Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Goodies!

For Christmas, Santa brought me some cooking things! (Who woulda guessed?) I got Come to the Table, a book about the Slow Food movement, its food producers and some of their recipes. I also got Alice Waters' cookbook, The Art of Simple Food. Alice is considered by many to be the founder of Slow Food in America. For those who aren't familiar, Slow Food is the antidote to fast food. Slow food is locally produced--you know the farmer who raised it. Slow food is sustainably produced--no rain forests cleared to graze cows. Instead, it is usually produced in small scale agriculture, family farms and such. And Slow Food is consumed in settings that affirm relationships. No burgers on the run. Instead we share it with people we love. Check it out: www.slowfoodusa.org

And then there was the bread. Santa gave me a couche which is a piece of heavy linen canvas used for raising French baguettes, and also this fancy reed basket called a brotform used for raising large loaves. I made a rye bread with caraway. I had to try it right away. Check it out:


And to give you a sense of scale:


Incidentally, if you want to learn to bake old fashioned loaves like these, its really quite easy (especially if your baking environment is somewhat thermally stable, which mine is not, neither the pioneers' drafty log cabins). The best starting point is the book Bread Alone by Daniel Leader.

Hope your Christmas was full of joy and peace!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas day in London

So I was reading ol' Wilf's diary the other day, and found this little gem from 1840, when he was on a mission in England:

"Christmas day in London... We took our Christmas dinner with Br. Morgan. He had his family at home with him. The dinner consisted of Baked Mutton, Goose, Rabbit Pies, Minced Pies, and Plum Pudding, and bread and cheese, Porter and water. We spent the evening at Mr. Albums in conversing about the things of God..."

This citation is just one example, which may or may not represent a broader cross section of what was common. If we were to use this one example as a representative sample, here's what we might learn:
Wilford (and other early Mormons) indulged in fine food for holiday occasions.
Christmas dinner was an important dinner.
Some Christmas dinners were heavy on the nice meats.
Meat pies figured prominently as main dishes.
Sweets came from the pudding, not the pie.
Starches came from bread, not potatoes.
The Word of Wisdom was not observed: "porter" is a heavy dark beer.

Hope you all had a Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Christmas Pudding

I've been negligent: three weeks since my last post. Terribly sorry. In that time, I've received the manuscript back from the publisher. The editor pointed out one particular criticism in my theoretical framework. I feel that folklore and oral tradition emphasizes starvation and weed-eating too heavily. My rebuttal was to write about all the times people didn't starve and had plenty to eat of diverse dishes. Apparently I did this too well, and made it sound like things were pleasant most of the time. I swayed too far in the opulent direction, so I'll have to modify some of my modifiers.

In the mean time, I also read Dickens' A Christmas Carol (in prep for the fantastic new animated movie). Here's one of Dickens' many passages describing Christmastime food (in this case a pudding):

"Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper. A smell like a washing day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating house and a pastry cook's next door to each other, with a laundress' next door to that! That was the pudding! In half a minute Mrs. Cratchit entered--flushed, but smiling proudly--with the pudding, like a speckled cannon ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half a quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck to the top."

I wish you all such a Christmas pudding, and fine friends and family who might share it with you.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Food and Memory

I was listening to some of the NPR commentary on Thanksgiving, leading up to the holiday. One chef they interviewed said something about how much of the meaning we attach to food is associated with memory, and that memory probably accounts for most of what we find desirable in the foods we go back to again and again.

That got me thinking about pioneer food, of course. In itself, there's probably not much appetizing about pioneer food, or any other multi-generational food. We have so much variety in the grocery store today that we can make much tastier morsels that we would find from pioneer days. But we attach emotional significance to the pioneer items. The carrot or plum pudding serves as an example. Danish abelskiver are not particularly tasty (they are certainly nice) but there's more emotional memory attached to them for me so they become special.

Here's our assignment for today: List three foods that are tasty on their own, and three foods that are special because of memories you attach to them.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Feasting

Tomorrow being Thanksgiving, it seems we should reflect on the tradition of feasting. One of my friends tells me his extended family is going to Golden Corral for their Thanksgiving feast. Certainly, they will have access to a far greater volume of food there than will grace my table tomorrow. If feasting means volume, they win.

On the other hand, I'm guessing that even with his best efforts, my friend's feast will be over in about 30 minutes. I'm trying to figure out ways to draw my feasting out as long as possible. Unfortunately, we won't have any kids to dinner this year, but that also means we can drag it out more without snarfing. One idea is to serve corn nibblets one at a time. Just kidding, it hasn't come to that. But I am setting out a meat and cheese tray for grazing in the late morning. We have an edam, a brie, a chevre, an aged spanish raw goatsmilk, a French compte, a raw milk cheese from local Beehive Cheese, and a raw milk farmhouse cheddar that I made (less than 30 days!). My brother is bringing a blue stilton and an apricot stilton. Part of how I define feasting is staggering variety.

I'm also doing a soup course to lengthen the meal. Part of feasting for me means a lengthy marathon, leisurely for hours. For the soup, I wanted to do something light and fresh so we don't get too full too fast. Can you guess what we're having? Yup, its miso soup. It seems like a bit of a departure for a traditional Thanksgiving, but if we just use fish stock with no seafood, and green onions with tempura crisps, it should match well enough.

Of course we have to keep some traditional elements. In the past I've always made carrot pudding for dessert, served steaming hot with a lemon sauce and melting ice cream. Absolutely divine! But since I discovered a plum pudding recipe dating back 7 generations in my family, we must do that. It directs to be served with a hard sauce made with creamed butter, sugar and brandy. I've posted that recipe here previously, so check the archives.

I guess what I'm saying is that tomorrow we have a chance to do something wonderful with food and social interaction. We get to make it all happen in a way we don't have very many times otherwise. I'm excited! (Aren't you?)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

"who he calls, he qualifies..."

Today I'm feeling a little bit of consternation about some of the Church "callings" I've been asked to shoulder. I wonder why they ask me to do these things. I hope it might be because they see that I have some talents and skills, and they might want to put those things to good use. More often it seems that they ask me because I'm conveniently available and I said yes when they asked.


In my wife's family, she's descended from a fellow named Shadrack Roundy, who happens to be one of the several people who claim to have plowed the first furrow in the Salt Lake Valley. That is, if we disqualify the Mexican settlers who were here before the Mormons. At any rate, I was reading some of Shadrack's journal the other day. He crossed the plains multiple times as he brought one group of immigrants after another to the valley. Still, he wasn't the company captain. He wrote in his journal that some of the immigrants he was traveling with said that he should have been the captain, on account of the fine table and dinner service he laid each evening, including silverware and linen napkins.

So I'm torn... do I muse about the state of fine dining on the Mormon pioneer trail, or about the funny things that "qualify him for the work"?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Beef Bones

I've been a bit ill the last few days with some sort of digestive complaint delivered by way of my sweet daughter. Feeling much better now. The whole time I was ill I had a yearning for a nice French onion soup, made with real beef broth from beef bones. Now that I'm feeling up to it, I went and bought some nice bread, a bit of cheese, and some beef bones. It brought me to think about a quote from John Jacques, with the Martin handcart company. He wrote,

"...a good brother came to our camp fire and asked if we were all one family. We said we were six in number... He asked if mother had no husband and she told him her husband had died two weeks ago and was buried on the plains. He had been standing with his hands behind him, then he handed us a piece of beef to cook for our supper. He left and came back with a beef bone. He said, 'Here is a bone to make some soup and don't quarrel over it.' We felt surprised that he should think we would ever quarrel over our food."

Of course, the reason he chastised about quarrelling is that the whole company was on the verge of starvation (many having already died), so quarreling was a matter of life and death. The beef bones were rich in marrow and fat, which could make the difference when each calorie mattered so much. Fortunately, I don't have to quarrel with anyone for my bones. In fact, the fam might rather eat Burger King tonight, as a prelude to the New Moon release.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Notes from Patty Sessions

Patty Sessions was one of the more prolific diarists of the pioneer era. In November 1855, Patty Sessions wrote a little more than 300 words in her diary. Of those, 36 words had some food context. There are no recipes or even dishes found in those 36 words. In fact, the entries say more about her family relationships than they say about food.

Here are those 36 words:

Tuesd 6:...got 15 lb sugar
Wed 7:...PG & David brought me a peice of beaf
Sat 24:...David here went to get some Aple trees did not get any I gave him what I did not set out for PG

So long as we focus on recipes, Mormon pioneer food history eludes us. But when we look at how food items function in the context of the larger society, food can be illuminating.

That's all for today.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Sense of Community

WARNING: No Pioneers Found in This Installment.

A couple of posts ago I discussed how the Providence Sauerkraut Dinner did, or did not, help to create a sense of community. I think we often use food as a vehicle for creating community. At the Episcopal church in Ogden, they use coffee before the service to do this, and then of course the service itself with the wafer and the wine is designed to bind the community together (with a communal cup).

Last night was Halloween. Last year for Halloween we took the kids trick or treating. Some in the neighborhood wanted to do the "Trunk or Treat" at the church. Both were employed last year, and the neighborhood swarmed with ghosts and gremlins. This year, it seems the emphasis was placed on the Trunk or Treat. Very few ghosts or gremlins were to be found out and about. At the Trunk or Treat, food (sweets) are dished out in large quantities, in the most efficient manner, but there is no social interaction.

We seem to be seeing a shift in how we organize our social spaces and interactions. It seems we don't visit each other like we once did. The home is being fortified more and more as a private space which excludes neighbors and passing strangers. We seem to prefer congregating in a common public place, then retreating to the safety of our homes, instead of welcoming friends into our homes.

This is a little disturbing to me.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Cider Time

As fall weather turns cold, it forces apples on the trees to make the final conversion of sugars. Then, its time to press. For Mormon pioneers, apple pies were a nice indulgence, but the main purpose of the crop was for cider and cider vinegar. Brigham Young's daughter Clarissa remembered his cellar in the orchard, where large barrels of hard cider mellowed through the winter.

