go on long journeys at sea.

The old recipe above comes from the extraordinary Bartolomeo Scappi (c. 1500-1577) a great chef of the Italian Renaissance who was a personal cook to two popes.  He may call his biscotti “little morsels” but by whatever name, these are the real deal--twice cooked.  And while we’re with Bartolomeo, here’s an

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Not to be Forgotten

Beautiful Sweet Potato and Pie for Thanksgiving

Sweet Potato Pie

Two pounds of potatoes will make two pies. Boil the potatoes soft; peel and mash fine through a colander while hot; one tablespoonful of butter to be mashed in with the potato. Take five eggs and beat the yelks [yolks] and whites separate and add one gill [one half cup] of milk; sweeten to taste; squeeze the juice of one orange, and grate one half of the peel into the liquid. One half teaspoonful of salt in the potatoes. Have only one crust and that at the bottom of the plate. Bake quickly.

-- ABBY FISHER, What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Southern Cooking, 1881
reprint with afterward by Karen Hess



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Detail from a new painting by Nancy.

I’ve written about this recipe before.  But I love it so much I’m going to do it again.  Sometimes I wonder why people are continually searching for new recipes when so many great old ones already exist.  This sweet potato pie not only works perfectly well, but also comes with an amazing story.

It comes from Abby Fisher, who was a slave and probably the first one (that we know of anyway) to have published a cookbook.  According to food historian Karen Hess, she was born in South Carolina during the 1830s and probably cooked in the big house of the master--perhaps one of those baronial plantation homes owned by French Huguenots not far from Charleston.  In 1870, she had survived slavery and the Civil War, when she and her family tset out for the West in search of a better life.  In a covered wagon filled with children and their lives’ possessions, they took the overland trail, making a pit stop in Missouri where Abby gave birth. In California, she and her husband set up a pickle-and-preserve business, which was obviously so good that Abby became locally famous, winning awards for her cooking and the esteem of several white ladies who helped her publish this cookbook, though she could not read or write to do it herself.

Imagine.  From slavery to cross country migration.  To small business owner.  To cookbook author.  What a woman.  So with this great story of human accomplishment in mind, I’m making Sweet Potato Pie this Thanksgiving. I hope you will too.  I’ll post a photo when mine is done...sometime within the next 24 hours.

Okay:  click the jump for the modernized version.  This is an easy, single crust pie.  You wont regret it.

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Not to be Forgotten

Pigs in a Blanket

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Frankfurter Roll-Ups

2 cups Homemade Biscuit Blend
1/2 cup milk (about)
2 tablespoons softened butter
3 tablespoons prepared mustard
10 frankfurters (1 lb.), cut in thirds
1 eg white, unbeaten
1 teaspoon caraway seeds

Measure biscuit blend into bowl, add milk, and stir until a soft dough is formed.  Turn out on a lightly floured board and knead 30 seconds.  Roll dough about 1/4 inch thick.

Mix together butter and mustard; spread evenly over dough.  Cut dough in strips a little narrower than the pieces of frankfurters; then cut each strip into 2-inch pieces--30 pieces in all.

Wrap dough around each piece of frankfurter.  Place overlapping edge down on greased baking sheet.  Brush tops with egg white.  Sprinkle with caraway seeds.  Bake in a hot oven (450 F) about 10 minutes, or until dough is lightly browned and frankfurters are hot.  Serve hot.  Makes 30 small roll-ups. 

--The General Foods Kitchen Cookbook, 1959



Number One Son turned 13 recently, and when the day came my heart nearly busted with the memory of the little baby with dark eyes blinking at the lights when he came out of me.  Hardly what the boy needed.  I went ahead and acted cool, getting the party ready. 

My teenager asked for something SPECIAL.  What was SPECIAL?  Barbecued spare ribs. Unlimited soda. A limo ride.  And if that weren’t enough …. one other thing--pigs in a blanket.

