Crow’s Feet, An Acadian green East Coast Delicacy

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Crow’s Feet, also called Sandfire Greens, Samphire Greens.

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The produce stand in Nova Scotia that introduced me to Crow’s Feet.

“Crow’s Feet, Lettuce, Raspberries,” read the sign in front of the garden stand at the side of the road in Nova Scotia. I almost cycled by, but wheeled in to talk to the two women behind the stand.

“What on earth are Crow’s Feet?” I asked curiously, giving away the fact that I was “from away.”

Their eyes lit up and they showed me a bag of odd looking greens. Crow’s Feet are a plant that is picked from the marshy areas at the side of the ocean, they told me. The greens are long and spindly and look, well – like Crow’s feet.

The vegetable stand women told me with great enthusiasm how to cook the greens, which I snapped up in a hurry, as it turns out that they are a great delicacy, and very popular. Turns out Crow’s Feet have been popular since the Acadians settled this area.

“Just fry them in butter with some garlic and add lemon if you want.”

“Then pull them off the woody stalks.”

Which I did that evening and this was a wild find that was out of this world.

After some research I found that this was a food that was foraged and eaten commonly by the Acadians that settled Canada’s east coast. They dined well back in the 1700’s and developed prosperous farms, using dykes to irrigate and lived from the land much more successfully than early settlers from other countries. They were eventually driven off their lands by the British and were forced to settle in the United States or live hidden in the forests. Their farms were burnt or taken over by the British.

Crow’s Feet, I learned are also known by other names. The Acadians called them Tétines de Souris, which translated to mouse nipples.

In my favorite book about cooking, in times past from Nova Scotia; Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens, Marie Nightingale has a recipe for Sandfire Greens, another name for Crow’s Feet. They are also known as Samphire Greens.

Here is a recipe from Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens by Marie Nightingale

Sandfire Greens

In early spring these greens appear on the fertile marshes of the Bay of Fundy and are delicious.

Cut off the roots and wash well. Cook until tender in small amount of water. Cool enough so that they can be handled, and remove woody centers by grasping stem and pulling gently. Reheat with butter. Add a few drops of vinegar, if desired.

I noticed the Crow’s Feet advertised for sale from trucks, at the side of the road and at market stands. But the biggest surprise was to find Crow’s Feet for sale at a grocery store in a small Nova Scotia town. The chalkboard outside advertised Crow’s Feet.

“Do you know what Crow’s Feet are?” I asked the young woman at check out?

“ No, I know that we sell them, but I don’t really know what they are,” she said politely.

“Well,” I said, “They are delicious, and you should try them sometime, but be sure to take out the toenails.”

I smiled and walked off.

Big Spruce Brewing brews history

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Jeremy White and Sarah MacKay of Big Spruce Brewing pose by their Silver Tart Beer.

Jeremy White put a taster glass of The Silver Tart beer in front of me. I found the pink colour curious, but was even more curious about the story because… Jeremy had used “history,” (as if it were an ingredient,) in the making of this beer. 

The Silver Tart – Big Spruce Brewing 

Jeremy began his organic microbrewery in Nyanza, Nova Scotia in 2013. He was working at developing different brews when Lorna MacDonald, a summer theatre director, approached Jeremy about producing a beer to be served in conjunction with an upcoming production. The Belles of Baddeck portrayed some aspects of the life of Alexander Graham Bell (the inventor of the telephone,) and his wife Mabel

Rather than just slapping a unique label on one of his beer bottles, Jeremy decided to base his new brew on some fact of historical significance.

After searching in the museum archives, Jeremy learned that Alexander Graham Bell enjoyed drinking raspberry cordial made from shrub. Making shrub is an old method of preserving overripe fruit. It is used as a base for a refreshing drink. (see recipe at end of article.) Jeremy experimented with different fruits, but he found the best taste to add to his beer was a raspberry flavour.

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The Silver Tart is a refreshing raspberry touched beer, inspired by Alexander Graham Bell’s love of Raspberry Codial.

