Thursday, July 24, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly, Challenge 4: Foreign Foods

Last entry's chop suey would have been perfect here, and I'm still reading the book (one last chapter to go), but the main reason I decided on doing these challenges was to get more comfortable with nineteenth-century cooking. I decided to return to The Improved Housewife: Or, Book of Receipts; with Engravings for Marketing and Carving by Mrs. A.L. Webster, a married lady. 

I perused the table of contents and found the following terms: Spanish, Scotch, French, Tunbridge, Rousse, East India, and Iceland. I was really excited about the Tunbridge cakes, but further research revealed that Tunbridge was in Vermont, while Tunbridge Wells was in England. There was an intriguing reference to roasting coffee the French way, but I don't drink coffee and my husband was less than enthusiastic about helping with the preparation.

 Eventually, I settled on Spanish Fritters. I'm terrified by yeast, but since I entered the challenge to stretch myself, I figured this would be a good choice. As a bonus, these didn't seem to require kneading. Besides, anything tastes better when deep fried.

Mrs. Webster was quite the plagiarist; the same recipe appears in The Virginia Housewife in 1828. Spanish fritters appear in a number of historic cookbooks, without much in common beyond the frying.

This one from 1758 looks like French toast:
This one from 1806 sounds like a deep-fried pate a choux:

This one from 1833 is definitely French toast (an earlier edition dates to 1808):

 This one from 1854 is entirely different:

Anyway, you get the idea. Some kind of dough, deep fried. Yum! Doesn't this look delicious?

Date/Year and Region: 1847, Hartford, CT

How did you make it?: I followed the recipe fairly faithfully. Because it only called for one egg, I couldn't really halve it. I combined 4 cups of flour with 1 packet of yeast, a pinch of salt, and one egg.  I then scalded about 2 cups of milk (the recipe doesn't call for this step, but I knew the milk should be warm for the yeast to rise well) and kept adding milk until the dough had what I thought was a muffin-like consistency (1 1/2 cups). 

I set the dough to rise for an hour, added 2T of melted butter, and set it to rise again for 30 minutes. 

I heated the lard to 375 (the temperature recommended for modern donut recipes) and used a serving spoon to pull off walnut-sized chunks of dough. They tended to be ready to flip after about 1 minute per side.

I sprinkled a few with cinnamon sugar (as in the 1758 recipe) but have yet to try the other sauces.

Time to Complete: I let the dough have a first rise for one hour. Although the recipe didn't call for it, I gave the dough a second rise of about 30 minutes since mixing in the butter caused quite a bit of deflation. Each batch of fritters took about 2 minutes to form and fry up. Total time was probably slightly less than 2 hours.

Total Cost: Out-of-pocket expenses were zero. I happened to have some lard in the fridge and this recipe was a perfect way to clear it out.

How Successful Was It?: Surprisingly only so so. I wasn't expecting them to be so bland. Unlike a donut, there's no sugar in the dough and with my decision to interpret "a little salt" as just a pinch, there just isn't a lot of taste. Both the sauces recommended would be quite strong tasting, however, so perhaps they are merely a vehicle for sauce.  If I got lazy and didn't make my dough walnut-sized, the insides tended to be a bit gummy as well.

How Accurate Is It?:  Very accurate. I did make it "early in the morning." The egg came from our own antebellum-breed, backyard chickens. I used a packet of instant-rise yeast. I did fry them in lard. Period cooks would have fried a bit of bread to check for temperature, but I used a digital thermometer. My favorite bit of accuracy was that I got to use my yellowware dough bowl, which my mother recently passed it to me.  She had used it to make bread when I was a child, and it's clearly a family piece with no markings. Someone at some point dinged it with electric beaters, but I was delighted to set the dough to rise in it.

1 comment:

QNPoohBear said...

I'm not sure about the lard part though. I commend you for using it. They sound pretty good and look similar to the fried dough balls my Italian grandmother called zeppole. She put fish in some and left some plain so we kids could sprinkle with powdered sugar and cinnamon.