Monday, February 23, 2015

Betsy Challenge 19: Something Borrowed, Something Blue

I knew that blue foods would be tricky even when we were planning the challenges last summer. Blue foods just aren't really plentiful. The obvious one - blueberries - didn't become popular in recipes until well after my chosen time period (1840s-1860s). So I decided to stretch myself into a new era, and I even had a book I was interested in using.

Fannie Farmer is a legendary chef in American cookery. Her recipe book, The Boston Cooking-School Book, completely revolutionized the way cookbooks were written. Prior to its publication, most cookbooks relied on cooks' knowledge of arbitrary measurements. We're familiar with these at the Historical Food Fortnightly - "butter the size of an egg", and so forth. Fannie Farmer's cookbook promoted a scientific approach to cooking and standardized these measurements into the ones we know today - cups, teaspoons, and tablespoons. She also relied on volume rather than weight. Whether or not this was an improvement, and what it did to American cooking, is up for debate (and if you're interested on how the post-Fannie Farmer home economics movement changed women's roles and domesticity, I highly recommend you check out Made From Scratch by Jean Zimmerman). However, it means that the recipe does not require any of the fudging or translating that older recipes do!

I also borrowed my mom's kitchen to make this, yet again.

The Challenge: Something Borrowed, Something Blue

The Recipe: Steamed Blueberry Pudding, from The Boston Cooking-School Book

The Date/Year and Region: 1912 (Revised Edition), Boston

How Did You Make It: I rubbed the butter into the dry ingredients with my fingertips (which is a technique I learned while learning to make soda bread - it's similar to using a pastry cutter or running it through a food processor, but ends up with a lighter finish). Then I added the milk and the blueberries dredged in flour, put it in the steamer, and put that in a stock pot with water to steam for an hour and a half. Took it out, got it out of the mold, and ate it - couldn't have been easier! And my small mold was a perfect size.

Time To Complete: About an hour and 45 minutes

Total Cost: Less than $5

How Successful Was It?: It's pretty tasty! I didn't have time to make the sauce that should have gone with it, but we had whipped cream on it and that was a nice addition. With no sugar added to it, it's a little bland on its own. I was a little concerned about the taste with so much baking powder added to it, but it turned out like a big biscuit with juicy blueberries in it. The family taste-tested it and gave it two thumbs up.

How Accurate Is It?: No heirloom ingredients but otherwise I followed the recipe to the letter.

Have some pictures!

Rubbing the butter into the dry ingredients

Blueberries are surely the prettiest fruit...

Put into the mold for steaming...bon voyage, buddy!

The finished product! It got a little stuck to the pan but it tasted lovely!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Betsy Challenge 18: Descriptive Foods

This challenge involves a secret. A dark secret.

My grandmother is the best cook I know. Several years ago, she took her collection of recipes and photocopied them to create a cookbook, which was given to my mother, who then made copies and gave them to me and my siblings. The book has a variety of recipes in multiple formats, from handwritten recipe cards to newspaper clippings.

My favorite recipes are those given to her at her wedding shower in 1951. They come from her mother, her aunts, and some neighbors and friends. The best of all of these is a mysterious recipe for Dark Secret, from "Grammy Hamm".

"Tastes much better than it sounds" - Challenge accepted.

Grammy Hamm is my grandmother's grandmother, Emily Spurney Hamm - this would make her my great-great grandmother. Her husband, Phillip Hamm, was an alderman in the city of Milwaukee. There is no date on the recipe in regards to where she acquired it, but it dates at least to 1951. Even though the recipe comes from Grammy Hamm, I think this recipe may have been dictated to my grandmother's Auntie Anna. She contributed many recipes to the collection, and her recipes are always neatly typed and include notes to "Patty" (my grandmother) in the chipper, helpful voice evident in this recipe.

Sarcastic comments, however, come from my grandmother's mother. You see where I get my snark.
Grammy Hamm's Dark Secret has always intrigued my family - why is it called Dark Secret? Is it, in fact, a cake? Does it actually taste better than it sounds? Perfect for The Historical Food Fortnightly, and a visit to my parents' was a good opportunity to bake the cake. So, this challenge features a special guest: Mom!

You may have noticed something about this recipe. There is no flour. Having already been through this recently, I said, "OH HECK NO I am not doing that again." So Mom and I did some research. There are several recipes on the internet for Dark Secret; all of them include flour, none of them are completely similar to the recipe above. As luck would have it, there's a recipe for date loaf in the family collection of recipes, and it called for an equal amount of flour, sugar, dates, and walnuts, with eggs and baking powder. So we decided to give it a shot. It couldn't be worse than the Washington Cake Fiasco.

 The Challenge: Descriptive Foods

The Recipe: Grammy Hamm's Dark Secret

The Date/Year and Region: 1951 (at least), Milwaukee, WI

How Did You Make It?: The recipe was fairly self-explanatory, but there are a few questionable bits. There's no explanation as to how stiff the yolks and whites need to be beaten, or how they're to be mixed in. So we beat the whites stiff, and folded them in, just to be on the safe side. We then put it in the oven for an hour and 15 minutes, as directed. After cooling, we cut it up with whipped cream.

Time To Complete: About 15 minutes to mix it up, and an hour and 15 to bake.

Total Cost: About $10.

How Successful Was It?: So...neither of us is sure whether this is a cake or not. That secret remains a secret . It's surprisingly light - both of us had assumed it would be very dense, but it's actually very fluffy light a very light egg bread with a crispy crust. Unsurprisingly, it has a deep, nutty flavor. The walnuts give it a lot of crunch, and the dates are sweet and caramelized. It is pretty rich, and I could most definitely see serving this like a trifle, cut up with whipped cream and plenty of fruit. I'd like to try it again with less flour, to see how it might change.

How Accurate Is It?: We made no changes to the recipe, and used a modern coil oven and modern tools/equipment that would have been available in 1951.


The ingredients
The beaten egg whites - so pretty!
What it looks like all mixed together

The finished product! Not dark at all.

ADDENDUM 2/9/2015: Mom went over to Grandma's house yesterday and brought her a slice. The taste test proves it - Grandma says it tastes just like the Dark Secret that her Grammy Hamm used to serve. That is kind of amazing, if you think about it - across five generations, we're tied together by the taste of an old-fashioned date-and-walnut loaf.