When completed, it was named The Silver Tart, rhyming with the name of Graham Bell’s first plane – The Silver Dart.

Jeremy says, “It has become the summer rage of craft beer.” This beer is produced using the same methods as the others but before completion he adds 120 lbs. of raspberries to each vat for another 10 days of polishing.

As I sipped my sampler on a hot East Coast day, refreshing and tart were the tastes I sensed. I could envision Alexander Graham Bell sipping Raspberry Cordial with his beloved wife on their lawn overlooking the Bras D’Or Lakes.

The Tip of the Spear  

In 2013, the site of Fortress Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, celebrated its 300th anniversary. This fortress (fort and town,) was one of the busiest ports in North America and was originally built by the French in 1713 and taken over by the British for the last time in 1758. During its glory days, the French upper class enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle but the lower class lived with the basic necessities of life. Beer played an important part in their daily diet, and as it was a safer option it was consumed more often than water.

The Mi’kmaq First Nations peoples drank spruce tea and taught early settlers to use spruce to prevent the disease known as scurvy, that had killed so many during the early days of settlement.

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The Tip of the Spear is a brew that was created for the 300th anniversary of Fortress Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.

Again, the Big Spruce Brewing company was approached to produce a custom beer to be served for the anniversary. Sold in a unique brown bottle, the story of the original Louisbourg brewery is on the back of the bottle.

Jeremy started to research and found information in old records that supported his plans to base a beer on a fact of history.

The brewery at Fortress Loiusbourg made spruce beer and in the 1750’s records inform us that 4000 barrels were produced for the garrison of 2000 troops. The records that were written by the French were highly detailed and were destroyed by the British when they took over the Fortress, however, fortunately a second set of every record kept was sent to France. Those records paint a vivid picture of life in the Fortress.

Beer was originally made by using black spruce tips, that were collected from mid June to mid July. They were mixed with molasses and fermented in barrels.

Big Spruce was able to recreate a beer reminiscent of the flavours of the brew that soldiers drank in the 1700’s – a valuable contribution to the 300th anniversary.

Recipe for Spruce Beer

Spruce Beer – from the Hannah Jarvis Cookbook, health remedies, c.1811. By Hannah Jarvis.

Boil some spruce boughs whiteout bran till the water tastes sufficiently strong of the spruce. Strain the water and stir in two quarts of molasses to half a barrel. Work it with yeast. When sufficiently worked bung it up or bottle the contents.

Recipe for Fruit Shrub  

Use 5 cups of fruit that is overipe but not mouldy. Add 4 cups of sugar to the mashed fruit and let sit 24 hours. Strain juice from the mashed fruit. Add an equal amount of red wine vinegar and bottle. Store for 4 weeks. This mixture is delicious added to cocktails or soda water and ice.

 

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Highland Village, Cape Breton Island Oatcakes, Tea and Fiddle Music

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In the Highland Village, a stone home represents life in the Hebrides Islands in Scotland in the early 1700’s before the migration of settlers to Cape Breton in search of a better life.

We climbed the hill against the strong wind to visit the woman who lived in the stone hut with a grass covered roof. She was showing us what it was like to be living in Barra Lake in the Hebrides Islands, Scotland, in the 1700’s.

It felt like we were deep in the heart of Scotland, but I was visiting the Highland Village in Iona, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. The village is a living museum that portrays the life of the Scottish and follows the immigrants journey across the ocean to Cape Breton Island. As many as 30,000 settlers left Scotland for a better life in the new world in the late 1700 and early 1800’s. The early Scottish settlers struggled to make their way in the new world, but rather than continue their lives as slaves to their landlords in Scotland, they sailed to Cape Breton and were gifted parcels of land. When they first came their lives were very difficult. They lived on fish, ice fishing in the winter. Gathering berries and wild plants helped them to survive until their gardens produced. Eventually, they became established farmers and are now part of the fabric of Cape Breton Island, with their Gaelic traditions still very much a part of the culture.

