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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.

 

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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”.

 

Tasting Flatbread at L’ Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland

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Britta sat in a dark, longhouse made of blocks of sod, mixing ingredients in a small pottery bowl. She wore the heavy, warm woolens of a Viking woman and was about to mix some flat bread. I was waiting back in time to taste the results.

After walking along a boardwalk through what looked like a miniature forest (the trees grow slowly because of the harsh environment,) I came to several buildings covered in sod. It was not hard to imagine I was visiting a Viking settlement one thousand years ago. But I was in Newfoundland, not Greenland. Archeologists revealed a Viking site at L’Anse aux Meadows in 1960 and now Parks Canada protects the land where the Vikings settled and has recreated several of the sod structures where costumed characters bring the site to life. It is also a World Heritage site making this worth the long trip to the north of Newfoundland. Strangely enough Vikings travelled to Newfoundland in search of hardwood, something that was in short supply in Greenland. It was needed to build and repair their boats so L’Anse aux Meadows became an outpost. The journey from Greenland to Newfoundland took 63 days and was 600 nautical miles. Groups of Vikings would come to the outpost for periods of one to two years. After crossing the Davis Strait, their ships followed the coast of Baffin Island, to Labrador and Newfoundland. At L’Anse aux Meadows, the remains of eight buildings have been uncovered. It appears that each of three ships built a longhouse that became home for twenty to thirty men and women.

What the Vikings ate when they lived in Newfoundland

In Greenland they raised cows, sheep, goats and produced dairy products. But did they bring the animals with them? From the archeological dig findings they do know some of what the Vikings ate in L’ Anse aux Meadows. They ate caribou, seal, and fish. The grains they used included rye, spelt, oats and barley.

In the morning, they may have made porridge of grains. For other meals they likely ate stew made with caribou and vegetables or soups made of vegetables in broth. They are known to have eaten duck eggs. Pottery was found at the site, so dishes were made and hallowed animal horns were used as cups. A form of alcohol called mead was made from grains and honey.

Butternut shells were found and it is known that they did not grow north of New Brunswick.

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Vegetable soup cooking in an iron pot over the fire at L’Anse aux Meadows

The Viking interpreter known as Britta was making soup and flatbread when I arrived. The soup was a mixture of water filled with vegetables cooking in a round-bottomed iron pot that hung over the fire.

Viking Flatbread

Britta put into a pottery bowl a mixture of barley flour, rye, spelt and ground oats together with some water and mixed in some dried berries to add sweetness. She mixed it together until it became dough and formed flat bread. She melted some fat on a long handled flat iron skillet and held it over the open fire. She flipped it to cook the other side.  The bread tasted surprisingly delicious considering it was made with such simple ingredients.

I ate my piece of bread in the dark longhouse, lit only by fire and the few strands of sunlight. I sat beside big Viking Egil and in drifted a gruff Viking woman named Tora. I imagined what it would be like one thousand years ago, sleeping on furs on a raised platform, in the damp sod longhouses with the winds howling outside. It would have been a job just to keep the fire burning all the time. The Viking men would bring caribou meat to be cooked and between preparing the skins to be used for clothing and weaving cloth for clothing, foraging and cooking there would have been little time for rest.

Beside the wild ocean of the Atlantic I enjoyed a taste of Viking life and food at L’Anse aux Meadows thanks to Parks Canada.

French Bread Ovens, Dot’s Bakery, Newfoundland

In the next few posts I will visit Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada where I found the food roots continue to reflect the past.

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There were buns the oven, but these were not ordinary buns and this was no ordinary oven. Port au Choix is one of six locations in Newfoundland, Canada to celebrate their French heritage by building an outdoor bread oven. A wood fire is started in the oven at 9:30 in the morning. The ashes are removed before the buns are put in the oven at 2 in the afternoon by interpreters dressed as though ladies of the past. Visitors were served by Audrey and Marjorie to a hot bun and butter with homemade jams made of local berries such as Bakeapple, Partridgeberry and Blueberry, and coffee or tea. A nominal fee is charged to participate in this taste of history.

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Marjorie Lavers holds warm buns from the outdoor bread oven.

While we enjoyed the warm buns, we learned of the past of the French fisheries on these shores. Marjorie Lavers shared this history with passion as this is part of her past.

In 1713, the French were given rights by the British to fish off the coast of Newfoundland, but were not allowed to form settlements. Port au Choix was an important harbour at that time and the French used the land only to salt and prepare their fish for the journey back to Europe. There were many Roman Catholic religious holidays all over Europe that required that fish be eaten and no meat, so the demand was high. The skilled “salter” was considered to be one of the most important men on the schooners from France because the salting of the fish had to be perfect. Pure white and dried to perfection is what was required for good sales. The baker was also an important person aboard ship and bread ovens were build on the Newfoundland coast to feed the young fishermen fresh bread after eating hard tack on the journey over the ocean.

Some of the earliest settlers of Port au Choix were French fishermen who chose to hide when the ships returned to France. They joined the community of English and Indigenous peoples, but could not speak French or let their ancestry be known. Those French fishermen are the ancestors of some of today’s residents in Port au Choix (Port of Choice,) who are now proud to show their French heritage.

But what recipe was used for those buns cooked in the French ovens today? They were the best I had ever tasted.

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Carolyn Lavers runs Dot’s Bakery and carries on the business started for her mother.

 

I asked Marjorie Lavers, one of the interpretive staff at the French Rooms and the Bread Oven. She sent me to meet her sister, Carolyn, who runs Dot’s bakery in town and makes the buns to be baked in the outdoor oven.

