Black Creek Pioneer Village “Nelson’s Buttons” Meringues

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Amy Scott, interpretive staff at Black Creek Pioneer Village demonstrates how to beat meringue by hand.

They seemed too delicate to bake in a wood fired oven.

“Surely they will melt,” I thought as I pushed the baking tray of delicate meringues into the hot wood fired oven. I was participating as an apprentice for the day in the kitchen of The Halfway House Inn at Black Creek Pioneer Village and learning to bake as if in the 1860’s. (Read the previous blog entry for the full story.)

My Black Creek experience took me down a rabbit hole of food history as I learned about a delicate sweet that I would not suspect to have existed in the 1860’s.

Amy Scott, an experienced interpretive staff, guided me through a full morning of baking. When we finished our hearty breads, rolls and cakes, Amy surprised me by announcing that we would make meringues.

Meringues are considered a French specialty by many, and a recipe appeared in a cookbook written by Francois Massialot as early as 1692. I found a recipe in a 1925 cookbook entitled French Home Cooking by Claire de Pratz. It describes the simple but exacting process of beating eggs and sugar and dropping tablespoons of the mixture on papered baking sheets to be cooked for about 50 minutes.

Even earlier in 1602, an English receipt book by Lady Elinor Fettiplace includes a recipe called “White Biskit Bread” that fits the description of a Swiss style meringue. Her receipt (recipe) calls for one and a half pounds of sugar, a handful of flour and twelve beaten egg whites. But with some digging, I learned that one claim states that the confectionary originated in a village in Switzerland – Meiringen. Italy has also laid claim to the world of meringue.

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Elinor Fettiplace included a meringue recipe called White Biskit Bread in her recipes from the early 1600’s.

The recipe used by the interpretive staff at Black Creek Pioneer Village originates from a cookbook named Gentility and Economy Combined by George Read that dates back to 1850. He names meringues “Nelson’s Buttons”.

Amy broke two egg whites into a bowl and handed me a whisk. She told me that we would be beating those eggs for awhile because it was going to take a lot of beating to turn these whites into fluff by hand.

We took turns and when some white peaks appeared, I learned that we would gradually add confectionary sugar a tiny bit at a time and continue to beat and beat. The success of our meringues depended on a thorough beating.

Adding some red colouring gave them a pink tint and peppermint extract the subtle flavour.

Wrangling the meringue mixture into a piping bag was not easy and then we squeezed out Nelson’s buttons onto the papered baking sheets. Making them a uniform size and shape took some practice.

We baked them in the wood oven for just short of an hour, which proved a bit too long but baking in a wood oven is not an exacting science. The result was divine bites of sweetness.

It was rewarding to master a baking skill that dates back to the 1600’s in England and Switzerland. Below is a recipe to try for Nelson’s Buttons shared by Black Creek Pioneer Village.

Read, George. Gentility and Economy Combined. London: Thomas Dean and Son, 1850, p. 84 [section 2].

PEPPERMINT DROPS, ANOTHER WAY.

Mix a pound of powdered and sifted loaf sugar with the whites of three or four eggs; add ten or twelve drops of the oil of peppermint, beat them up well, and drop them out on writing paper, with a small pipe and bag attached to it, the same as for Savoy biscuits.

NELSON’S BUTTONS, are a large sort of peppermint drops, and coloured on the top. Make as the last, and drop them on paper.

Method:

Standard

Modern Equivalent Peppermint Drops

2 Cups
 5-10 Drops

3 Cups 10-12 Drops OR:
1 tsp

Ingredients

Superfine White Sugar, Egg Whites,
 Oil of Peppermint OR:

Peppermint Extract OPTIONAL: Pink Food Colouring

Metric

500 ml
 3ml- 10-12 Drops OR:

5 ml 5-10 Drops

Whisk egg whites (in a copper bowl if available) until they form stiff peaks. Slowly whisk sugar into whites until entirely incorporated.
Add peppermint flavouring and food colouring and blend in well.
Pipe the mixture onto paper-lined sheets, about 1 inch apart.

Bake in a slow oven (275° F) for 35-40 minutes (put into bake oven after bread and cookies have been baked, for 40-50 minutes), until lightly browned and the bottoms will come off the paper without breaking. Yields about 60 buttons.

Black Creek Pioneer Village Apprenticeship – Toronto

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“Put on the apron,” said Amy, “and we’ll get started”.

Dressed in garb of the1860’s, a long dress with a white apron and bonnet, Amy had the fire going in the bake oven beside the open-hearth fireplace and already had a good start on her sour dough bread production. Amy Scott is an interpretive staff member of the Black Creek Pioneer Village with many years of experience in cooking food using historic methods.

