Monday, May 17, 2010

'She Cooked in the Street.'

The New York Times of this day in 1906 carried a wonderful story of one woman’s dignity during an unpleasant interruption to her breakfast preparation.

A Little Thing Like Eviction Didn’t Stop Mrs. Cullum’s Breakfast.
Mrs Mary Cullum, of Lawrence Street and Grand View Avenue, Far Rockaway, after being dispossessed early yesterday morning by Marshall Thomas Hobby and two negroes, cooked her breakfast in the street, and ate it while an admiring crown cheered its approval of her grit.
Mrs Cullum sublet and apartment from Louis Quigley, who rented the building from McCarthy Brothers of Brooklyn. The owners notified Quigley that he must vacate the premises, as they wanted them for business purposes. He declined, owing to a promise that he had given Mrs Cullum that she might remain as long as she liked. McCarthy brothers then got a dispossess order.
Marshall Hobby, who is a small man, engaged the services of two strong negroes to aid him in effecting the eviction. When they appeared early yesterday morning at the Cullum apartment, Mrs Cullum had her hands in the flour making biscuits. Briefly displaying their warrant, the officer of the law and his assistants took the Cullum household effects and hustled them into the street.
“Can’t you let me cook and eat my breakfast in peace?” Mrs Culllum asked.
“Orders is to move things right out, missy,” said one of the helpers.
“I’ve got to eat,” said she.
“Have t’eat in the street, then” was the reply.
Bowing to the inevitable, Mrs Cullum saw her stove, which was red hot in preparation for the biscuit baking, carried from the building and deposited in the street. Following the men, she popped her dough into the oven, and turned her attention to the manufacture of flapjacks and coffee.
A crowd quickly collected and watched Mrs. Cullum while she completed her preparations for breakfast, and seated herself at a hastily cleared table. When she bowed her head to evoke a blessing, many in the street ceased their noise and laughter out of respect, and also bent their heads. Then Mrs Cullum fell to and enjoyed a hearty meal before seeking other apartments. As the last biscuit disappeared, the onlookers again cheered Mrs Cullum before leaving her.

Would this story be possible today, do you think? I suspect she would then have fallen foul of the city ordinances in respect of the absence of a licence to cook in the street. I wonder also how many of us would remain so gracious under such circumstances, and still be mindful enough to give thanks for our daily bread (however we might choose to do that.)

The Oxford English Dictionary gives several definitions of flapjack: "a flat cake, a pan-cake, an apple turnover or flat tart, and a biscuit usually containing rolled oats, syrup, etc". (here meaning ‘biscuit’ as in a ‘cookie’, not ‘scone’!) Certainly in Australia, it means the latter – and it is a sort of variation on the Anzac biscuit theme, cooked in a slab and then cut into squares.

I give you for your breakfast enjoyment, recipes for two versions of flapjacks.

From Camp Cookery, by Horace Kephart, (New York, 1910), here is one version of flapjacks.

Plain Flapjacks.
1 quart flour,
1 teaspoonful salt,
2 teaspoonfuls sugar, or 4 of molasses,
2 level tablespoonfuls baking powder.
Rub in, dry, two heaped tablespoonfuls grease. If you have no grease, do without. Make a smooth batter with cold milk (best) or water - thin enough to pour from a spoon, but not too thin, or it will take all day to bake enough for the party.
Stir well, to smooth out lumps. Set frying-pan level over thin bed of coals, get it quite hot, and grease with a piece of pork in split end of stick.
Pan must be hot enough to make batter sizzle as it touches, and it should be polished. Pour from end of a big spoon successively enough batter to fill pan within one-half inch of rim. When cake is full of bubbles and edges have stiffened, shuffle pan to make sure that cake is free below and stiff enough to flip. Then hold pan slanting in front of and away from you, go through preliminary motion of flapping once or twice to get the swing, then flip boldly so cake will turn a somersault in the air, and catch it upside down. Beginners generally lack the nerve to toss high enough.
Grease pan anew and stir batter every time before pouring. This is the "universal pancake" that Nessmuk derided.

From the Radiation Cookery Book, a popular promotional cookery book produced for use with “Regulo-controlled New World Gas Cookers” in the early 1940’s, the recipe quoted in the OED.

Flap Jacks.
6 oz. butter or margarine
6 oz. Demerara Sugar
8 oz. rolled oats
Pinch of salt.
Method: cream the fat until soft. Mix together the sugar, oats and salt and stir into the fat. Transfer the mixture to the greased tin and spread evenly, smoothing the surface.
Bake for 30 mins with the Regulo set at Mark 5. When cooked leave to stand for a few minutes in the tin and then cut into 16 squares or fingers.

Quotation for the Day.

Please say to yourself, “If a pancake is thick enough to toss, there is only one place to toss it – into the dustbin.
Fanny and Johnny Craddock in The Daily Telegraph Cook’s Book (1964)


tasteofbeirut said...

Perfect! That would have been my attitude too! Don't let them bring you down them bastards~

The Old Foodie said...

I love her attitude too. It is a great little story.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't work with a gas or electric stove. I've always wanted to try cooking on a wood stove!