“What do you eat?” I asked the ancient woman in the stone hut representing life in the Hebrides Islands off the coast of Scotland.

“Potatoes,” she replied, “potatoes and more potatoes.”

She told us that sometimes they also had smoked fish, bannock (bread made of flour and water), oats and any berries they could find.

Nettle roots were mixed with water and eaten. She told us that she couldn’t afford salt to preserve the fish, so the fish was eaten smoked, fresh or not at all.

“Belly’s pretty empty,” she said, “shallow whiskey will make an empty belly feel full.”

She went on to complain about mistreatment from the landlord.

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Interpretive staff offers oat cakes and tea while we enjoy music in the kitchen of a Scottish home in Cape Breton Island.

We walked on to visit a frame house, representing the life of Cape Breton Scottish settlers later on in the 1800’s we could see a happier, more prosperous way of life.

The house was simply furnished but with enough rooms for comfort. The farming family had a cozy kitchen with a fireplace. Time slowed as we entered the kitchen for a visit and a feeling of nostalgia took us back to life in the 1800’s.

Tea was poured and we helped ourselves to a plate of oatcakes (see recipe at the end of the article,) and a seat in front of the blazing open hearth fire. Soon we heard a story about a “goings on” in the village. Then a young woman grabbed her fiddle and played a mournful gaelic tune, while we looked out the window to the sun shining on the lake beyond. A bare footed girl stood and began a step dance.

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Enjoying a fiddle tune and step dancing in the kitchen of a Scottish home in the Cape Breton Highlands at the Highland Village. IMG_1160.jpg

It was a taste of life in times when there was less noise. I could hear the slow ticking of the clock and the birds singing through the open window. A time when people entertained themselves with a cleilidh (a social visit, often involving music.)

The Scottish spoke Gaelic, a lyrical language that seemed to blend well with the music. It was a language with a long history. At school, the children were taught English and punished for speaking their mother tongue causing the language faded.

Food was simple in the time of the early settlers. Oatmeal had been an important part of their diet in Scotland and they missed oats when they first arrived. They were forced to use rough flours ground with stones. When they began to grow and grind oats they could return to baking their beloved oatcakes. The tradition of cooking White Pudding was continued in Cape Breton. It originally consisted of suet meat and oatmeal cooked in a cow’s stomach.

Other homes in The Highland Village portray a time when life was more prosperous and settled. Hot tea biscuits were on the kitchen table of a home with a wood stove, an invention that made life easier. Spruce buds sat waiting to be turned into a home brew made by boiling the buds with sugar, molasses and raisins. Toasted bread or yeast might be added.

The Highland Village (www.highlandvillage.novascotia.ca )is situated on the hillsides of Cape Breton overlooking the Bra d’or Lakes. Eleven buildings represent different aspects of Scottish life from the 1700 to 1900’s. In each home a costumed character tells us a story as if we had just dropped in for a chat giving us a peek into their lives.

“Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens” is a book written by Marie Nightingale that tells us of the roots of food in this province. She shared history and recipes that were brought with the Scottish.

On page 159, she writes about how the Scottish used “real” oatmeal and no sweetening. This old recipe from Pictou County used oatmeal ground at the Balmoral Grist Mill still grinds oatmeal today.

Pictou County Oatcakes (courtesy of Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens) by Marie Nightingale

  • 2 cups oatmeal          ¾ cup shortening
  • 1 cup flour                   ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup brown sugar     ¼ cup boiling water
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Combine dry ingredients and cut in shortening. Dissolve baking soda in the boiling water and add, continuing to mix with a knife. Mold with the hands into a long wedge. Slice off and bake in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes.

 

 

Eskasoni Cultural Journey-Mi’kmaq cookery

 

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Cooking Four Cents Bread over the fire

Over the fire, I held a stick wrapped with bread dough. Not unlike roasting a marshmallow, the bread turns brown and puffs up on the stick.

