Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Yeah, I'll blame a pronged lacrosse stick.
As one with forty pounds of apples is want to do, I have spent a lot time eating apples, incorporating apples into oatmeal, juicing apples, inquiring about how to make hard cider, making applesauce, thinking about what kind of apple pie to make, and, finally, baking Aunt Harriet's recipe for Apple Knobby Cake.
This cake was apparently once, or maybe still is, popular. I had never heard of it before and I expect that I'm perhaps in the minority. I have found versions of the recipe on the web. The Boston Globe printed a story with a similar recipe as recently as 2008. The Brattleboro Reformer out of Brattleboro, Vermont ran a story on Apple Knobby Cake just a little over a week ago. You can even have it in the dining hall at the University of Massachusettts, Amherst. It looks like a New England food and, perhaps, has origins in England.
I guess it turns out that not all of my great-grandmother's or great-aunt's recipes are thoroughly bygone.
I'm a bit stumped as to the cake's exact origins though. None of the digging I've done online or in books has turned up much of anything. Surely if so many people still eat it, maybe one person might be able to enlighten me as to where or when this cake began.
Aunt Harriet probably got this recipe in the 1970s or 1980s. My scanned copy is not great, but the original definitely went through a ditto machine and I haven't had the pleasure of smelling ditto-machine ink since I was in elementary school. (It turns out that it took a lot of alcohol to make those copies, which may explain why all my elementary-school classmates were just a little addicted to ditto.) Maybe a school-teacher friend passed it along to Harriet. I'll have to do a bit more snooping if I've ever to know.
What I do know is that this cake is really simple to make and that it's wonderfully moist and sweet with a crispy, cookie-like crust. I've made it twice now and will probably make it one more time. Do peel the apples and don't forget to add the vanilla.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
I love making a hit with men! But who knew I could do that with so little sugar or shortening?
This recipe (click on the image to enlarge it) comes from a World War II-era Betty Crocker flier that I found along with the 1908 Lowney’s Cookbook. The small celebration of how little sugar and shortening it takes to make these cookies likely stemmed from the 1942 Food Rationing Program. Sugar rationing began in 1943, which probably means this recipe was published in that year or in 1944.
Butter rationing must have had practical results when it came to sending cookies to distant lands. Less butter in a cookie makes it ideal for shipping overseas. The more fat there is in a baked good, the more quickly it hardens. These pillowy ginger creams, with only one quarter of a cup (!) of butter across four-dozen cookies, likely arrived in the hands of soldiers in Europe or the Pacific still light and fluffy.
Send these to someone you know in the military. Make a hit with men and women! Or, do what I did. I sent them to my old office and made a hit with dieters.
Monday, August 16, 2010
Yet that's not the story I want to focus on here. Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffins were bigger than Downtown Crossing. Even if you could get the recipe at the department store, many of the muffins were consumed in the suburbs or in distant towns. They were gobbled up not just in Jordan Marsh stores but also at social gatherings where one woman brought other women the muffins fresh out of her own oven.
I always thought of Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffins as indicative of how female social networks operated.
But that's over now and the Internet, not Macy's, is to blame.
I cannot help but recognize the irony in posting my Great-Aunt Harriet's prized Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffins recipe on the Internet. Before the web you had to really fight for this recipe. You had to gain the confidence of the woman who baked the muffins and brought them to your workplace. You needed to suck up to your friend's muffin-toting future mother-in-law as women gathered round for terribly silly games and a little bridal-shower breakfasting.
To possess the recipe for Jordan Marsh Muffins was once a sign that you had made it in certain social circles. Far more than a piece of paper in a recipe box, it said you had unique charms and a master's degree in flattery.
But who needs to demonstrate social cunning when the internet just gives away your ticket to having the best muffins at so-and-so's baby shower?
I remember being instructed never to share this recipe with anyone. Now I'm posting it among the hundreds of other Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffins recipes on the web. Not only is Jordan Marsh gone, so too is any reason to beg your sister or cajole a secretary for the muffin recipe.
At least the muffins I baked this morning tasted as good as I remembered.