Last weekend we went to the pioneer village and helped press cider. Here are some photos from that process.








One of the main points of interpretation for the visitors was that apples have yeast on their skins, so any juice from crushed apples will begin fermenting immediately. It was a surprise to many that "juice" was not a common beverage, but instead hard cider. Someone asked "What's the difference between juice and cider?" Shannon replied, "About a week." A French woman asked about this seeming contradiction to Mormon doctrine. I explained that all religions experience change; just as Vatican II under Pope John Paul revolutionized the practice of Catholicism, Mormonism today is much different than Mormonism historically.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Providence Sauerkraut

The first chapter of the forthcoming book focuses heavily on this thing that happens each October in Providence, Utah. Every year for more than a hundred years, the folks who live in Providence get together for a community dinner. They call it the Sauerkraut Dinner. Originally the settlers of the town were predominantly from Switzerland. When they started the tradition, there was still a strong sense of Swiss heritage in the town. Quite a few people still spoke German-Swiss, and naturally, the dinner had a distinct Swiss flavor. The dinner was originally sponsored by the LDS congregations in town. They charged money for the dinner, and the church made a lot of money. Further, there was a bazaar associated with the dinner, and people sold homemade crafts and foods. For example, they made egg noodles, and sold the egg noodles in bags to take home. They canned sauerkraut, and sold cans of sauerkraut. The whole affair had a festive atmosphere, like a party or carnival. Maybe like a Mormon Oktoberfest.

Over the years, the Swiss heritage has been diluted as new subdivisions spring up, and as demographics change. Further, in the 1980s the Church prohibited local fundraising like that, and the tradition ended momentarily. The municipal government stepped in and revamped the dinner, and continues the tradition (sort of). Also, local congregations scaled the dinner down and now they hold it local with no outsiders invited and potluck only, no charge to eat.

Last Saturday was the municipal version of the Sauerkraut Dinner. I went and paid $9.50 to experience it. The dinner part of the experience was catered by Iron Gate Grill. There was no potluck about it. In talking to one of the chefs, I discovered that for the past three years the city required them to use sauerkraut from a professional supplier, whereas before that, it was locally made by folks in town. He told me about seeing a local farmer bring a 55 gallon drum of sauerkraut in the back of his truck, and lifting it off with a fork lift. That kind of thing doesn't happen anymore.

At the head of the line for dinner was a sign reading, "Only one time through please." The dinner was tasty. There was a tossed green salad, cooked carrots, roast turkey (and cranberry sauce), sauerkraut, real mashed potatoes and turkey gravy. The people there were mostly over 60. There were no children whatsoever. There was no entertainment during dinner. I sat with an older couple who had moved to Cache Valley five years ago, from Salt Lake City. They had experienced the Sauerkraut Dinner in their youth, and they said the food was good, but not as good as their long ago memories. The whole dinner experience was rather quiet and somber.

After dinner there was a craft show, with lots of people selling bracelets and necklaces they had made at home. There was no sauerkraut nor noodles for sale.

It seems that if children are not involved in the traditions, then the tradition will soon end. Traditions die when they fail to hold meaning for the participants. This experience brought me to think about how I help to perpetuate the traditions of my local community. It was a little sad to see it declining. Maybe a municipal event can never be as dynamic as a grass root event. I wonder how the city event was different from the ward dinner.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Salt Rising Bread

The answer to last week's puzzler is... Clostridium perfringens. This little bacteria thrives in a very warm, moist saline environment, usually around 113-115 degrees Farenheit. The recipe from last time gives basic direction for creating a petri dish friendly to the bacteria. As the culture progresses, the bacteria multiplies, at the same time exuding gasses which smell like ripe cheese. This is no coincidence-- the same bacteria culture is found in many cheeses, which undergo a 100+ degree culture in their first stage of preparation.

As we mentioned a month or so ago in the post titled, "Spontaneous Generation of Mice" the Mormon pioneers didn't know anything about microbes and bacteria, but they were adept at culturing and manipulating them. This is another example of their skill. Pop cultural understanding of microbiology didn't come around until the 1890s, but Mormon pioneers kept all kinds of cultures going anyway.

In the recipe, it instructs to scald the cornmeal. It seems that it should be scalded in milk. I tried the recipe with water and cornmeal, and it failed to culture. But it worked with milk. Some recipes instruct using potato water instead of milk. If you're really interested in trying to make salt rising bread, first visit this site: http://home.comcast.net/~petsonk/

Next time: my review of the Providence Sauerkraut Dinner.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Name That Leavening Agent

Yes, its been slow lately, trying to find something to blog about. So here's a pioneer game for you: Name That Leavening Agent. As you know, pioneers used both chemical and microbial agents to leaven their bread. In either case, they trapped gasses in the dough. From the following recipe, see if you can guess what is causing the gasses that leaven the bread. The recipe comes from The Practical Housekeeper, 1857. Similar recipes were referenced in the Deseret News of our era.

To Make Excellent Bread Without Yeast
Scald about two handfuls of Indian meal; into which put a little salt, and as much cold water as will make it rather warmer than new milk; then stir in wheat flour, till it is as thick as a family pudding, and set it down by the fire to rise. In about half an hour it generally grows thin; you may sprinkle a little fresh flour on the top, and mind to turn the pot round, that it may not bake at the side of it. In three or four hours, if you mind the above directions, it will rise and ferment as if you had set it with hop yeast; when it does, make it up in soft dough, flour a pan, put in your bread, set it before the fire, covered up, turn it round to make it equally warm, and in about half an hour it will be light enough to bake. It suits best to bake it in a Dutch oven, as it should be put into the oven as soon as it is light.

Post your answers in the comment box. I'll send some free saleratus to the winner, drawn at random from all correct answers submitted.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Season's End

Today we decided we're not putting up anything else. The pantry shelves are loaded with the fruits of summer. We did peach preserves, crab apple syrup, hot pepper and apple jelly, salsa, chili sauce, and dozens of quarts of tomatoes. Today, I'm packing away the sauerkraut, which turned out better than expected but with room for improvement. All in all, it gave me quite a connection with the Mormon pioneers in several ways.

I really enjoyed the tangible connection I felt when I was in the garden. Reading Elijah Larkin's diary showed me how his garden was a part of his everyday pioneer life. As I planted, irrigated, hoed and reaped, I often thought of Elijah, escaping to his garden. The garden also helped me connect with the pioneers as I planted heirloom vegetables. Everyone else in the neighborhood planted hybrids. Their corn was neat and orderly and squat, thrusting all of its energy into sugary kernels. My corn was eight feet tall, gangly and chaotic. I sometimes felt like my garden was a bit of a museum, comparatively.

We're still waiting for apples to crush. We haven't yet had a really good frost. But having sauerkraut finished off says that apples can't be far behind. The Providence Sauerkraut Dinner is October 24th, if you're interested: (435) 752-9441. Tickets are $8 in advance. My sauerkraut turned out a little salty, but still very sour, with a nice firm texture. Its hard to find exact dimensions for the salt in small volume recipes. Now I have a better feel for next time.

More than anything, the season has shown me something about the nature of time in the pioneer era. Every decent food experiment I've tried has had a significant time element. The garden, for example, is an endeavor that takes multiple seasons, from spring till fall. Sauerkraut takes six weeks to ferment. Boiling jelly long enough to extract the pectin from the apples takes at least a couple of hours. Bread is all about waiting, sometimes as long as 18 hours. That time factor is probably the biggest element seperating us from pioneer foodways. We would rather open a can and have it now.

Now, I'm looking forward to eating all the food on the shelves through the winter. I love winter.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bob Sorenson, Mormon Wine Maker

As I was passing through Mount Pleasant (otherwise known as "Little Denmark,") I had heard about a wine maker who worked using all sorts of fruit. It turned out that Bob Sorenson had gone out of business a year earlier, but he consented to an interview. When we pulled up in front of his old storefront, it was nearly dark. Getting out of the car, we saw the most beautiful little apple tree. Its fruit was wine colored, skin and flesh. The fruits were chubby and squat. As he came out to greet us, Bob boasted that it was a Russian variety he had grafted from scions.

Bob comes from a Mormon heritage, a Scandinavian from Cache Valley. The Mormon wine-making tradition on the other hand came from Switzerland to Southern Utah. I asked Bob whether he thought there was any remnant of the old Mormon wine tradition from the Dixie days. He explained that many local old-timers used to stop in and share recipes with him, but that contemporary Mormon culture had no room for what he does. He saw a distinct shift in Mormon culture after World War II.

One of Bob's specialties was rhubarb wine. At its peak, his winery was the driving force behind Mount Pleasant's Rhubarb Festival, with pie eating contests, etc. As a basic Utah beverage, rhubarb wine seems to have been a staple in pioneer days. Bob shared some of his research with me, including this extract from The Farmer's Oracle. The Oracle was an agricultural newspaper published by J.E. Johnson (yes the same seedsman previously mentioned) in Utah County.

"A very good beverage can be made of the juice of the common pie-plant; it is not strictly a wine, as that dainty can only come of ripeneed fruit. Dr. Marsh gives the following receipt for making rhubarb wine, which he says is the best remedy for dysentery and diarrheas yet known.--Peel and slice the leaf stock as for pies; put a very small quantity of water in the vessel, only just enough to cover the bottom; cover the vessel and gradually bring to a slight boil, then strain, pressing out all the liquid; to this liquid add an equal quantity of water; to each gallon (after mixed) add four to six poiunds of sweetening, set aside, ferment and skim like currant wine; put it in a cask and leave it in bulk as long as possible. All wine is better kept in casks." --The Farmer's Oracle, Aug. 14, 1863. Spring Lake Villa, Utah County, Utah.