Earlier, as I walked up to the Halfway House Inn, I passed a tinsmith’s shop, general store and an old farm. I imagined I was living in the 1860’s. I looked up and saw a high-rise apartment building in the not too far distance and remembered my place in history. Black Creek Pioneer Village was developed on the site of the old Stong family homestead and keeps Toronto’s rural history alive in a now developed part of the city. There are more than forty old buildings, some original, others moved to the site with costumed interpretive staff to show how life was lived in the past.

Amy and I were cooking in the kitchen of Halfway House Inn originally built at Kingston Road and Midland Ave in Scarborough in 1847 by Alexander Thompson.

It was a coach stop for farmers taking their goods to the downtown markets and commercial travellers such as manufacturers from Montreal. The bedrooms were upstairs and a large dining room was on the main floor, where travellers sat at one large table and were served meals, family style. There was a tavern as well. There were no menus in this Inn. Guests were served meats, vegetables and lots of homemade bread and desserts.

I had signed on to spend a day as an apprentice in the kitchen and we baked as if we were serving bread to a room full of hungry travellers back in time.

The fire was burning away in the brick oven and it was easy to tell that Amy had many years of fire building knowledge. She kneaded her bread, added wood to the fire, washed her hands and got right back to kneading the bread.

As she worked, she kept track of all her ingredients and mine, the fire temperature, talked to visitors coming and going, and instructed me in my baking education.

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Amy Scott Interpretive staff at Black Creek, tests the temperature  in the wood stove

My first project would be a loaf of white bread. I added all ingredients, learned her kneading method and we put it in front of the oven to rise with the sour dough loaves she had rising. White flour was the norm at that time, she told me. Next was a lesson in making braided loaves and buns. The recipe from the past called for a “starter”, so I learned a new technique in bread making. The tricky part was learning to do a braid with three flopping strands of bread dough. I have always wondered how that was done and there I was, doing it for myself. Amy showed me several techniques so I turned out both buns and small loaves and then we placed them in a warm corner to rise. Just when I thought I had learned a day’s worth of baking, we were onto the next recipe. After all, if it were the 1860’s, we would be feeding a dining room of hungry mouths.

As visitors from 2019 dropped into the Inn, Amy would stop what she was doing to tell them what was baking, and about the history of the Inn.

Amy gave me a choice of baking Lemon Cake or Spice Cake. I have made a spice cake before, but not without my trusty electric mixer beside me. My mixing arm had a good workout and we poured the batter into a baking dish.

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Mixing a spice cake by hand. How I missed the mixer.

We headed over to the wood stove to remove the fire from the brick oven. With a long metal rake Amy began to slide the red-hot ashes down a chute on the bottom of the oven. It looked easy when Amy was doing it but when she handed me the rake I realized it took years of experience to make that tough job look easy. Determining the temperature was our next step. Amy put her arm in and began to count, and invited me to do the same. If you could count to five before the heat forced you to pull out your arm, it was roughly one temperature, counting to three would be another. She knew by touch how hot the oven would be inside, an admirable and old skill.

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Amy puts  braided buns in the oven.

We put our baked goods in the oven with a long handled paddle and with a sharp pull the pans released into the oven.

With a sigh of satisfaction, I looked forward to a break while the bread and cake baked.

The front door of the Inn opened and in came a group of curious visitors, drawn by the smell of baking bread. After learning about the history of the Inn, they were eager to come back to buy some of Amy’s lemon cookies and bread when they came out of the oven.

“Now,” said Amy, “We’ll start the meringues.”

There was to be no rest for the weary, especially not with this recipe.

 

We separated a few eggs and she instructed me to beat the whites to a stiff meringue. Without a mixer. Just as I thought my shoulder would never recover, Amy took over and then another interpretive staff also took her turn. Once we had a nice meringue, we added sugar, one spoonful at a time and beat it for a while. We added some red colouring and peppermint and piped it onto the cookie sheets like delicate little stars. They would go in the oven when the bread came out. All was choreographed perfectly.

Mid afternoon, the baking was pulled out of the oven and proudly displayed on the cooling table. I had learned so much that day and to my surprise Amy packaged up my baking to be taken home to share with my family.

I took away an important lesson from the apprentice experience at Halfway House Inn. Those that cooked in kitchens of the past, worked very hard to produce the delicious foods that they ate.

Thanks to Black Creek Pioneer Village in Toronto for this experience. Watch for a recipe in the future.

If you are interested in becoming an apprentice for a day in the skills of the village here is the link.

http://www.blackcreek.ca

 

 

 

 

 

Dining at Memory Lane 1940’s Heritage Village, Nova Scotia Cookhouse Style.

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I scooped the baked beans into a bowl and spread molasses over the moist brown bread. This was going to be dining east coast style at it’s best.

From the minute I walked into the old Hosking General Store I noticed the shelves were stocked with nothing familiar. When I walked out through the back door, I was thrown back to 1940 in the community of Lake Charlotte, Nova Scotia.

