Friday, July 27, 2012

Multi-generational Scandinavian Foodways

They say I'll have the final proofs on the pending book of pioneer foodways any day now, at which time I'll get to start creating the index (fun!). In the mean time I've started thinking about a new project. I'd like to create a book about Mormon Scandinavian foodways that have been transferred over generations. It would have a strong foundation in folklore scholarship, not so much a history like the one I've been working on.

As I envision this book, I think there would be a two page spread on each person who consents to be interviewed about their food traditions, with a personal photo and a short bio, then two more pages showing recipes and such correlating to the traditions, memories and stories from each person. On this model, I think I would need about 40 people to interview. PLEASE CLICK HERE if you'd like to participate in a survey about your family's Scandinavian food traditions.

Currently I have about eight people that I might interview, as well as two good manuscript cookbooks that talk about this multi-generational transfer from Scandinavian Mormon pioneers. So that means I need 32 more people to talk to. Is one of them you? See the tab at the bottom of the page to email me directly...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

From the New York Times, November 13, 1866

I was researching the cowardly murder of J. King Robinson who was killed in Utah, October of 1866. A dispatch from Utah on the subject was printed in the New York Times. As part of the dispatch from Utah came the following on the state of liquor and distilling in Great Salt Lake City, for what it's worth:

"The city authorities have for some time past endeavored to keep this traffic [the liquor trade] within narrow bounds, very latterly having had but one place for its sale, and there "not to be drunk on the premises." This policy has been virulently opposed, chiefly by the "Gentiles," though many Mormons were not well pleased with it. This one place--the "City Liquor Store"--is now closed, through a petition from many citizens. So just now there is no place within the city boundaries where liquor can be legally made, bought or sold. This is the Puritanical extreme and sorely vexes the moderate drinkers as well as the heavy soakers. As one extreme by natural reaction follows another, it would not be surprising if before long the city should deem it advisable to grant licenses to make and sell liquors more generally than it has done for some time past. There is another point. In consequence of recent wet and snowy weather, hundreds of bushels of peaches have rotted under the trees, which fruit, most of it, would have been made to yield "peach brandy," if the distilleries had been working."

Friday, July 13, 2012

Historical Hearth Bread, again

In my book Plain But Wholesome due out this fall from University of Utah press, there's a chapter about bread, with a few recipes. Mostly it is a history or survey about the place of bread in the diet of Mormon pioneers, which is significant. I wasn't ever really satisfied with that chapter though. Constraints of space didn't allow a thorough discussion of the bread-making process in detail.

Two days ago I fired up my brick oven to have a stab at bread in large volume. In preparation I happened to read Miss Leslie's recommendation for bread, found in her Directions for Cookery I was looking at the 1853 edition; a similar edition is found in the Utah Territorial Library catalog of the same year. This extract is not included in Plain But Wholesome. Patience, dear readers, it is a bit lengthy, but has interesting details...

"Take one peck or two gallons of fine wheat flour, and sift it into a kneading trough, or into a small clean tub, or a large broad earthen pan; and make a deep hole in the middle of the heap of flour, to begin the process by what is called setting a sponge. Have ready half a pint of warm water, which in summer should be only lukewarm, but even in winter it must not be hot or boiling, and stir it well into half a pint of strong fresh yeast; (if the yeast is home-made you must use from three quarters to a whole pint;) then pour it into the hole in the middle of the flour. With a spoon work in the flour round the edges of the liquid, so as to bring in by degrees sufficint flour to form a thin batter, which must be well stirred about, for a minute or two. Then take a handful of flour, and scatter it thinly over the top of this batter, so as to cover it entirely. Lay a warmed cloth over the whole, and set it to rise in a warm place; in winter put it nearer the fire than in summer. When the batter has risen so as to make cracks in the flour on the top scatter over it three or four table-spoonfuls of fine salt, and begin to form the whole mass into a dough..."

This "sponge method" is called by most bakers today a "poolish." It aims to grow yeast strength and flavor profile in the bread over time, most typically in breads we would think of as "french bread." This method is described quite similarly in Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Bread Bible, (2003) and it is the method I use when baking hearth bread from yeast.

Leslie's bread method goes on for 500 more words, still not doing justice to the topic. So, dissatisfied as I was with my treatment in the book, I sat down and wrote a new treatise on the subject, which so far is running on to 20 pages. If I ever get to a point that I'm happy with how the brick oven performs, maybe I'll put this little treatise into a small pamphlet to give to people who come to a bread-making workshop. For now, you can visit The Fresh Loaf for further explorations of bread starting from a poolish.

Monday, July 2, 2012


It's hot, ain't it? Looks like 90's and wildfires for the rest of July and into August. I've been having second thoughts about firing up the brick oven. Hopefully an electric fan might keep a draft out the basement door.

In reading old newspapers, trail diaries, etc. I often run across references to the price of flour. For example, in 1846 Louisa Pratt noted "flour best quality $1.25 per hundred wt." in Bonaparte, Iowa. Leonard Arrington, once historian for the LDS Church, noted in his article, "The Mormon Tithing House: A Frontier Business Institution" that once the Mormons were settled in Utah, the bishop's tithing house used wheat and flour prices to set all other commodity prices in Utah.

So it was with interest that I went to the Big J mill in Brigham City to see what flour costs. At the grocery store I often see it at $1/lb. especially for King Arthur flour. If you buy 20 lb. bags you can often get it down to $0.50/lb. But at the Big J mill I got it for $35 per hundred. Quite an inflation of price from Louisa Pratt's time, but compared to King Arthur, not bad at all.

Now... what to do with a hundred pounds of flour...