Sunday, October 26, 2014

Wrapping up Challenge 10

Challenge 10 was all about cakes! As always, our participants impressed me with their interpretation of cakes - and the idea of cake has changed throughout history, so there was plenty of scope for the imagination!

First up for some honors is Gail of Art, Beauty, and Well-Ordered Chaos for her chocolate cake from 1877. I love a good chocolate cake (it's no secret I'm a bit of a choco-holic) and this one looks delicious. Well done, Gail!

Next up is Marion, who blogs from across the Atlantic at Green Martha's Kitchen. She made a gonglof (I'm just smiling and nodding here) from a recipe found in La Mode Illustree from 1898. It turned out just so pretty, and I can practically taste it melting in my mouth. Thanks, Marion!

Up Next: Foods Named After People! We're actually halfway through this challenge. This can be food named after someone in particular, like Peach Melba (named after the opera singer Nellie Melba). Or, it could be a food that simply have a moniker attached to it, like a charlotte cake. As always, the sky is the limit!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Betsy Challenge 10: Pumpkin Hoe Cakes

As with every single challenge, I started this one with very good intentions. The challenge was just in time for an immersion event I was doing; making cakes in an 1820s log cabin would be the thing to take my Historical Food Fortnightly participation to the next level!

Well, it didn't happen. I found a cabin-worthy cake, but was so busy having an excellent time (and slumming it as a tavern maid) that I didn't get a chance to make the cakes.

When I got home (after some adventures too tedious to mention here) I decided to make the things I'd been planning on making anyway - pumpkin hoe cakes, from the Kentucky Housewife. Hoe cakes are a kind of fried cornmeal cake indigenous to the southern United States. I picked this recipe because it was simple and fast. It was also dated to the time in which our cabin was first built and occupied, and a similar location (our cabin having come from Tennessee) and it was very appealing to cook the same food that might have been cooked in the cabin when it was first occupied. It was also very seasonal - 'tis the season for pumpkin, after all.

The Challenge: Let Them Eat Cake!

The Recipe: Pumpkin Hoe Cakes, from The Kentucky Housewife by Lettice Bryan

The Date/Region: 1835/Kentucky

How Did You Make It: The recipe calls for 1 quart of cornmeal, and 1 pint of pumpkin. You mix this together, with enough milk to make a thin dough, and fry it on a griddle greased with lard or butter until browned. Serve hot with butter.

I surprisingly know a thing or two about working with cornmeal, and one of the things I know is that corn has no gluten. Cooks in the 19th century often used cornmeal in exactly the same ways as they would use wheat flour, but  corn's lack of gluten makes cornmeal a very different creature.

When working with cornmeal, it is helpful to use hot (boiling) water and let it sit for about 20 minutes before working with it. This gives the best taste and makes the cornmeal more malleable (and less likely to crumble into bits, which was my big concern). So, despite there being no mention of this technique in the original recipe, I heated up the milk to scald it, mixed it in with the cornmeal until it was just moistened, and let it sit a spell.

After it sat, I mixed in the pumpkin. The texture was good, so I dropped it by very heaped tablespoons into the pan to fry. It took about 4 or 5 minutes on each side to fry up, and it was hard to tell when it was browned. A couple did fall apart, but most stuck together - victory!

Time to Complete: About a quarter of an hour from start to finish.

Total Cost: Under $5. I randomly have a superfluity of cornmeal, and a small can of pumpkin was less than $1

How Successful Was It: I was surprised at how much I liked them. They're good in the way that anything browned in butter, and then spread with more butter, is going to be good. They remind me a great deal of fried cornmeal mush (unsurprisingly) or cornmeal fritters. However, they are rather bland. I could see serving them with any mid-19th century condiment - apple butter, fruit preserves, honey, sorghum, molasses, maple syrup, or even spread with brown sugar. I ate them on the side of some carrot soup, which made for a very orange dinner, but they went together surprisingly well.

How Accurate Is It: Besides my liberties with the cornmeal and the milk, I used a can of pumpkin instead of stewing my own heirloom variety, and I am sure the corn is not heirloom either. Modern stove, etc etc etc.

They aren't very photogenic...

