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.

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