What time is that, you might ask? Well... This evening for dinner I made chicken soup. It was the standard, no frills chicken soup made by boiling the remains of yesterday's roast chicken. Celery, onion and carrots made up the rest, with a few savory herbs to flavor. This was our fifth soup this fall, if you don't count the ramen for lunch the other day. We started out with a lovely butternut squash soup made with kielbasa sausage and cheddar cheese. Then we had miso. A few days before Halloween I made a clam chowder. On Halloween we had a curry pumpkin soup. And now chicken soup. No dumplings or noodles tonight, as we had the remains of a sourdough loaf (thanks again Dr. Wood! Buy his cultures! They're awesome!).
Yes, it is soup season. One of the historical soups I've come across (and to be included in the book solely on the basis of its provenance) is St. Jacob's soup. This one is attributed to Benjamin Roberts. The lore is that Benjamin went on the Mormon Battalion march to California and came back with this soup. Here's the recipe, from his great-granddaughter:
1/4 lb salt pork 2 good-sized potatoes, diced 2 good-sized onions, sliced 4 fresh tomatoes (or 1 no.2 can stewed)
Cut pork into small pieces and cook until brown but not crisp. Cook potatoes and onions in boiling water until tender. Add pork with some of drippings, also tomatoes, and simmer for 10 minutes. Serve with hard bread which has been toasted and cut into cubes. Seasoning should be added to taste.
So there you have it. I've seen this recipe in multiple places, always the same, with the same provenance, so it seems to be sort of famous. What baffles me though is how this recipe survived for 150+ years. You can just look at it and see that it would be rather un-notable. Try making it and see what you think might give it the merit to last so long. I'm guessing there's something missing in the "seasonings added to taste." Would it be crushed red pepper? Black pepper? Would you make a roux with the drippings? Fresh herbs? Maybe we should make some little toasts broiled with some chevre and float them on the soup? Or just season some croutons?
At any rate, send in your thoughts and reviews for this soup, and one lucky winner will get to dip into the prize bucket. Incidentally, MissC never sent her contact info to claim her prize. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hope to hear from you soon!
In the course of experimenting with the sourdough cultures I was struck with the sophistication of food-related bacteria cultures in pioneer food. The sourdough culture requires particular feeding and fermentation temperatures. It took some doing for me to get it right; it must have been even more difficult for pioneers. Or maybe they just weren't so fussy because they didn't know all the delicate details.
To get the necessary temperature control for fermentation I followed Dr. Wood's instruction for making a fermentation box. Basically you take a cheap-o styrofoam cooler, add a light bulb and a dimmer switch on an extension cord. Come to think of it, I should use this for proofing all my loaves, sourdough or not. Here's a couple of photos.
In the future I might buy a larger cooler. Dr. Wood recommends using a flame-tip bulb instead of the 100 watt that I used. My bulb tends to get too warm. When I dim it down, it goes out. A smaller wattage or a smaller bulb would work better.
Of course sourdough is just one example of a fermented food from pioneer times. As I got thinking about it, this fermentation box is the perfect answer for salt-rising bread, which has to ferment at 115F. Sauerkraut, on the other hand, ferments well at 75, though its tolerance for higher temperatures does better than sourdough. Fermented pickles work on a similar principle. Bread generally requires yeast cultures of some sort. Fermented sausages are another example of bacteria cultures at work. Who can forget the natural yeasting of apple cider? And so on.
In short, bacteria and yeast cultures played a huge role in many nineteenth century foodways. Achieving the specific temperature controls seems to be a tricky thing for a modern home kitchen. The sophistication of Mormon pioneer foodways continues to astound me.
Today's Give-away: Congrats to Sherm for winning the last contest. Jana and MissC both come in as runners-up. If the three of you would send your mailing info to pioneerfoodie at gmail dot com we will work out your prizes.
TODAY I am giving away a pound of raw honey harvested from hives that feasted on the summer wildflowers in New York's Adirondac hills. How to win, you ask? Get a friend or two to add this blog as a "follower". You introduce them to us in the comments section. On your marks, get set, go!
Read to the bottom of the post if you want to enter the give-away.