Memory Lane Village was created in the year 2000 as a solution to losing important heritage buildings that were to be torn down along the eastern shore. The various buildings were relocated to one site and now show us what life was like along the coast in the 1940’s. Visitors can drop into eighteen buildings including a home, schoolhouse, church, store, prospector’s cabin and fisherman’s shed. If you are lucky enough to be there at the right time, you can enjoy a drive around the village in a 1928 Model A Ford, – a slow drive reminding us that life did not move as quickly back then.

Electricity did not arrive in Lake Charlotte until 1945, a surprising fact that caused me to pay special attention when I visited the icehouse, especially important to the community before refrigeration.

The most impressive part of the Village is that an army of 200 volunteers works to keep the village running. None of them will forget that era, because they live it and learn when they are helping with the village. And they love to visit the cookhouse for lemonade and a homemade cookie. Some of the volunteers dress in period costume. This added to the atmosphere, and it felt that ghosts of the past were with me. Special events are planned each summer with canning demonstrations, clam digging and musical events.

I dined with history in the cookhouse located in the village. There was a choice that hot summer day between a hot meal or a cold plate.

The food brought back memories of the meals that were served in my grandmother’s kitchen in Nova Scotia. These are timeless east coast meals and are still served regularly in kitchens in this part of Canada.

The hot meal began with a hearty soup, moved on to baked beans and homemade brown bread with molasses (if you choose to add molasses). The cold plate was made of salad, slice of ham, chow-chow, a hard boiled egg, tomatoes, brown bread, and of course molasses. Both meal options included cookies, gingerbread, and a rhubarb dessert with coffee or tea or lemonade. Visitors eat on benches at long tables just like the hungry lumbermen would have done. I peeked into the kitchen to see a table covered with loaves of brown bread right from the oven. Of course we scraped our plates, following the rules as posted on the walls.

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Loaves of homemade bread in the kitchen of the cookhouse

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The rules were followed in the cookhouse

To bring the buildings to life, we borrowed a tablet programmed with information and interview videos with people who lived in this area back in the forties.

In one film clip, a man who had lived and worked in the lumber camps explained that the cookhouses in that area fed and housed the lumbering crews or the gold miners who stayed in bunkhouses above the cookhouses. The baking pans were purchased from army surplus after the war.

He remembered the cook waking up at 5 am, preparing a breakfast of bacon, beans, eggs, toast, coffee and tea and having it all ready for the men at 6 am. There were rules of behaviour in the cookhouse and nobody dared break the rules – their meals depended on it. After the men ate they took their plates to the front, scraped them and put them in the pan ready to be washed.

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A Cookhouse hero holds a loaf of bread

A coastal garden demonstrates how and what food was grown in the 1940’s to feed a family. Being largely self sufficient, they depended heavily on growing and preserving food to feed themselves summer and winter. Fishing was an important part of life in this area and a clam factory shows us where workers canned clams, lobster, and herring.

The icehouse was filled with blocks of ice stored between layers of sawdust. When a family needed ice for their icebox, big scissor-like tongs were used to move the ice.

The Webber House shows us how a home was transformed after electricity arrived in the 1940’s. I was alone in the house when I visited, but my imagination filled it with life. Fully furnished as it would have been in the forties, it felt as though the family had left the home unlocked and gone for a drive, but would be back soon. Red long johns danced on the clothesline drying quickly in the sun and wind.

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I imagined Mrs. Webber would be making homemade doughnuts later that day. I am including a recipe from an American recipe book dated 1938 called:

The way to a man’s heart – The Settlement Cookbook 

Doughnuts

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar 
  • 2 tbsp. melted fat 
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp.nutmeg
  • 1tsp.soda
  • 2tsp. baking powder
  • about 1 quart flour  
  • Beat eggs, add sugar and shortening; mix rest of dry ingredients, combine the two mixtures with the milk. Place in refrigerator overnight to make a lighter dough and use ½ cup less of flour. Knead slightly, pat and roll into ¼ inch thickness, cut or shape into form, fry in deep hot oil. Dust with powdered sugar.

I left the Memory Lane Heritage Village feeling a new appreciation for the 1940’sr gold miner. It was a filling experience to eat lunch like a lumberjack. This village is a memory and a gift given by the workers and volunteers from the Lake Charlotte community in Nova Scotia.

 

 

 

Ross Thomson House and Store Museum Shelburne, Nova Scotia

 

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“We use every part of the dandelion here,” said Greta Mossman standing proudly beside Mya Chidiac.  They were dressed the part of women who lived in the 1700’s. The passion and knowledge Greta had for discovering the food secrets of the past was impressive.

I was visiting the Ross-Thomson House and Store Museum on a quiet street in a Shelburne where the old homes have preserved Nova Scotia’s past.