The problem was I had no idea how to make them.  A quick search and I discovered a nice bit of food history relating to Germany and sausages wrapped in a bit of bacon.  Not quite what I needed.

The only printed recipe I could find was that which you see above published in the 1959 General Foods Kitchens Cookbook—a unsettling cookbook which includes the likes of a baked ham decorated with lime green gelatin for Christmas and all sorts of questionable advice.  You get the idea.

Forget General Foods anyway.  In my heart, I knew the moment called for refrigerator dough. The crescent stuff by Pillsbury.  I’d never cared to lay a hand on it in my life.  But my son was the kind of kid who had been waiting at least ten years to be a teen.  Some kids are just like that.  Life was getting better with each year.  He was going to get his wieners in dough.

The most exciting thing was to whack that cylinder against the side of the counter so it could pop out like some commercial I’d seen decades ago.  Nothing happened.  I whacked harder.  And while I was doing it, I laughed at myself, remembering his first birthday when he was such a little pure body who’d never eaten a bit of junk food.  He took his first steps that day. And I made a healthy carrot cake—some sugarless one I’d gotten in a virtuous parenting manual.  Oh the absurdity of new parenthood when you actually believe you have so much control over things.  I looked back with pity and envy on my younger self grating carrots that long ago day—all my ideals still intact.  I adored that baby and suspected he was perfect.  But of course 13 years later I know true love is much less vain.

One more whack.  Out popped the weird and fluffy dough. This and a bag of 30 little cocktail wieners before me.  What to do next? 

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Luckily, grandma was in town.  And since she raised her three children (one of whom is my husband) during the sixties and seventies, she’d done her share of crescent rolls and wieners, too. 

We were hysterical in the kitchen as she showed me how to roll up the wieners in their little blankets.  I leaned on her heavily for the experience.  I am lucky to have a wonderful mother-in-law who is fun and can crack a couple of bawdy girl jokes, too, about the oddly large wiener in the bunch, while rolling up those babies.  She found it not a little comical to be doing this in my kitchen where over the years she has seen what she calls “gourmet cooking.”

The secret? 

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Not to be Forgotten

Corn Fritters

Having removed the shucks and silks from a dozen young tender ears of corn, grate or scrape the grains fine from the cobs, mix with it the beaten yolks of four eggs, two spoonfuls of flour, a salt-spoonful of salt, and a teaspoonful of pepper; mix the whole together, stirring it till it is well intermingled; then drop it by spoonfuls into a pan of boiling butter or lard, making them all as nearly the ame shape and size as possible; turn them over once, and when both sides are of a light brown, serve them up.  It is a breakfast dish, and is quite an agreeable relish. 

--Lettice Bryan
The Kentucky Housewife, 1839



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Yes, this is a corn plant from my garden, nearly ready. 

But as to this recipe--it’s a “not to be forgotten” all the way, because not only is it a good thing to make, but also because it clearly bears some African influence, which is typical of the old southern cookbooks.  Dishes like these are a silent legacy of slavery.  Africans brought with them an expertise in frying (and for fritters) and also taste for the piquant, which is obvious in the large amount of black pepper.  So perhaps Mrs. Bryan was documenting the dish from her African cook or someone else’s.  But in any case, she seems to have done a poor job.  This recipe is obviously impossible. She calls for 12 ears of corn and only 4 egg yolks to bind it all together.  Ridiculous.  Ridiculous of course till you realize that this was nearly 200 years ago and corn was surely smaller, but for that matter so were eggs.  (We breed everything so large now.) And how much flour, really is the two spoonfuls?  We’ll never know. 

