Monday, October 31, 2011

Snow Bread.

Today is a very special day. I am referring not to Halloween – which is special in its own way, of course – but to the birthday of this blog. This day is the sixth birthday of The Old Foodie. My birthday treat to myself is to explore the interesting topic of snow-raised bread.

I was most intrigued when I came across the idea of using snow as a leavening agent.  The concept is impossible for me to test, as I live in the sub-tropics, so I will have to rely on the advice of those of you who live in the cooler parts of the world. 

It seems that the idea captured some interest in the 1850’s and 1870’s, in the United States. The Water Cure Journal (an early ‘healthy lifestyle’ publication) in 1854 had this to say:

Snow Bread. - All persons where snow abounds, are not, perhaps, aware of the value of the "fleecy flakes" in making light, delicious, and wholesome bread. There is no "raising" in the world so perfectly physiological as good, fresh, sweet snow. It raises bread or cake as beautifully as the best of yeast, or the purest acids and alkalies, whilst it leaves no taint of fermentation like the former, nor injurious neutral salt like the latter. Indeed, it raises by supplying atmosphere wherewith to puff np the dough, whilst the other methods only supply carbonic acid gas.
During the late snow freshet with which our city has been favored, (for all other uses in a city snow may be regarded as a nuisance,) "our folks" have experimented somewhat extensively in the matter of snow-raised bread and cakes. One of our kitchen amateurs gives us the following recipe as the result -the eureka -  of his numerous mixings and minglings of the "celestial feathers" with the terrestrial meal:
"Snow Bread.—Mix equal parts of light, dry snow and flour or meal quickly together, (using a strong spoon or stick to stir with.) When well mixed, pour the mass into a pan, and bake immediately. A rather hot, "quick" oven is essential. Bake from twenty minutes to one hour, according the thickness of the loaf."
Many forms of bread and cake can be made by slightly varying these proportions, according to the other ingredients: the rule being to have a due degree of moisture. If too much snow is used, the bread or cake will be heavy.
A little corn meal and pulverized sugar may be mixed with dry flour, and then the snow stirred in, if a short and tender, as well as light sweet cake is desired.

Apparently the method works well for corn bread too. I give you a snippet from the New York Times of  September 13, 1908:
It is not probable that every one knows that corn bread made with snow is delicious. It is the bread of the epicures. Naturally, it must be made in Winter. It is served hot for breakfast or luncheon.
Take a quart of meal and stir into it half a teaspoonful of soda and a tablespoonful of good suet lard. Add a teaspoonful of salt. Stir in a quart of light, clean snow, doing it in a cool place, where the snow will not melt.

A contributor to the English Mechanic And World Of Science in 1879 wrote of his experiences with snow bread, briefly described how it was made, and attempted a scientific explanation:

I have this morning for breakfast, partaken of a snow-raised bread cake, made last evening as follows: The cake when baked weighed about three quarters of a pound. A large tablespoonful of fine, dry, clean snow was intimately stirred with a spoon into the dry flour, and to this was added a tablespoonful of caraways and a little butter and salt. Then sufficient cold water was added to make the dough of the proper usual consistence (simply stirred with the spoon, not kneaded by the warm hands), and it was immediately put into a quick oven and baked three quarters of an hour. It turned out both light and palatable. The reason appears to be this: the light mass of interlaced snow crystals hold imprisoned a large quantity of condensed atmospheric air, which, when the snow is warmed by thawing very rapidly in the dough, expands enormously and acts the part of the carbonic acid gas in either baking powder or yeast. I take the precise action to be, then, not due in any way to the snow itself, but simply to the expansion of the fixed air lodged between the interstices of the snow crystals by application of heat. This theory, if carefully followed out, may perchance give a clue to a simple and perfectly innocuous method of raising bread and pastry, and stop the discussion as to whether alum in baking powders is deleterious to health or otherwise.

OK, you food science geeks out there. Is this it? Does it work? Is snow bread simply a form of soda bread?  Please, do let me know if you try this.

Quotation for the Day.

