Sunday, June 29, 2014

Melissa: A Little Barley, a Lot of Soup

I have to admit everyone, I cheated...

This week was a LONG week.  My sister got married smack dab in the middle of this challenge, plus we had visitors from Germany for the entire week after the wedding, so I did something a little bad... I let Colonial Williamsburg do the guesswork for me.  I made their barley soup recipe based off of Mary Randolph's 1824 recipe from The Virginia Housewife.  It goes a little something like this...

That would make A LOT of soup.  CW's recipe is for a smaller, more manageable portion (but still giant!) of delicious soup-stew-stuff.  I added an extra carrot, left out the onions so that my mother would be able to eat it (she hates onions!), and used beef instead of mutton for cost's sake.  It was an absolutely delicious stew, and definitely a balanced meal in and of itself.

It ain't pretty, but it tastes amazing!

The Challenge: #2 Soups and Sauces

The Recipe: Colonial Williamsburg, via The Virginia Housewife

The Date/Year and Region: 1820's Virginia

How Did You Make It: Started off stewing the beef, barley, and water for a bit, then added the turnips and carrots, then finally added the ham and tomatoes.  If I would make it again I'd probably add the barley in later as it did get a bit mushy (and more barley!)

Time to Complete: Start to finish, about three hours.  Lots of cooking and cutting time.

Total Cost: Around $9 for eight servings of delicious soup!

How Successful Was It?: It was absolutely delightful!  I've never had turnips and I'm wary of tomato in soup, but this was amazing.  I will definitely make it again!

How Accurate Is It?: I did go off of a reproduction recipe instead of the original (but I had access to the original at least!) It would have benefitted from the addition of lamb or mutton instead of beef, and onions would have enhanced it even further.  I did used canned diced tomatoes instead of fresh and pre-packaged diced ham instead of "a few slices" of ham.  I would say it's about 75% there!

I've been amazed at all of the delicious soups and sauces our lovely members are posting on the Facebook group!  Go on over and check them out!  Bon appetit!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Betsy: Peas Soup (Or, Some Like It Hot, Some Like It Cold...)

One of the goals I have had with these challenges is to try and make every-day fare - things that our forebears might have eaten as a matter of course, rather than fancy food meant to impress. I also have a goal of developing a repertoire of simple foods that could be cooked at events.

So, what kind of simple soup to make? I decided pretty early to try a pea soup/porridge. I found the perfect recipe in Eliza Leslie's Directions for Cookery from 1837:

Not so difficult, but interesting enough and has some interesting flavor palettes with the mint. I had to wait until very late in the challenge to make it because, unsurprisingly, it takes for-freaking-ever to make, and I didn't want to have to slave over a stove after work for dinner at midnight, so I needed a free weekend day.

The Challenge: Soups, Sauces and Gravies

The Recipe: Eliza Leslie's Directions for Cookery, found on Google Books

The Date/Year and Region: 1837, United States

How Did You Make It: I started by soaking the dried split peas overnight. I browned the beef - this isn't explicitly stated in the recipe, but I thought I'd do it anyway since that's kind of a staple of soup-making. Then, I basically chucked the peas, beef, bacon and mint together as the recipe stated. I halved everything since I didn't have a stock pot handy and I'm all by my onesies so I don't need five gallons of soup.

Fact: You can't get dried mint at any grocery stores around these parts. Some folks even looked at me like I was really nuts. So, based on a recipe for "green peas soup" in the same volume, I put a sprig of mint in the pot and took it out after 20 minutes of boiling. After three hours at a steady simmer, the peas were getting pretty mushy, so I added in the celery and let it sit for about another hour.

The recipe said to strain it, so I strained some of it into a bowl for taste-testing purposes.

Time to Complete: 4 hours or so

Total Cost: About $14.86. The peas were very cheap, I only used a spring of the mint, and the celery was free. It sounds like a lot for a soup, but I am pretty sure I have a gallon and a half leftover after dinner tonight. Divvying it up into 10 generous portions makes it about $1.50/serving. Not bad.