Don’t get bogged down.  It’s just a concept, and the concept is this:  Shuck your corn, then the take a knife and cut off the kernels.  Mix them together with enough egg yolk, salt and pepper and flour as will hold it together, then fry.  I found the result a little plain, and of course the sweetness of corn today is just sometimes so annoyingly candylike.  So here’s what I did:

2 cups fresh corn kernals (about 4 ears)
1 tablespoon, plus a little more, finely minced onion
2 teaspoons, finely minced flesh of a serrano chile
1/4 cup flour (you might like for half of this to be cornmeal)
1/2 teaspoon (or to taste) salt
black pepper to taste
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons milk or, even better, butter milk
1/4 grated cheddar--optional only if you don’t mind a softer melty fritter

Mix together the first seven ingredients.  Then add milk and cheese if you are using.  Fry on a griddle that is greased with olive oil or butter, until brown on each side.

If I were a chef I’d go to town with this.  I’d hold the cheese and instead, serve a corn fritter as an appetiser with a warm frisee salad and a dollop of goat cheese on top.  Or perhaps I’d serve with a fresh mango salsa.  Or a tomato salsa with cilantro.  Or perhaps some wlted arugula.  My home tasters like them plain.  But not for breakfast.  No way.  Rather, as an “agreeable relish” as Mrs. Bryan suggests.  In any case, corn fritters are an open canvas.  There’s so much fresh corn around now. Try them with left over cobs the next day.  And be sure to eat them fresh off the griddle. 


Not to be Forgotten

Life Is a Bowl of Sour Cherries

Life is a Bowl of Sour Cherries

To preserve Cherries.

Take two pounds of cherries, one pound and a half of sugar, half a pint of fair water, melt some sugar in it; when it is melted, put in your other sugar and your cherries; then boil them softly, till all the sugar be melted; then boil them fast, and skim them; take them off two and three times and shake them, and put them on again, and let them boil fast; and when they are of good colour, and the sirrup will stand, they are boiled enough. 

American Cookery
“The First American cookbook,”
Amelia Simmons
1796

Modern Version

2 pounds sour cherries, pitted (try to retain shape but don’t drive yourself crazy)
1/2 cup water
1 cup sugar (more or less according to sweetness of your fruit, and your own personal taste)

1.  Pit the cherries.  It will take you at least a half hour.  So relax and enjoy.
2.  Put the water in the pot over medium high heat.  Add sugar and stir until it melts.
3.  Add the cherries.  Bring up to a boil then immediately turn the fire down to medium and let cook on low to medium heat, until you have a syrup and the cherries are soft but not mushy.  Test and correct sugar as needed. 



image

I don’t know how I got by all my life without sour cherries.  But it wasn’t until last month that I had my first taste.  My friends Lou and Nancy turned me on to them, and now it’s going to be forever love. 

I’m not talking about Nancy of Jellypress, but Nancy the owner of Orbis—one of the best restaurants around. Nancy is the kind of chef who loves to go pick her own fruit and catch her own fish on her days off.  Since Lou (yes ravioli Lou) is retired and has time, they’d been picking cherries—up on a ladder and everything--at a friend’s tree.  Well all this takes place a couple of weeks ago when we had a simple lunch of Lou’s homemade tagliatelle (made with a duck egg or a goose egg—something crazy but I can’t remember what) and Nancy’s beautiful Bolognese sauce.


image

Then, she brought out the cherries on ice cream and I was a goner. 

Two days later, Nancy called me to say she’s been cherry picking again.  Did I want some?  Of course I did….  And so would you. 

Do whatever you can to find sweet and sour cherries.  If you live Northward, there’s still time.  I got these at the farmer’s market a few days ago. Then I saw some in Whole Foods tonight.  Find some today if you can. 

When I called other Nancy—yes our very own Jellypress Nancy—to share my feelings about this fruit, I wasn’t the least surprised to find out that she was already a member of the sour cherry club.  In fact, already painted put them on her counter—that finite midlife horizon of hers.  When I saw these paintings I thought, oh my gosh, well really isn’t everything in that painting—just everything?

image


Okay, well, almost everything.  The ice cream isn’t there.  So make sure you go get that yourself.

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