A couple of months ago Sherm told me about the fine folks at Sourdough International. You can find their sidebar advert over there>>>>> The effort was started by Dr. Ed Wood, a pathologist who stumbled upon sourdough cultures in Saudi Arabia in the 1980s. Dr. Wood proceeded to collect samples of sourdough from around the world, and now sells these to people like us.
Dr. Wood recently sent me some samples to review, along with his book, Classic Sourdoughs. The book is well written and easy to understand, but the best part is that it totally de-mystifies all of the bunk and hoo-hah that have grown up around sourdough culture. All this because we can trust Dr. Wood's training as a pathologist.
I tried the San Francisco sourdough culture. It is composed of a bacteria culture (which contributes the sour tang) paired with a wild yeast (which provides the leaven). The two working together make the magic symbiotically. The culture took off within the first 24 hours after hydrating, and within three days I was cooking. Here's a picture of my sourdough pancake batter after fermenting overnight:
The pancakes were much more chewy than baking powder pancakes. We added applesauce, and the tart apple made a nice compliment to the very distinct sourdough tang.
I also made sourdough bread today. Here's a picture of the culture after sitting overnight, ready to knead up with flour:
Dr. Wood is responsible for providing reliable cultures. His samples took off immediately. I am responsible for learning how to bake. This I am still learning how to do. The bread turned out reasonably, but not yet wonderful. Much of the challenge is being able to control the thermal environment. I live in a drafty old house and winter is setting in.
Naturally I have many more thoughts to share about sourdough, but let us end here with a challenge. Share with us a recipe or foodways tradition in your family that ties back to Mormon pioneers, at least one hundred and ten years ago. Identify the name of the person your tradition ties to, and a few details about that person. I'll post again in three days. Any comments following will be put in the running. The winner gets one of Dr. Wood's cultures, and a runner up will get a PBW apron!
Okay so you've probably noticed some mysterious looking changes to the blog lately. In the next couple of days the new buttons will become functional, and there will be a couple more new buttons as well. All this is for you, my friends.
Once I get the buttons up and going I'll be doing some give-aways with pioneer-related stuff. Or at least pioneer foodie type stuff. The goal here is to increase followers, page views and comments. I've got some fantastic gourmet raw honey. I've got a couple of aprons with the site logo. I've got some of those wonderful sourdough cultures that Sherm turned me on to. And more. Its all for you my friends.
So here's the deal. When I say, "On your marks, get set..." Wait for it... I'll start giving the stuff away to those who can come up with legitimate pioneer foodways or recipes tied to particular Mormon pioneers (has to be at least pre-1900, preferably earlier). We'll post all the submissions here on the site in a special section for reader-generated content. So start thinking about how far you can trace that Christmas pudding back in your genealogy!
Lately I've been thinking about the cyles of seasons and how they affect our food. Well, let's take that back. The seasons don't affect our food these days so much, but historically they did. As we read in the food admonitions of the D&C, "all things of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for man's benefit" (59:18), and in the Word of Wisdom, "use every herb in it's season" (89:11). But these days, we eat salad in January, and fresh beef in July.
A few modern food philosophers are still advocating a return to seasonal food. Barbara Kingsolver, in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle found that eating local to reduce one's carbon footprint also mandated eating seasonally. (I recommend this book if you want to change your thinking about food.) Michael Pollan likewise makes a strong case for eating seasonally in his gastro-philosophical work In Defense of Food: an eater's manifesto. Though most of America might eat in ignorance of their food origins, some are really taking seasonality to heart.
With the cooler weather we had our inagural soup this week. My good wife made a chowder with kielbasa sausage, butternut squash, and cheddar cheese. I had four helpings. I was excited about it because I love soup season more than salad season. It got me thinking about how my approach to food has changed over the past couple of years.
As I've been doing these pioneer food experiments I've moved more and more to a seasonal approach to food. Part of that has to do with raising my own garden. Once you plant a garden it yields so much bounty that you have no choice but to set about eating it as fast as you can. This makes our summer meals exceptionally fresh and filled with vegetables. Then as the fall harvest comes on I feel negligent if we don't put some of it away for winter. Naturally winter demands more hearty meals from preserved foods (like our sauerkraut). And by spring we're just itching for something fresh again so we plant lettuce and radishes early.