Back in 1785, George and Robert Ross escaped the American Revolution, and established their international trading business in Shelburne. They ran a store inside the large warehouse that they built to house the goods that came from the ships. They traded lumber and fish for tobacco, salt and other goods. Part of the warehouse was their home, furnished to show how their family would have lived at that time.

Back to Greta and her dandelions. I remember my father spraying and digging to get every last dandelion out of his lawn but Greta spoke of the dandelion as though it were a weed of great value. She told me of the earthy taste of dandelion root coffee, and offered me a recipe card that she had handwritten with a quill pen and ink. The petals were used to make dandelion jelly and the leaves could be used as a green for salads. Cooking back then was all done in the huge open-hearth fireplace that was surrounded with cast iron pots and pans for every function. There was a reflector oven for roasting meat in front of the fire and even a waffle iron with a long handle to reach into the coals.

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Greta Mossman shows off the waffle iron

In the warehouse was a display of what appeared to be ropes. Surprisingly, it was twists of tobacco leaves and Greta showed me how it was cut and sold by the inch to be smoked in clay pipes. A very large barrel in the storeroom is the oldest barrel in Nova Scotia dating back to 1760 and held 1,100 pints of port wine from Porto, Portugal. Below Murray Hagen stands by the barrel that once held port and Greta shows the ropes of tobacco.

 

When the butter was churned in Shelburne, it would be put in a container and stored in the community well to keep it cool. Each family had their own container.

The day I visited, Greta was busy making Rose Water. She showed me the petals that had been boiled and how pink the water had become. This water was then used for cooking or preserved for using on the skin. Heating vinegar until warm and adding it to jars of the purple flowers made chive Blossom Vinegar. After storing for two weeks, the mixture was strained and the flowers discarded and aromatic vinegar remained to be added to dressings. A garden was growing beside the house to provide the family with the vegetables and herbs that they would eat fresh or preserve during the summer and fall to use during the long winters. Insect repellent was made using the herb, Lemon Balm. Those secrets of the past could be useful to avoid using the chemicals of today.

 

The interpreters at the Ross Thomson House always have a cooking project that opens up the kitchen door of the past to visitors and helps them to learn old culinary recipes for such tastes as mushroom ketchup, fairground lemonade and hard tack biscuits. Hard tack biscuits properly made would last a long time and were a staple of long sea voyages in the past.

When it was haying time, Switchel was made, a 1700’s version of an energy drink for the farmers working the fields.

Here is the recipe to try the next time you are out haying in the fields or alternatively mowing your grass.

  • Switchel
  • 8 cups of water
  • 1 cup of brown sugar
  • ¾ cup cider vinegar
  • ½ cup of molasses
  • ½ tsp. ground ginger
  • Mix all ingredients over low hear until sugar dissolves. Let cool and serve warm diluted with water.
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    Recipe card handwritten by interpretive staff Greta Mossman using a quill and ink

Ross Thomson House puts another piece of the historic puzzle together, showing us how a merchant ran his business and home in the 1780’s, thanks to the hardworking staff who search to find creative ways to show us how it was to live back in time.

 

Spam Museum – Austin, Minnesota

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This was no ordinary museum, but a big bite of food history. We walked in the door and a plastic lea with an attached foil vacuum packed sample was put around our necks as we were greeted to the SPAM MUSEUM in Austin, Minnesota. A few minutes later we were served delicate tooth-picked cubes of pepper- flavoured Spam, very tasty and not my childhood memory of Spam.

I remember camping meals made with slices of Spam fried up with chopped canned potatoes. We loved it then, but really, do people continue to eat SPAM these days?

Yes, was the answer and I was in for a big lesson in SPAM’s past, present and future. We learned about the origins of the canned wonder, the history, the wartime relevance and how it has grown in use through time. It has become a bit of an international cult food and exhibits showed it’s culinary use in many countries.

The museum in 2016 and averages 330,000 visitors a year . There is a themed gift shop in the museum, but surprisingly, no eatery. We learned on our tour that when the museum was built, a decision was made not to serve food made with SPAM so that the diners and restaurants in town would also benefit from visitors to the museum. Many of the restaurants serve special dishes made with SPAM on their menu.

Hormel Food Corporation has produced the canned meat throughout the years and now sells a whopping 90 million cans a year. I looked and sure enough, it is sitting pretty on grocery store shelves almost everywhere.

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George Hormell’ s original store

Spam during the War

During WW11, 133 million cans of SPAM were sent to Russia and Great Britain to feed the troops. Apparently Great Britain paid their bill, but Russia never did pay theirs in full. Canned meat was a revolutionary way to get protein that could be cooked in many ways in difficult places, during the war.

SPAM was credited by noteworthy politicians for helping feed the troops. They went so far as to say that it was one factor that contributed to their success in winning the war.

