Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Wrapping Up Challenge 7 and 8

So I seem to be on a kick where I do these posts every other challenge. Life (mostly work) is just that crazy lately. I hope to able to get back to a more consistent swing of things soon!

For Challenge 7, we had a lot of folks making innovative, improved foods from history. Apparently that meant a lot of gelatin! Elin at The Sloppy Cook is one of our European participants, and she has such enthusiasm and a great sense of humor; I always love reading her blog entries and seeing her latest creations. She gave us a brief history of gelatin in her quest to recreate a Nougat Pudding from 1911. It's...well, the presentation might not be so hot, but the recipe sounds delicious! Well done, Elin!

Well that's...interesting.

For Challenge 8, our participants made jams, jellies and preserves. Kim of Turnspit & Table (from Australia! We're very international!) made an incredibly pretty orange marmalade. I'm always impressed with Kim's meticulous research, and this challenge is no exception. Seriously, just look at that picture and try not to drool. Way to go, Kim!

Next Up - The Frugal Housewife! Frugality is a trait that was prized across cultures and centuries, especially in the preparation of food. So let's see how frugal you can be! There are lots of different kinds of frugality - frugality in time, frugality in space, frugality in money. Can't wait to see what you all come up with!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Betsy Challenge 8: East India Pickle

I have never really enjoyed the process of making jams or jellies. There were a couple autumns I went to town on my parents' crab apple tree and made crab apple jelly, but that lost its appeal quickly. So I knew I wasn't going to do a traditional fruit preserve for this challenge, and instead decided something I'd never done before - pickling.

I am generally too anxious for canning, so I knew I wanted to try one of those old pickle recipes that you can keep in the fridge and keep adding to, rather than sealing it up and storing it away. I also wanted a pickle recipe that didn't have to sit for weeks on end - I wanted quick results. And, straight vinegar is not my favorite scent, so I didn't want to have to cook a whole bunch of vinegar either. I know, I have a lot of requirements for pickles.

Enter the recipe for East India Pickle from our old pal Eliza Leslie, in her Directions for Cookery. Normally I would put up a screenshot of the recipe, but it's spread out over a few pages, so I'll just direct you to page 227. No cooking of vinegar? Check! Pickles ready within a month? Check! She even says that you can keep adding to the pickle, though I will caution you that I highly doubt her "go ahead and keep it for two years" directive - I'm going to figure on these being similar to refrigerator pickles with a shelf life of about three months.

The Challenge: In a Jam (or Jelly, or Preserve)

The Recipe: East India Pickle, from Directions for Cookery

The Date, Region: 1844, American (Philadelphia); a similar recipe with the same name exists in the White House Cookbook from the 1880s

How Did You Make It: First I created the vinegar pickle well ahead of time. I used white vinegar, mustard seeds, shallots, garlic, turmeric and ginger. I could not find long pepper besides ordering it online, so I used black peppercorns instead. This time I doubled the recipe, put it all into a gallon jug, and let it sit in a sunny place (the best I can get to "a warm place") for ten days.

Next, I processed the vegetables. I cut up a head of cauliflower, three bell peppers, three medium-sized carrots, a handful of pearl onions, a whole bunch of green beans and two small cucumbers. I threw in a handful of green grapes, because I had them on hand and I was intrigued by the idea. I put them in a brine and set them in a fridge for a week. (Do note that I let the vinegar and the veggies sit longer than Mrs. Leslie directs - life got busy.)

I took the vegetables out, drained them, and rinsed them with more vinegar. I divided them up into jars. For someone who has real difficulty with spatial reasoning, I actually had the perfect amout of vegetables to fit twelve pint jars. I then strained the vinegar over the vegetables. I was honestly surprised by how good it smelled - I'm not a huge fan of turmeric, but I smelled the mustard, garlic and ginger more than anything. I put the covers on, and stuck them in the fridge.

Time to Complete: Ten days for it all to sit. Processing the vegetables probably took an hour (thank you, mandolin slicer), prepping the vinegar took half an hour (mostly peeling/slicing shallots, garlic and ginger). Canning took about half an hour.