All of this seasonality leaves me feeling more connected to my food. I have a greater ownership of it, and I get just a little put out when I have to eat away from home. Further, it brings the seasons to have a more profound, almost spiritual meaning in my life. It fills me with a sense of wonder and excitement. The seasonal food celebrations also take on greater meaning: a Christmas pudding, an Easter lamb, the first tomatoes in late summer all take on a sense of celebration.
I'm a member of an organization called the American Long Rifle Association. This was the group that got me started in serious living history about twenty years ago. The group focuses primarily on re-enactment of colonial-era backwoods characters, such as Daniel Boone's cohorts. The emphasis is primarily on flintlock rifles and walking the woods in moccasins. I think they define their period as being 1750-1810.
This past weekend a few of the crew got together at a beautiful (though mismanaged)historical site in Ogden called Fort Buenaventura. We sat around and shot target matches, told stories and ate good food. And slept out in the cold. Of course I was mostly interested in the food. I made a Dutch oven filled with bratwurst and sauerkraut using my kraut I just bottled from this year. It was delicious!
I also got to try a traditional fabric dye. A friend named Kevin had prepared a kettle with walnut hulls, and I dyed my woolen hunting frock to a dark brown.
I also attended a workshop by a friend of mine, Wendell. He demonstrated some historic approaches to preserved food. One dish he demonstrated was a chowder made with salt cod. From previous posts you may remember a discussion here about salt cod used in Salt Lake City in the 1850s, notably at the table of Brigham Young. At any rate, Wendell showed how to freshen the salted cod, and he then prepared the chowder using hard tack or ship's bread for the thickening. It was delicious.
Wendell also demonstrated "potted beef." He first marinated a beef roast in vinegar overnight. Then he salted it well. Then Wendell slow-roasted the beef. Once it was fork-tender, he cut it into small bite-sized pieces and packed it in a crock. Leaving a little head room on the crock, Wendell filled the voids with melted salted butter, and added an additional inch of butter to seal it. The crock was then stored in "a cool place" for a couple of months. We opened it for a taste, and the beef was sweet and succulent with no hint of rot or decay.
At the end of the day we all pitched in for a pot-luck meal. I had baked the day before so I put a couple of loaves in. Here are some pictures of us enjoying the meal together.
Emily Barnes, my favorite pioneer foodie, noted that her father William Stewart took hams to the Great Salt Lake to be salted for preservation. She grew up in what we might call West Kaysville today, in the 1850s.
So I thought I should try gathering salt at the Great Salt Lake myself. I tried this endeavor once ten years ago (or so) with a group of friends. We went to Antelope Island and built a fire near the lake shore. We had two large kettles in which we boiled the lake water to reduce it to salt. We worked for several hours, and came up with about two pounds to split between six or eight of us. I didn't think it was a striking success.
The Great Salt Lake is salty because it has no outflow. The Bear, Weber and Jordan Rivers flow into the lake on it's eastern shores, as well as numerous smaller tributaries from the canyons along the Wasatch Front. These streams all carry diverse minerals to the lake, but primarily salt.
Naturally the salinity of the lake is lowest where these freshwater streams feed into the lake. Salinity levels along the Wasatch Front tend to hover around 5%, fluctuating with seasonal run-off and drought cycles. When drought conditions are in effect, salinity is considerably higher. When spring run-off hits the lake, salinity drops.
The Great Salt Lake has been impacted by human inventions in the 20th century. Artificial divisions in the lake seperate the freshwater inlets from the north arm of the lake. The Antelope Island causeway and UPRR causeway both prevent free interchange of the lake's waters, causing a dramatic difference in salinity levels in various parts of the lake. In the north arm of the lake, salinity levels reach more than 20%.
Last week I thought that if I were to gather salt, I ought to go to that 20%. Wife, friends and I drove up to the north end of the lake to see the Spiral Jetty. This modern art installation is world famous. Black volcanic rock marks the shoreline of the lake. In the 1970s artist Robert Smithson used tons of this volcanic rock to make a jetty out into the lake, in the shape of a spiral. It's dimensions are enormous, running 1500 feet long. Contrasted against the white salt plains it is impressive.
