Thursday, March 26, 2009

Duck Pot Pie

From the diary of Wilford Woodruff:

December 11, 1867
“I went down to the Jordon with Ezra & Browen Pettet to shoot some ducks. Brother Ezra Pettet sen. took two boats crossed the Hot Spring lake & Browen went with me in the wagon & met him there. We shot 6 ducks then drove down the Jordon with the team some 4 miles further. I then left my team with my Indian Boy Sarroquetts & we went down 3 miles near the mouth of Jordon. Ezra Pettet rowed down with his boat. While going down he shot 3 geese. We rowed our boats into the rushes whare we could hide ourselves & as the ducks would fly over or among us we would shoot them on the wing. We staid till dark then rowed back to our wagon, drew our Boats up on the dry land made up a fire Cooked a duck pot pie Eat our supper made our Beds in the Boat & slept all night. [They continued to hunt all day the next day.] We counted our game & found we had 40 ducks & 3 geese.”

There are a number of interesting things about this entry: Woodruff counted his ducks just like Peter counted fishes; Woodruff had an Indian boy (probably adopted) and it appears that he treats this boy somewhat like a servant; Woodruff appeared to be hunting as much for the pleasure of it as for the meat; two families split 40 ducks, not counting those made into the duck pot pie the night before; Woodruff was adept enough at cooking to make a pot pie. He could have just stewed or roasted the birds instead, but he opted for something more involved.

I reckon our dear readers are pining for a recipe though, so here's an excerpt from J.M. Sanderson's The Complete Cook (1867):
Duck Pie.--Bone a fowl and a full-grown duck; wash them, season with a small quantity of mace and allspice, in the finest powder, with salt and pepper. Put the fowl within the duck. Put a calf's tongue, pickled red, boiled very tender, and skinned, into the fowl; press the whole close. The skins of the legs should be drawn inwards, that the body of the fowl may be quite smooth. The space between the sides of the crust and fowl may be filled with a fine force meat, if approved.

I imagine that Woodruff didn't bring a pickled calf's tongue with him on the hunt. I imagine he probably didn't go to the work of boning out a teal to stuff it inside a mallard. Sanderson's is a reference to the famous Victorian coup de gras: Turducken, or a duck stuffed inside a chicken stuffed inside a turkey. For Woodruff's application, he likely made a simple pastry crust and filled it with jointed out legs, thighs and breasts. Perhaps carrots, potatoes and squash brought from home filled out the pie, with salt and pepper seasonings. At this season however, you'll do better to buy a duckling at the store, or buy a duck from a neighbor. Will this turn out better than vinegar pie?

Monday, March 23, 2009

You mean... they DRANK???

So in the course of research I sometimes come across something that takes me completely by surprise. The other day I came across this description of pioneers making beer. It surprised me! Particularly, I was intruiged by how detailed the description is. I don't ever find these kind of detailed descriptions of how to cure a ham or butcher a steer. But look at this detail for yourself. From Anna Madsen Bench:

"For beer making, mother first made the malt. This was done in the summer time. Clean grain was selected, put into a wooden tub that was used only for that purpose, and soaked until it would hold no more water. Then drained and put up in an attic on a scrubbed platform, heaped in a pile, well covered, to make it heat and sprout. When it was well sprouted and matted together it was spread out gradually and thoroughly dried. Then taken to the mill and crushed or ground. A wooden tub with a hole in the bottom near the edge was used in which to brew the beer. Clean straw was scalded, twisted and put in the hole; this served to strain the beer. A stick the size of the opening and as high as the tub was forced into the hole. A portion of the malt was placed in the tub, and boiling water poured over it, in proportion to the malt. When the strength of the malt was well absorbed by the water, the stop was loosened a little, so the beer could filter through the straw. This dripped into another wooden tub, and while at blood heat, yeast saved from the last batch was added. A little flour was sprinkled over the top, the vessel well covered, and the liquid allowed to ferment. When well worked and settled it was put into jugs, stored in a cool place, and was then ready for use. The yeast which had settled in the bottom was carefully stored for breadmaking and for the next batch of beer. Sometimes for the sake of variation part of the malt was put in the oven and slightly browned to make the beer a darker color and sometimes hops were boiled and the liquid added to give it a bitter tang. Beer was made as much to obtain fresh yeast as for the drink."

