Monday, July 07, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly, Challenge 3: Today in History

For me, this challenge exemplifies the absolute rabbit hole that is historical research and some of the lessons I teach my students in my writing classes. I didn't really know which date to pick, but didn't want to do a patriotic or obvious date. I happened to glance at my blues calendar and noticed all the musician birthdays or death dates within this fortnight: Georgia Tom Dorsey, Willie Dixon, Mississippi John Hurt, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Smiley Lewis, Louis Armstrong, and Casey Biill Weldon. Great, I thought, I'll look up some blues tunes to see if there are any that fit. I'm always up for some great double entendre blues.

I didn't find much until I hit Louis Armstrong, who was actually quite the foodie, even signing all his letters, "Red beans and ricely yours ..." I looked through his list of songs and saw references to cheesecake and bbq, but I ultimately opted to be inspired by "Cornet Chop Suey," which lacking lyrics, also lacks my beloved double entendres.



I initially misread the calender and thought Armstrong was born on July 4, something he himself believed his whole life. In fact, it wasn't until ten years after his death, that his true birth date was discovered: August 4. Lesson #1: Even people living their own history can be wrong about what is a historical truth. Armstrong definitely died, however, on July 6, 1971.

In search of a pre-1950 recipe, I poked around on Google Books and didn't come up with much: a US Navy cookbook, which didn't have an actual recipe, and a 1917 book by a Chinese author, which states "This dish is not known in China."

I'd been wanting to read Andrew Coe's Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States for some time. I love narrowly focused food books: Salt: A World History, The Big Oyster: History of the Half Shell, etc.  Alas, Coe doesn't really get to chop suey for about 200 pages, and I was under a bit of time pinch. Lesson #2, kids: The index is your friend. You don't have to read the entire book.

Lesson #3: By using only the index, you lose a lot of context. I used a 1910 chop suey recipe Coe transcribes from the Alton Evening Telegraph. Alton is just up the river from St. Louis.


The ingredients don't look particularly Chinese, do they? I'm only on Chapter 3 where I'm still with American merchants in China about 1840, but this recipe appears in Chapter 6, at which point Chinese emigres have been in the United States for several decades. Chop suey restaurants had become popular and the term itself had apparently come to mean just a "hash."


The Telegraph recipe reads as follows:
  • "Place in a spider a lump of butter, size of a walnut; in this, when hot, brown one and one-half pounds of Hamburg steak; heat a can of tomatoes, fry four medium-sized onions, and boil two cups of macaroni or spaghetti; seasoning each article well; drain macaroni and add it, with the onions and tomatoes, to the meat, and simmer five minutes. No side dishes are needed if this is made for lunch, as it makes a palatable, substantial lunch for six or seven people."
Date/Year and Region: 1917; Alton, IL

How did you make it?: I followed the recipe but opted just to brown the ground beef in its own fat, and used the butter to fry up the onions. The recipe doesn't say what size of can to buy, but I bought a 28 oz. can, the largest at the store. Four onions is a heck of a lot of onions. As far as "seasoning each article well," I just went with salt and pepper. The dish also uses a lot of pots: one for the pasta, a skillet for the onions, a Dutch oven for the ground beef. I opted just to dump the tomatoes into the onions for 5 minutes as I couldn't bring myself to dirty a fourth pot. I'd say it would definitely make a "substantial lunch" as it absolutely filled my Dutch oven. We'll be eating this for several days, I'm sure.

Time to Complete: Probably about 20 minutes from start to finish, largely to chop and fry the onions.

Total Cost: Probably about $12.65. I used about half of a $1.29 box of pasta and half of a $3.00 bag of onions. The tomatoes were $1.50. The ground beef was the most expensive ingredient at about $5.40 a pound. Since I was cooking under a deadline, I couldn't wait for a sale like I normally do. I usually plan my proteins around whatever is on sale. Overall, the dish was more than I would normally spend per serving, but did make a ton.