How Successful Was It?: It wasn't bad. The flavors were really interesting - the celery was very strong, although celery admittedly isn't my favorite vegetable. I may try celery seed next time to see how that goes. The mint is interesting mixed with the celery and the bacon flavors - not bad, just interesting. I definitely prefer it with some meat in it. It's also really, REALLY thick - when it got cold, it was basically sold. Not a bad thing, in my book, but you'll definitely need to thin it out if you plan to reheat (in the pot, nine days old, couldn't resist). It looks really, really pretty though - I was worried the beef/bacon might make it a little gray, and had some spinach on hand in case I wanted to add some juice for green, but it turned out a lovely, muted green.

How Accurate Is It?: Pretty darn accurate, I'd say. I followed the recipe closely, and the only modifications I made were using fresh mint instead of dried, and browning the beef to start. 

To start: all the ingredients in the pot, ready to simmer for hours

After the celery is added - peas starting to achieve complete mushification

The finished product - pretty tasty, in an unconventional way!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Challenge 1: Wrapping Up, Some Shout-Outs, and The Next Challenge

The curtains are drawing to a close on the first challenge! Melissa and I have been awed by how this round went. Fact: there are some AMAZING people participating. It's kind of awe-inspiring to think that a random idea I had on an evening in December could turn into a worldwide phenomenon.

At the end of each challenge, I'd like to highlight some participants and their creations. We'll try and rotate through as many participants as we can, so that everyone can get a glimpse of the fabulous things that everyone is creating. Fact: we have the best participants EVER.

First up, I have to give a shout out to Alison of Running with Scissors and Fabric for her interpretation of a Vesper Martini from Ian Fleming's Casino Royale. As near as I can tell, hers was the first challenge completed! While a drink (and what a drink) might be skewing the idea of food and cooking a bit, the rules of the project are purposefully loose to allow creativity and inventiveness. No one ever said it had to be cooked, or eaten. I like your style, Alison. Keep on keeping on!

Shaken, not stirred, indeed!

I would also like to call your attention to Elizabeth of Ashamanja Babu (also of my favorite local fabric shop!) for her healthy meal inspired by The Road to Wellville. I love the creativity! Elizabeth took a modern book about a historical period, referenced the information and created a historical meal. One that is slightly terrifying; I know protose is a real thing that people eat but I'm a little worried it might become sentient and take over the world, just based on the pictures. Well done, Elizabeth!

Finally, I'm a sucker for a pretty cake. Stephanie Ann of The World Turn'd Upside Down takes the cake (see what I did there?) with her Nut Cake from Anne of Avonlea. The Anne of Green Gables series proved to be really popular among participants, self included. Stephanie's interpretation has me seriously craving something sweet.

The Next Challenge: Soups, Sauces and Gravies

I've been hearing little bits of rumbling about what people are working on for this, and after how successful the last challenge was, I simply cannot wait to see what everyone does for the next challenge! If you're living south of the equator, it's probably a great time to make a pot of soup to warm you up. For us in the northern hemisphere, it's a little warm for soup - at least, I always think of soup as a cold-weather meal. There are lots of historic recipes for cold soups, though! I've got my fingers crossed that we might see some interpretations of interesting catsup recipes. Me, I found a recipe for "gravy soup", and I'm tempted to make it just to be a little bit meta with the challenge.

Happy cooking, everyone!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Betsy: Plum Puffs from Anne of Avonlea

The Challenge: On the Facebook page, I gave a teaser about what I was cooking for the first challenge. It's something from an era I've never interpreted (and, frankly, never want to interpret), and from a book that first inspired my love of history. The book is Anne of Avonlea, the era is the late 19th century, and the recipe is plum puffs!

The Anne series of books made me fall in love with history. I watched the miniseries again and again, and read the books as many times as I could take them out from the library, enamored of the quaint-yet-elegant country life of Anne, Diana and their friends. I wanted to go to a one-room schoolhouse, play on Barry's Pond (excuse me, the Lake of Shining Waters), and wear a dress with puffed sleeves. Anne, the awkward and "homely" heroine who gets herself into so many scrapes with so many good intentions, also appealed to little me, and still has through all these years. So, when we set out a literary challenge, I knew for sure that I was going to pick an Anne recipe.

