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
Boiled: Potatoes, Cabbage (i.e. greens), Parsnips, Cauliflower, Slaw
Baked: Potatoes, Parsnips, Beans
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


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?