Saturday, November 29, 2014

Betsy Challenge 13: Ethnic Foods

Ethnic foods and their place in the Upper Midwest have always been a fascination for me - in fact, you could probably create a tangled web to show how my interest in ethnic foods led to me creating the Historical Food Fortnightly. Minnesota and Wisconsin are a stereotypical melting pots of European immigrants from all over, pockets of Polish, German, Bohemian, Slavic, and Scandinavian immigrants. These ethnic groups were very distinctive in the mid- to late-19th century, and their foodways contributed to the culinary make-up of the Upper Midwest. This is evident at every church basement potluck or family holiday dinner, with lefse, lutefisk, krumkake, abelskiver and hot potato salads.

In 2010 I attended a conference at Old World Wisconsin. If you haven't ever been, and you live within five hours, I am not being facetious when I say that you must go. It's one of my favorite sites in the Midwest, with over 60 original buildings and acres and acres of gardens, all arranged according to the ethnic groups found in Wisconsin in the 19th century. There is a Norwegian area, a German area, a Polish area, and so on. The interpreters there harvest food straight from these gardens (which have been well-researched and documented) and prepare them according to the ethnic foodways of that area. For historical foodies, it's like Disneyland.

One of the sessions at the conference was, naturally, about foodways, presented by the director of foodways at Old World Wisconsin. I went home with a packet of well-researched and well-documented recipes from their files. I knew that when it came to ethnic foodways, I could trust this treasure trove, and there was one particular recipe I wanted to try out.

The Challenge: Ethnic Foods

The Recipe: Creamed bratwurst, from the recipe files at Old World Wisconsin

The Date/Year and Region: mid- to late-19th century. The recipe itself is Pomeranian (northern Germany/Poland, pre-unification), documented to Wisconsin.

How Did You Make It: It was a very simple recipe: brown sliced bratwurst in a pan, then add cream. Cook together until the bratwurst is cooked through. I used locally butchered, uncooked bratwurst (this is Minnesota, people - we take our brats serious). I took the liberty of adding some black pepper for seasoning. As recommended by the recipe, I served it with some mashed potatoes.

Time to Complete: Half an hour, max.

Total Cost: About $6.50, and would serve about three.

How Successful Was It?: Delicious! It was like bratwurst's answer to Swedish meatballs - the sausage was flavorful and added to the cream gravy. The cream was a little thin, and in the future I might add a roux to make it a little thicker, but it certainly wasn't bad. With the potatoes, it was delicious, even if it doesn't necessarily look appetizing.

How Accurate Was It?: As always, I used an electric stove, and I did not use heritage ingredients. I don't usually rely on others' research for my recipes, but I feel very confident using the recipes from Old World Wisconsin.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Betsy Challenge 12: If They'd Had It

I had no plans for this particular challenge, and I was starting to get a little nervous. That's when I stumbled on this recipe from, you guessed it, Directions for Cookery:

(I swear, I'm giving Miss Leslie a rest after this)

Fruit leather from the 1840s! Make sense - if you have a lot of fruit, dehydrating it is an easy way to preserve it for later. Leathers can even be reconstituted. Fruit leather it is!

 The Challenge: If They Had It

The Recipe: Peach leather from Directions for Cookery by Eliza Leslie

The Date/Year and Region: 1840, United States

How Did You Make It: Fresh peaches are a bit hard to find in Minnesota in November, so I went with apples. I also had to decide how to handle the "leave it in the sun" bit - even if I wanted to risk leaving fruit in the sun (and the potential for attracting winged insects), there isn't enough sunlight to do it at this time of year, and we got hit with a really gigantic snowstorm this past week. I could have used a dehydrator, but that would make it more modern than I'm comfortable with. In the end, I decided to cook it in an oven on the lowest temperature possible (170, in my oven). I pared and chopped the apples, cooked them down with a little bit of water, added some sugar, and macerated the fruit with a potato masher. Spread out on two cookie sheets, it took about 8 hours.

Time To Complete: All flippin' day.

Total Cost: About $5 for the apples.

How Successful Was It?: Part of the center of the sheet of leather didn't get done, but the rest turned out well! Like a big, chewable, apple-flavored Fruit Roll-up

How Accurate Is It?: The apples are not an heirloom variety, and I obviously had to put them in an electric oven.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Betsy Challenge 11: Foods Named After People

Last weekend I went to my parents' house to spend the weekend with them and celebrate both my birthday and my mom's birthday. While I was there, I thought it would be fun to do a challenge with my mom (hi Mom!). I took over her kitchen on Saturday and made Franklin cakes.

I have no idea what connection these cakes have to Benjamin Franklin, or if there even is a connection, but this has been a recipe I've wanted to try for a while. I have seen it before, and I remember being intimidated by it - probably because of the queen cake pans and converting the amount of eggs. I take it as a sign of good things that I was able to research queen cake pans, decided that muffin tins would suffice, and simply winged it on the eggs. My fear of cooking is abating, thanks to HFF!

The Challenge: Foods Named After People

The Recipe: Franklin Cakes, Directions for Cookery by Eliza Leslie (anyone else tired of me and my love affair with Mrs. Leslie?

The Date/Year and Region: 1840, United States

How Did You Make It?: I followed the directions. Har har. It really wasn't all that complex. The hardest part was using a different oven and discovering that the "warm" setting on my mom's glass-top stove should really be the "do absolutely nothing for butter and molasses" setting. I did not half the recipe as I usually do, but I only used four eggs and one large lemon instead of two. I baked at 350 for about 25 minutes.

Time to Complete: A couple hours, including a "holy heck we need more molasses than that" grocery store run and the aforementioned debacle with the warm setting

Total Cost: I'm the worst at guessing this. There were a lot of spices so I'm going to say it was more than $5 but less than $10?

How Did It Turn Out: They were good! Like little gingerbread cakes. They were quite dense, so one cake was plenty for one person. They got good reviews from the family. I personally would plan to monkey a bit with the seasonings - it was missing a little something. I think there was also either too much or too little lemon in it. For a non-historic treat, they were really good with some cream cheese frosting.

How Accurate Is It?: I did not use queen cake pans and went for modern muffin tins. Next time I would like to try some patty pans. Also modern oven, stove, etc etc

Butter melting in molasses is funky-looking.

The finished product! They were very pretty.

Mr. Toby helped with supervision and begging. He may have gotten a bit of Franklin cake for his efforts.