Nothing on Earth is as beautiful as the final haul on Halloween night.
Steve Almond

Friday, October 28, 2011

More Pieces of Pumpkin.

I have learned much from your comments and emails, my American friends, about the Halloween pumpkin thing. I did not realise the extent to which carving-pumpkins differed from eating-pumpkins. Here in Oz we are clearly nowhere near as advanced in this seasonal art as to grow a special variety of pumpkin better fitted to the sculptural process. Or maybe we don’t like to waste all that growing time on something well short of deliciously edible. The Jack-o-Lanterns I have seen in this country are made from varieties that produce a pumpkin feast as a side-line, although admittedly they are more difficult to carve.

In spite of my new insights, I want continue with the pumpkin theme again today, because a few of you may still have an ongoing problem with the pumpkin innards from your lantern-carving efforts. In any case,the pumpkin is such an amazingly versatile vegetable (even if it is botanically a fruit),  that a few more ideas will surely not go to waste.

I realise that most of you are not likely to actually dry your own pumpkin, or make your own pumpkin yeast (although I hope you found the ideas interesting.) Today I want to concentrate on the more do-able recipes for the modern world.

If making yeast-risen bread, as suggested yesterday, is not your thing, perhaps this variation on sweet cornmeal ‘bread’ will be acceptable:

Nice Brown Bread.
Two and one half quarts of Indian meal, three pints of wheat flour, one quart of stewed pumpkin, one teaspoonful of ginger, and one and one-halfcups of molasses, and two teaspoonfuls of soda. Mix with sweet milk or water, and bake over night in a brick oven.
Jackson Sentinel, 22 May 1873.

Or for the pickle-lovers amongst you:

Pumpkin Pickle.
This pickle is ready to eat 24 hours after it is made. Peel and seed about 5 lb pumpkin. Cut the pulp in pieces about 3 in. long and 1 in. wide. Steam till tender. In the meantime, put one quart vinegar into a saucepan with one pint water, 2 lb. sugar, one tablespoonful salt, and four sticks cinnamon, broken in small pieces. Bring to the boil. Drain the pumpkin, put into small jars and fill up with boiling vinegar.
Canberra Times, 12 February 1931  

Or how about one or both of the following ideas?

Pumpkin Fritters.
Take four cups boiled drained pumpkin, three eggs, one teaspoonful of baking powder, four tablespoonsful flour, three tablespoonsful sugar, season with a little nutmeg. Beat all up well together, fry in a little fat (in a pan, of course) in size of small cakes. When, brown on both sides, put in a large flat dish, and sprinkle over with a mixture of granulated sugar and cinnamon.
Examiner (Launceston, Tasmania) 30 April 1927

Pumpkin Patties.
Put 1 lb. of cooked and sifted pumpkin into a bowl, add half a cupful of golden syrup, half teaspoonful salt, 2 tablespoonful of bread or cake crumbs, ½ teaspoonful melted butter, and 1 teaspoonful orange extract or orange juice. Line some patty pans with short pastry, fill in with the pumpkin, mixture and bake in a hot oven for 20 to 25 minutes. The patties may be decorated with a little whipped and sweetened cream.
The West Australian (Perth, WA) 23 March 1928

Quotation for the Day.

I don't know that there are real ghosts and goblins, but there are always more trick-or-treaters than neighborhood kids.
Robert Brault

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Pieces of Pumpkin.

I read somewhere that 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins are grown and sold every year in the USA, and that most of these are used around Halloween. Assuming that this figure is ball-park correct, that is an awful lot of pumpkin.

What do you do with all of the pumpkin innards that are removed in the making of all of those scary candle-lit heads? Whatever the poundage of pumpkins used in Halloween sculpture - and I am sure it is large - there must be an awful lot of pumpkin flesh dotting kitchen landscapes at this time of year. My mission in the next couple of days is to help you find uses for these chunks, slivers, and shavings of this wonderful vegetable which is actually a fruit.

