Thursday, March 16, 2017

Photographs from the Forest Preserves

I had a couple of chances in February to spend some time in the Lake County Forest Preserves and took some pictures that came out rather well.  Some highlights from Heron Creek Forest Preserve are included in this post.  

I took pictures of seeds along the trail and of some of the flowers that remained from fall.  The black and white version of the frozen flower came out well as did the seeds on the verge of escape from their pods.

It was a gray day, but I was able to brighten up this picture of the woods and creek in lightroom.  I met several dogs along the trail, including this rescued beagle who was practicing staying quiet as people approached.  His owner was rewarding him with treats if he didn't bark.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Historic Food Project 5: Roast Chicken

The next installment of my Historic Food Project is Roasts.  I didn't want to cook another large piece of beef or pork, so I looked at the poultry recipes in Practical Housekeeping.  The chapter on poultry provides detailed instructions starting with "Do not feed poultry for twenty-four hours before killings; catch them without frightening or bruising, . . " and proceeding with how to hang a chicken, cut the throat and allow it to hang until all the blood has dripped out.  The description for chicken preparation continues with instructions on how to scald the chicken, pluck the feathers and the dress the bird.  Detailed instructions are provided for stuffing the bird with recommendations to properly place the stuffing so that the bird will look as plump as possible.  Instructions are also provided for larding different types of birds with bacon, chicken fat, or butter.

Since Practical Housekeeping  was published before oven thermometers and temperature gauges were available, the information about how hot the oven should be and how long to cook is approximate.  One paragraph recommends "placing the roast in an oven rather hot at first, and then graduate the heat to moderate until done".   Another suggests steaming the bird first for three hours and then roasting it in a hot oven for a relatively short period of time, mainly to brown the skin and melt off some of the fat.  All of the recipes include recommendations for cooking the giblets and neck to use in a gravy.

The specific recipes for roast poultry focus more on what to stuff the bird with and how to created the best crisp and brown skin.  A simple recipe is provided for a potato dressing to cook in the bird:

Dressing for Chicken or Beef

Boil potatoes, mash as if for the table, except that they should be less moist, stuff the chicken or roast with this, and bake as ordinarily; for ducks add onions chopped fine; if the bread-dressing is wanted too, it may be laid in the corner of the pan.  -- Mrs. Carrie Beck.

A more complicated recipe for Roast Turkey includes instructions for plumping the bird by plunging it into boiling water and then cold water before dressing, and describes how to make a bread based stuffing.  In this recipe the turkey is larded with fat and dredged in flour before placing it in a pan with boiling water in the bottom in the oven.  The recipe recommends adding additional boiling water and basting the bird often.  Another recipe for Roast Turkey recommends larding the turkey with butter and covering it with brown paper before roasting.  For the first 2/3 of the cooking time, it recommends basting every 10 minutes with from the pan.  During the last 1/3 of the cooking time the cook is supposed to remove the turkey from the oven, place it on a specially prepared block of wood, and dredge the breast in flour.  The turkey is alternately basted with the pan drippings and dredged in flour until it is fully cooked and "the entire surface is a rich, frothy, brown crust which breaks off in shells in carving and makes the most savory of morsels."  The recipe for Roast Turkey with Oyster Dressing includes a recipe for bread and oyster stuffing and recommends steaming the turkey and serving with a cream based gravy.

I decided to try the recipe for English Roast Turkey:

Kill several days before cooking, prepare in the usual manner, stuff with bread with bits of butter read-crumbs (not using the crusts) rubbed fine, moistened with butter and two eggs, seasoned with salt, pepper, parsley, sage , thyme or sweet marjoram; sew up, skewer, and place to roast in a rack within a dripping-pan; spread with bits of butter, turn and baste frequently with butter, pepper, salt and water; a few minutes before it is done glaze with the white of an egg; dish the turkey, pour off most of the fat, add the chopped giblets and the water in which they were boiled, thicken with flour and butter rubbed together, stir in the dripping-pan, let boil thoroughly and serve in a gravy-boat.  Garnish with fried oysters, and serve with celery-sauce and stewed gooseberries.  Choose a turkey weighing from eight to ten pounds.  If it becomes too brown, cover with buttered paper. -- Mrs. C. T. Carson.

I decided to roast a chicken instead of a turkey.  I purchased a 4.6 lb chicken at the grocery story which had already been killed, plucked and dressed.  It was also missing the giblets and neck, so next time I will have to read the packaging more carefully.  I made a bread based dressing with day old bread, hot water, butter, thyme and an egg.  I added some minced onion and celery which is consistent with other dressing recipes in the Practical Housekeeping.  I put my chicken breast side up in a cast iron skillet and roasted it in a 450 F oven for 20 minutes and then at 350 F for an hour and 40 minutes, until a meat thermometer said it was done. I basted it a few times with butter or water.  It came out with beautiful, crisp brown skin. 