To get there we drove first to the Golden Spike National Monument, west of Brigham City, and then carried on west on a dirt road for about twelve miles. The road is easily traversible in a road-worthy sedan, but the last quarter-mile is treacherous and should be walked.
Once on the salt plains we realized we had come somewhat unprepared. I brought a five-gallon bucket, thinking we could just scoop the salt up with our hands. Instead we found the salt was cemented in broad, flat, hard-as-rocks sheets. This salt was also often covered in tiny brine flies or their carcasses, and often came with particles of oolitic sand included. When we tried scooping with our hands, we came away with cuts from the sharp edges. Thereafter salt continued to sting these cuts.
Our best success was in going out into the shallow water. There, the salt formed in large, blocky halite crystals. The water kept the salt somewhat softer and we found we could break these crystals off. This required dipping our scarred, bloody hands into the salt water. Ouch! We ended up gathering about three pounds of it.
Today, here at home, we're bottling the sauerkraut. Some of the bottles need just a little more brine, so we mixed up extra using 2Tbs. salt from the lake with 1 quart water. This just covers the kraut in the bottles. The nice thing about this lake salt is that it doesn't come with iodine. The crystals are pure. Iodized salt tends to soften and discolor bottled preserves like kraut and pickles. The kraut turned out perfect, by the way. Last year's kraut was just a little too salty, so we were more careful in measuring this time.
Salt. Who'da thunk about such a fundamental food ingredient from pioneer perspective?
I just thought I'd share an update on some of the food and publishing related projects I'm working on.
Here is a link to more photos from bake day at Heber's, including our Danish pastries.
The publisher says I should finish the edits on the manuscript by the end of October, and have the illustrations by December. I went to the Utah State Historical Society archives to find photos last week, and found quite a few. I'll post some scans next week.
The sauerkraut is finished and ready to bottle, sometime this week. The whole basement smells like kraut.
Bake day this week turned out well. My baking stone is just a little short for the baguettes but the loaves turned out better than ever. We had bruschetta for dinner with bloody ripe tomatoes from the garden. Speaking of which, the garden did very well this year. There's 200 quarts of various items on the pantry shelves: stewed tomatoes, tomato sauce, salsa, peaches, pears, half a dozen varieties of jam and jelly, pickles in variety, two dozen quarts of apple pie filling, and soon sauerkraut as well.
Yesterday I picked ten bushels of apples with friends. Next week we'll crush them for cider.
So I'm curious... what sort of pioneer food projects are you working on this autumn? Do tell!
Well it looks like its been a week since we baked at the Kimball house in Pioneer Town. My friends Glenn, Susan and Scott helped with the work of it all. Here are some photos from the fateful day.
We started by building a fire at 8a.m. We had warmed the oven the night before, so we tried to get the blaze going as fast and hot as possible. Still, it seemed to take almost an hour before it was really crankin'.
Then, once the fire was going we started mixing a 25 lb. dough. This was the same basic dough I used when I made the big bake day previously, so I knew the proportions were alright. This is my friend Susan kneading.
By 11a.m the fire had burned down considerably and the coals were doing well.
The dough was rising nicely as well.
Around noon we scraped the coals out of the oven. Usually there is a mop of sorts to wash down the hearth so you don't leave a bunch of fine powdery ash to stick to the loaves. No mop here. The kitchen seems equipped for aesthetic purposes but not so much for functionality. Throughout the day I was wishing for all the things I had in my own kitchen, like assorted mixing bowls, knives, etc.
Once the hearth was sort-of clean we threw some pizzas in. Yeah, pizza is not especially pioneer-authentic. But the hearth was hot, so whatcha gonna do with that high heat? These cooked in about 4-5 minutes each. Some who tasted them said it was the best pizza they'd ever had.
Also while the hearth was quite hot we baked a handful of small baguettes as a trial run. Not especially pretty. It was my first effort at using the baking peel and it took some learning. One of the baguettes landed on the hearth in a lump.