A Mi’kmaq Interpreter is teaching us to make Four Cents Bread as part of the Eskasoni Cultural Journey www.eskasoniculturaljourneys.ca on Goat Island, in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.

Four Cents Bread was made traditionally as an inexpensive; take anywhere bread that was made with three simple ingredients.

Four Cents Bread

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tbsp. baking powder
  •  Water, as needed to make a dough texture.

This bread could be cooked by forming the dough into a disc shape and cooking over the fire on a metal sheet or by wrapping it around a stick and cooking it directly over the fire. And… it was delicious.

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Interpreter at Eskasoni Cultural Journey shows visitors a loaf of Four Cents Bread cooked as a disc over a fire

 

To learn about the Mi’kmaq ways of the past on an Eskasoni Cultural Journey, we walked on a path with views of the lake through the forest. At different spots along the path, an interpreter in traditional Mi’kmaq attire greeted us. They spent time telling us of their traditional customs and ways. We learned of how they hunted moose and other animals, made and heated their homes through the long winters, made baskets and clothing, sang and danced, played games and lived a self sufficient life. A life that should not be forgotten.

The land provided all the food needed. Flag root was chewed, spruce buds made tea to help fever and sore teeth and many plants, roots and berries were collected for food

The Cape Breton Mi’kmaq fished the waters for the many gifts of the sea. In the Bras D’or Lakes, huge inland salt-water bodies of water there were many fish. Eels were and still are a coveted delicacy. They were fished by using a torch to attract them in the night. Eels were then baked, fried or used in stews soups.

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Sugar serves Eel stew to guests at the Eskasoni Cultural Centre

When we returned to the cultural centre, I felt honoured to be served a bowl of eel soup, made by a woman named Sugar that morning. She shared with me her simple recipe of eel, cut in pieces, potatoes, onions and broth from cooking the mixture. Picturing a slimy, black eel cutting through the water did not match the fine taste of the tender, tasty flesh I pulled away from the bone.We ate it with Lu’sknikn bread and fresh strawberries.

After our meal, Sugar showed us a centuries old game, played with sticks, dice and a wooden bowl. It is still popular today. As she showed us, someone pointed out an eagle. Sugar stopped what she was doing, looked up and quietly sang a chant.

“A very good sign,” she told us, “when an eagle flies over.”

The food I tasted that day was made with all the care and using the flavours and methods of the past. It is a Mi’kmaq custom to give thanks daily for what the land has given them. I felt a deep, heartfelt privilege to learn the food customs of our First People.

Recipe for Lu’sknikn Bread – recipe courtesy of the Eskasoni Cultural Journeys

  • 4-6 cups of flour
  • 5 tablespoons of baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon of salt
  • 2 cups of water
  • Vegetable oil
  • Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl
  • Part dry ingredients in the centre and 2 cups of water
  • Mix ingredients together (adding more water if needed)
  • Form dough to fit frying pan
  • Add vegetable oil to frying pan and pre-heat over medium high temperature
  • Place dough in frying pan (adding more oil if needed)
  • Cook until golden brown and then turn over.

 

 

 

 

Dining on Ship’s Biscuits in 1607

 

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Ship’s Biscuits,(Biskits) formed a major part of the diet of those sailing to America

The year was sixteen hundred and seven and three ships of 105 men were sent by the Virginia Company from Britain to America to begin a settlement. It took five months make the crossing with stops in the Caribbean.

To celebrate that journey, the original archeological site, a re-created settlement,  three replica ships and a Powhatan village help us to learn about life as it was centuries ago.   Several interpretive staff at Jamestown, Virginia and the Yorktown Victory Centre – both passionate and knowledgeable about food history gave me helpful information about what we think may have been the diet of those travelling on the three British ships sent to colonize America in 1607.

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How a sailor might have looked on the way to Jamestown.

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Replicas of the Godspeed and Discovery ships that brought settlers in 1607

I have described the food that those sailing in 1607 might have eaten on their journey inside a short tale.