The plum puffs came from Anne of Avonlea. In the book, Anne has become a teacher with many ideas about what a teacher should do - including never hitting a child. Unfortunately, she meets her Waterloo in Anthony Pye, and gives him a whipping. Horrified with herself, she goes home for a good cry, which is how Marilla finds her.
"I can't help it. I want everybody to love me and it hurts me so when anybody doesn't. And Anthony never will now. Oh, I just made an idiot of myself today, Marilla. I'll tell you the whole story."
Marilla listened to the whole story, and if she smiled at certain parts of it Anne never knew. When the tale was ended she said briskly, "Well, never mind. This day's done and there's a new one coming tomorrow, with no mistakes in it yet, as you used to say yourself. Just come downstairs and have your supper. You'll see if a good cup of tea and those plum puffs I made today won't hearten you up."
"Plum puffs won't minister to a mind diseased," said Anne disconsolately; but Marilla thought it a good sign that she had recovered sufficiently to adapt a quotation.
Oh Anne. How can you not love her?  Who hasn't been there?

The Recipe:  As chance would have it, I came across a recipe for "Puffs" in The Good Housekeeper by Sarah Josepha Hale from 1841. Here's what she says:

Roll out puff paste nearly a quarter of an inch thick and, with a small saucer, or tin cutter of that size, cut it into round pieces; place upon one side raspberry or strawberry jam, or any other sort of preserved fruit, or stewed apples; wet the edges, fold over the other side, and press it round with the finger and thumb.
Simple concept! Puff pastry with fruit filling. There's even a recipe for puff pastry in the book, and it looked remarkably similar to modern puff pastry recipes. To be sure, I double-checked in The White House Cookbook, and their recipe is very similar as well.

The Date/Year and Region: There are several different theories out there about the timeline of the Anne stories. Most place the Anne of Avonlea scenes somewhere in the 1880s/1890s. So I stuck with that as a general era. Given Marilla's old-school-housekeeper personality, I felt comfortable reaching farther back to the mid-19th century for a recipe that she might have learned as a young woman, or even as a child from her own mother. The Good Housekeeper dates to 1841. The White House Cookbook dates to 1887. Both cookbooks are American.

How Did You Make It: I won't bore you with the details of making the puff pastry, except to note that it wasn't as hard as I feared. Following explicit directions was important, and chilling the dough between turns was very helpful. Since Anne wakes up the next day to a blanket of snow on the ground, I felt confident that Marilla probably chilled the dough on the porch as well.

For the filling, I decided to stew some fresh plums. I got some really ripe, juicy plums, peeled them, stoned them, and put them in a pan with a bit of water and some sugar, intending to thicken it up. I waited. And waited. And waited some more. I put some corn starch in and boiled it. And waited. And still it was runny. But, the plum pieces themselves, though nearly decimated from the process, were sweet and tart and juicy. So, I salvaged what I could.

I followed the recipe's directions: cut out circles, put a blob of filling in them, wetted the corners and folded them over. But, the filling was so runny, it was hard to get them to behave. So, they ended up a little more open that I would have liked - I was hoping for something that looked like a little fruit pie.

It doesn't matter though, because they were DELICIOUS. I baked them at 400 degrees for 10 minutes - that wasn't long enough, so I gave them another five minutes, at which point the bottoms were golden brown. The dough turned out flaky and light (a little salty, because I used salted butter without realizing, but oh well). The filling was everything a good fruit filling should be (except that it was runny). They got a little soft in between baking and serving (it was a warm, humid weekend) but they were still very good.

Time to Complete: FOREVER. At least that's what it seemed like. The dough took the longest because of the amount of chilling required between turns. In between each turn of the dough I worked on the filling, so it really took about three or four hours. Easily doable of an evening or on a weekend afternoon, but make sure you don't have to go anywhere suddenly, and plan on doing housework in between turns. You know that's what Marilla did.

Total Cost: Negligible. The pastry was flour and water to make a paste dough, plus a half a pound of butter. The plums were under $5. Mrs. Lynde would be proud of my frugality.

How Successful Was It?: They disappeared at the picnic to which I brought them, those who ate them gave rave reviews (even when asked "But seriously...") and those who did not get to try one were disappointed.

How Accurate Is It?: I live in the wasteland known as Central Minnesota. There are no green grocers or fruit markets, and plums are not easily grown here. So, I made do with what was available at my local supermarket, and have no idea if they are at all similar to 19th century plums. I also used my Kitchenaid mixer with the dough hook attachment to mix the dough, but did end up working it by hand at the end to get it uniform.

 Pictures! As stated on my own blog, you will always get terrible pictures from me. Still not sorry.

The finished product, with tea (naturally)
Bottom right, mid-devouring, on the picnic table. Courtesy of my dear friend Karen!

