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.