In the hold of the Godspeed, the wood creaked as the ship tossed and turned in the wild waves of the cold Atlantic. The year was sixteen hundred and seven.

I sat propped up against the side of the ship, in the hold and all around me were the other men, cold, sea sick and weak from the many days of sitting. We were fifty-one in total. We could not go above, to breathe the fresh air, unless we would not be in the way of the sailors. We brought no women on this journey.

We left England for a better life, to start a colony and make money for The Virginia Company. Would we find gold? I was starting to wonder if we would arrive at all. I was a gentleman in England and am not sure why I left. I closed my eyes and dreamt of dinner back in my mother’s kitchen back in England. Our stomach’s groaned with hunger like the ships timber around us.

The Godspeed was packed with food supplies and we survived by eating dried meats, rice, beans, pickled goods and lots of ship’s biscuits. It was damp in the hold and those biscuits started to get buggy. They were made back in England of flour, water and salt and are hard as a rock on the shore, so it is hard to imagine how a bug could settle into one of those biscuits. They are made to last a lifetime, even if ours doesn’t. Our cook made food over a fire burning in a barrel by the opening to the deck or up on deck, but food was getting scarce. We ate mostly soups and stews, and put the ship’s biscuits in the soup so we would fill up. We hoped to land in the Caribbean to take on fresh food and water.

I remember one day the cook was making us some food; we called it Drowning Baby Pudding, as unsavoury as that may sound. I am watching. The cook took some ship’s biscuits, pounded them finely and put them in a pot to mix with some scraps of salt pork. He found some onions, chopped several and added water to the pot. It was a special day because he added some eggs. He mixed up all the ingredients and wrapped it up in a cloth, forming a large ball and put it in boiling water to cook.

Believe me, it tasted good, very good. The ship’s wood groaned, but our stomachs were full, and the Godspeed tossed in the waves. We hoped we would land someday soon.

I baked some ship’s biscuits, to taste them myself. Here’s my “recipe” based on the ingredients that they would have used.

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup of water
  • bit of salt

I mixed all together an kneaded the mixture for about five minutes. I rolled out the dough and used a round cutter to shape and prick with a fork as well as a second method of forming a flattened ball and pricking with a fork. Put on a cookie sheet in the oven at a 300 degrees for one hour or so.  They would often bake several times to ensure dryness, but mine were very dry. I ate one and – my teeth are still intact.

 

 

Colonial Williamsburg-Dining with the Governor

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As I entered the kitchen building of the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg, I could smell turkey roasting over the charcoal fire. The slow ticking of the clock jack (a device of pulleys and clock like cogs) turned the turkey slowly. The year was seventeen and seventy-five. Spread out on the table was an array of dishes that would have been prepared for just one of the courses of dinner, should you be one of the gentry (upper class,) invited as a guest at the Governor’s palace.

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The Governor’s Palace in Colonial Williamsburg

Williamsburg was the capital of the British colony of Virginia from 1699 until 1779. The large wall map in the palace shows Virginia as a much larger piece of the continent than it is at present. Many gentry lived in Williamsburg because it was the political centre of the state. Colonial Williamsburg stands proudly all these years later, and many original buildings exist as well as reconstructions that allow us to live in another time, if just for a moment…

The city had an elegant air that continues to this day and is reflected in the architecture of the buildings. Interpretive staff dressed in garb of 1770, bring history to life. Master food historians, and tradesmen such as wig makers, tailors, blacksmiths, and cabinetmakers continue to pass the skills of this time on to future generations.

Frank Clark, (pictured above) the Master of Historic Foodways at Williamsburg knows those ways of the past. He studied for years to become an expert in his field. After I spent some time in the kitchen, watching the food preparations and took a tour of the Governor’s Palace, I imagined what it would be like to be invited for a meal. One governor brought his French trained cook from England to ensure the quality of his food. Other cooks and slaves helped in the kitchen.