That seems like an awful lot of sugar to add, in my estimation. Bob also shared with me a recipe for rhubarb wine he received from an old-timer in the community. It followed similar lines as above, but with less sugar. The nice part was that the old-timer's recipe showed that the tradition remained active in Utah for at least 100 years. This old fellow also shared local Utah recipes for loganberry wine and potato wine.

Today it seems these traditions are pretty much dead in the Mormon community. Perhaps its just as well. Potato wine seems pretty desperate.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

"Little Denmark"

Last week as we drove down through the San Pete Valley, we picked up a map published by some sort of tourism commission. The map showed three different tourism "zones" in southern Utah, including one called "Little Denmark." This was essentially the San Pete Valley, including Mount Pleasant, Spring City and Ephraim and Manti. It reminded me of a folklore conference I once attended where they discussed cultural expressions that occurred spontaneously, versus consciously manipulated tourism features. Another example would be "Bridgerland" versus Cache Valley. Cache Valley extends beyond Utah's border, but "Bridgerland" (i.e. Utah's portion of the Cache Valley cultural tourism zone) ends neatly at the border.

So when we passed the sign proclaiming we had entered "Little Denmark," we started looking for expressions of Danish culture. Certainly, a hundred years ago the area was heavily influenced by Scandinavian culture. Swedish and Danish surnames marked most local businesses. When I asked locals about their heritage, most were clear that they descended from Danish pioneers. But when I looked for contemporary expressions of Danish heritage, I couldn't find any. PLEASE CLICK HERE if you'd like to participate in a survey about your family's Scandinavian food traditions.

I specifically asked several people if they had eaten Danish food recently. Some with Danish family heritage couldn't recall any Danish food items at all. Others noted that they had eaten an apple dumpling at the Scandinavian festival held each Memorial Day weekend. It appeared that the Scandinavian festival had become the repository for Danish heritage. It holds the heritage so securely that there is none to be found during the remainder of the year.

Ephraim and Manti both have their Co-operative Merchantile building still standing. Both now house touristy little crafty shops. When I asked about Danish food, many people directed me to the Co-op as a possible source for a Mormon Danish cookbook. The Manti Co-op had nothing, but the Ephraim Co-op had several cookbooks. Some had Danish recipes, and there was one that was the production of the local women's Relief Society. This local cookbook was filled with recipes for lasagna, chile verde and hamburger/macaroni stew. This cookbook also had several recipes bearing Danish-language names, but no provenance.

All in all, I came away thinking that the "Little Denmark" moniker was all tourism and no actual Danish culture. There is a body of culture there that I believe holds Scandinavian heritage intact, but it is not evidenced in daily life.

Do you have any multi-generational ethnic heritage that you express at least once a month?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Saleratus

Patty Sessions was headed out of Nauvoo in 1846. So was her husband's second wife, Lovina. What we know about the circumstances comes from Patty's diary, so perhaps the facts are a little slanted. The Sessions's were not long on the trail before tensions between the two sister wives made life difficult, with all three sharing a tent. According to Patty, Lovina refused to help with camp chores such as cooking and laundry. She told Br. Sessions lies about Patty. Br. Sessions apparently came to feel that Patty was at fault. To demonstrate his condemnation of her, Br. Sessions took away Patty's stores of saleratus and locked it up. Patty was about 45 years old at the time.

Saleratus is a chemical compound (potassium carbonate) which naturally weeps from the ground as mineral-bearing water evaporates. Coming from Latin roots, sal aeratus means aerated salt, referring to its ability to produce carbon dioxide when mixed with another acidic food element such as vinegar or tartaric acid (cream of tartar). It is used instead of soda to make biscuits. Pioneers on the trail often gathered saleratus when they found it, for example near Independence Rock in Wyoming. It is also reported to occur on the shores of the Great Salt Lake. I believe I have seen some such deposits in the past.

In Utah, pioneer settlers continued to use saleratus to leaven their biscuits. Livvy Olsen, a Danish immigrant growing up near Manti, Utah in the 1860s, remembered collecting saleratus by the wagon load near the San Pitch river.

So today I went out to see if I could find some saleratus. South of Manti a mile or so is "Manti Meadows", a property managed by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. Most people go there to hunt ducks and pheasants. From the road, I could see bright white patches in the clay soil. We (my good wife sometimes shares my food adventures) walked a half-mile or so from the parking area, and spotted a patch of what we thought was saleratus. It crusted over the ground, with a slightly crystalline appearance, almost like salt. It seemed to be frozen in a bubbly foam. The crust was a quarter- to half-inch thick over the ground. I whipped out a small container of vinegar I had brought. A little saleratus in my palm foamed and fizzed when I poured vinegar on it. We had struck it rich!

Last night it rained considerably, so the deposits were softer than normal, and we had to be careful in collecting them so they wouldn't crumble. I imagine that if we had a dry spell, the saleratus would be more crusted and stable. Also with the rain, some sandy silt came up with the saleratus.

From what I have read, some pioneers dissolved the saleratus in a little water, and let the silt settle to the bottom. The mineral-bearing water could then be used to mix biscuits. I haven't tried it yet, but I'll let you know how it turns out. More than anything it makes me think we don't really know much about pioneer cooking, if we've never used saleratus before.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Road Trip!

This weekend is Fall Break-- four day weekend for school teachers, so we're goin on a road trip. There's supposed to be a deposit of saleratus somewhere down around Manti, where pioneers used to gather the stuff. Its a naturally-occuring carbonate similar to soda, but potasium instead of sodium. They used it like baking soda in biscuits and quick breads. Wouldn't that be cool to have some? Should I get a little extra and send it out to the die-hard readers?

Then, just down the road in the lovely community of Mount Pleasant, there's a wine maker who works from the old Mormon tradition, and makes a variety of wines from native fruit. So I'm going to try to meet with him for an interview.

Then, if there's still time or gas money, we might carry on down to Dixie, where there's a fundamentalist co-op that's making some really decent cheese. They have a website, I'll try to post a link if it turns out to be good.

Does it sound like fun? And then, oh yeah, the new D.I. opened in North Ogden, and I got a little candle warmer that I'm going to try using to culture salt-risen bread. Lots of adventures to pass the time until the publishers call...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Preserves

Today I'm making a sort of hot pepper jelly. This isn't a pioneer recipe, but its pretty tasty. I got the recipe from my friend Kenzie, and I was surprised to see that there is no pectin in it. When she shared it with me previously, it had a definite jelly consistency. I couldn't figure out how that worked without pectin in the recipe. Maybe it was a typo.

But then I started thinking about the pioneers and their lack of pectin. So naturally I went to wikipedia.com and discovered that apples contain their own natural pectin. In fact, apples are the source of pectin when you buy pectin in the grocery store. After apples are crushed for cider, they sell the pommace (mashed pieces) to the pectin makers.

Through the course of the research, I came across a couple of different fruit preserves, and as you know, right now is the season for making preserves. The most common Mormon preserve seems to have been peaches simmered in molasses. The recipes often said to leave the skins and stones in the pot while simmering. This contributed pectin to the mix. If you simmer them for several hours, eventually it resolves into a sort of peach-flavored goop, which was used like jam, or was also used to make a filling for a pastry-lined pudding.

Another preserve mentioned was pumpkin- or squash butter. This was used in the early years of settlement before fruits were commonly available. After fruit trees were established, I did run across one source for apple butter. I imagine that the squash butter was made in pretty much the same way as apple butter, but using squash instead of apples. So here's a recipe from Elizabeth Ellet's The Practical Housekeeper: A Cyclopedia of Domestic Economy, 1857:

1610.--YANKEE APPLE BUTTER.
Boil cider down one half; put in as many apples as the liquor will contain, stew them soft; then take them out and put in fresh apples. When they are cold boil them again in the cider til they are pulpy and thick. Add different kinds of spice, a little before it is done Keep in covered jars.

Well, I better go stir the peppers. Good luck with your preserves!

Monday, September 21, 2009

And now, we wait...

This morning I drove up to the publisher's and turned in two full hard copies and a CD digital copy. Here's the stats:

70,000 words (I didn't count exactly)
325 pages, Courier New font, including notes and bibliography
123 sources in the bibliography
393 footnotes
9-11th grade reading level
2 years of rather constant part-time effort (I think I went too slow, and didn't do anything at all in several different months).

They say it will be two months before I hear anything. I don't know what to do with myself now.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sauerkraut & noodles

September is the start of sauerkraut season. Cabbages should have been ready to harvest by the first of September. Sauerkraut is made by pounding salt and cabbage together in a crock or barrel, and then letting a lactic fermentation take place. The lactic acid produces the "sauer," which puts the cabbage into a state of preservation for the winter. The whole process takes about six weeks. I started my sauerkraut in mid-August, so it should be done in a couple of weeks.

In Cache Valley, Utah, there's a little town called Providence. The town was settled by German/Swiss immigrants in the 1860s. They've been making sauerkraut every year since then. This past August I talked to Ken Braegger about how he makes sauerkraut using his great-grandfather's formula. He gave me some of his sauerkraut, which I'm saving for fall.

In Providence, they have an annual feast which places sauerkraut as the centerpiece. The event is called the "Sauerkraut Dinner". It also has been happening every year in October for a hundred years (or more). In days gone by, the sauerkraut was served with home made noodles, fried. The women of the congregation made the noodles at the church ahead of time. They rolled the noodles out in sheets on the floor (the floor being covered with sheets as well), and then cut the strips and hung them to dry on the backs of the pews. Some noodles were served with the dinner; others were sold in packages as a fund raiser.

Here's a traditional noodle recipe from the pioneer era, attributed to Effie Ensign Merrill:

1 egg, 1 egg-shell water, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 cup flour
Beat egg, water, and salt. Add flour until dough is very stiff. Roll out thin with plenty of flour on a board. Flour thoroughly, fold and roll out again. Repeat, adding flour each time, then flour again and roll tightly like a jelly roll and slice very thin. Shake out into strings of dough, sprinkle into 2 quarts of soup stock and cook 10 minutes.