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Display of the use of SPAM in WW11

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How is SPAM made?

I was surprised to learn the ingredients in a can of SPAM. Here are the contents:

  • Salt
  • Water
  • Potato Starch
  • Sugar
  • Pork -shoulder and thigh
  • Sodium nitrate (keeps it pink and prevents spoilage)

All ingredients are mixed together and cooked in the can.

The museum displays include computers with recipes that could be chosen and send to the visitor, a military display, some history memorabilia, a mock factory setting where the visitor can experience making SPAM, a display of how various custom made flavours of SPAM are shipped to other countries and displays of international dishes that are made using SPAM. SPAM sushi took my interest, and I was sure to send myself several unusual recipes from the computers. There are games, a trivia centre and a special children’s area. A SPAM train circles above the museum on a track and it takes 18 minutes to travel from beginning to end.

In the gift shop are SPAM related items one could never dream of such as 15 flavors of SPAM and gift packs for sale, as well as T-shirts, hats, even instruments made of the cans.

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Heidi Neitzell (left) and Crystal Conner are two employees at the SPAM gift shop in the Museum

I left the museum with a smile on my face and yes, two cans of SPAM under my arm.

One very popular SPAM recipe comes from Hawaii and is a popular snack and lunch item.

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SPAM Musubi – Popular in Hawaii

Grill a slice of SPAM and brush with a mixture of equal parts soya sauce, mirin sauce and sugar. Take a SPAM can, line with plastic wrap and press rice into the bottom of the can, drop a piece of SPAM into the can. Turn upside down and wrap in a strip of Nori (dried seaweed). This SPAM treat can be found at corner stores all over Hawaii.

Come on, give it a try!

 

 

 

 

Boudin Bakery Sourdough in San Francisco

 

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There was something very different about the taste of the sourdough bread when I took a bite of my sandwich at Boudin’s on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. And that was just the beginning of an amazing American food history story that can actually be tasted today.

When you taste the sour dough bread at Boudin’s Bakery in San Francisco, you are eating a piece of bread made with Mother Dough, (or starter) that dates back to 1849.

Don Propstra, (pictured above) who works at the Boudin Museum is a passionate and skilled storyteller. When he told me the story of the Boudin’s and their sourdough bread-it came to life.

Isidore Boudin and his wife Louis Marie emigrated to California from France arriving in 1849, back when it was a difficult journey across the oceans on large sailing vessels. Their chosen route took them around South America. As luck would have it, gold was discovered in 1848 in San Francisco, then known as Yerba Buena was then part of Mexico. It  had a population of 500 that grew into a booming gold rush town of 25,000. The couple opened their bakery on Dupont Street and began baking bread using the same recipe to make the sourdough starter they had used in France. Each day they would save one quarter of their dough as the starter for the next day’s bread. They noticed that the taste was different and could not understand the reason. The gold miners loved their bread and lined up outside the bakery door to pick up their loaf for the day, before they headed out to pan for gold.

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An old photo of the original San Francisco bakery.

Their son, also named Isadore, remained in France to learn to become a baker and eventually travelled to America to work at his parent’s bakery. He soon married Louise Erni and became the second generation to take over the business. By 1873 the Boudin Bakery was delivering bread by horse-drawn wagon. Customers awakened to a fresh loaf of sour dough bread hung on a nail on the front door of their homes each morning.

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A wagon used to deliver bread can be seen in the Boudin Museum.

The third generation of Boudins had four children. When her husband died suddenly Louise Boudin took over the business. She was an accomplished business woman who was far ahead of her time.

When the earthquake of 1908 hit San Francisco, the bakery survived until the fires began. Louise Boudin saw the fire coming and put her sourdough mother in a wooden bucket and left just before the bakery burnt to the ground. She was able to rent a large barn on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge and expanded the business. Her children eventually took over the business, making this the fifth generation of Boudins to bake sourdough bread in San Francisco. During the mid 1930’s, there was a revolution in bread making. It was the beginning of the Wonder Bread era and the bakeries could not compete with the mass-produced, highly processed bread. The Boudin Bakery was on the verge of bankruptcy until one of the bakers offered to buy the business, promising to keep using the original mother dough from 1849 and baking in the same tradition.  Now a growing chain, the Boudin name has taken on many new enterprises.

Boudin, until recently had been a family business since it’s beginning in 1849. But more importantly the bread is made from the same mother dough that was started in 1849, back in the days of the gold rush. So every bite is full of history.

Don Propstra, who was giving me my tour of the museum and bakery, told me that there are only four ingredients in the sourdough made at Boudin – flour, water, mother dough and salt. There is no milk, butter, sugar or eggs. When tested in the 1970’s to discover the composition of the bread it was learned that the wild yeast that was in the air in 1948 and something known as lactobacillus were unique to this mother dough. So unique that it was given the name of Lactobacillus San Francisco. It also explains the wonderfully sour and unusual taste of the bread.