If you really cannot deal with all of this vegetable flesh right now, you could dry some of it for future use. The New Hydropathic Cook Book (1854) tells us that dried and pulverised pumpkin was a small industry for the Shakers, who “sell the article as pumpkin powder, which is very convenient for making pies expeditiously.”  

On second thoughts, you are probably too busy making scary costumes and stocking up on candy to be bothered drying pumpkin flesh right now, but in case you are still interested this is how the method was described in the Janesville Gazette of October 19, 1878:

‘Pumpkins may be put up in the old fashioned mode of cutting them into rings, paring, and drying upon poles; or they may be cut up into small pieces and dried on plates In the sun and oven. A better way, however, is to pare, stew and strain them, just as if for pies; then spread the pulp on earthen dishes, and dry quickly in the hot sun or a partially heated oven. If dried slowly, there is danger of souring. Store in a dry room. Kept in this manner they retain much of the freshness and flavor of newly gathered fruit. The dried pulp should be soaked in milk a few hours before using. In making pies they are greatly improved by stirring the pumpkin in
scalding milk, especially if eggs be not used; but without eggs they fall far short of the true "pumpkin pie."’

If you are really, really keen, you could make your own yeast with your leftover pumpkin pieces – fresh or dried. An article from the St. James's Chronicle, or British Evening Post of January 20, 1795 tells you how (and reminds us that the yeast can also be used to make beer):

To make Pumpkin Yeast.  
Cut the Pumpkin in slices, and with a handful of Hops, boil it in a small quantity of water, till it is soft enough to pass through a Cullender. When strained, put it in an earthen or Stone Jar, with a sufficient quantity, of good Yeast to ferment it. It will be fit for use in a day or two, and will keep a month or six weeks.
The Pumkins may be sliced and dried, in order to make it the year round. From experience it is found to be quite equal to the best Brewers Yeast, for the purpose of making Bread, or in family beer.’

Now you have some pumpkin yeast, you could use it instead of the recommended potato yeast, to make pumpkin-bread from the following recipe.

Pumpkin Bread.
Stew and strain the pumpkin, stiffen it with a little Indian-meal, and then add as much more wheaten flour, with the necessary quantity of potato-yeast; bake two hours. This is an excellent and wholesome bread.
The New Hydropathic Cook Book (1854) 

And then you can spread your bread with this delightful-sounding conserve:

Pumpkin Marmalade.
Peel and seed 8lb pumpkin. Cut into small strips, put into a preserving pan and add the grated rinds, and juice of two oranges and one lemon and 71b. sugar. Bruise 3oz, root ginger and tie up in a mus- lin bag. Add to the other ingredients and leave'tor 24 hours. Cook till tender und transparent looking. Put into pots, and tie down.
The Canberra Times, 12 February 1931

Quotation for the Day.

A grandmother pretends she doesn't know who you are on Halloween.
Erma Bombeck

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Hot Gingerbread

Gingerbread is a very ancient treat, enjoyed in the distant past by the rich and powerful all year round, but indulged in by ordinary folk only on special occasions. It could be argued that gingerbread is seasonal at any time of the year, but there is something about the combination of dark colours and warm spices that suggest the winter months. Once upon a time these warm spices (including the sugar) were exotic imported (and therefore expensive) ingredients, considered suitable and affordable for special feast days and fairs. I assume that this combination of dark, sweet warmth and relative expense has something to do with the particular popularity of gingerbread at autumnal and wintry northern hemisphere celebrations – which in Britain includes Halloween (this week’s inspiration), Guy Fawkes’ Night (November 5th), and Christmas. 

As you will know, if you are a regular reader, I have a particular fondness for gingerbread, and from time to time try to add something different to the archive Through the Ageswith Gingerbread. Having said that, there are many gingerbread recipes scattered through the blog which I have not gotten around to adding to that special page, but I will, folks, I will.