I found that all very curious. Now don't you go trying this at home!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Candidates

Hello again friends, and back to business. Well, almost. As you know I mostly concern myself with Mormon Pioneer foodways. For me, that means post-Nauvoo exodus (1846) and pre-railroad Utah. Naturally there will be some fudging on the margins because conditions in Utah's Dixie didn't change much for years after the railroad went through northern Utah. Today's observations come from the other end: Nauvoo.

Recently Deseret Book published a tidy little book called The Emma Smith We Know. This is a collection of anecdotes and receipts that have been handed down orally and on scraps of paper among the descendants of Emma Smith. Generally these were not part of the Mormon Migration, since Emma stayed in Nauvoo when most others went West. Naturally this is just the kind of stuff that gets me excited, but since it falls outside the arbitrary time period I set for myself, I can't put it in the book. Plus, someone else already put it in their book. Hmmph.

At any rate, here's a brief excerpt, under fair use:
Emma's grandson Frederick Alexander Smith said the "candidates" were served with honey or syrup. "During the big political campaigns several candidates came to the Mansion House hotel for dinner and Grandmother made fritters, at the end of the mea with honey or syrup. Delighted-- politicians asked, 'What do you call these things?' She said, 'It all depends. A year like this we call them Candidates-- all puffed up and air in them'"

The formula is given as follows:
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs, separated
Cooking oil

Sift flour, baking powder, sugar and salt together. Make a well in center of dry ingredients and pour in milk. Add lightly beaten egg youlks. Blend together till batter is smooth. Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites. Chill for 30 minutes. Form into fritters by making balls with 2 spoons dipped into hot water. Deep-fry in oil until golden brown.

A fritter is basically a small deep fried morsel of something. They could be apples, bananas, savory meats, etc. The fritter described here seems to be remarkably similar to a Danish aebleskiver, but is deep-fried in lard rather than using the traditional Danish pan. They might also be compared to a dumpling, but lighter. Just goes to show, its impossible to invent a new food; we just reshape the old ones.

As for interpreting this "historic" recipe, it has clearly been altered since Emma made them. As we noted in previous posts (see the doughnut discussion), baking powder was not invented or widely used during the Nauvoo house era. In Emma's day it would more likely have been a saleratus or pearlash leaven (i.e. baking soda), using sour cream, buttermilk or vinegar as the reacting agent. In Miss Eliza Leslie's Directions for Cookery, In Its Various Branches (1840), a similar receipt is given for "plain fritters" but has no leaven included whatsoever, relying only on stiffly beaten eggs, cooked immediately as the batter has a tendency to fall over time.

We spend too much time talking about the quirks of particular recipes. I find it much more interesting to note the contextual clues the recipe offers. This one, a very simple dessert, was served to distinguished guests in the best hotel in town. Further, it was Emma who made them, not the hired help (if the provenance is accurate). And even further, I like the reference connecting a food dish with other historical circumstances. If only this reference had shown up in Utah in 1856...

On Tuesday next week our church is hosting a pie contest. What sort of pie shall I make? Any suggestions? I've half a mind to make the vinegar pie someone mentioned in a previous comment...

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Brief Diversion...

Some of my good friends know that for the past couple of years I've been trying to recreate some artifacts from Mormon history. About ten years ago I was at the Daughters of Utah Pioneers museum in Salt Lake City and I saw Brigham Young's bloodstone amulet, mounted in 14k gold. I thought, "Why if that isn't a very expensive rabbit's foot!" The note attached in the display case indicated that it was one of Brigham Young's personal posssions, and that he wore it for protection against evil when going to dangerous places. This bloodstone amulet is also described in more detail in D. Michael Quinn's book, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View.