We formed some loaves next. No good photos of the bread rising in all the little rising baskets I made. I bought a bunch of wicker baskets at D.I. and then sewed muslin liners for them. It worked out rather well, though the baskets seem to be sized for a rather small loaf, about 1 lb.
As the loaves were rising (or maybe earlier, can't remember, but the fire in the oven says it was earlier) Susan whipped up a pastry dough.
She then rolled it out and laminated it with a pound of butter in layers.
By this time the hearth was cooled enough for bread. Initially the hearth was so hot that when I cast a bit of flour on it, the flour scorched immediately upon hitting the oven floor. We waited fifteen minutes or so and it cooled down enough. The first loaves to go in baked in about fifteen or twenty minutes as compared to the usual forty at home. Of course they were smaller, but still, it was a piping hot oven.
The last loaves to bake took considerably longer. The oven cooled off quite a bit. All in all we baked about two dozen loaves.
Unfortunately, no photos of the pastries. My hand for pastry isn't particularly light, and the finished products weren't especially pretty. However, they were delicious. After we were done baking we loaded up the dough trough and walked around the town giving our bread away. The management team seemed to find it especially toothsome. By the time we went home, there were only a couple of loaves left for each of us.
This evening I built a fire in the brick oven at the Kimball house in preparation for bake day tomorrow. Some people say that if you fire an oven too quickly it could crack the oven, so its best to build heat gradually. So we built a fire, and once the fire was built, naturally, we cooked a pizza. Yes, I know, pizza isn't a historically appropriate Pioneer food. But it was delicious. Watch for details about tomorrow's bake coming soon.
First, a big "Thank You" to my good friend Glenn for the redesign of the blog. We'll be adding some tabbed pages soon, and hope to diversify the experience. Out of curiosity, what do you think of the name? It comes from a Mormon pioneer woman who, upon reminiscing about her pioneer food, said, "Our food was plain but wholesome..." Also, thank you to Sherm for straightening out my understanding of sourdough, and introducing me to the fine folks at Sourdough International. Advert link coming soon.
But for the main business, I just wanted to invite all of my very closest friends to a baking session. On Wednesday next week (Sept. 29th) I will be baking at the Kimball home at This Is The Place Heritage Park. The home is a fairly decent reproduction of Heber Kimball's opulent downtown SLC home from the 1860s. There's a traditional wood-fired brick oven in the kitchen, and I'll be bringing my gi-normous dough trough. I think that from one firing we should be able to do three loads, maybe more than three dozen loaves. I'd love you to come and help!
I'll be starting the firing of the oven around 8a.m. and I hope to start kneading dough by 9a.m. I imagine we will have (some of) the loaves in the oven by 2p.m. and be all done by 5p.m. Perhaps we will do some lighter pastries after the oven has cooled a little. Anyone who comes to help gets to take home a loaf.
I hope that anyone interested might come join for a time, if not the day. There is a $6 admission, but I think it will be well worth it. Please RSVP in the comments if you plan to come. Hope to see you there!
I was looking through my King Arthur Flour catalog the other day, and they sell a sourdough culture which they claim goes back 200 years. It wasn't made exactly clear, but it seems they were saying that their culture has literally been culture-ing for that long. There was a slight nuance that might be interpreted to say, "this type of culture has been used in New England for 200 years."
So I was wondering... do any of you know of someone who has a sourdough culture to which they claim this sort of longevity? Maybe a culture which you can attribute to a Mormon pioneer seven generations ago? Or even a Daughter of the Revolution?
Today I made bread. My main ambition was to give this big dough trough a spin to see what it was all about. In a previous life I had done an oral history interview with a woman who worked as a cook on a ranch in the 1950s. She told me about baking a dozen loaves of bread every day for the ranch hands meals. I imagine she had to have a dough trough or something like it to work up that much dough. My grandmother did it on a big board on the table.
I started by multiplying my standard bread recipe which uses about eight cups of flour to make two 10-inch round loaves. I took this to the eighth power. Sixteen pounds of flour should do it. I had worked with twenty-five pounds before, but for that I had a Hobart floor mixer.