Friday, July 30, 2010
"Yes, Indian pudding. You've heard of it," I insisted. "They serve it at Durgin-Park."
"Oh, of course, Indian pudding."
Indian pudding is one of those traditional New England dishes that you never see save for at Durgin-Park, where tourists eat more New England fare in one sitting than the average New Englander eats in a lifetime.
I have to admit that until this week I had never so much as seen Indian pudding. All the more reason for me to try making the Indian pudding recipe I found stashed away in my great-grandmother's cookbook. I was, however, somewhat surprised to see that the list of ingredients contained tapioca. That didn't seem right to me. So, I found a recipe for Durgin-Park's version of Indian pudding, located in the Boston Globe Cookbook, 4th edition. I discovered that its Indian pudding not only contained no tapioca but also required a lot more cornmeal. A full cup of it in comparison to 2 tablespoons.
Suddenly Indian pudding with tapioca wasn't looking so good to me.
You have to think that Indian pudding with less "Indian" wouldn't work. (It's called Indian pudding because of the cornmeal. British colonists applied the term "Indian corn" to that which we in North American call corn to distinguish Native Americans' corn from corn found in Britain, which described anything from wheat to flour. That British corn is not to be confused with the British fungal concoction called "quorn," which is pronounced like corn and, while I was studying abroad in England, resulted in a dining experience so confusing that it made the old "Who's-on-first" routine seem as simple as a power-point presentation.)
Mrs. Ralph Foss, or Anna as her friends knew her, was born in Canada around 1890 and emigrated to the United States in 1908. Her husband was a physician in Peabody, Massachusetts. Why she preferred tapioca I do not know. I thought that perhaps she submitted the recipe during a corn shortage or a tapioca surplus. Yet without knowing when she offered her Indian pudding recipe to a newspaper, I had no luck determining if my theory panned out. Perhaps she just liked tapioca. Or, she knew tapioca can stand up to hours of cooking time and figured she'd see how it would do in an Indian pudding.
Whatever her reasoning, tapioca in Indian pudding works. In fact, save for the Foss version's tasting not as strong of molasses and being a tad more moist than Durgin-Park's Indian pudding, I couldn't find much difference between them.
The Durkin-Park recipe also came sans ginger or cinnamon. I have since learned that adding such spices, or dried fruit for that matter, to Indian pudding is not all that strange. Thanks to a fabulous book called America's Founding Food: the Story of New England Cooking, I now know that there are many, many, many versions of Indian pudding. All or most seem to contain molasses, the kitchen staple that until recently sat in the back of my cupboard for years and years without so much as a pity glance from me.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
There is something terribly wrong about my including a post on Moxie in a blog on bygone food. In my world Moxie is anything but bygone. If it were socially acceptable to drink Moxie for breakfast, I would. If soda in any form--let alone an especially delicious one made of gentian root--did not induce obesity, I would drink Moxie and nothing but Moxie.
That said, I've lived outside of New England and know that most Americans have never heard of it. Who am I kidding? I lot of New Englanders don't know of Moxie or, worse, turn their noses up at it because it doesn't taste like pure sugar.
Invented in 1876 as a cure-all tonic by homeopathic physician Dr. Augustin Thompson of Union, Maine, by 1885 Moxie was on its way to becoming a nationally-known soda. Yet in the 1930s the producers of Moxie backed away from their popular advertising campaigns and the soda's regard began to wane.
At least the sensible people of Maine knew enough to make it the official state soft drink.
One of my smaller goals in life is to turn people on to Moxie. Anyone who visits me from outside of New England has to at least taste it. Anyone who claims not to like it or who derides it as medicinal must try it three times before I stop badgering them.
Recently, Fox 25 News out of Boston named Moxie the best soda in New England. Don't think I won't be including that in my Moxie arsenal.
I vividly remember my first Moxie experience. My grandfather and I were walking down an aisle at a Trucchi's supermarket when I saw this bright orange bottle of soda that featured a man pointing his finger at me. How could I not stop? To my shock, my grandfather (a Coca-Cola man, I thought) agreed to buy the bottle. He seemed unusually excited, telling me how he drank it as a kid in the 1920s and how his father, a native of Nova Scotia, loved the stuff.