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The grand finale course of sweets

Guests were seated in the elegant dining room for their main meal at 2 in the afternoon. A dinner invitation had great social importance and the meal would last for hours. Guests were seated according to rank and importance. Many dishes were prepared for this meal, and no one was expected to taste or dine on all of the dishes, after all, they may not enjoy what was being served.

Above is a sampling of dishes that may have been served for the first course: egg croquets, pie made of sweet breads (the thymus of veal), buttered onions, rabbit, pork dish, chicken cooked the French way, stuffed cabbage, creamed turnip, rolls and likely more dishes. Then a second course, equally as impressive, followed by dessert of crème brulee, Portuguese cake, and sweet confections.

Ornate table setting plans show where the dishes would be placed on the table as some are served, there are replacement dishes to be added. When each guest was seated, one serving platter has been placed in front of each guest. They were expected to cut, carve, and serve that dish to the others who wished to partake. There were so many dishes to be served that the table was covered. When one course was finished, the guests retired to anther room to visit and after a time, a second course was served with different, but similar plates of food.

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This plan illustrates where each dish was placed on the table. The small circles outside the large table plans are dishes that would be substituted when another meat dish was completed. Each guest would serve the dish that was placed before them. The contents of the plans also show us the seasonal food eaten.

Food was not wasted at the palace, the governor had paid for it from his personal income and it was an honour to be invited for dinner. Leftovers were eaten as the morning meal the next day or for another meal.

The sweets course was followed by tea in the sitting room for the women and drinks in the dining room for the men. Cards, and games might have followed and the afternoon dinner often stretched into the morning hours.

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Elegantly set sweets table at Governor’s Palace

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Fruit gelatins made using pig’s feet.

That was dining at it’s most elegant, and those traditions remain alive through the skill and dedication of those preserving food history in Colonial Williamsburg.

Cuban Flan – Making Flan in a Can

 

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Postre, (dessert) that evening came in a tiny green glass dish and was the tastiest flan I had ever enjoyed. We dined in a humble casa particular in the small, quiet seaside fishing town of La Boca on the south coast of Cuba. Our tables were on a porch that hung over the water and the moon reflected in the surf. Arianny Diaz Malcolm cooked for six guests that evening in her tiny kitchen with one electric burner. After soup, we enjoyed two grilled fish, caught fresh that morning with salad and rice. All delicious, but it was the delicate flan that caught my attention. Flan is the most common dessert served in Cuba, and I had tasted many flans. But Arianny served the creamiest flan I had tasted.

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I asked Arryanny if she would give me a lesson on flan cookery the next afternoon. Keep in mind that the lesson was taught in Spanglish; she spoke Spanish and a wee bit of English and I spoke English and a wee bit of Spanish. But through demonstration and gestures we understood each other well.

Before I arrived, Arryanny had prepared the caramel by cooking 2 cups of sugar until reduced to a caramel, and put it in the bottom of the molds. The molds were the big surprise. She used beer cans and Cola cans cut in half.

She began by putting 2 cups of warm milk in a blender, added 1 ½ cups of white sugar and 1 cup of a powdered product called Coppelia – Leche which I believe was added to thicken the milk. She then added one egg and whipped it all up in the blender until it was thoroughly blended.

When blended, Arryanny poured the mixture into the cans. She topped each can with a pieces of plastic bag that appeared to have been used many times and put an elastic bands (which may have been the top cut from unused condoms) on the top to hold the plastic in place. In Cuba, people use what they have available.

She placed each can in a pan, added 1 inch of water and when the water boiled, she turned the stove down and simmered for 40 minutes. She placed them in a pan of cold water to cool but mentioned that they could go in the refrigerator.

Before serving, she instructed me to run a knife around the inside of the can and flip it into a bowl.

Arryanny made heavenly flan, slowly and with love and made it look very easy.I tried to make make Flan using Arryanny’s technique and the results were not so perfect. I will keep trying.