English travellers to The Continent in times past occasionally commented on the difference between English gingerbread and the European version – one writer going so far as to say that French gingerbread was a ‘deceit’, as it contained no ginger. There is no deceit at all - French ‘gingerbread’ does not pretend to be gingery, it is pain d’épices – literally, ‘spice bread’. There does seem to be a particularly British pride in the ability to tolerate very hot spicy dishes, I assume as a rather tortuous sideline to the pride in The Empire and all she provided. A curry was not a curry to many a returnee from his outpost in India unless it was blisteringly, eye-wateringly hot, and a man not a man who could not eat it with pale dry calm. 

This fascination with spicy-hot foods extends to gingerbread. In the north of England (Lancashire?) there are mentions of a form of ‘hot gingerbread, having in it a mixture of ginger and Cayenne, causing the most ridiculous contortions of feature in the unfortunate being who partakes of it.’ There was also something called ‘lolly-banger’ (in Somerset? There is much research still to do on this), which is described as a very thick, very hot gingerbread, enriched by raisins.
I give you two recipes for gingerbread today; a benign-sounding ‘lemon’ gingerbread, which contains cayenne pepper, and ‘Indian’ gingerbread (from a Scottish cookery book) which does not.

Lemon Gingerbread.
Grate the rinds of two or three lemons, and ad the juice to a glass of brandy: then mix the grated lemon in a pound of flour, make a hole in the flour, pour in half a pound of treacle, half a pound of butter melted, the lemon-juice and brandy, and mix all up together with half an ounce of ground ginger and a quarter of an ounce of cayenne pepper.
A New System of Domestic Cookery, by Mrs Rundell (1808)

Indian Gingerbread.
Take twelve ounces of pounded loaf sugar, a quarter of a pound of fresh butter, one pound of dried flour, two ounces of pounded ginger, and of cloves and cinnamon a quarter of an ounce each. Mix the ginger and spice with the flour; put the sugar and a small tea-cupful of water into a sauce-pan; when it is dissolved, add the butter, and as soon as it is melted, mix it with the flour and other things; work it up, and form the paste into cakes or nuts, and bake them upon tins.
The Practice of Cookery adapted to the business of everyday life, by Mrs Dalgairns (1830)

Quotation for the Day.

Life is too short for self-hatred and celery sticks.
Marilyn Wann

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Coddling your Codlings.

I want to spend a little more time today on apples – coddled apples, to be precise. We are far more likely today to see ‘coddled eggs’ on a menu than coddled apples, but originally, ‘coddling’ was applied specifically to fruit. Coddling, in the context of eggs or fruit simply means cooking gently in water - or to make things more confusing, in some instances it means to roast in the oven, (which, to be pedantic, is to bake – roasting originally being something done on a spit in front of an open fire.) 

Humans can also be ‘coddled’, meaning that they are treated ‘as an invalid in need of nourishing food and nursing’ – in which case you might make them a nice caudle (‘a warm drink consisting of thin gruel, mixed with wine or ale, sweetened and spiced, given chiefly to sick people, esp. women in childbed; also to their visitors.)

Finally, a ‘codling’ (or codlin)  is an old-fashioned apple, when it is not a young cod - which is a fish, when it is not that part of the male anatomy which in times past was advertised by the wearing of a large cod-piece. Dont you just love the English language?

To elaborate on codlings as apples, there are two broad meanings. The word originally referred to any small, hard, or immature apple which needed cooking (codling) to make it edible. It also refers to a specific variety of apple, ‘in shape elongated and rather tapering towards the eye, having several modern sub-varieties, as Kentish Codling, Keswick Codling.’

It would be reasonable to assume that all of these usages of ‘codling’ and ‘coddle’ (aside from the juvenile fish) arise from a common origin, but this does not appear to be the case. The etymology of the word is obscure - hinting at its antiquity - and the Oxford English Dictionary gives its usual scholarly attempt to unravel it. It seems that there are two different words here. The apple-noun may have arisen from Middle English, although the explanation given by the OED is, by its own admission ‘not very satisfactory’. The cooking process usage most likely comes via the old northern French caudeler meaning ‘to warm, heat gently.’