I made gravy using the pan drippings and chicken stock I had purchased.  I did not make fried oysters, or the celery-sauce but I did make stewed gooseberries.  I purchased frozen gooseberries at Garden Fresh which has packages of them in their frozen foods section.  Since I could not find a recipe for stewed gooseberries in Practical Housekeeping, I used a recipe I found on-line which recommended combining 2 tbsp butter, zest and juice of one lemon, 3 oz of sugar and 10 oz of gooseberries in a pan and then simmering for 3 - 4 minutes.  Since my gooseberries were frozen to start with, I let it simmer for 30 minutes.  I served my chicken with sauteed spinach, dressing, gravy and stewed gooseberries.  It was delicious.  I bought milk and may try the celery sauce with some of the left over chicken.   

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Historic Food Project 4: Cookies

The fourth challenge in the Historic Food Fortnightly was Sweets for the Sweet.  I decided to try one of the cookie recipes in Practical Housekeeping, planning to make enough for the PADS meal on Sunday night.  I selected the recipe for Sand Tarts on page 98 of the 1897 edition of Practical Housekeeping since it had pencil marks surrounding it.

Sand Tarts

Two cups sugar, one of butter, three of flour, two eggs, leaving out the white of one; roll out thin and cut in square cakes with a knife; spread the white of egg on top, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar, and press a blanched almond or raisin in the center.  -- Miss Clara G. Phellis

Sand Tarts ready to bake
Mixing up the dough and cutting out the cookies was straightforward.  I mixed up the cookies using my Kitchenaid stand mixer.  It made a dry dough that was a little bit difficult to manipulate.  I rolled it out and cut out squarish shapes using a fluted pastry cutting wheel, brushed beaten egg white on top, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and then added an almond.  Baking the cookies was tricky, I tried a 325 F oven but had trouble getting the time right.  The cookies quickly went from raw to brown once they started cooking.

Sand Tarts
I decided not to make a second recipe of Sand Tarts for PADS, instead I made a batch of my favorite family recipe which came from a German language cookbook that belonged to my Great-great Grandmother or to her mother.

Cinnamon Crackers

1 pound sugar, 3/4 pound butter, 1 tablespoon cinnamon, three eggs, and one pound of flour or enough to roll out.  Cream together sugar and butter.  Add cinnamon and eggs, one by one, mixing thoroughly until combined.  Add flour and mix until well combined.  Roll out and cut out with cookie cutters.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 12 minutes.  Smaller, thinner cookies cook faster than larger, thicker ones.  

We traditionally convert the pound of sugar to 2 cups and the pound of flour to 4 cups.  These cookies can be frosted, but they are pretty with a sprinkling of colored sugar put on before the cookies go in the oven.
Cinnamon Crackers

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Historic Food Project 3: Old Hartford Election Cake

The third challenge in the Historic Food Fortnightly was History Detectives, or solving a mystery related to a recipe or historic cooking technique.  Initially I had trouble coming up with an approach to this challenge, but then I realized that there was a certain amount of mystery solving and historical research involved in cooking from any old recipe.  I ended up with the Old Hartford Election Cake recipe because a friend of mine is holding a tea to raise money for Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance.  The tea includes an authentic English tea, a performance, and an action.  The performance this year will focus on the Schuyler sisters in a presentation on Alexander Hamilton's women.  I decided use a historic recipe to create a cake for the auction.

Reading through my 1897 edition of Practical Housekeeping, I found the recipe for Old Hartford Election Cake on page 70:

Five pounds sifted flour, two of butter, two of sugar, thre gills distillery yeast or twice the quantity of home brewed, four eggs, gill of wine, gill of brandy, one quart sweet milk, half an ounce of nutmeg, two pounds raisins, one of citron; rub the butter and flour together very fine, add half the sugar, then the yeast and half the milk (hot in winter, blood-warm in summer), then add the eggs, the remainder of the milk, and the wine;  beat well and let rise in a warm place all night; in the morning beat a long time, adding brandy, sugar, spice and fruit well floured, and allow to rise again very light, after which put in cake pans and let rise ten or fifteen minuets; have the oven about as hot as for bread.  This cake will keep any length of time.  For raised cakes use potato yeast if fresh made; it is always a perfect success.  This recipe is over one hundred yeas old.  -- Mrs. Eliza Burnham, Milford Center.  

Reconstituted Distiller's Yeast
I decided that a cake that Alexander Hamilton might have eaten was a perfect contribution to the action.  The first mystery to solve in making this cake was to find out what thre gills of distillery yeast would be.  Since a gill is a liquid measurement, the recipe was calling for a liquid yeast instead of the dried and cake products that are commonly sold today.  I did some research and discovered that distiller's yeast is a specific strain of Saccharomyces Cerevisae that produces maximum alcohol yields under controlled temperatures.  Although there are liquid forms availabile, it is more commonly sold at brewery supply stores as DADY (Distillers Active Dry Yeast).  I bought mine at Perfect Brewing Supply in Libertyville, Il.  I followed the directions for reconstituting the yeast using 1 part yeast to 10 parts water, by weight.