I like these quite well, especially with chicken noodle soup. I've never tried frying them with sauerkraut and bratwurst. I hope you enjoy them this fall with your soups. Aren't you excited for soup season? I know I am!

P.s. you might notice that I've added lables to index.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Seed Saving

In 1893, A.W. Livingston published his masterwork, Livingston and the Tomato. As a pioneer seedsman, Livingston probably did more to develop the tomato as a commercial American crop than anyone. His book, now in print once again from Ohio State University Press, served as an encyclopedia of tomato varieties, with instructions for propagation and refinement. In the book, a contributor poses this advice to the question of "Should gardeners grow their own seeds?"

"This question is usually answered in the affirmative: the reason assigned being that one can grow better seeds than he can buy. The reason may have been a valid one once, and may still hold good in some cases, but to advise private parties to grow their own garden seeds is about as antiquated advice as to recommend farmers to weave their own cloth."

Granted, these were seedsmen, who made their living by selling seeds. We must also grant that in order to save seeds effectively, they should be isolated from other varieties which might cross pollinate. This would mean that you could only grow one variety of each vegetable in the garden.

In Utah, seedsman Joseph Ellis Johnson offered his catalog of more than a hundred seed varieties in 1864. All were grown from seed in Utah, for the Utah market. Seeds from eastern sources might not have seen success in Utah's hot arid climate and high altitude. Yet, on September 27 in that same year, Elijah Larkin (farming in Salt Lake City) wrote in his diary, "...I gathered my lettuce seed..."

If you're going to save seeds for next year, now is the time to do it. First you should ask, "Are my seeds open pollinated?" If your seeds are hybrid, then they won't grow again. If they are an heirloom variety, they should work. Second, you should ask, "Are the seeds pure?" If you grew pumpkins, summer squash and cucumbers all in the same patch, then the chances are good that they cross-pollinated, and whatever grows from your seeds next year will be a bizarre mix. We had a volunteer squash in the garden that we let grow for a while. It was a cross of yellow squash and cucumbers that turned out looking like zucchini. The flesh was woody and tough. We won't let any volunteers grow next year.

If you have open pollinated seed that you think is pure, there are different treatments for different kinds of seeds. Some seeds (like cillantro, radishes and lettuce) you can just let the plant go to seed, and then shake the seeds out of the seed heads into a paper bag. Other seeds take more involved processing. There's a great book called Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth. She describes everything you would ever need to know about saving any kind of see you can imagine.

For tomatoes, cut the fruit in eighths, and then scrape the viscous seed blobs into a half-pint jar. Screw the lid on loosely, and set the jar on the kitchen counter for a couple of weeks until it grows a nasty mold on top, and the seeds fall to the bottom of the liquid. When you think it is ready, strain off the liquid, reserving the seeds. Spread the seeds out on a paper towel and let them dry thoroughly. When dry, store them in a paper envelope in a dark place until spring. Label the envelope.

So yeah, you can probably buy cheap seeds that require none of this effort. And if you are going to go to all the work of planting a garden, its best to not start with bad seeds. But if you're a little more adventurous in your gardening, you've probably come across some seeds that you can't buy in the store. These you would want to save. And its just nice to know that you do have some degree of self sufficiency in your soul, isn't it?

Friday, September 11, 2009

65,000 words

I just printed the first complete copy of the whole book. Twelve chapters, 313 pages of "courier new" at 12 point font (10 point for the foot notes). There are still 30 errors in the footnotes that need fixing, and probably as many in the text. I've been feeding it a chapter at a time to the writing group I go to, and they've been helping me clean up the readability. Right now it reads on a high school reading level. My average sentence length is 17 words. All in all, it feels like a huge milestone passed.

Next time I'll blog about seed saving. For today, this is enough.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Lab practicum: Bread

If you were to sort through the posts here, you would probably find that at least half of them are about bread. That's partly because bread was the core of the Mormon pioneer diet, so I have taken a pretty hard look at it. But also, bread is just so amazing! With the complexities of flour and the mysteries of yeast, how can you not tear into a loaf and just leave yourself astounded?

Like you, most of my food activities happen in a kitchen. In the kitchen we have cups and teaspoons to measure ingredients; thermostats to control temperature for the rising time; ovens with adjustable, stable heat; and sinks and running water to clean up. All of these things shape the way we approach food. To take these away would create a different cuisine entirely. That's what I did this weekend.

Every Labor Day weekend, thousands of people converge on Fort Bridger, Wyoming. Jim Bridger built the fort in the late 1830s (I think-- maybe 1840) as an economic hub for the fur trade. The Mormons bought the fort in the early 1850s and used it as a staging station for emigration. Then the U.S. army took possession of the fort in the late 1850s, and so on. Over Labor Day each year, the fort hosts a living historical reenactment of the fur trade era rendezvous, with other living history reenactors joining in as well. I camped for the weekend with some friends who do colonial era history, but I spent my time making bread over a fire.

I tried to approach the bread making in the style of Emily Stewart Barnes' mother, who, after living for several years with just a frying pan, found the Dutch oven as a remarkable innovation to her bread making. Without using measuring utensils, I mixed dough by hand in a wooden bowl. (At home I use a KitchenAid mixer.) Temperatures were anything but controlled; I had no idea how long it would take to raise the dough with drafts blowing through the tent and humidity from a threatening rain storm. Where I usually use 6 cups of flour, I think it took at least a cup less, and it never kneaded out to what I usually expect. Instead of using my usual couches to give form to the loaves, I raised it in the Dutch oven itself, in one great mass. And when it was time to bake, I heaped live coals under and on top of the oven. I didn't add any steam for the crust and I didn't slash the top as I usually do. I normally bake the loaves for 40 minutes-- instead I left it for an hour.

What do you know, but the loaves turned out exquisite! I was nervous at every stage of the process, having set all of my familiar crutches aside. I didn't have my Bread Alone baking book to prompt my memory of measurements. The rote memory didn't feel comfortable. But the bread turned out, in huge round loaves with a golden crust I've never achieved at home.

So if you ever want an adventure in cookery, try setting your measuring cups aside. Leave the cook book on the shelf. Count how many dishes you might muster from memory alone. You'll find yourself connecting with your inner pioneer in ways you might not have imagined.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Hard tack-- redux

As you may all know, one of my big beeves is that often when people go about recreating some bit of food from the Mormon pioneers, they start with a recipe that isn't anywhere close to reflecting what the pioneers actually ate. Further, they don't think to question where the recipe came from ("provenance" as the antiques folks say). If something is printed in a Church publication, it must be True, they think. And as our last post revealed, this is not always the case. So here are just a few thoughts regarding the errors in the previous post.

First, as Sherm noted, hard tack was not ever intended to be "delicious." Its main requirement was that it keep long term. These are mutually exclusive ideas. For it to keep long term, it had to be dry as a bone, and contain nothing that would spoil. Fats, oils and milk-based ingredients spoil or go rancid. Likewise, rolling the dough out thin also means it will not last long. Thin crackers break into tiny little crumbs.

If the cracker is not thin, it will take some time to dry thoroughly. If it is not completely void of moisture it will spoil. To facilitate drying, pierce each cracker with a toothpick on a half-inch grid. Because it needs to dry thoroughly, we can't bake it at 400 degrees F. Instead, it needs to bake very slowly at a lower temperature (perhaps 200-250) for a long time (at least a couple of hours).

"...it will stay fresh as long as it is kept dry." Hmmm... actually, its not supposed to stay fresh. It's supposed to be dry. And truth be told, sailors often said that a cracker has to ripen at sea. The ripening references crackers that have gotten slightly soggy from ocean humidity, and then become infested with weevils. As the weevils tunneled through the cracker (note the implication of a thick cracker), it weakened the cracker so that it could be broken up more readily. In Melville's Moby Dick, Ishmael talks about sailors throwing such crackers into the rendering pot to fry in whale oil, making a tasty meal.

On the other hand, Melville doesn't mention "...jam, peanut butter, cheese, meat spreads, or whatever you like. Try seasoning the crackers by adding onion powder, cheese, barbecue sauce, bacon bits, herbs, or spices to the dough." The utter poppycock of this notion should be apparent on the face of things.

If you make hard tack, it should break a tooth and choke a camel. On the other hand if you want to make something tasty, why not find a credible recipe for a pioneer-era cookie? It just seems silly to try to make a sea biscuit into a cookie.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Game for You

Lately I've been working on honing the manuscript. I checked out a copy of Kate L. Turabian's Manual for Writers of Theses, Disertations, etc. I'm trying to remember the proper Chicago style for footnotes, and I bet that would be super boring for you guys, so here's a game instead.

This citation comes from the Children's Friend, July 1975 page 40. How many anachronisms can you spot? Post your findings in the comments section.

"Pioneer Hardtack
Hardtack is an old-fashioned flatbread or sea biscuit that was popular with pioneers and sailors because it was lightweight, compact, tasty, and stored well. And it is just as delicious today and handy, too, for hiking, backpacking, or snacking. Here is a recipe for hardtack:

4 cups flour (white, whole wheat, graham, rye, barley, or any combination of flours you like)
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup shortening
2 cups buttermilk, yogurt, cream, or sweet milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

1. Preheat oven to 400° and measure into large bowl.

2. Mix well and form dough into a ball, then divide dough and roll out a small portion (about the size of a tennis ball) at a time.

3. Roll dough on lightly floured surface as thin as you can. The thinner you roll it, the better the hardtack will taste.

4. Sprinkle rolled-out dough lightly with salt if you wish, cut to any shape desired, and place pieces close together on greased cookie sheet.

5. Bake until edges begin to brown. Remove cookie sheet from oven, turn hardtack over, and bake until it is crisp and dry and lightly browned.