Monday, October 6, 2014

Wrapping up #9

Challenge 9 has come and gone! For those keeping track, the Historical Food Fortnightly has 26 challenges (52 weeks in the year means 26 fortnights) so we are just over one-third of the way to the end point!

Challenge 9 was all about frugality - ways to save money, ingredients, time, effort, and more. As always, I'm impressed by the creativity of our challengers, who came up with some really thoughtful ways of interpreting this challenge. I've also been surprised at just how many people are choosing 20th century recipes, so we're featuring two of them this fortnight!

First up is Elizabeth from The Cup That Cheers, with her interpretation of shrimp curry. She substituted trout for shrimp for allergy reasons (staying out of the ER is definitely frugal) and utilized ingredients found in the pantry. Saving time shopping and using what's on hand is definitely a "frugal housewife" move. Well done, Elizabeth!

Next is June of Food History. June is a relative newcomer to the Historical Food Fortnightly. There's no such thing as "too late" around here - we encourage people to jump in and participate as much as they are able, whenever they are able! June's first post about victory bread was a great first post with excellent research. Way to go, June!

Next Up: Let Them Eat Cake. The term "cake" has had different meanings throughout history, so as long as it's called a cake, it's free game. Small cakes, big cakes, fancy cakes, simple cakes, iced cakes, spiced cakes, fluffy cakes, dense cakes - can't wait to see what you all come up with!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Betsy - Challenge 9: The Frugal Housewife

When I think of frugality, I (of course) think of saving money. However, a couple other principles come to mind: being able to create a tasty and attractive dish, being able to do it cheaply, and being able to utilize any ingredients on hand. My mom is a very frugal housewife in all these respects - her grandmother (my great-grandmother) once told her, "A good cook is someone who can take any ingredients she has on hand and make a meal." She's lived that principle through raising four kids, and now that I am on my own, I try to embody that principle in my cooking.

So I decided to try for a dish that used just a few ingredients one might have readily on hand, would make a dish that could be served proudly at any dinner table, and could be made inexpensively.

I turned to one of my favorite quirky cookbooks from any era, What Shall We Have For Dinner by Lady Maria Clutterbuck*. The book is a collection of bills of fare from the Lady Maria, whose late husband was of a strong appetite that required varying menus. These menus vary from the plainest tables to the fanciest dinner parties. No matter the occasion, Lady Maria has a bill of fare with a wide variety of dishes to suit.

At the end, she includes an appendix of recipes, and one of them is "Potato Balls":

Mmmm. Grated tongue.
Pretty simple, could easily be made with ingredients around the house, and can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion/diners. It's also a great way to use up leftovers - have some baked potatoes from yesterday's dinner? I think this is a very frugal recipe indeed!

*Lady Maria Clutterbuck is the pseudonym of Catherine Dickens, wife of Charles Dickens. He was very much alive at the time the book was written. She herself was a talented writer, and the book was popular enough to go through several printings.

The Challenge:  The Frugal Housewife

The Recipe: "Potato Balls" from What Shall We Have for Dinner? by Lady Maria Clutterbuck (Catherine Dickens)

The Date/Year and Region: 1852, England

How Did You Make It?: Just like it says! I baked some potatoes, let them cool a bit, and then peeled off the skins. I mashed them (adding some salt and pepper), and formed them into balls about the size of a golf ball. I brushed those with egg yolk - the yolk from the egg I grabbed was kind of thick, so it ended up a little gloppy, and the fact that I did not have a pastry brush on hand didn't help. I popped them in a 450 degree oven for about ten minutes to brown.

Time to Complete: I baked the potatoes for an hour, it took about 20 minutes to cool, peel and mash, then another ten to bake. Obviously most of that time was cook time, rather than prep time.

Total Cost: $2 max. I used four medium-ish potatoes and got a dozen balls.

How Successful Was It?: Not bad! They're a little bit like a rissole, but baked (thus healthier). It reminded me a lot of a twice-baked potato, minus the skins and all the fixings. The egg yolk was definitely too thick, but that's easily remedied next time. They could definitely be dressed up with a sauce, or with a garnish, to make them a little fancier, but they were a nice accompaniment to tonight's soup dinner.

How Accurate Was It?: No heirloom potatoes (just plain old russets) and cooked in an electric oven (as always) but besides that, very accurate.