For the recipe for the day I give you a nice example from the early eighteenth century of apples being coddled by roasting slowly ‘over the fire’, before being used to make a pudding. It is not clear whether this means on a spit or in a pan of water.

An Apple-Pudding to Bake, very good.
Take twelve fair large Pippins, coddle them over the Fire very slowly, that they do not crack; when they are soft, peel and core them and pulp them, through a Cullender: Add to this three spoonfuls of Orange-flower Water, ten Eggs well beat and strained, half a pound of very good Butter melted; make it very sweet, the Apples require it: Add Candy'd Orange, Lemon, or Citron-peel: Put a Sheet of Puff-paste into a Dish, and pour in your Pudding; bake it with care: 'Tis done in half an Hour.
A collection of above three hundred receipts in cookery, physick, and surgery (1714)

Quotation for the Day.

Life is so brief that we should not glance either too far backwards or forwards…therefore study how to fix our happiness in our glass and in our plate.
Grimod de la Reynière

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Simple Apple Dish.

Kids, cooks, and candy-manufacturers are already gearing up for the fun of Halloween. I thought that this week I would look take some of the traditional foods of the season and look for new-old ways of using them. The traditional foods are, of course, northern hemisphere autumn foods, but we in the southern half of the globe do our best to keep up with what for many of us represents our cultural heritage.

Apples have long been associated with Halloween, for the very pragmatic reason that they are plentiful in late autumn, and not beyond the reach of anyone who wants to have a bit of fun, so they are my starting point for the week. Apple-bobbing or ducking for apples is the traditional sport of the season, but requires no knowledge of apple cookery - only apples and a willingness to get thoroughly wet. 

One of the earliest recipes for apples is for something called ‘apple moise’ (in various spellings.) This is a medieval apple puree, essentially no different from the apple sauce that you serve with pork. There were many variations of this basic theme of course. The apples might be stewed or roasted, the puree coloured, flavoured and enriched with various spices, wine, almond milk, honey, sugar, oil, butter or other fat. 

Sometimes the mixture was thickened, and sometimes dried in sheets or slabs which could then be cut up into something faintly resembling the fruit ‘wraps’ or sticks which find their way into the lunchboxes of modern schoolchildren.

I give you three recipes from three centuries, to give just a glimpse of what can be done with a simple apple puree.

Take Apples and seeþ hem in water, drawe hem thurgh a straynour. take almaunde mylke & hony and flour of Rys, safroun and powdour fort and salt. and seeþ it stondyng.
Forme of Cury (1390)

To mak an appillinose, tak appelles and sethe them and lett them kelle ,then fret them throughe an heryn syff on fisshe dais take almonde mylk and oile olyf ther to. and on flesshe days tak freche brothe and whit grece and sugur and put them in a pot and boile it and colour it with saffron and cast on pouders and serue it.
A Noble Boke off Cookry (late 15thC)

To make Apple moyse.
Roste your apples, and when they be rosted, pill them and strain them into a dish, and pare a dosen of apples and cut them into a chafer, and put in a little white wine and a little Butter, and let them boile till they be as soft as Pap, and stirre them a little, and straine them to some wardens rosted and pilled, and put in Suger, Synamon and Ginger, and make Diamonds of Paste, and lay them in the Sunne, then scrape a little Suger vppon them in the dish.
The Good Housewife's Jewell (1596)

Quotation for the Day.

You wouldn't believe
On All Hallow Eve
What lots of fun we can make,
With apples to bob,
And nuts on the hob,
And a ring-and-thimble cake.
Carolyn Wells

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Pecan

The pecan is a species of hickory, and is indigenous to the American continent. Its name is derived from the Algonquian paccan, indicating a nut that is hard to crack. Thankfully, the shell of the cultivated nut is thinner, and hence easier to open, thanks to the efforts of horticulturalists over the last couple of hundred years.

That the pecan originated in the Americas is indisputable. The botanical name for the tree is Carya illinoinensis, from which it might be assumed that it hails specifically from the State of Illinois. This may be true, or it may not. It may be from Oklahoma, or Texas, or Mexico. It may be from somewhere in between. Almost certainly it is from somewhere in the southern/central part of the continent, and we must be happy with that, for now. 