6. As soon as the hardtack is baked, put on rack to cool. Store hardtack in airtight container, and it will stay fresh as long as it is kept dry.

This pioneer hardtack is delicious served plain or with jam, peanut butter, cheese, meat spreads, or whatever you like. Try seasoning the crackers by adding onion powder, cheese, barbecue sauce, bacon bits, herbs, or spices to the dough."

Friday, August 21, 2009

pots-n-pans


Yesterday before going up to the pioneer village for my weekly food adventure, I stopped at the LDS Church Historical Archives. The new building is really nice, but the service is still really slow, and it appears they still keep a very careful watch on everything they let you read. Most of the helpers are senior citizen missionaries who don't know much about history or archiving, but if you know what you want, you can usually get something helpful.

I was looking for information about ceramic pots and crocks. I have a chapter that talks about the physical artifacts of pioneer cookery separate from the perishable food itself. I had most of the chapter, but I was missing the section about ceramics. Here's what I learned.

There was a wave of potters who immigrated to Utah from Staffordshire, England. Yeah. So there were people here in Utah making pots who were as skilled as any in the world. There was also a group of potters who came from Denmark. Most of what these potters made were food containers, though they also made some flower pots and chimney tiles. I always had the impression that if you had a crock, you cherished it and protected it and passed it through generations. But yesterday I learned that crocks were considered much more disposable, a lot like we use Mason jars. As a result, Utah's annual production of crockery peaked in September. Potters boosted their production as house wives bought more to replace what had broken during the year as they got ready for the fruit harvest.

A lot of the Utah pots and crocks are marked so you can identify them, and they are highly collectible. So much that you probably wouldn't really want to collect them unless you were already crazy that way and the recession wasn't a factor in your life. So... I don't collect Utah ceramics. I just play with food. Yesterday I made sauerkraut up at the pioneer village, and I put it in a 3 gallon crock to ferment. Its not a particularly special crock. It was made by Western Pottery Manufacturing Co. in Denver, probably in the early 20th century. Any normal person would just use a plastic Homer bucket from the Home Despot.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Need a little help from my friends

I'm just about ready to start passing out copies of the manuscript I've been working on for the past year (or so) before submitting it to the publisher. Of course its about the subject at hand (mormon pioneer food). My main concern is that the tone I use might be off-putting to some, boring to others, etc. And as I've been thinking about it, I imagine that you folks out there are the main audience I would want to attract. But I really don't know you much at all. And out of the last five posts I've written, not a single comment. So sometimes I wonder if I'm just missing the mark entirely.

How about if a few of you just take a minute to introduce yourselves a bit in the comments section, and tell us a bit about what sort of cooking you do, and what interests you most in this conversation. Thanks!

Monday, August 17, 2009

"plain but wholesome"


Last night for dinner I made sushi. I made the usual California rolls, because it is cucumber season of course, but I also made a spicy tuna roll. I also made a miso soup, and my wife made some quick pickles as tsukemono. It was a really nice meal. Two nights ago, I made a Thai curry. It was a yellow curry, with chicken, potatoes, and onions in a cocoanut milk base with some ground peanuts (read: peanut butter). It was pretty tasty. We eat quite a bit of Asian food in our house, but three nights ago we had taco salad. This morning I'm making hashbrowns for breakfast. How would I describe the food in our house from a general overview?

So as I'm writing this stuff about Mormon pioneer food, I'm trying to describe what the common threads were in their daily meals. Eliza Brockbank Hales summed up the diet of her youth with the preface, "I was born in a one-room home in Spanish Fork." She says, "Our food was plain but wholesome. We had milk, home-made bread, vegetables, dried fruit, and meat. Our home cured. hams were tops. We also had a barrel of corned beef and a good root cellar for potatoes, apples, vegetables and so on."

So there you have it: the typical Mormon pioneer diet. How would you describe yours?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

mmm... Pudding

Right now I'm working on what I hope will be the last chapter in the book before I submit to the publisher. My own palate leans toward the savory, so this chapter on sweets has been difficult going. I think I'm on a roll now though, with 3,000 words down so far.

I was very fortunate to stumble across a recipe from Sarah Annie Clark Hale, who married my great great grandfather Alma Helaman Hale. Before I say more, let me just make this preface. Puddings in the 18th and 19th century were a food group of their own. I think puddings probably showed up at half of all suppers. Puddings come in an incredible diversity of styles, shapes and flavors. Most of us are familiar with custard puddings (think blancmange or creme' fraish). Some of us still have a bread pudding or carrot pudding at Christmas time. A few of us have even tried haggis, that Scottish pudding steamed or boiled in an intestine. Of course Yorkshire pudding still has a solid place in the UK.

Sarah's pudding is a plum pudding, typical for Christmas or fancy winter occasions. When we say plum pudding, we always mean raisins. Sarah's pudding comes from the old-school tradition of mixing up a batter with eggs, flour, breadcrumbs, etc., and then boiling it in a cloth bag for hours. More modern recipes call for steaming in a specially made pudding tin, or even baking it in a ceramic dish. With no further ado, here's Sarah Hale's plum pudding.

"English Plum Pudding
2 bowls flour, 1 bowl suet, 1 bowl raisins, 1 bowl currants, 1 teacup sugar, ½ teaspoon each cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg; a little salt, 2 heaping teaspoons baking powder, 6 eggs. Mix to a stiff batter with milk. Boil 5 or 6 hours in a heavy cloth bag. For the bag use a heavy cloth about 27 inches square wrung out in warm water. Flour the inside well and pour on the batter. Pull up the corners and tie with a strong string leaving just enough room for the pudding to rise. Place upside down in a kettle of boiling water on a rack, so it wont burn on the bottom and keep boiling and fully covered with water in a covered kettle the entire time. Add more boiling water if needed during cooking."

These sweet, spicy winter puddings were often served with a sauce. Sarah also left us her sauce or "dip" recipe:

"2 cups sugar and ¼ pound butter, 1 quart of water and boil until all dissolved. Thicken as for gravy. Flavor with brandy or lemon extract. As a variation, carmelize sugar and butter and just before serving add 1 cup whipped cream. Leave out flavoring."

Well... you should probably be making a more plain flour pudding at this summer season, something more like a yorkshire, but I was so excited about this one I just had to share it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Curd

Well look at me, blogging three days in a row. I went up to the pioneer village today to play with food whilst wearing funny old fashioned clothes. You may recall I recently wrote about Louis Pasteur and his studies of fermentation. After that little adventure I looked into cheese making, since it is a fermenting process. Did you know that? Yes, its the lactose sugars that get gobbled up by bacteria in the very same way that sucrose sugars get gobbled in beer making, or glucose gets gobbled in bread making. Its all fermentation, folks.

SO ANYWAY, I found this little pioneer descrip about cheese making, from my favorite pioneer lady, Emily Barnes:
“When our neighbors wanted to make cheese, we would in turn take milk to them, so every few weeks we had a cheese.We had a tub that we kept for that purpose. We would get all the milk warm and put it in the tub; then we would cut a piece of ‘rennet’ as we called the inner skin of a calf’s stomach, and let it soak in a little warm water overnight. In the morning we would pour this into the milk, which in a little while would set up like clabber. Then we would dip off the whey for which we had a pan with holes in it; and after putting a white cloth on it we would put some large rocks on it to hold it down.”

Of course, like many descriptions, she leaves a lot out. Partly she leaves things out because she didn't know what was happening with the microbiology, but she also leaves things out just for sheer forgetfulness.

"We would get all the milk warm and put it in the tub." Here she's talking about a wooden cheese making tub. She borrowed a tub to do laundry. The wooden tub became saturated with bacteria so that by putting the milk in the tub, she essentially introduced a bacteria culture. When I made cheese today at the pioneer village, I used a quart of cultured buttermilk. The culture is what does the fermenting. Some simple cheeses simply curdle the milk but don't ferment. These must be eaten right away.

"then we would cut a piece of ‘rennet’ as we called the inner skin of a calf’s stomach" Here she is talking about the process of setting the curd. By setting the curd, she sets the stage for separating the milk solids from the whey. But she never says "curd." You'd think anyone who has a chance to say "curd" would just say "curd" at every opportunity.

"Then we would dip off the whey for which we had a pan with holes in it;" So it turns out you can't just dip off the whey. First you have to cut the curd. As the curd is cut into smaller pieces, the exposed surface area of the curds start to express whey. Whey is a clear liquid, somewhat yellowish, and good for feeding to pigs. After the curd is cut, the next step is to heat the curd. As the curd is heated, it gives off even more whey, and it cooks slightly to become more firm.

"after putting a white cloth on it we would put some large rocks on it to hold it down.” But BEFORE putting a white cloth on it, she would have mixed some salt into it. Salt inhibits some bacteria while promoting others. Without the salt, the cheese will spoil before it ferments completely. Also, salt helps to dry the whey out of the curd to make a more firm, dry cheese.

So there you go. Maybe it was her MOTHER that made the cheese while she was young, and she wrote this as an old woman remembering her youth in spotty episodes. Maybe all of these recipes I've been hunting down are full of bologna. Or is it baloney? Whatever...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

An Appropriate Tone

Last week I went to a family reunion, and I brought my little lappy along. I thought I might get someone in the fam (solid Mormon stock) to read a sample chapter and give me feedback. What happened instead is that I ended up reading a chapter aloud to a handful of adult siblings and spouses. I read the "Beverages" chapter. My older brother picked that one because he thought it would be the most salacious, and I suppose he's probably right.

I try to write like a historian, which is to say, I try to be objective. Usually that means letting the sources tell the story, instead of me spicing it up with my own notions of how things were. But of course, objectivity is usually pretty boring. Everyone who sat in for the reading said that I should let my personality come out more. And also, they wanted more stories, less analysis. I guess that also means fewer recipes, since a recipe isn't a story. Certainly, that would appeal to more of a popular audience. But I'm setting my sights on Utah State University Press, which might mean that I have to play to a more academic audience. And that means objective, not salacious.