A note: Just before I started working on this, I was sent a link to another blogger who has done plum puffs from Anne of Avonlea. I was unaware of her efforts before I began this process. I still haven't even looked at her post, or her results, for fear of skewing my own research and results. I'm looking forward to comparing our notes, now that I'm done!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Melissa: Baked Apples a la Jane Austen's Emma

"There is nothing she likes so well as these baked apples, and they are extremely wholesome, for I took the opportunity the other day of asking Mr. Perry; I happened to meet him in the street. Not that I had any doubt before—I have so often heard Mr. Woodhouse recommend a baked apple. " ~ Emma by Jane Austen

Hello everyone!  The Historical Food Fortnightly officially began at the beginning of this month, and it has been so much fun seeing everyone's historical food creations!  For this challenge, Literature, I chose a novel by one of my favorite authors, Jane Austen.  In Emma, Jane Fairfax is known to frequently indulge in baked apples.  In order to recreate what she might have eaten, I went to The Art of Cookery by Hannah Glasse, published in 1774.  The receipt is vague, as can be expected from a cookbook of this time.

I chose to look at a few modern recipes for baked apples to see what proportions of things should look like.  This recipe suggests two cloves, and I decided to do three because there were no other spices, and this recipe suggests 3/4 cup of liquid and a pat of butter on the top of each apple, which I chose to do on a few.

"Coarse sugar" also proved to be a confusing instruction.  At first I thought to use brown sugar since that was the cheaper sugar available at the time.  However, after talking to a friend, we determined that the "coarse" modifier likely referred to the fact that the cook did not need to grind the sugar finer and could simply leave it coarse.  With this in mind, I decided to do two different variations on the recipe: one with white refined sugar and one with turbinado sugar.  Refined white sugar would be the finer variety available, taken out for special guests, where an unrefined cane sugar like turbinado sugar would be the everyday fare for the family.

Any good apple recipe, of course, begins with great apples!  I'm spoiled as I have an apple orchard nearby.  I chose Idared apples, but I've seen recipes recommend Granny Smiths if you can't make it out to an orchard or farmer's market.

Washed and ready in the pan - didn't have an earthenware one so this will have to do!

Core and scoop out the innards of the apples

My two choices of sugar - standard fare refined white sugar and organic turbinado sugar.

Fill the apples with sugar (yum!)

Cut a little lemon peel...

And place it in the apple! I suppose H.G. might have meant candied lemon peel, but fresh is what I had on hand.

Butter, the perfect accessory: four of the apples received a pat of butter, not in the original recipe, because BUTTER!

Three cloves topped off each apple

Throw in "special sauce"...

And bake at 375 for one hour!  They don't look great, but they taste amazing!

The Challenge: #1 Literature

The Recipe: Baked Apples in Hannah Glasse's The Art of Cookery

The Date/Year and Region: 1774, England, in order to represent 1810's England

Time to Complete: About 15 minutes of prep and 1 hour of baking!

Total Cost: I bought a lot of apples for other projects as well, so I maybe used $3 worth in this.  The fancy sugar cost $5 and the cloves were about $2, everything else was already in the kitchen.  All in all, around $10.

How Successful Was It?: Amazing!!! I doubted Ms. Glasse's original recipe because I couldn't imagine just throwing sugar, cloves and lemon peel into an apple would result in any edible thing, but boy was I wrong.  The two experiments I did (one set with all original ingredients plus butter, and one set with sugar, cloves, and butter but no lemon peel) did not turn out as well as the original recipe.  If I were to make this again, I'd like to just use white sugar instead of the turbinado sugar since the white sugar melted into a delicious appley clovey lemony sugar soup in the middle of each baked apple, which was absolutely delightful!

How Accurate Is It?: I'm not sure what the processes are for refining sugar nowadays, but I would guess my modern white sugar is not a period perfect option.  The apple variety I used was introduced in 1930, however it can't be too different from the baking apples available at the time.  I could have potentially used candied lemon peel instead of fresh lemon peel, but I couldn't tell the difference.  As mentioned before, I added butter to a few of the apples.  All in all, it was a delightful experiment!

I can't wait to see what all of you have been cooking up!  Thank you all for your support in this little project - Betsy and I are just floored that anyone else is crazy enough to do this!  Good cooking and Bon Appetit!