How Successful Was It?: I thought it was pretty tasty if a little bland, like many early 20th-century dishes. My little helper was very interested in it and liked the bits that fell on the floor. My husband hasn't tasted it yet. I can see myself having to doctor up the leftovers after the third or fourth time, perhaps by broiling with a bit of cheese on top.



How Accurate Is It?: What is "truth" or "accuracy" really? I accurately followed a 1917 recipe for a dish with a Chinese name, a dish that even a Chinese author says "is not known in China."

Lesson #4: Not everything is on the internet! While I was waiting for the beef to brown and the onions to cook, I pulled some of my grandmother's cookbooks off the shelf. I use these cookbooks all the time as they have wonderful egg recipes and great techniques for hiding leftovers.  I looked in the index (Remember Lesson #2, kids!) and, sure enough, there were several chop suey recipes:

From the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, American style:



And two more "authentic" versions:




And from the 1940 American Woman's Cookbook, a recipe very similar to the Chinese author:


Finally, one more food reference from this fortnight, although there's no recipe because I somehow think Mississippi John Hurt isn't really talking about food:

Monday, June 30, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly, Challenge 2: Soups, Sauces, and Gravies

I missed the deadline on this one by two days, but largely because I just had a 15th of the month/30th of the month idea in my head. I had decided to stick with the same cookbook, The Improved Housewife: Or, Book of Receipts; with Engravings for Marketing and Carving by Mrs. A.L. Webster, a married lady. I also picked a recipe that sounded like I would have most of the ingredients, 



I had great plans to make this with cold smoked trout, which I love, but we have been travelling quite a bit and are only home for about 2 days, so I went with tuna, which I already had in my cupboard. I did a bit of double checking to see what size a mustard spoon was (pretty dang tiny) and decided on my own that a salad spoon was basically a tablespoon in size. I suspect it's actually smaller, but felt comfortable with the ratios.





Date/Year and Region: 1847, Hartford, CT


How did you make it?: I followed the recipe, with a little bit of approximation as to sizes and ratios. I knew the recipe would be like a very thin mayonnaise, which is essentially eggs and oil, with the vinegar acting to thin it. Because of the similarity to mayonnaise, I decided I really wanted to emulsify my eggs and oil, so I tossed all the ingredients in the blender. A three-minute egg is essentially a soft-boiled egg, barely above raw. Some people worry about raw eggs, but I don't mind.

Time to Complete: Prep time was about 5 minutes.

Total Cost: Out-of-pocket expenses were zero. I used 2 cans of tuna fish from the cupboard. Total cost for the dressing itself (and there's a ton left for future salads) is probably less than a buck.  




How Successful Was It?: Reasonably successful. Tasted on its own, the dressing is very vinegary, and complements salad greens well. I could easily imagine it on cold roast beef, ham, or chicken. I'm sure it would be great with the more delicately flavored trout, but the tuna taste was stronger than the dressing. My husband opted to add more salt, more pepper, and splash a bit more of the sauce on top of the tuna salad (I had mixed it in). He declared it "interesting" and then quickly added, "That's a compliment." It's tasty, and I do recommend this recipe if you are comfortable with raw eggs.

How Accurate Is It?:  Middling accurate. The eggs came from our own antebellum-breed, backyard chickens, which I think should count for bonus points. Tuna was not one of the fish mentioned in the cookbook itself. In fact because of its strong taste, tuna doesn't seem to be widely consumed in the United States until the very early 20th century. I used commercial, modern ketchup and an electric blender.



Monday, June 09, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge 1: Literature

I'm participating in this project largely as a way to encourage me to do more period cooking. I love to cook.

At home.

I've always had zero interest in cooking at events and generally keep a cold camp with purchased, but period-appropriate, foods.