The History of Flan

Flan as a postre (dessert) has a long history in Cuba. It is a popular dish, and is served in many countries that were colonized by the Spanish. Mexico, the Phillipines and many central and South American countries serve a variation of this dessert. I did some Google digging and came up with some theories on the origins of flan.

Gourmet Sleuth, http://www.gourmetsleuth.com/articles/detail/flan has a good description of the history of flan.

It states, “Flan is the term used to describe the Spanish, Portuguese or Mexican version of Creme Caramel.”

The word has Latin origins that mean “custard”. This method of cooking has been found in food writings of the Roman and Medieval European times and it was believed that eggs had both health and medicinal benefits. One theory states that this dish was served to the Romans as they travelled in their conquests and so spread across Europe.

It is hard to believe that three simple ingredients – eggs, sugar and milk could have such a heavenly result. But I believe there was a touch of magic in Arryanny’s

Germany’s Schneeball – A cookie snowball dating back 300 years

 

A window display  at the Diller Schneeball bakery in Heidelberg.

A window display at the Diller Schneeball bakery in Heidelberg.

The Schneeball, a German delicacy that dates back 300 years.

The Schneeball, a German delicacy that dates back 300 years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While walking down the main street of shops in Heidelberg, Germany, a store window full of what looked like many sorts of snowballs, covered in chocolate, nuts, puzzled me, candy.

Inside, I was lucky to meet Julia Diller, the daughter of the owner of the famous German chain, Diller de Schneeballenknig

“What is a Schneeball?” I asked her.

Julia told me that a Schneeball was made of pieces of dough, turned into a ball and deep fried. The recipe is old and traditional, particularly in the town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany where different shops and bakeries produce this traditional sweet and sell it in bakeshops. Julia’s grandfather was a baker by trade, and her father continued the tradition. He was the first to add creative touches to the old Schneeball recipe, a modern take that soon caught on in popularity. He started the custom of dipping it in chocolate and has now added all sorts of toppings and fillings, resulting in twenty-nine varieties of the Schneeball. Their family has shops in numerous cities in Germany and more information can be found on the website: http://www.schneeballen.eu/wir-ueber-uns.html

Julia Diller ready to give us a taste of a Schneeball.

Julia Diller ready to give us a taste of a Schneeball.

Julia really grabbed my attention when she told me that the Schneeball has been around for three hundred years. She told me that this method of making pastry was used during the Thirty Years’ War in Europe, as a way for soldiers to carry food that would keep for many weeks. (This must be information that has been passed down through Julia’s family, because it is a rare day that I cannot back it up with any information on Google.)

It became a popular treat eaten at wedding celebrations as far back as 300 hundred years.

Julia explained that an Schneeball has always been made with common ingredients that most people had in their larder. Eggs, flour, sugar, baking powder and spices were the basic ingredients. Other recipes include cream, butter and plum schnapps. The dough is made, rolled out and cut in strips. The strips are formed into a mould and deep fried. Then the fun begins with the dipping and fillings.

Gazing through the showcase in the shop, the sky was the limit on making these sweet treats desirable.

What a food history discovery I made that day. A trendy looking shop, selling a sweet treat that has been around for three hundred years.

The Schneeball that fed those of the past keeps rolling into the future.

I found food history around every corner on a recent trip to Germany, Switzerland, and France, so stayed tuned for a rash of interesting articles.

Next….Learning to make cheese – The old way.

 

Swiss Cookies with History

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Bern Cracknels – Swiss cookie making with a Mould

Lori, my friend, brought out her cast iron cookie mould. She was proud to own this and carries on the tradition of making these special Swiss treats each Christmas to share with her family. This very heavy cooking pan was originally made in Switzerland, travelled to Canada and had been passed down to her from her Swiss mother-in-law. I had visions of this mould being used over a wood stove on a snowy night in a small village in Switzerland. And children waiting to eat the results as quickly as they came out of the mould.

These delicate thin biscuits are made from a dough that is baked on a stove top in a cast iron press. When they are cooked to just the right temperature on each side, the biscuits emerge from the press with delicate designs imprinted on the surface. The taste is just as delicate.