“One crazy fact,” said Don, “is that each loaf takes three days to make.”

I believed him after he showed me the process from beginning to end looking through the glassed-in room where the bread is baked.  A huge stainless steel vault contains the precious mother dough and each day a percentage is saved for the batch to be turned into bread the next day.

The story of this bakery is a true taste of history that is celebrated in the flagship store and museum on Fisherman’s wharf in San Francisco. Even the paper bag used to package the bread celebrates the history with the story printed on the bag. The last sentence reads:

“Today, we bake a slice of history into every loaf of our Sourdough, starting each day’s bread with a portion of the original Gold Rush mother dough, which has been divided and replenished with flour and water each day for over 150 years.”

And… The bread is delicious.

 

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The modern bakery still uses the original mother starter from over 150 years ago.

Waste Not Carrots – Wartime recipes and the No Waste Movement

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A poster from World War 2 to promote the use of carrots in the diet.

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A delicious pudding made using carrots from 1941 recipe book  Good Fare in War Time

Scraping around in the bottom of the vegetable crisper in my refrigerator I came across four shriveled, pathetic looking carrots. Recently I have become interested in the No Waste Food Movement and how it relates to food history. Wartime rationing was a great place to start.

 

 

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Four carrots that would have been tossed were used to make the above pudding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The recipe I used to cook with my four carrots comes from a little recipe book Good Fare in War Time published  in Great Britain in 1941.

Foundation Recipe for Steamed Pudding

  • 6 tbsp. flour or 4 tbsp. flour and tbsp. of grated raw potato or fine oatmeal.
  • 1 carrot pealed, grated
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • ½ tsp. bicarbonate of soda, mixed in a bit of warm milk
  • 2 oz. chopped suet or hard fat.
  • Milk to mix
  • Mix all ingredients

Steam in a pan of water in the oven for 1 ½ hours.There are variations of this recipe that add 1 tbsp. cocoa and a bit more sugar. Apples can be added and also raisins, dates, currants.

I found the pudding to be tasty but not very sweet for our modern taste, so drizzled it with a bit of maple syrup.

What I learned about Carrots, and rationing during World War 2 

On January 8, 1940, rationing started in Great Britain because of World War 2. Bacon, butter and sugar were the first items to be rationed but many foods were added to the list in stages throughout the war. Meat, tea, jam, biscuits, cereals, cheese, eggs, lard, milk, canned and dried fruit were also added. People were issued ration books to ensure that the amounts were followed, but those with certain medical needs, children and pregnant women were rationed different amounts of certain foods.

Gardening was encouraged and even those that lived in cities planted Victory Gardens to supplement their food rations. There was a strong push for gardeners and farmers to plant carrots as they were high in nutrients and easy to grow. At one time there was a surplus of carrots available.

People learned to eat differently, women (or men) learned to cook efficiently and rationing was promoted as each person’s way to help the war effort.

I cannot help but notice that our times and living where food is readily available, has promoted a demand for the availability of any and all foods at all times. There are few ingredients from almost anywhere in the world that can’t be purchased somewhere. We are not accustomed to the concept of “using what we have.”

Perhaps we can reflect on our food history and war times to inspire us to cook what is in our refrigerator that may have been tossed, or to do with less in some way to save our planet. Less meat in our diets would be a significant start.

Try a wartime recipe and you may be inspired and surprised to learn how creative cooking can be with limitations.

Waste not, Want not” was an old saying that our grandparents used when they were raised to use all bits of food. That expression is also an inspiration from our food history that is quickly becoming a food trend of the future.

 

 

 

Lotus Leaf Cooking from China

 

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A woman returns home with a fresh lotus leaf to use for cooking in the West Lake area of China

While visiting West Lake in China recently, we came upon a large pond covered in lotus leaves. I noticed an old lady walking along a path carrying a huge lotus leaf and wondered whether she was planning to use it as an umbrella. My guide told me that one of the uses of the lotus leaf is to wrap and steam food. Although the history of Chinese cooking is a universe unto itself, I decided to come home and research this small taste of old Chinese cookery. Many of China’s traditional dishes are still cooked today and everyday cooking can be quite simple and nutritious. A family meal often consists of a variety of dishes placed in the centre of the table and shared with a side bowl of rice and soup. Some dishes have interesting stories that shed light on the history of their origins. Since returning, I have learned about some of the China’s food customs in a book entitled Every Grain of Rice – Simple Chinese Home Cooking by Fuchsia Dunlop. In her book she explains the basics and includes recipes that show us how many Chinese families eat on a daily basis. Although western and fast food has made an entrance, many Chinese people continue to eat as they have for centuries. They include many vegetable dishes in their diet with small amounts of meat and fish as a side note. Dairy and wheat are seldom used and sweets use much smaller quantities of sugar. Fruit is served with family meals instead of desserts.