I have to admit that Moxie was a little too much for my pre-K palete. But I kept trying it and kept trying it until, finally, I was in love. When I moved back to New England a few years ago, one of the first things I purchased was a bottle of Moxie.
This past weekend I made it to the tail end of the Moxie Festival in Lisbon Falls, Maine. Sadly, I cannot report much on what happened there, but, while shopping for t-shirts, Moxie ice cream, and Moxie at Kennebec's, I overheard that at least 450 people attended. I've also read reports of an annual attendance of 40,000.
Hopped up on Moxie ice cream mixed with Moxie, we noticed some wonderful sights as we departed Lisbon Falls. I melted when I saw three kids laughing and sipping Moxie on a white front porch. The Jesus-Is-Our-Savior-Moxie-Is-Our-Flavor sign at St. Matthew's Church almost made me choke (with laughter) on my Moxie. Then there was a local bank's electronic proclamation that it was closed for the duration of the Moxie Festival.
Lisbon Falls, Maine. Where everyone has their priorities straight.
On a side note, later that evening one of the bright orange Moxie t-shirts we bought at Kennebec's alerted a distracted, cell phone-addled driver that our car was right in her path despite not being in her designated lane. Seeing our Moxie, she quickly swerved and avoided plowing into us. It's safe to say that a Moxie t-shirt saved our lives.
How can anyone not like this stuff?
Saturday, June 12, 2010
A “walnut-size of butter” is a great phrase, but what the heck does it mean?
Friday, May 21, 2010
Well, I say easy, but my great-grandmother's instructions are not always so simple to decipher. Lightening Cake (yes, it probably should be spelled Lightning Cake, but it's a three-syllable word to some in southern New England) supposedly got its name because it is quick as lighting to make. The cake should take 20-30 minutes in the oven. I, however, chose to bake it as a loaf cake rather than a layer cake, so I let it stay in the oven for 50 minutes at 350 degrees.
By my reading of the recipe, it seems as though you first mix together the sugar, flour, and baking soda. Then, you melt your butter and add two beaten eggs to it followed by a cup of milk. Finally, you add the liquid ingredients to the dry and put the resulting batter into a cake pan or two.
I like how my great-grandmother made it explicit that the baker should "fill cup with milk" as though that were not inherently obvious. I hope she meant this phrase to mean add one cup of milk. But who knows.
I treated myself to a slice not long after I took the cake out of the oven. Experiencing the simple taste of good butter and sugar blended together sent my mind back to all the bad grocery-store-bought and package-mix cakes I suffered as a child. Lightening Cake is by far the best everyday cake that I have even eaten. Had we only kept this recipe alive I might have saved my taste buds so much indignity.
Friday, February 26, 2010
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Monday, February 15, 2010
In December I posted an unnamed recipe that turned out to be my great-grandmother’s recipe for brown bread. That receipt, as she would have called it, did not explain how the brown bread ought to be cooked, but right before I began making it myself I scanned a few on-line recipes for brown bread and was reminded that in New England it is traditionally made in a can.
I knew this, but not having cooked in a can before I must have forgotten that part.
To be honest, the thought of cooking bread in a can was a bit daunting, if not also absurd.
Then I recalled my mother’s cousins’ making some references over the years to their grandmother’s cooking something in a coffee can. It had to be the brown bread, I figured, and so I began looking for something akin to a coffee can in which to cook my bread. Since I buy my coffee in the form of beans in bulk, I opted for a tin can that once held 28 oz. of tomatoes. When I make the bread again I’ll use two cans, as I had just a little overflow of bread after it rose.
Basically, you mix the ingredients and pour them into a buttered tin can. Then you find yourself a larger pot, securely cover the top of the open can with tin foil (I tied dental floss around the foil to keep it from shifting), place the can in the pot on top of some kind of platform (don’t just let the can rest on the bottom of the pot), and fill the pot with enough water to cover half the can. Bring to a boil and let it run for two-and-a-half to three hours (yes, that long), adding extra water if necessary. When it’s done, let the can cool and extract the bread. It will be in the shape of the can mold and very moist from the steam.