Once the yeast was ready, I mixed up the dough, using two bowls with half the recipe in each one.  I warmed up the milk in the microwave before adding it to the flour, butter and sugar mixture.  I used an inexpensive sweet white wine.

Dough after step 1
After the dough had risen for several hours and was more than double in size, I added the brandy, sugar, spice and fruit.  I used a combination of light and dark raisins instead of the recommended combination of raisins and citron.

Dough after first rise
Dough after second set of ingredients added
After the second rise, I filled two bundt pans and two loaf pans with the dough.  I baked them in a 350 F oven, checking them after 45 minutes.  The cakes in the loaf pans were done after about 55 minutes, the two bundt pans took more than an hour to completely cook.  The best looking cakes were allowed to cool in their pans before being taken out.  The loaf that I removed from the pan while it was still hot, collapsed.

Old Hartford Election Cake ready for auction
The whole house smelled like nutmeg, yeast, and sugar while the cakes were baking and they are absolutely delicious.  It would be pretty easy to modify this recipe to make fewer cakes by proportionally reducing the amounts of the different ingredients.  You could also vary the flavor by adding different spices or changing the fruit.  I left my cake unfrosted, but there are several recipes that discuss the addition of different glazes and frostings either while the cake is cooling or after it is completely cooled.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Historic Food Project 2: White Perfection Cake

Slice of White Perfection Cake with Frosting
The second challenge in the Historic Food Fortnightly was Culinary Vices.  Since this category included desserts, I decided to make a cake.  I selected the White Perfection Cake because there is a note that says "very good" written across the upper left corner of the recipe in my Great-great Grandmother's copy of Practical Housekeeping.

The recipe for the cake is pretty simple:

Three cups sugar, one of butter, one of milk, three of flour, one of corn starch, whites of twelve eggs beaten into a stiff froth, two teaspoons cream tartar in the flour, and one of soda in half the milk; dissolve the corn starch in the rest of the milk, and add it to the sugar and butter well beaten together, then the milk and soda, and the flour and whites of eggs.  This cake is rightly named "Perfection" -- Mrs. C. Jones, Bradford Vt.

One layer of White Perfection Cake
There are some notes written on the recipe with 1/2 added after the word flour and one crossed out before corn starch and 1/2 substituted.  I made some additional modifications when I made the cake and used three cups of flour and 1/2 cup of cornstarch which still made a fairly stiff cake batter by modern standards.  I was reminded while it was mixing of the stories my mother told of her Grandmother breaking spoons while mixing stiff dough for cookies or brownies.  I had some egg whites left over from baking Christmas cookies and bought a carton of egg whites at the grocery store instead of separating more than a dozen eggs for the cake and frosting.  I baked the cake at 350 degrees F for almost 30 minutes.  I was able to make three 9 inch round layers.
White Perfection Cake interior

I made frosting for the cake using the following recipe:

Beat whites of two eggs to a stiff froth, add gradually half pound best pulverized sugar, beat well for at least half an hour, flavor with lemon juice (and some add tartaric acid, as both whiten the icing).  To color a delicate pink, use strawberry, currant of cranberry; or the grated peeling of an orange or lemon moistened with the juice and squeezed through a thin cloth, will color a handsome yellow.  This amount will frost one large cake. -- Mrs. W. W. W. 

2-Layer White Perfection Cake with Frosting
I used powdered sugar and my KitchenAid stand mixer and beat the mixture on high for about 5 minutes.  I added lemon juice at the end and then frosted two layers of the cake generously.  I could have frosted all three layers, but I am not always successful at getting three layer cakes to stay together and I tasted one of the layers when it came out of the oven.

The cake is delicious and it looks beautiful with the frosting on it.  The lemon juice in the frosting prevents it from being overly sweet and complements the flavor of the cake. It looks beautiful.  I can see why the recipe is marked as "very good" in the cookbook and why the cake is called Perfection.

Monday, January 16, 2017

1 Year of Stitches - 2017

In 2016, Hannah Claire Somerville decided to embark on a year long embroidery project.  She worked inside a single hoop, using cotton embroidery floss and stitched every day for a year.  She documented her work on Instagram.  Sara Barnes wrote about Hannah's project on her blog, Brown Paper Bag and encouraged her readers to participate in the challenge in 2017.   I heard about it and was intrigued. 