I shopped in the Chinese grocery district of Toronto for lotus leaves and carried my large bag of dried, stiff leaves on the subway with pride. I also picked up a traditional bamboo steamer, having given mine away years ago and headed home with a resolve to take a peek into the world of Chinese cookery.

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A bag of Lotus leaves purchased at a Chinese grocery store in Toronto. The leaves are imported from China.

I found a recipe using a lotus leaf to cook chicken in Every Grain of Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop and used it as a guide, altering the recipe to fit the ingredients I had available. I will not give the exact recipe, lacking permission of the author. Below is the version I made using her recipe as inspiration.

Steamed Chicken and Shitake Mushrooms in a Lotus Leaf

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Soaking the lotus leaf in very hot water for fifteen minutes

After cutting the whole leaf in two, I soaked it for fifteen minutes  in water that had been boiled. I sliced strips of chicken thighs and several shitake mushrooms.

A marinade was made with small amounts of ginger, salt, sugar, Shaoxing wine, cornstarch mixed with water and cooking oil. The chicken was soaked in the marinade.

The lotus leaf was laid out in the bamboo steamer leaving enough extra to fold over the chicken. I laid the chicken strips on the leaf and layered the shitake mushrooms on top pouring the rest of the marinade over all. The leaf was folded over the mixture to make a package and it was steamed for fifteen minutes.

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Chicken and mushrooms laid on the lotus leaf inside the steamer.

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The finished dish, flavourful and aromatic.

The aroma from the lotus leaf  infused into the chicken and the results were very tasty.

I was left with a feeling of satisfaction and a sense of connection with the lady carrying her lotus leaf home beside the lake in China – and wondering if we had cooked a similar bit of Chinese food history.

 

Samoa Cookhouse, California

DINING LIKE A LUMBERJACK 

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We started with biscuits and gravy for breakfast at the Samoa Cookhouse in Samoa, California, but that was just the beginning of our lumberjack dining experience. We were about to taste breakfast the way the lumberjacks were fed at the cookhouse after the mill opened in 1890 when the redwood sawmills were buzzing with activity.

The night before we had camped in a redwood forest amongst stumps larger than our camper van. We walked with craned necks through the forests, learning about the giant sequoias and redwoods; how each one creates 500 gallons of water each day; how the largest may be as old as 2000 years, and how each tree has several differently shaped leaves.

“How could anyone cut such a beautiful tree down?” we wondered.

At the turn of the century 2,000,000 acres of the Californian coast were covered with sequoia and redwood forest. In Eureka, California alone, in 1853, there were 9 sawmills producing lumber to build the booming towns. Eventually 90 percent of those trees were gone and we are left with just a glimpse of the majestic forests.

It took days to cut down just one tree and the lumberjacks worked twelve hour days, six days a week. The camps that hired the men housed and fed them and the Samoa Cookhouse is the last standing of the company cookhouses that fed the workers in that area.

And the men were fed well. When the cookhouse whistle sounded, even the white horses that worked for the lumberyards, would stop dead in their tracks and wait to be led to their oats. The men rushed to their seats in the cookhouse and waited for young women to serve them, by loading the tables with platters of food. All meals were served family style and the men stretched across the tables to help themselves to as much food as they could eat. Nobody left hungry.

The interior of the cookhouse remains authentic with checkered tablecloths and wooden floors and ceilings. Historic pictures and antique treasures cover the walls, giving diners a peak into the working lives of the lumbermen.

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Jeff Brustman is the current manager and is passionate about making the dining experience as authentic as possible

The current manager, Jeff Brustman is passionate about ensuring that diners taste food prepared as authentically as possible, making the experience a trip back in time. He told me of an old tin recipe box full of the recipes and when I asked, he proudly retrieved it from the kitchen. Serving authentic food requires an extra effort, as the bread, biscuits and most of the food are made fresh each day on site.

Just as the lumberjacks could eat as much as they wanted, so the guests of today are offered endless portions.

Our waitress explained that we would first be offered orange juice and coffee and that everything would be served “family style”. We started with two biscuits and gravy, followed by scrambled eggs, sausages,  and French toast with syrup. Second helpings were heartily offered. Because I would be sitting in a camper van driving all day, and not cutting giant redwoods, one serving was more than enough. But for the lumbermen, as many helpings as it took to fill them was served.

The young women who were employed by the lumber camps were always single and lived upstairs on the premises. Although the rules were strict, they often found ways to break them. Curfew was 10 pm but they found a way to sneak in after hours. They were known to be mischievous and would often play tricks on the men, such as filling coffee mugs with water so that when the coffee was added …

The whole experience of dining at the Samoa Cookhouse is deepened when followed by a stroll through the museum beside the dining room that is filled with historic photos and memorabilia of the lumberjack days. The men standing on giant stumps in the photos may have enjoyed their meals at the Samoa Cookhouse.