.I made a poolish last night to get the yeast going. This morning I mixed the poolish up with the remaining water and some flour to get the dough going. Here's the poolish just going into the flour I was a little worried that the round bottom on the trough would be unweildy to work with. Once it got the weight of the dough however, it settled just fine.
I was also worried that it would be difficult to organize the dough in the trough. That wasn't a problem either. The volume was sized to fit the tool. Here's the dough after it came together.
I was also worried that kneading it would be difficult in such volume. In fact it might have been easier. I didn't knead it with the usual punch and pull. Instead I streched it out into a long flat mass, and then just kept folding the ends over again. I kneaded it for about 20 minutes once it came together. Here's the "window" test to show it well kneaded.
When it is well kneaded, you can stretch a small piece of dough until it gets thin enough to be opaque, so that you can see light through it, without tearing. Here's the dough after rising. I can't remember if I took this before or after I punched it down. Its a lot of dough.
If I had only done this much and no more, Dayenu. I really just wanted to figure out what was necessary to work with a large volume by hand. But once I had the dough, I thought I should bake it. I had to borrow bread pans from two neighbors. If I ever get to bake on a hearth in large volume, I'll have to have more brotforms for rising loaves. Making the loaves turned out to be the most tedious task. I weighed each loaf for consistency.
While the loaves were rising I had a little extra dough, so I made a pepperoni pizza.
So anyway, my oven holds 4 loaves at a time. I made sixteen loaves. Some turned out quite lovely, others stuck to the pan and had to be torn out. Some I'll give to neighbors, others will be made into croutons. This was a lot of bread.
So based on this, I think I could do even larger volumes. It mostly depends on having enough forms for rising. A bigger oven would be helpful. And it might be nice if I had a little help. All in all, it was an interesting lesson in volumes. I think that for the most part, the pioneer accounts I've read talk about larger volumes than just a daily serving.
On Saturday we went to This Is The Place Heritage Park to make sauerkraut. Thousands of Mormon pioneers from Switzerland, Germany and other parts of Europe made sauerkraut from cabbages they grew once they reached Utah. Elsewhere on the blog I believe I've posted a recipe from pioneer Mary Helm. Today I just want to share photos of our adventure...
Here you see a row of cabbages dwarfed by yellow summer squash. The squash was planted late, so the cabbage had plenty of time to find its roots before it was overtaken.
Here's my hand reaching out to cut a cabbage.
Just for sense of scale... beautiful, don't you think?
First step is to peel off all the outer leaves. We found plenty of slugs and even a black widow lurking inside.
The heads all cleaned. I felt so proud of the harvest! They were bigger than any I've seen at the grocery store.
I used this old fashioned cabbage cutter over a bowl to slice it thin after quartering the heads. It didn't have all the pieces, and it sorta worked.
My good wife preferred to use a knife and cutting board, and it seemed to be just as efficient.
Next we added salt to the shredded cabbage. We used one pound and a little bit more for 45 pounds of cabbage. It worked out to about one tablespoon or a little extra for each head. After letting it sit for a few minutes in the salt (tossing the shreds to distribute) we pounded it with the poundy pounder to bruise the shreds and work the salt in.
After a good deal of pounding, the cabbage began to yield its water. We started thinking it would work into the three gallon crock. It soon exceeded the crock.
So we began adding the pounded shreds to a five gallon bucket, and mixing it thoroughly to incorporate the emerging brine to evenly distribute. In the end, we filled the bucket. After we took it home, it continued to exude more water content, and filled the bucket to overflowing with brine.
Now at home we have it weighted down with a plate and a weight on top of the plate. The kraut has to stay submerged in the brine to keep it isolated from airborne contaminants. We check it each day and clean out any suspect-looking crud. It should be done in about a month. It has begun to have a fairly funky smell, but the smell mostly stays downstairs with all the other funky old-house smells.
Welcome to Plain But Wholesome: Adventures in Mormon Pioneer Food - A blog focused on historical Mormon culinary perspectives. We hope that you enjoy reading what we have to offer, and we hope you'll take the time to comment and say hello as well!