After some research, I learned that this style of making cookies has many names. In Switzerland, they are called Bratzelli, Bratzil, Bretzel, Brezel or in this case, Bern Cracknels. They are similar in appearance to an Italian wafer cookie called a pizzelle, also with several spellings. Pizzelle is made with a batter, but Bratzelli is made with a dough. According to my reading, many cultures have used this method for making the delicate biscuits and adapted it in their own way. In Scandinavian countries, they are known as Lukken.

In modern times, electric presses have been designed to make the cooking easier, but we were privileged to use an old, elegant press from Switzerland that made the experience come to life. It took us awhile to learn the art of timing and when to flip the mould but one we had learned we had mastered a new skill from the past.

Here is the recipe we used to make our Cracknels, also known as Bratzelli.

Bern Cracknels 

  • 500 grams butter
  • 500 grams sugar 
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 packet vanilla sugar 
  • 2 coffeespoons cherry brandy 
  • 1 pinch salt
  • zest of lemon 
  • 4 cups and extra flour if needed.

Cream butter, alternately add sugar and eggs then other ingredients. Fold in flour and knead. Let dough stand 2 hours. Form balls and place on moulds. Sufficient for 360 cracknels.

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The delicate designs on the mould (spelling as used in the recipe)

The dough is formed into balls and placed in the centre of each design and the mould  is closed. After a short time, the mould is turned over on the burner.

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The mould is opened to reveal the golden brown biscuits which are lifted and placed on a flat surface. The cracknels quickly become crispy.

This was a wonderful experience of cooking a Swiss delicacy on a mould full of history that has travelled all the way to Canada.

White House Confections from the Past

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A WHITE HOUSE CONFECTION – 1887

FRENCH VANILLA CREAM

 From my previous post of Christmas sweets from the kitchen of a Smokey Mountain mama, today we join the cooks of  the White House in 1887, when the President of the United States was Grover Cleveland.Today’s confection is included in the menu for Christmas Day 1887.

Thanks to my sister-in-law, I was loaned a copy of The Original White House Cook Book 1887 Edition. This book was co-authored by Mrs.F.L.Gillette and Hugo Ziemann and was reprinted in 2003 by Media Solution Services.

 I chose the recipe for French Vanilla Cream, an easy way to make an uncooked candy. This way of making candy is traditional and lends itself to many variations. Here is the recipe as found in the  The Original White House Cook Book, 1887 Edition. 

                                                    French Vanilla Cream 

“Break into a bowl the white of one 0r more eggs, as the quantity you will require;add to it an equal quantity of cold water, then stir in XXX powdered sugar or confectioner’s sugar until you have it stiff enough to mold into shape with the fingers. Flavor with vanilla to taste.  After it is formed in balls, cubes, or lozenge shapes, lay them upon plates or waxed paper, and set them aside to dry. This cream can be worked in candies similar to the French cooked cream. “

The 1887 Christmas Day menu is included in this book. It is a grand feast and the confections (candies and sweets) are included in the dessert course of Christmas Plum Pudding and Sauce, Vanilla Ice Cream, Mince Pie, Orange Jelly, Delicate Cake, Salted Almonds, Confectionary, and Fruits. 

This fascinating cook book also includes recipes “for the sick” ,”toilet tips,” and a chapter entitled, “Small Points on Table Etiquette”.

The first sentence in the Etiquette section reads, “Delicacy of manner at the table stamps both man and woman, for one can, at a glance, discern whether a person has been trained to eat well-i.e.to hold the knife and fork properly, to eat without the slightest sound of the lips, to drink quietly, to use the napkin rightly, to make no noise, with any of the implements of the table, and last, but not least, to eat slowly and masticate the food thoroughly.”

For just a moment, close your eyes and imagine yourself among the silver, crystal and candles of the White House, as you dine on these sweet treats this holiday season. Then open your eyes and appreciate your home and family, wherever you live.

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