Well, here's a little beverage related salaciousness for you. Mormon pioneer Lucia Eugenia Lamb Everett was passing through Iowa and she sent her grown son to a store near where they were camped. She wrote, “One of the boys called at the Kings Store in Iowa and enquired for a pint of brandy, the man filled the bottle, and told him the price was $1.00. He told him, ‘very well, you may turn it back on the cask as I don’t pay any such price, for brandy.’ This seems to be a fair sample of Iowa prices” Naturally, the Mormons also charged non-Mormons passing through Utah high prices when the tables were turned. Personally, I refuse to pay $1 for a pint of brandy.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Inspiration

Tonight I went to see Julie & Julia-- that new movie about Julia Child and a blogging crazy woman who made every dish in Julia's book. It was fantastic. Meryl Streep as Julia was impeccable, of course. But most importantly, it inspired me. Julia Child took 8 years to write her book. I've only been working on mine for about two years, and not very diligently at that. That blogger woman wrote every day, and cooked every day. I only write once a week. I don't make everything I write about. I'm such a slacker, and I need to do better.

I was also inspired to cook. Today I went to visit my fine friends at the Crumb Brothers Bakery in Logan, and got all jazzed about baking good bread. I came right home from the movie tonight and mixed up a batch of starter for some bread I'll bake tomorrow. I tells ya, I have a passion.

My bread isn't special, particularly. I mean, its better than just about anything you might buy at the grocery store (especially when its fresh), but really, its just bread. Its not a pioneer recipe exactly, although many old recipes I've read follow in the shadows, and I'm sure a pioneer somewhere made bread like mine. But anyway, I just wanted to share with all of you one of the things that makes me happy.

Brock's Bread:
To 1/2 cup water at room temperature, add 1/2 tsp. dry active yeast. Let it dissolve gently, and swish it around in a small bowl. Add 3/4 cup unbleached white flour. Using a wooden spoon, mix it until it is integrated, then beat vigorously for 100 strokes. Cover and let it sit out for several hours, even overnight.
In the morning, measure two cups of water at room temperature into your large bread mixing bowl. Add 1/2 tsp. dry active yeast to this water and let it dissolve gently. Next, add the starter you made the night before. Break it up with a wooden spoon until it is thoroughly dissolved and becomes slightly frothy. Add 1 cup flour, and mix well. Add 1 Tbs. salt, and continue mixing with the wooden spoon. Gradually add three more cups flour. When it becomes difficult to stir, turn it out on your floured kneading surface. Knead for 15 minutes, adding flour to total about 6 cups or so. When it is well kneaded, clean out the big bowl, grease it with butter, and turn the dough in the bowl until it is coated with butter. Cover and let rise 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
After rising, punch the dough down and cover it again. Let it rest 30 minutes. At that time, turn the dough out and briefly knead it again, just a few strokes. Divide the dough into two lumps. Shape it as desired (I use a round loaf), and set it to rise the 2nd time in whatever you have to help it hold shape. Real bakers use a form called a couche but I use little mixing bowls lined with a well floured dish cloth.
When risen, have your oven ready at 450F. I use a baking stone, preheated. Remove the stone from the oven and throw a couple of ice cubes on the floor of the oven. Close the door while you turn the loaves onto the baking stone and let the oven fill with steam. Gently turn the loaves onto the stone, and using a very sharp razor or serrated knife, score the tops of the loaves. Return the stone and loaves to the oven. Bake for 35-40 minutes, reducing to 425 when loaves start to color. Cool on wire racks, or lean against the wall to cool.

This bread gives me joy every time. I hope you like it too. Thanks to Daniel Leader for teaching me.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Spontaneous Generation of Mice


I made it back to the library today after having spent the last two weeks giving quality time to the family. I had been working on a chapter about preserved foods, many of which involved fermentation. My objective at the library was to get a footnote for an assertion about Louis Pasteur's contributions to the world of food. I had written something to the effect that although he had done some work regarding yeast and bacteria in the 1860s, his work wasn't accepted as valid until much later. That was an assumption I received from several other food writers, but none of them documented their work. I wanted to find something more concrete.

An initial search of the Deseret News (that pulse of Mormondom) yielded no results. A cursory look at other food history made very little reference to Pasteur, as we have relegated him to medical history. However, looking at his work directly, I found that his initial studies in the 1850s were directly related to yeast fermentation. Yes, we have been here before.

In 1857 there was an active debate about the notion of spontaneous generation. One camp believed that, along the lines of Alchemy, you could put the right elements together and generate something completely unrelated. The origins of these ideas seem to lie in the 1600s with a guy named van Helmont. He had a notion about stuffing an old shirt into a barrel that would create the spontaneous generation of mice in the course of three weeks. Others had similar ideas about the spontaneous generation of frogs from marsh mud, or eels from river water. These ideas persisted into the early 19th century.

In this atmosphere, the question of yeast carried similar arguments. One camp held that if you combine sugar and water, yeast will spontaneously generate. The idea that yeast was a living organism was only settled in 1837 when it was first seen under a microscope. This group also believed that yeast "did its thing" only upon decay. They thought that as yeast cells died, it caused the "decomposition" of the sugars in a like manner.

Pasteur and others such as John Tyndall however believed the opposite. In a series of papers presented to French Academy of Sciences in 1859, Pasteur argued that yeast particles floated in the air, and were attracted to sugary substances which fed them. The Academy sided with Pasteur and awarded him a prize for his work. In later years, John Tyndall asserted the dusty coating on the skins of grapes was yeast (which he had verified by microscope). He put to rest the idea that yeast spontaneously generated in grape juice by showing that wine makers had inadvertently introduced yeast by crushing the whole grape with its yeasty skin.

Even so, not all scientists were convinced. In the face of this evidence, Pasteur's primary detractor Justus von Liebig continued to hold to the decomposition and spontaneous generation theories into the 1870s. Indeed, Tyndall was compelled to continue arguing against spontaneous generation into the 1880s, when Pasteur had moved on to medical applications. The broad popular acceptance of Pasteur's work in the 1850s didn't come until after his rabies vaccine proved its success. Many continued to disbelieve Tyndall's arguments about "Floating-Matter of the Air" and "animalcules" (microbial life forms) nearly to the end of the century.

Today it seems ludicrous to us, this idea that life could just sponaneously generate. Even if we don't thoroughly understand the conversion of lactic enzymes to lactic acid, we understand there is a cause and effect relationship driven by basic scientific principles. A hundred and fifty years after Pasteur, it is part of our popular view of the world. The curious thing to me is that 150 years after Darwin, many people still argue against evolution. I suppose the evolution argument requires a bigger petri dish than we have at the moment.

Friday, July 24, 2009

"Salads and such fixings"

This evening I'm in charge of organizing our local 24th of July celebration. Its going to be a potluck dutch oven dinner, followed by an old-time dance (yeah, what the heck does "old-time" really mean?) with a live string band and a caller. I'm going to bring a pot of beans for my dutch oven contribution, as well as a cucumber salad. The cucumber salad is the one where you slice a bunch of cukes and onions and then rub salt into them; let them sit in the salt for half an hour, then cover with 1/2 cup vinegar, 1 cup water and 1/4 cup sugar, pepper to taste. Chill for several hours before serving. Its one of my favorite summertime salads, and our cukes are going gangbusters right now. We pick 5 gallons of cukes twice a week.

As I'm fixing the beans and salad, I'm thinking back to the words of one Isabella Rogers, born August 17, 1858: "I believe the present trend is setting too strongly towards salads and such fixings. A revival of the old fashioned dishes would be a good thing for every community." In part this is why I chose the dutch oven potluck; also because you just gotta dutch oven on the 24th of July. But what do you guys think? How would old fashioned dishes make our communities different than if we just bring salads to everything?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Food for July 24th

We're coming up on that Mormoniest of holidays, July 24th, the day Brigham Young said, "This is the right place." For Mormons, food is and always has been one of the main modes of celebration. Louisa Pratt Barnes said of July 24, 1849, "“The tables were spread with the choicest varieties of things produced from the richest soil, and by our own hands labor.”

A party of 49ers passing through Utah on that first Pioneer Day was invited to sit in for dinner. Coming from Boston, they were “perfectly astonished to see the abundance and variety with which our tables were loaded, and said [they] did not believe that a greater variety could have been produced in that city.”

The trouble is, no one left a specific menu. What could that meal have been?

We know the pioneers ate lots of bread. This was the main staple of their diet. Look elsewhere in these posts for bread ideas.

They also ate lots of fruit. But in this early year of 1849, fruit trees were not yet established. If there was fruit, it would have been wild berries, in season in the canyons.