At any rate, during the past two years I've been trying on and off to recreate this artifact. I spent way too much money on mistakes (once having purchased a rock, paying to have it cut into slabs, only to find out it wasn't bloodstone). I went on rockhounding safaris to far-flung parts of Utah only to find out that the quarry where Brigham Young got his stone was played out and empty. In the end, I found a few small pieces at a rock shop, and cut them to slabs myself on a borrowed saw.

This reproduction isn't quite exact, but its pretty close. And best of all, it is finished and it clips onto my watch chain. Brigham Young wore his on a chain around his neck, next to his skin, hence the hinged pieces I suppose. So then... are you jealous yet? Do you want me to make one for you? How much would you pay? Would silver be as good as gold?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

It's Tomato Time!

Spring is creeping in here, and tulips are pushing up through the soil. We have so far started 150 little tomatoes, hot peppers, and herb starts. Last year my dear old mother gave me a little grow light, and we rotate the flats through for 8 hours at a time. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

In 1863 seedsman Joseph Ellis Johnson offered more than a hundred varieties of seeds for sale to the Utah market. The same seeds were also sold in Denver as well, so the Utah market was not as isolated as one might think. On his seed list were a couple of varieties of tomatoes: the Fejee and the yellow pear. Johnson's tomato seeds were taken from Fejee and yellow pear tomatoes. They would grow Fejee and yellow pear tomatoes respectively.

Fearing Burr's Field & Garden Vegetables of America (1863) describes the Fejee tomato as follows: "Fruit quite large, red, often blushed or tinged with pinkish-crimson, flattened, sometimes ribbed, often smooth, well filled to the centre; flesh pink, or pale red, firm, and well flavored; plant hardy, healthy, and a strong grower."

We rely on this description because the Fejee tomato is believed to be extinct today. Most commercial tomato production (or most commercial agriculture in general) today relies on hybrid breeding. Where the old heirloom varieties produced plants and fruits which directly resembled the fruit from which the seeds were taken, today's hybrids are a crossing of two varieties. The crossing of these varieties produces seeds which will not reproduce a second time. The advantage for the grower is that the plants yield with greater abundance (known as hybrid vigor), but one crop is all the seed will produce. The same concept is illustrated in cross-bred pigs which grow bigger and faster than pure-bred pigs. Another familiar cross, donkeys with horses, produces mules: big and strong but usually sterile.

For you and me, the practical reality of all this is that as commercial markets move to hybrid varieties, older heirloom varieties go extinct. We no longer have access to many of the vegetables our ancestors ate, so we will never be able to recreate some of their foods. This is especially true of corn, wheat, apples, potatoes, tomatoes-- all the major food crops. Other crops which haven't found large scale commercial production still offer some of the older seeds.

The good news is that there is a growing body of gardeners (excuse the pun) dedicated to saving seeds from their crops, and sharing seeds with other gardeners. Seed Savers Exchange (SSE), a non-profit organization, has helped gardeners connect to preserve older varieties for more than thirty years. With more than a million seed trades on record, we think that some varieties have been saved from extinction. SSE also offers organically-grown seeds of heirloom varieties for sale. You can order online or by telephone. Visit their site for more information.

Last year I grew the two varieties pictured here. The yellow pears were enormously prolific. It blew my mind how many of these little yellow gems we got. They were sweet! We ate them in salad after salad, and in fresh salsa. We got sick of them eventually. They were as prolific as zuchinni or summer squash. We didn't cage them at all, and the runners grew out 10 and 15 feet long, loaded with yellow 'maters.

The Sudduth's Brandywine was also incredible. Matching the Fejee in most respects, it was a delicious if somewhat thick-skinned tomato. They grew to enormous size, many close to two pounds. We didn't cage them either, so the extreme weight of the tomatoes weighed down the vines and we lost quite a few to rot from being on the ground. This year we're caging everything, and can't wait to eat our first fruits. The seeds have all sprouted, and it looks like we should be able to plant them out to the garden in early May.

I hope you all might post back to me with reports of how your heirloom gardens are coming along. I get so excited when I think I'm not alone in my insanity for old fashioned foods and flavors...