Total Cost: 'SPEEEENSIVE. I ended up with 12 pints of pickles, but the cost for all the spices and some of the more expensive ingredients like the pearl onions and the shallots, plus the cost of the jars, really added up.

How Successful Was It? TBD! I'm going to let them sit for a while before I taste test, obviously. They look and smell good, so I have high hopes?

How Accurate Is It? As usual, I did not have access to heirloom varieties. I also used white vinegar, because I like it better than cider vinegar, but cider vinegar may be more accurate and it would be worth trying with other kinds of vinegar to see the tastes. As mentioned, I also had issues finding long peppers.


The vinegar...look at all the mustard seed at the bottom!

Draining the veggies after soaking in brine

Veggies, ready to be vinegarized!

The finished product

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Melissa: Challenge 7: The Best Thing since Sliced Bread

Here I am, the prodigal admin, returning to the blog after skipping a challenge! I apologize for the tardiness of this challenge, but I had to move in to school and start the new semester so the pear dish I was going to make sadly got pushed aside to do, well, school.  But I'm here! Better late than never, right?

To preface this, I am not a salad eater.  I have never been a salad eater.  I am morally opposed to what most people deem "salad", which is basically layers of fat and oil and cheese with some green stuff to make you feel good about yourself.  So I decided for this challenge I would go back to the start of this terrible thing called salad, the 1920's.  I turned to my original cookbook, Woman's Institute Library of Cookery, 1925, for some background.  The book touts that, "there is no more effective nor appetizing way in which to include [fresh fruits and vegetables] in a meal than in the serving of salads.  In addition, salads make a strong appeal to the appetite and at the same time are beneficial so far as the health of the family is concerned."  Yeah, no.  The "salad" I made was definitely not at the top of the healthy totem pole.

What did I make, you ask?

Banana-and-Peanut Salad
Fruit-Salad Dressing

Yes. You heard me correctly.  It was insane.

I started off by making the dressing in a double boiler.  It consisted of 1/2 cup pineapple, peach, or pear juice (I chose pineapple), 1/2 cup orange juice, 1/4 cup lemon juice, 1/4 cup sugar, and 2 eggs.  It was briefly whisked together, then put in the double boiler, boiled until it thickened, taken off the flame and whisked a bit, then left to cool before serving.

What do you do when you don't have a double boiler? This!

As that cooled I prepared the "salad".  The recipe calls for cutting the bananas in half lengthwise, rolling them in crushed peanuts, and serving on a lettuce leaf.  If you'd rather have a more appetizing (disgusting) presentation, you could coat the bananas in the dressing before putting the peanuts on.  No thanks!

I ground the peanuts in a vintage nut grinder, as one does, and then put them on a plate.  The peanuts stuck very well to the middle of the banana but fell off of the outside.  Oh well.

See? It's a salad now because it's served on a lettuce leaf!

After the dressing had cooled, I topped my banana with it and tried this weird concoction.  It's... strange.  There are no bad flavors, the combination is just so strange!  I imagined some kind of bananas-and-peanut butter flavor, but the peanuts kind of faded to the background and all I could taste was bland banana and super citrusy dressing.  But I ate salad!

The Challenge: #7: The Best Thing since Sliced Bread

The Recipe: Woman's Institute Library of Cookery (personal collection)

The Date/Year and Region: Pennsylvania, 1925

How Did You Make It: See above :)

Time to Complete: About 30-45 minutes, the dressing took most of the time

Total Cost: I had to buy large bottles of juice for this project, so I would say about $10 outright, but only $3 was used.

How Successful Was It?: Strange... weird... different... unexpected... My father apparently liked it, since he ate two pieces, while my mother and I (more discerning critics) only ate one each.

How Accurate Is It?: Pretty darn! Most of the items I used would have been available in '25, except the bananas might have been smaller.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Betsy - Challenge 7: The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

I got a little literal, and a little abstract with this one, guys. The first thing that popped into my head with "food revolutions" was Grahamism, so I decided to go with that, and take the "bread" part literally with Graham bread.