Whichever exact area the pecan originated in, the state of Texas has nominated the pecan as its official nut. The state of Oklahoma gives pecan pie the honour of being one of its official state foods – although most of the recipes I have come across seem to indicate that pecan pie is a specialty of Texas. I leave my American friends and colleagues to sort that one out. 

In the meantime, I give you two quite different versions of pecan pie.

Pecan Pie.
 Cook in a double boiler one cupful of milk and one cupful of sugar. Thicken with one tablespoonful of flour and yolks of three eggs, then add juice of one lemon and one-half cupful of chopped pecan meats. Bake crust as for lemon pie; when done fill with the nut custard, frost with the whites of the eggs and brown slightly.
Good housekeeping: Volume 51, October, 1910

Pecan Pie.
2 eggs
½  cup sugar
½  cup karo (white)
¼  cup butter
¾ cup shelled pecans.
1 teaspoonful vanilla. -
Beat eggs with wire whip until very light. Then add butter which has been melted nd mixed with the sugar. To this add the karo and vanilla. Mix thoroughly, then stir in the nuts.
Pour into a baked pie crust and bake in slow oven until set, about one hour.
Laredo Times, Jan 18, 1929

Quotation for the Day.
Never order food in excess of your body weight
Erma Bombeck

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Walnut.

The walnut is probably one of the most versatile of all nuts. Green walnuts can be pickled, slightly riper walnuts can be preserved in syrup, and fully ripe nuts can be eaten straight from the shell or enjoyed in a wide variety of sweet and savoury dishes. To name a few: Bulgarian tarator (a sort of cold garlicky yoghurt, cucumber, and walnut soup), Persian fesenjān (a rich but tart stew containing various meats, pomegranate juice, and walnuts), and of course, the painfully sweet Greek pastry called baklava. Several nations claim walnut soup, and there is a multitude of walnut sauces. You can use it to make pesto, and it is superb in ice-cream or cakes or fudge. And of course, walnut oil is magnificent, if fresh, (it goes rancid very quickly) and could well be the secret ingredient in your next fabulous salad. 

Aside from its culinary use, walnut juice provides a fine dark brown dye – as anyone who has picked green walnuts and ended up with indelibly stained fingers will attest. 

The early history of the walnut is honourably obscure, which indicates its great antiquity. Two varieties make up the bulk of the walnuts consumed around the world. Juglans regia provides the finer ‘Persian’ (or ‘English’) walnut, Juglans nigra, the Eastern Black Walnut, is less important and not so elegant a flavour, they say.

I forgot to mention that walnuts make a pretty good liqueur beverage too. It is called Nocino, and hails from northern Italy. For the recipe for the day, I give you another beverage. Most coffee substitutes sound pretty awful to me, but I may be converted by roasted walnuts. 

Walnut Coffee.
Roast the kernels on a pie-tin, and bake in the oven until they are nicely browned but not scorched. When cold, mash them to a meal with a cup or glass bottle on the tin, and use 1 tablespoonful for 2 cups of coffee. It is rich, and has the best flavour of all coffee substitutes.
Guide for nut cookery together with a brief history of nuts and their food values, by Almeida Lambert (Battle Creek, Michigan, 1899)

I also forgot to mention that walnut leaves do not need to be wasted:

Walnut Wine.
Put two pounds of brown sugar, and a pound of honey, to every gallon of water. Boil them half an hour, and take off the scum. Put into the tub a handful of walnut leaves to every gallon, and pour the liquor upon them. Let it stand all night, then take out the leaves, and put in half a pint of yest [yeast.] Let it work fourteen days, and beat it four or five times a day, which will take off the sweetness. Then stop up the cask, and let it stand six months.
The London art of cookery (1787), by John Farley

Quotation for the Day.
A woman, a dog, and a walnut tree, the more you beat them the better they be.
Thomas Fuller (1608-1661)?