The first challenge was to create a dish mentioned in a work of literature. Pretty much arbitrarily, I chose gingerbread. I'm currently listening to Elizabeth Gaskell's Mooreland Cottage (1850), and Chapter 1 mentions boiled potatoes and gingerbread. The latter seemed like a better choice. I'd been thinking of making it anyway as I accidentally made a triple batch of cream cheese icing I need to use up. I figured if it was terrible, I could always drown it in icing.



I looked around for a historic gingerbread recipe for which I had all the ingredients and found this one from The Improved Housewife: Or, Book of Receipts; with Engravings for Marketing and Carving by Mrs. A.L. Webster, a married lady:

The first thing I did was halve the ingredients, weighed them out and came up with approximately the following measures: 2/3 c granulated sugar, 1.5 sticks of butter, 2/3 c golden syrup, 1 2/3 c flour, and 1 egg. For the spices, I looked at some modern cookie recipes and also studied my measuring spoons to roughly calculate ounces and ratios.  I went with 1 t. each of nutmeg, cinnamon, dried orange peel, and dried lemon peel. In re-reading, I see I accidentally skipped the mace. I used a whole tablespoon of ginger. For the nuts, 1/4 oz. seemed hardly worth the effort, so I just dumped in the last of some sliced almonds I had in the freezer (about 2+T) and didn't bother to skin them.

The next question for me was how to cook the gingerbread.  The batter was like a quick-bread consistency: thicker than cake batter, but not cookie batter by any means. When the recipe said "make into cakes," it made me wonder if I should be able to shape the dough before baking. It also said "on" not "in" tins. Should they have been more cookie-like than cake-like? I just guessed based on the consistency and put it in an 8" greased cake pan and baked at 350 for 45 minutes. I started testing with a toothpick every 10 minutes after the first 20.  I let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes before putting on a wire rack to cool completely.



Date/Year and Region: 1847, Hartford, CT

How did you make it?: I generally followed the recipe, but cut it in half so as not to waste ingredients if something went wrong. I skipped the step of washing the butter in rosewater (since I wasn't making my butter from scratch), used dried instead of candied peel, accidentally left out the mace, added extra almonds but skipped the blanching and peeling.

Time to Complete: Prep time was about 10 minutes, and baking was about 45 minutes.

Total Cost: I've got a very well-stocked pantry, so I had everything on hand. Out-of-pocket expenses were zero.

How Successful Was It?: As you can see, the cake stuck to the pan. Next time, I would probably line the bottom of the pan in buttered parchment.  That said, the fruit peel gives the cake an amazing taste, and the cooked treacle and butter gives a great chew to the crust. I really liked it.

How Accurate Is It?:  Pretty accurate, I'd say. I didn't make my own butter, and I used a convection oven.

I would definitely make this again. My husband doesn't like spice cakes or gingerbreads, so he may be the ultimate tester for this. I'll update again with his thoughts.

UPDATE: The texture of the bread when it cooled was much like a brownie: crunchier near the edges and very chewy and dense towards the middle. I was unable to get a gingerbread-hating neighbor to even try it. My DH tried it and said that while he appreciated that it wasn't as spicy as other gingerbreads, he didn't really enjoy it. All the more for me, I say!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Craft It Reciprocally 2014

Having just had to reread 3 months' worth of Facebook posts, I'm putting an update here to save me from having to check again. After I fulfilled my  Craft It Forward obligations for 2014, I decided to add in a few bonus people and do some reciprocal crafting as well.

I will be crafting for Vesper, Tracy, Joe, and Xian.  I have already delivered Jacob's.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Panniers Done

I resolved this year to sew* four items. The panniers are done.


All in all, the project was fairly simple--except for the caning, which was a royal pain in the ass. I had to enlist LB for help as it really did seem to require a spare set of hands. Even together, we really struggled.

I had hoped by next ball season to have some eighteenth-century formal wear, with the panniers as a critical foundation garment. Equally critical is a proper set of stays, however, and I'm afraid I don't see that happening anytime soon. Maybe though. Perhaps.