Grahamism was a food movement, promoted by Reverend Sylvester Graham (duh) in the early to mid-19th century. Rev. Graham was sort of the Dr. Atkins of his time. He promoted a strict vegetarian diet, healthy habits (including daily bathing and the daily brushing of teeth), and abstinence from alcohol. This, he believed, would cure lust - he also promoted sexual abstinence. I bet he was a lot of fun to be around. If you're dealing with insomnia, you might want to give his A Treatise on Bread, and Bread-Making a try. Despite this, his diet was immensely popular and his ideas influenced many of the leading nutritionists of the 19th century, including the Kellogg brothers.

One of the pillars of the Graham diet was a hearty, dense, whole wheat bread that came to be known as Graham bread. In the 19th century, flour was frequently adulterated with substances like chalk, and contained additives to make the bread appear whiter. Graham bread was made with "unbolted"(coarsely-ground whole wheat) flour, free of additives and adulterations. It should be noted that the healthy properties of such bread was well-known and recognized, especially for those suffering stomachaches - it was often called "dyspeptic bread". Graham didn't invent the bread, or Graham flour, but his promotion of the bread connected his name with it, as noted by Elizabeth Acton in Modern Cookery.

The hey-day of Grahamism was the 1840s and early 1850s. I wanted to make an 1860s recipe, rather than an earlier recipe, so I found this recipe for Graham bread from Practical American Cookery, edited by Elizabeth Hall:

So. "Make in the usual fashion", right?

The Challenge: The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

The Recipe: Graham Bread, from Practical American Cookery

The Date/Year and Region: 1860, United States

How Did You Make It:  I looked up the recipe for wheat bread in the same volume, which called for four quarts of flour and a pint of yeast, and I knew I was in over my head. This might be a good time to once again note that I am no great chef, and I am even less great of a bread-baker. Working with yeast terrifies me. So I put out a call to the fine folks over in the Facebook group to see what their experience was, while I got to researching. Long story short: yes, their yeast was different from ours - it mostly came from breweries as a byproduct of beer-brewing, and there are some ways to reproduce it. There is much more to say about this, but I'm going to save it for another day (and another post) and just note that I decided that I, my apartment neighbors, and those taste-testing the bread would all just be happier if I saved yeast experiments for another time and place, and went with some active dry yeast.

Also, when is a quart not a quart? When Mrs. Hall says it is a pound. Lesson learned: check out the measurements guide in any 19th century cookbook, or you'll be very sad.

Despite all that, I emerged victorious. Using the aforementioned wheat bread recipe, I figured out the proportion of water and salt to flour. I took the Graham bread recipe and turned it into a ratio: two parts fine flour, two parts unbolted flour, and one part cornmeal. I did two cups of each flour, and one cup of the scalded cornmeal. I added the salt and the molasses, kneaded, let it rise, put in loaf pans, let it rest for an hour, then popped it into a 350 degree oven for about 35 minutes.

Time to Complete: From scalding the cornmeal to finishing the bread, it took about 3 hours, but that was mostly letting the dough rise and then rest. Probably about half an hour to 45 minutes of actual work.

Total Cost: Negligible. All-purpose flour and whole-wheat flour and cornmeal, all of which I had on hand, plus the yeast, salt and a dollop of molasses = basically nothing.

How Successful Was It?: It turned out pretty good! It was tasty - a little bland, but not bad. Scalding the cornmeal really helped, I think - it's definitely dense and chewy, but it doesn't have that gritty cornmeal texture. The Gentleman Friend (once again playing the part of guinea pig) declared it a success. I sent him home with half a loaf.

How Accurate Is It?: Well, there's the aforementioned yeast issue; I'd definitely like to try it again with a more accurately-replicated yeast to see what the difference is. I also made a judgement call on the unbolted flour - some recipe books called it "bran", but many of the recipes for Graham bread suggested sifting the flour first before using it, so I decided to use whole wheat flour. Again, I'd like to try it again and see what the taste difference is.

Have a picture!