What a gift to be able to experience dining in the same room as the lumberjacks and enjoy the same tastes from California’s past.

 

Jiggs Dinner and Joe’s Café in Codroy, Newfoundland.

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When we pulled in to Joe’s Café in the small Newfoundland town of Codroy, I did not expect another Canadian food history adventure. The name Codroy sounded intriguing so it was our chosen lunch stop. Joe’s was attached to a small gas station and the lights were romantically low when we entered, except that it was high noon. A table of five local men sat chewing the fat, (conversing while eating their food). And that got me to thinking about how sharing food with others has been important throughout the ages. But to our surprise we could not share food at Joe’s Café that day, because when the server came to our table she informed us that the power was out and they couldn’t cook any food. We thought, “Oh well, it would come back on in a few minutes”. Our server  noticed that we lingered and in a kindly but firm voice she said, “May be awhile.” We walked out past the group of local old guys who spoke kindly to us and one man piped up,“Will still be here when you gets back”. Then I knew we had to come back. I noticed on the menu board on the way out the door that Jiggs Dinner was served on Thursdays. And this got me to wondering….

Jiggs Dinner, also known as Newfoundland Pot Day or Boiled Dinner is a well know traditional outport dish usually served on Sunday, Tuesday or Thursday. For the life of me, I cannot find out why those are the chosen days to serve that dinner. Jiggs Dinner is said to be named after a comic character in the series “Bringing up father” dating back to the early 1900’s. This meal would have been commonly cooked long before the name Jiggs was granted.

We only ate out a few times while in Newfoundland, once to dine on fish cakes and the other cod’s tongues and cheeks. The rest of the time I was busy cooking historic dishes from my camper van, so in the end we didn’t have a chance to try a Jiggs Dinner in Newfoundland.

After arriving back in Nova Scotia, I decided to try a Jiggs Dinner in my old pot over the fire. Preparations for the meal started four days earlier, when I made my own corned beef from a recipe in the acclaimed cookbook, Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens, by Marie Nightingale. Her cookbook brilliantly covers the history of East Coast cookery. I started with a rump roast of beef about two inches thick, put it in a brine of pickling salt, pickling spices, garlic, and sugar, weighed it down and put the pot in the refrigerator for four days. This turned the beef into corned beef with no trace of corn. When the day came to make my Jiggs, I peeled and cut the traditional vegetables – cabbage, pieces of turnip, carrot, onion and potatoes. The now “corned” beef was cooked in some clear water to remove some of the saltiness. After half an hour of boiling, the meat was added to the old cast iron pot with water, and the cooking continued over the fire. Later, I added the vegetables. There is no fancy recipe or timing here, just by guess and by golly. Awhile later, I took all of the ingredients out and served them on a platter to my well-loved cousins. And it was tasty! This dish is reminiscent of the Caldera, a one- pot meal I  tasted in the Azores that was put in a pot and cooked in the ground under hot volcanic sand, (see previous article called Azorean Caldera Cooking). One-pot meals have been practical and popular family meals that have stood the test of time in many countries and cultures.

But back to Joe’s Diner in Codroy. I reflected on how amazing it was that amidst the hamburgers and French fries, the Jiggs Dinner is still served at a small local diner every Thursday.

It was not a Thursday when we pulled into Joe’s on our way back to the ferry to sail away from Newfoundland, but I had to drive to Codroy, see if the group of five local men were in fact “still bein’ there when we got back”. I found only one man sitting at the counter in his coveralls. Not eating, just chewing the fat.

He looked me in the eyes and said, “I’ve seen you before.”

“Were you here a week ago with four other men?” I asked.

“ I’m here every day,” he said. At least one of them was there to greet us when we came back.

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“Darlin, I’m here everyday”. A regular patron at Joe’s

No Jiggs Dinner on the menu that day, so we ordered hamburgers and pie for dessert.

Out from the kitchen came Ann Martin, looking very hot and tired in her stocking feet with our hamburgers.

She placed them on the table, plunked herself down on a chair at the next table and started talking as if we were in her very own kitchen. We didn’t get to try the Jiggs I was wishing for, but our lunch came with a good serving of Newfoundland friendliness. She spoke sadly of the young people leaving for the cities and told us that there was a whole aisle of dog paraphernalia at the grocery store, but good luck finding a box of Pampers diapers. No babies anymore.

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Ann Taylor – a great cook at Joe’s who makes you feel like you are in her kitchen.

 

“My Gentle God,” she said, when I asked if I could take her picture. I didn’t want to forget her for now she was our friend in Newfoundland and the food tasted better knowing she had made it and served it up with a good dose of “chewing the fat”.