I decided to participate and have created my own rules.  I am stitching on a single piece of gray even-weave linen.  I wanted my piece to grow organically throughout the year, and to include a variety of stitches and colors.  I wanted the piece to include different types of embroidery, since I have equal experience with work on counted grounds and free embroidery on other surfaces.  I am using primarily DMC cotton floss for the stitching.  In order to provide variation in my color choices, I am using the daily colors assigned in Llewellyn's Witches' Calendar for 2017.  I am trying to select a different stitch or variation each day, although that may not last.  Some sections include layers of stitching, that build on each others, others are independent.  I am using a hoop and am focusing on filling the interior of that hoop before moving onto other portions of the fabric.

My 1 year of stitches progress after 7 days, January 7, 2017

My daily progress is posted on Instagram, @Needlewoman99.  I am also sharing weekly progress pictures with the 1 Year of Stitches group on Facebook.  You can find work by other participants in the Facebook Group or by using the hashtag #1yearofstitches to look on Instagram.

Progress on my 1 year of stitches project after 14 days, January 14, 2017.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Historic Food Project

Practical Housekeeping, published 1891, Dallas, Texas
Last year I learned about the the Historic Food Fortnightly at a food tour held at a Civil War re-enactment.  I started following some of the participants and found their efforts entertaining.  In early December, I took a look at some old cookbooks that I had that had been handed down in my mother's family and found my Great Grandmother's copy of Practical Housekeeping: A Careful Compilation of Tried and Approved Recipes published in Dallas, Texas, by Talty & Wiley in 1891.  This book is a revised and enlarged edition of Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping by Estelle Woods Wilcox.  Grammy Baugh's cookbook contains handwritten notes and a handful of handwritten recipes in the form of loose notes stuck in the front.  As you can see in the picture, the book was much loved.

I decided to try my own historic food challenge this year using recipes from this cookbook.  I am using the challenge topics from the 2016 Historic Food Fortnightly as a guide, starting with meat and potatoes.  I will share photographs and recipe information in this blog as the year goes on.  I will also put together some blog posts on Grammy Baugh and the things I have inherited from her.

For my meat dish, I decided to try the recipe for Ragout of Beef on page 197:

For six pounds of the round, take half dozen ripe tomatoes, cut up with two or three onions in a vessel with a tight cover, add half a dozen cloves, a stick of cinnamon, and a little whole black pepper; cut gashes in the meat, and stuff them with half pound of fat salt pork, cut into square bits; place the meat on the other ingredients, and pour over them half a cup of vinegar and a cup of water; cover tightly, and bake in a moderate oven; cook slowly four or five hours, and, when about half done, salt to taste.  When done, take out the meat, strain the gravy through a colander and thicken with flour. -- Mrs. D. W. R., Washington City.

I purchased a six pound roast and followed the directions for preparing it.  I used frozen tomatoes purchased over the summer from a local farm and apple cider vinegar placing everything in an enamel covered cast iron pot.  The roast came tied with twine, so I left it that way.  I cooked it for 5 hours in a 325 degree oven.  When I removed it from the oven it smelled delicious and was fully cooked and tender.  Following the directions, I took out the meat and strained the gravy through a colander.  I used a separating cup to remove most of the fat from the gravy and then returned it to the original pan.  I ended up adding 1/2 cup of flour in order to create the gravy.  In general, I am an outstanding home cook, but gravy making is not one of my strong points.  I get distracted and my homemade gravy always has lumps.  This is no exception, however it smells amazing and you can taste the tomatoes and spices in every bite.

For my potato dish, I made Potatoes in Kentucky Style on page 337:

Slice thin as for frying, let remain in cold water half an hour; put into pudding-dish or dripping pan, with salt, pepper, and some milk -- about half a pint to an ordinary dish; put into oven and bake for an hour; take out and add a lump of butter half the size of an egg, cut into small bits and scattered over the top.  Slicing allows the interior of each potato to be examined, hence its value where potatoes are doubtful, though poor ones are not of necessity required.  Soaking in cold water hardens the slices, so that they will hold their shape.  The milk serves to cook them through, and to make a nice brown on the top; the quantity can only be learned by experience; if just a little is left as a rich gravy, moistening all the slices then it is right.  In a year of small and poor potatoes, this method of serving them will be very welcome to many a housekeeper.  -- Mrs. C. M. Nichols, Springfield.

I know that the potatoes available in today's American grocery stores probably bear little resemblance to potatoes from the late 19th century.  I decided to use russet potatoes and bought two fairly large ones.  I used a square ceramic baking dish and about a cup and a-half of milk.  This was not enough milk to cover the potatoes, but enough that I had quite a bit left when the dish came out of the oven.  The potatoes were delicious, but I am not sure that they were exactly what the recipe author intended.  There is apparently a version of this recipe in the White House Cookbook published in 1887.  There is a step by step description of making it at Bite from the Past's entry from Monday, June 16, 2014.    Her recipe includes flour, onion and significantly more milk than the one I followed.