Another big Mormon feast gives an idea of what might have been served on this first Pioneer Day. In 1860 a British traveler recorded the menu for the Territorial Ball, as follows:

Bill of Fare, Territorial and Civil Ball.
Social Hall, February 7, 1860
First Course, Soups:
Oyster, Ox-Tail, Vermicelli, Vegetable
Second Course, Meats:
Roast: Beef, Mutton, Mountain Mutton, Bear, Elk, Deer, Chickens, Ducks, turkeys
Boiled: Sugar-corned beef, mutton, chickens, Ducks, Tripe, Turkey, Ham, Trout, Salmon
Stews & Fricassees.
Oysters and Ox Tongues, Beaver tails, Collard head, Chickens, Ducks, Turkeys
Vegetables
Boiled: Potatoes, Cabbage (i.e. greens), Parsnips, Cauliflower, Slaw
Baked: Potatoes, Parsnips, Beans
Hominy
Third Course, Pastry:
Mince pies, Green apple pie, Pineapple pie, Quince jelly pie, Peach jelly pie, Currant jelly pie
Puddings: Custards, Rice, English Plum, Apple souffle, Mountain, Pioneer
Blancmange Jellies
Fourth Course
Cakes: Pound, Sponge, Gipsy, Varieties
Fruits: Raisins, Grapes, Apples, Snowballs
Candies Nuts Tea Coffee

Most of the vegetables would be likely candidates for the 1849 dinner, since they could be grown in a single season. Likewise, the wild meats would be accessible, as well as domesticated beef, pork and poultry. The interesting food group here is puddings. Largely vanished from our culinary palate, puddings were a main course item for many pioneer meals. While some puddings might seem familiar (custard or rice pudding being somewhat akin to the Bill Cosby versions), other puddings would require the use of a knife. Here's a "Pioneer Pudding" circa 1860 from Martha Bitter Ricks:
1 cup bread crumbs
1 cup ground suet
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
About ¾ cup milk
Mix milk with other ingredients to make a stiff batter. Put in a cloth pudding bag and tie tightly. Cook covered with boiling water for three hours. Cut and serve with brown gravy.

The treatment using a cloth pudding bag speaks of the antiquity of this pudding. By mid-19th century, pudding tins were more common, as they hastened cooking time. As a modern equivalent, this might be closest to a Yorkshire pudding, in a different shape.

For our Pioneer Day feast, I'll be bringing baked beans in a dutch oven to the potluck dinner. Hope yours is tasty too!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Generations


I've been researching Danish and Scandinavian food lately. PLEASE CLICK HERE if you'd like to participate in a survey about your family's Scandinavian food traditions. During the pioneer era, about 70% of the foreign-born emigrants were british, and about 25% Scandinavian, with the remaining 5% being assorted French, German, Swiss, Italian, etc. There were strongholds of Swiss-German in Providence (Cache Valley) Midway (Heber Valley) and St. George. Danish colonies were Hyrum (Cache Valley), and most of the San Pete valley around Manti. In the concentrated areas, Danish culture was quite pronounced.

In looking for food references, I came across a collection from my family (which I referenced last time). In that book, the author (in her 80s now) was talking about the feast for Santa Lucia she remembered in the 1920-30s. Also, she recalled a formal Christmas Smorgasbord. She noted that these days she doesn't include the lutefisk she remembered as a child, as most people didn't like it then.

Lutefisk is a dish prepared from dried cod or ling. I've found a reference from Brigham Young eating dried cod, but mostly it seemed like an exotic thing. I found two other references to dried cod from British-American sources. I also found a couple of Deseret News advertisements from the dry goods retailers Halliday and Warner in the 1850s mentioning codfish for sale (dried of course). But mostly the memoirs, reminisences and diaries of Danish emigrants don't mention Danish ethnic food. They say they ate weeds and mush for years before their farms got established. The only Danish things the pioneers report to have eaten were simple pastry sorts of treats made with milk and flour.

So there you go. It appears that our food traditions are dynamic, coming and going with the generations. It also appears that each generation latches onto what they think is meaningful, which might not be what the former generation thought was meaningful. For example, in the previous generation, lutefisk was seen as a Christmas dish. I think this is because it is a quintisentially Scandinavian dish, and Christmas is a time to celebrate heritage and ancestry. However, the generations before that used lutefisk as just a way to use up old food storage: dried fish from that nasty barrel in the closet.

So when your kids get old, will they look back on your use of foods from the cannery project as nostalgic?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Adventures in History

Today I went to meet my father's second cousin's mother, whatever that doglegged relation might be called. She is 87. She remembers my great-great grandmother Sena Mikkelsen Sorensen, who was born in Cache Valley in 1860. Apparently they knew each other somewhat. At any rate, some of Sena's Danish recipes (Sena's mother immigrated from Denmark in the 1850s) have been compiled into a very brief cookbook with some of the recipes from another great-great grandmother from Sweden, Anna Lundstrom Carlson. Here's Anna Lundstrom Carlson's bread recipe, Cache Valley circa 1870ish.

"As she kneaded the golden lump, Grandma took your fingers and pressed them into the dough saying "likka dis--" like this, to teach you how to recognize the proper texture for great bread."

1 pint milk
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup soft butter
1 dessert spoon salt
2 cakes yeast
1 egg
Flour to the right consistency [about 7-8 cups]
Scald milk and cool to lukewarm. Dissolve yeast in milk with 2 Tbs sugar. Add 3 cups flour, beat with wooden spoon until smooth. Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. Combine remaining sugar, salt, butter, and eggs, and cream well. Add yeast and flour mixture, beat together, then add remaining flour [gradually]. Place on floured board and knead until dough is smooth and elastic. Add flour gradually to keep dough light. Place in buttered bowl and allow dough to double in size, about 1 1/2 hours. Dust with cinnamon and sugar if desired. Place on baking sheet, allowing space for expansion. Let double in size. Bake in moderate oven (about 350) 18-20 minutes."

So there's your quick fix for today.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

4th of July: Ice Cream Time

It's officially summer now, even though the cool temperatures continue. Fourth of July means home made ice cream. Clarissa Young (daughter of you-know-who) recalled her brother Feramorz (seriously folks, who names their kid Feramorz? Its as bad as Joseph Smith naming his kid Don Carlos) making ice cream with Heber J. Grant:

"Each boy furnished part of the "makings" and Mother showed them how to cook the custard, in which art they became quite expert. After it had cooled they would put it into a pail with a tight lid, set this within a larger pail, and cover with salt and ice. Then they would take turns twisting and turning the inner pail until the ice cream was frozen."

I've made ice cream using a can inside another can, and kicking it around on the floor. But back to the subject of custard based ice cream. If you google around you can find Thos. Jefferson's custard ice cream recipe from France. Or you can look on the Feeding America website (see previous posts) for recipes from historic cook books. The one I'm using today comes from Mormon Pioneer Mary Vogt Garn, born Sept 12, 1820. It makes six quarts, so I halved it for my 1-gal freezer. I'm giving you the original text however.

“Beat 13 egg yolks very lightly and add thereto four cupfuls sugar and stir well. Add to this, little by little, three pints of rich milk that has been heated to the boiling point, beating all the while, then put in the whites of the 13 eggs beaten to a stiff froth. Cook the mixture in a pail set inside another containing hot water. Boil about 15 minutes, or until it is as thick as boiled custard, stirring steadily. Pour out into a bowl to cool. When quite cold beat into it three pints of rich sweet cream and 5 tsp of flavoring. A pinch of salt is sometimes desirable to bring out the flavor. This makes six quarts of ice cream after freezing. All conditions being perfect the ice cream will be frozen within the hour, in a freezer with a hand crank and revolving dashers, if it is kept moving. The freezer should be packed with cracked ice and salt—rock salt— not the common variety— three-fourths ice and one-fourth salt.”

Helpful hints: layer the ice and salt. Every ten minutes (or so) add another layer of ice and a bit more salt. Don't pour off the melted ice water. If you want to use strawberries in the mix, you have to use A LOT of them. Two pounds would not be too much. Mash them thoroughly, and add them only after the ice cream has started to set. If you thoroughly chill everything well ahead of time, it will speed up the time required for the ice cream to set up. Once it has set up reasonably in the churn, put the can in the freezer for an hour if you want it hard, or eat it right away for softer stuff.

Isn't this fun?

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Famous Faces


I'm sorry its been a while since I wrote. I went on Pioneeeer Trek, and then we went camping, and then there was the Fiddle Festival in Idaho, and then we opened our produce stand. Its been busy.

Here's a brief recap of trek: the food sucked, except for the last day when we had a feast of smoked beef brisket, pulled pork, baked potato, etc. I had to leave for a day for a meeting down in town, and that disrupted the rising times for the sourdough I had planned to make. It rained and rained and that got in the way too. So the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.

For your quick little food fact for today, consider this diary entry from John D. Lee. Yes, he's the one who in 1856 helped to massacre 200 wagon immigrants on the trail to California in the name of Mormonism (Mountain Meadows). After the massacre, he went into hiding for a short time, but talked a lot about his role. He was eventually captured and found guilty at trial, and executed twenty years after the massacre. At the time of this entry, he is in hiding near New Harmony in southern Utah.

"May 15, 1859 About 8 at night Aggathean, Rachel and Caroline, my first 3 wives, met near the east line of my pasture fence. They embraced me in their arms and wept with joy and sorrow. Brought with them excellent supper consisting of roast beef, short cake, pies, eggs, pancakes, butter and molasses.”

The next day he wrote:
"May 16, 1859 About 8 o'clock P.M. Rachel, Maryleah, Terressa, my wives, met me with hot coffee, beef steak, crab, custard, etc.”

Lee was famous for his polygamy as well as for the massacre, and boasted of his sexual prowess with his wives. Apparently, for their part the wives were handy with a dutch oven. These two menus give a good representative sample of what I think would have been common for special occasion meals. Everyday meals would more likely be just one dish with bread.

Hope your summer is treating you well. Peas are on now, also cherries. Corn is knee-high or better, and cukes are starting on. Squash is in flower. Beans are about to blossom. Happy eating!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Pioneeeer Trek

Tomorrow I leave for "Pioneer Trek" with the kids from church. Its this quasi-reenactment of the Mormon handcart expeditions of the 1850s. When I was a kid, I did one with an outfit from BYU. We walked about 30 miles in four days, eating gruel. The one I'm doing tomorrow, I understand it will be only 20 miles, and slightly better food (but only because the food will be less than authentic).

They've told us over and over, its not really a historical reenactment. Its more of a long set of initiative games aimed at building righteous teenagers. When I offered my assistance on the food end of things, they said they already had it all planned out: canned chili and store-bought biscuits. Canned chili for a crowd of 250 people... should be spectacular. Scenes from Blazing Saddles come to mind.