Instead, I've ordered the Kannik's Corner chemise pattern for Regency wear. I do have Regency stays, but lacked the other foundation garments. The gowns are too low cut for any of my earlier or later chemises, so I have had to make do with a shelf cami. They didn't much wear drawers in the time period, so I didn't have to worry about those, but I need to figure out a petticoat as well. I'm open to pattern suggestions.
_______________
*English nerd tip of the day: If you have ever had a teacher tell you that you use too many "to be" verbs or passive voice, looking in your sentence for words ending in "-ment" or "-tion." They are nearly always verbs in disguise. My first sentence initially read "My resolution was to sew."

Friday, February 21, 2014

Jane Austen Swap -- Incoming

I had said earlier that some of the Jane Austen packages were really random, so once mine went out and I began to wait for my incoming package, I started getting nervous. I knew how much trouble I'd had finding good Jane Austen stuff, and I had confessed that I didn't really like some of the more obvious Jane Austen items.  My spoiler ended up doing an awesome job though.

Tons of purple packages:


Pride and Prejudice  note cards:


Chocolate, loose citrus tea, a tea ball with a beaded fob, and recipe cards:


Exquisite scissors with a beautiful fob and mohair-blend yarn:


One of my favorite things was this shawlette, made of Jade Sapphire cashmere and silk. I've hardly taken it off since I got it, wearing it like a bandanna around my neck:


The last item, my spoiler considered a failed project. She had bought the fabric to make a reticule for me. Since she couldn't quite pull it off, she sent the uncut fabric. What she didn't know is that I had just returned from JoAnn Fabrics, where I had bought the exact same fabric for myself.  It's like she stalked me so well that she knew what I was going to want even before I knew myself.


Mind blown.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Scarf Pattern for Your Pup

For one of my craft-it-forward projects for this year, I opted to knit Sir Riley Brown here a scarf.


Yarn: Lion Brand Wool Ease (basically, you want something washable) (For a toy dog, you could work in fingering weight yarn, adjusting needle size as needed).
Needles: 8-10 straights and DPNs in the same size
Notions: 2 stitch holders, yarn needle
Gauge: doesn't really matter


  • Cast on 10 stitches and work in 2x2 rib for approximately 3" (you do not want the scarf too long as it could trip the dog). 
  • kf&b into each stitch. Using a stitch holder and a DPN at the same time, transfer the first stitch onto the DPN and the next onto the holder. Continue to alternate between them until you have transferred all of the stitches. When you are done, half your stitches will be on a holder, and half on a DPN. You can return to your straights at this point if you prefer.
  • Working only from the DPN, return to your 2x2 stitch pattern and work a flap approximately as long as the scarf is wide. Eventually, you will be rejoining your flaps into a tube for the scarf to fit through. You don't want it so wide that the scarf will slip out, but you don't want it so narrow that the scarf gets bunched up. You will probably knit between 8-12 rows.
  • Place the flap stitches onto stitch holder #2 and return the stitches on holder #1 onto a DPN or straight needle. Work the same number of rows as you did for your first flap.
  • Holding both flaps together, you will work your stitches back down to 10 stitches on one needle.  Put your needle into the first stitch on the front needle and straight through into the first stitch on the back needle. Knit them off of the left hand needles and 2 stitches have become 1. Repeat across the row. Don't worry about sticking to your stitch pattern in this row; just use the knit stitch.
  • Return  to your 2x2 stitch pattern  and knit the scarf long enough to go comfortably around your dog's neck.
  • Measure the length from your cast-on row to the far end of the flaps. Continue knitting that much longer, which will give you enough length to fit through the tube and allow the scarf ends to roughly match in length.
  • Cast-off in pattern.
  • Weave in the ends and add fringe.

Note: I am sure I am not the only one to come up with this pattern, but I can truthfully say that I am not yet aware of any similar patterns. I was inspired by the 2 items: a fleece scarf a friend made for her dog and the neck-warmers my great-grandmother used to wear.  If you knit this, I'd love to see a photo of your pup in your finished scarf.