I made the brown bread with baked beans and hot dogs, because that is how my great-grandmother made it every Saturday for the mid-day meal. My mom was very disappointed when she learned that I didn’t season the hot dogs with celery salt (who knew?). I guess I missed that detail of Saturday dinner over the years. At any rate, my great-grandmother made this every Saturday and one of her three daughters, Barbara, continued the tradition with her Friday night meals using canned beans and canned bread. B&M continues to sell brown bread in a can if you need a quick fix.
According to my mother, her grandmother also served her brown bread with cod cakes, so brown bread is apparently quite a versatile side.
Mom remembers this, she said, because she hated the smell of the cod in the kitchen. Nevertheless, on many Fridays mom and her Aunt Harriet would also go to Leonard’s Restaurant in Taunton, Massachusetts for cod fish cakes and carrots.
The joys of Lent and fish on Friday could not be more understated.
When my great-grandmother and her daughter Harriet lived on the second floor of a two-story house on Bradford Street in Taunton, she would steam the brown bread and two unmarried women on the first floor, the O’Brien sisters, would make the baked beans. (I assume this helped to even out the molasses purchases, as both baked beans and the brown bread, in particular, require a lot of molasses. Not to mention the fact that baked beans take something like five hours to cook. A little shared labor surely went a long way.) Every Saturday, after confession at St. Mary’s, they would bring the two dishes together for Saturday lunch. My mother and her cousins also joined in this weekly ritual.
After my great-grandmother passed away, the O’Brien sisters continued to make baked beans for Harriet. (They also apparently locked Hat out of the house if she, a woman in her thirties, stayed out past midnight. That must have added something a little stronger than molasses to Saturday dinner.)
I saved a slice of the brown bread for my mother and she said it was just like what her grandmother made. “It has that tang,” she said in reference to the pronounced molasses flavor.
Sunday, January 31, 2010
Apparently my grandfather, a labor reporter for the Providence Journal-Bulletin, was quite the shore-dinner connoisseur. He used to take my dad to Rocky Point for clam cakes and chowder and Dad, in turn, took me and my brother. This usually occurred around the Fourth of July, when my father's childhood and college friends, with their children and spouses, annually reunited in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
I must have inherited this penchant for the shore dinner, as I remember the Rocky Point Shore Dinner Hall with its seemingly endless rows of tables, watermelon, and salty, battered clam cakes better than I do the Corkscrew or the Freefall or the House of Horrors (well, my eyes were probably unnecessarily closed for much of that last one).
Around 1989 or so I picked up the above postcard of the Shore Dinner Hall, complete with a description of the menu on its backside:
With the park and the dinner hall long gone, I will have to make “Famous Rocky Point Clam Chowder” for myself.
1/2 pound ground or finely diced salt pork
1 pound onions, cut in medium dice
1 gallon clam juice
1 pound potatoes, diced
Salt, pepper to taste
1 tablespoon paprika
2 cups canned tomato puree
1 1/2 quarts chopped quahogs
Water as needed
Pilot crackers, crumbled
Heat salt pork until the fat melts. Add onions; cook over gentle heat until very soft. Add clam juice, potatoes, seasonings, tomato puree and a little water.
Simmer until potatoes are soft, then add quahogs. Heat and taste for seasoning. Add water if needed.
It is best to use old, not new potatoes, because they thicken the chowder somewhat with their starch. Crush some pilot crackers and stir them into the chowder to thicken it further near the end of cooking. Makes 20 eight-ounce servings.
Note that the above recipe, located with others in a 1997 Providence Journal-Bulletin article, suggests that you make the chowder with pilot crackers. But like Famous Rocky Point Clam Chowder that, too, is a bygone food unless you make it yourself. (Nabisco discontinued Crown Pilot Crackers despite a concerted effort against this move by residents of Chebeague Island, Maine. But that’s another story.)