Last night they told us that the former recommendations of quasi-historical clothing had been suspended... for the women and girls. They are now welcome to don pants due to fears of inclement weather. Blue jeans are still prohibited for the guys. Khaki Dockers are recommended instead. My wife sewed for three days straight to get historically authentic clothing for her and daughter. She's gonna dress right, by gum. I'll try to post photos of the anachronistic fashion show.

I made up a sourdough anyway. I'm gonna take 5 lbs of flour and see which biscuits get eaten first-- mine or the storebought. I can't let this opportunity go by. After all, when will I be on the Mormon trail with a handcart and a dutch oven again?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Fast Food

Yesterday I indulged in a little volunteerism. This Is The Place Monument in Salt Lake City also has a full scale Mormon pioneer village/settlement, and they use a TON of volunteers. Those who know me might remember I worked at TITP as their historian a dozen years ago. So anyway, I thought it might a good place to experiment with some of this food stuff I've been researching. I got all dressed up in my duds and went to do an afternoon of sharing info with visitors.

Yesterday was "free day" at TITP and they say they had about 8,000 visitors. It was busy. It was also raining most of the afternoon. I tried to work in the garden as much as I could between spats of rain. I brought my excerpts from Elijah Larkin's diary to share, and I managed to share some of it sometimes (mostly with the other volunteers). In the garden, the most I ever was able to share with people was, "Yes, this is how they grew their food. These are beans coming up here." So I never really got to talk about the research I've been doing. Even though people came to the park to see history, not many wanted to stop and talk about history. In the house, they were using the coffee grinder-- wait, I mean the "spice grinder" to show people how to grind wheat. (Some pioneers did use coffee grinders to grind wheat before mills were established).

It seems that people want fast and dirty information; condensed snippets void of context. Wheat ground in a coffee grinder. Beans in the garden. This makes me think that perhaps a more successful book would be "1,001 strange facts about pioneer food" or "101 Mormon recipes void of context." Just the quick and dirty. After all, isn't that what a blog is? Just a quickie.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Diary of Elijah Larkin

Yesterday we took the kids out to the garden to battle with the weeds. Most things are doing fairly well. The lettuce, spinache and radishes have already run their course. We didn't eat even a tenth of what grew before it went to seed. The tomatoes look like they will certainly drive us out (we have almost 50 tomato plants in three varieties). There were millions of small tomato plants that came up as volunteers from last year's rotted fruits. Also some volunteer potatoes that we didn't find last year. The hot peppers are coming along. Beets and carrots are a little sparse; it seems difficult to get those to come up. Cucumbers are doing well, as are the summer squashes. Peas are in flower. Two plantings of corn spread two weeks apart are looking quite nice. The cherries are turning pink. We only lost one small peach tree from last season, and the survivors are all bearing. All in all, it looks like we'll have plenty to give away, or maybe to sell.

There's an online database of pioneer diaries that came out of the Mormon Pioneer sesquicentennial celebration in 1997 (or was it from a miniseries produced for PBS a few years after?). At any rate, you can find the Trail of Hope diary project here or type this address into your browser>>> http://overlandtrails.lib.byu.edu/ One of the diaries, from Elijah Larkin, talks quite a bit about his gardening efforts through the course of a season. Here's a brief sample:

June 5, 1864 ...this Afternoon my Bro & Self. through the kindnes of Bro Ed Samuels gardener visited the Presidts upper & lower Gardens. the Peas Peaches
apples Pears Strawberrys & in all the Gardens looked splendid.
June 6, 1864 ...I watered the Hall Lot with waste water. planted a row of Cabbages
& hoed the Carrots in the Orchard Lot.
June 7 …To day I worked in the Orchard Lot hoeing. Sarah & Jos weeded the rows after me…
June 9 …I hoed up the weeds in the Hall Lot & moulded up the Potatoes Jos S. assisted me.
June 11 …To day I finished Hoeing up the weeds in the Hall Lot.
June 14 …To day I recieved the notices when to use the water under the new regulations for the Orchard Lot 1½ houses once a week in stead of two & a half
Hourse twice a week. five the Hall Lot half an hour once a week insted of an hour & half twice a week. watered the Hall Lot.
June 17 …Hoed the Beans in the Orchard Lot.
June 18 …Moulded up my Beans in the Orchard Lot early this Morning & watered bouth Lots during the day with waste water.


As you can see there's a lot of information in just two weeks' entries about food production. Through the course of a year, it looks like a gold mine. I particularly like his details about the irrigation schedule, and also the description of Brigham Young's gardens. But perhaps the gem for June of 1864 is this entry about his interaction with Sarah, his fractious plural wife. Earlier, she was found guilty of hoarding food and hiding it from the other wife. Plural marriage must have been a terrible circumstance. Read on...

June 20 …I took Sarah a Ten dollar order for Crockeryware &
Tallow for Soap & Candles. as soon as I got into the House
she pretended to be verry ill. & weak. but after Grumbling
& finding fault with me for about Half an Hour she showed
her cloven foot & I went to the Orchard Lot to thin my
Carrott Patch. she folowed & commenced to abuse me in the
garden. I advised her to be quiet. but finding she would not
I left & went to the Hall Lot here she folowed me again
& haveing raked up all she immagined wrong about me from the
time she first knew me. she vented her Hellish Spleen upon
me in words & made evil of things that were meant for good
when at last I ordered her out of the Garden & went home


After all, a garden should be a santuary, not a battleground.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Summertime means...

I was reading Ray Bradbury's "Dandelion Wine" the other day, and he used the beverage as a metaphor for the idyllic summer days of youth. And then, cosmic coincidence, I was doing a piece of research just days later, and I came across a cookbook in the DUP archives called How To Cook (Chicago: Belford, Clarke & CO, 1883). It was owned by Mary Clark (mother of Annie Clark Kimball), and on the front blank page someone had written this receipt in an elaborate Spenserian hand:

Dandelion Wine
Boil for half an hour 6 lbs of Sugar 7 quarts of Water and 2 lbs of dandelion flowers or 4 ounces of the roots. When luke warm strain it into a clean cask add 4 ounces of raisins and a teaspoon of fresh beer yeast. Stir daily for 10 days then bung close.

So there's my first post of summer. After you've "bunged it close" I recommend you let it sit in your cellar for six months, and then when winter gets depressing, you can go down to the cellar for a brief reminiscence of those lovely summer days.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Mechanics

For the last few days I've been trying to establish a few positive ID's on submissions from the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers organization. A lot of DUP stuff tends to be documented very thinly, making it of marginal usefulness. For example, there's this tidy little submission from Hattie Snow:

Peach Preserves
“1 qt molasses or more if not sweet enough—3 lbs. peaches either with or without pits. Simmer for 6 hours. Good filling for Roly Poly”

But who is Hattie Snow? A search on FamilySearch yielded a half-dozen possibilities, some within my time frame and some not. It would really be nice if the DUP offered some sort of provenance for their collected material. Its kind of like someone carrying a boxful of flint-knapped arrowheads in to the state archaeologist's office and saying, "look what I found!" The archaeologist replies, "Sorry, can't use it without context." The arrowhead is only meaningful if we know where it was found, and what other objects were found nearby. Was it found on top of the ground, or under two inches of topsoil? Was there a hearth? Or other animal bones?

Fortunately, Hattie Snow's preserves do have some context. We have other pioneers who mention making preserves by simmering fruit in molasses, though they don't tell the proportions or how it was used. It might be likely that Hattie herself wasn't a "pioneer" but that she was reporting a process that is part of the pioneer experience.

I bet ya a dollar that this stuff is just boring as hell to all of you non-existent readers. It fascinates me, but perhaps a best-seller mormon pioneer cookbook needs more recipes and less philosophy.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Backed Beans

As you know, I'm fascinated by food as a reflection of the meaning of our lives. A year or two ago, I came into possession of my grandmother's cookbook. She's ninety now, and doesn't cook much anymore. The cookbook is a compilation of newspaper clippings, relief society dittos, and very few handwritten originals. The handwritten originals are sorted into those without comment, those labeled "good", and those labeled "very good". There are a lot of repeats in the recipes. For example, there's one called "Poulsbo Bread" that shows up more than a dozen times. Also, a recipe for baked beans shows up several times.

What I think is the oldest of the baked bean recipes is on a yellowed, stained, torn 3x5 card. It is titled "Backed Beans" and it goes as follows:
"1 larg can Pork&Beans take the little pice of Fat out
1/4 cup Brown Sugar
1/2 tea-spoon dry Mustard
1/2 cup catsup. Fry 1/2 lb Bacon till Crisp,
then chopped 1 good size onion cook in Bacon Fat-
this will take 10 mins,
drain greas off Mixx Onions Bacon and
other ingredients. Mix Well Back 1/2 hour
at 350
the Onion and Bacon can be fixed hours or ^a day before."

Fair enough. This recipe also shows up in the family recipe book of my grandma's sister. That leads me to think that perhaps my great-grandma was the misspeller of "Backed Beans".

So then I was poking around in a DUP source and found this nice little ditty from Mary Alice Widdison, born in Utah in 1854:
“Mary Alice Widdison's Baked Beans: 4 c. dried white beans ½ c. chopped onions— 1/2 to ¾ c. brown sugar or molasses— 2 tsp. Salt— 1 c. boiling water— 1/4 lb. pork diced—1/2 tsp. dry mustard— 1/2 c. catsup. Cover the beans with water and soak for 12 hours, drain and cover again with water and simmer slowly for a long time. Place a few beans in a spoon, blow them and if the skins burst they are sufficiently cooked, drain and add the remaining ingredients— blend well. Place in a greased dish or bean pot. Bake in a slow oven from 6 to 8 hours. If they become dry, add a little water or stock—uncover last hour of baking.”

With the exception of using canned instead of dry beans, they're basically the same recipe. I thought that was pretty darn cool. Now if I can just figure out what the cosmic meaning of it is...