“This bakery started as a project to keep my Mom busy,” Carolyn told me. Her mom, Dot, was a good cook. All the women made their own bread in days gone by. But once the bakery started her mother could barely keep up with the orders from the fishing boats and soon she was making 12 loaves a day by hand. Eventually the bakery was enlarged with the help of Carolyn and just as it opened the “fisheries went down.” This was an event that her mother had always predicted. It was hard for a while to make up the lost business, but now the bakery is doing a booming business making bread for stores. It is open to the public only on Saturdays, a busy day at Dot’s.

Carolyn still uses her mother’s original bun recipe and she figures it may have come from her grandmother or great grandmother. Her breads use no artificial ingredients and are still made in the way of the past, with the help of one modern tool; a large commercial mixer.

She willingly shared her recipe, telling it from memory. After all, that’s what she does everyday. Eating one of Carolyn’s buns is a taste not easily forgotten. Thanks Carolyn for keeping food history alive.

Dot’s Rolls

  • 3 lbs., 5 oz. flour
  • ¼ of a cup of yeast
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • 2 oz. sugar
  • 2 oz. of shortening
  • 2 eggs, beat up a bit

Mix like any other bread recipe, knead, let rise, knead, let rise and bake for 15 minutes in a 375 degree oven until browned on the top. Makes 3 – 4 dozen of the best buns you have ever tasted.

 

 

 

 

 

Azorean Caldera Cooking

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We parked at a lookout above the Logoa das Furnas in the Azores islands and looked down from the mountain to the volcanic lake below. Steam rose out of the earth in numerous places on the shore and we could see the red-tiled roofs on the town of Furnas below. Our food history adventure that day was to drive down to the lake to watch our lunch being cooked in the hot sand of the lakeside geothermal springs and then enjoy the results – to taste a bit of Azorean food history.

Many restaurants in Furnas carry on the tradition of serving a one-pot meal called Cozido nas Caldeiras (Caldera Stew). When we arrived at the park where the calderas were being cooked, we walked on the boardwalk above steaming, bubbling mud and water pools.  We found the spot with mounds of sand and signs atop, where each restaurant and some families had placed their pots and began to look for the one that read Restaurant Banhos Ferreos.

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Under the steaming mound a pot of Caldera Stew is cooking. The sign indicates the restaurant that has prepared the meal. 

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A hungry cat sits on the hot sand wishing it could join in the feast 

We learned that the large metal pots were put into the ground between 4 and 6 am. They were then covered with a mound of sand and cooked for the next eight hours until 12:30 pm.  The pots were heavy and needed two men to pull them from the earth with hooks and haul them to the restaurant trucks to be delivered in time for the noon-day meals.

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Two men haul the heavy pot of food from the earth to be taken to Restaurant Banhos Ferrios in Furnas

The food contained in the pot would feed many diners. We drove behind the truck of our chosen restaurant away from the lake through the streets of Furnas to the Restaurant Banhos Ferreos and I followed the men carrying the pot right into the kitchen. Two women proceeded to untie the cloth that held the pot lid shut, remove the lid, and fold back steaming layers of cloth to reveal the food. Potatoes, carrots, inhame (an African root vegetable also known as taro) and cabbage were placed on the bottom with water. Then there were layers of beef, chicken, pork, pork sausage and blood sausage wrapped in tin foil, with kale atop all. Nothing fancy, just a boiled dinner. I remembered the Jiggs Dinners of Newfoundland and thought of all the one pot dinners of other cultures.

Our order of two meals was served on one platter with a sampling of each food. As always it came with a big basket of fresh (from the bakery) bread, and cheese from the Azores. We added local red wine and enjoyed a feast. We sat in a large room that was tiled with historical scenes and later learned that this room once housed a soaking pool using the water from the hot springs. It was now repurposed as a dining room.

The surprise in that boiled dinner was an exceptional taste that the earth’s steam gave the meal. I thought about all the hands that made the meal and the freshness of the food. I thought of the farmers who cared for the cows that grazed on salty grass by the ocean; those that planted and harvested the potatoes and the other vegetables. I thought of the kitchen staff that placed all the food and took the pots in the dark to be lowered into the steaming earth at 4 am. There was so much work, so much taste and so much history in this dish.

Sao Miguel is one of nine Portuguese islands known as the Azores, that resulted from volcanic eruptions in one of the earth’s faults in the Atlantic Ocean. The islands are located 800 kilometres from Lisbon, Portugal and 2,400 kilometres from North America. In the Azores, a moderate climate year round makes excellent growing conditions on the fertile islands. There was once a thriving orange growing business on the islands. We saw historic homes with small square structures atop the roofs where men were posted to watch from the tower for the European sailing ships to appear on the horizon. They would then alert the farmers to pick the oranges that had to be boxed perfectly and quickly to survive the long journeys back to the continent. The islands no longer export oranges but pineapples are grown on the island, raised in glass greenhouses. Small and sweet, they are still a popular fruit.

In the Azores a unique cuisine is found that blends with Portuguese influences but enjoys a separate identity. The rustic food that has been served back in time is still enjoyed and food traditions continue.

The restaurants of Furnas that continue to cook food under the earth help preserve those traditions.

To learn more about Restaurant Banhos Ferreos  http://www.restaurantbanhosferreos.com

Related former articles Bread from the Centre of the Earth March 2018 

Dining Mumu Style in Papua New Guinea

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bread from the Centre of the Earth Laugarvatn Fontana, Iceland

 

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Hot springs steam coming from Laugarvatn Fontana 

It is hard to believe that a piece of rye bread was the motivation for a stopover in Iceland. But this was no ordinary bread, it was cooked under sand in a place where the heat from the inside of the earth has pushed to the surface to create hot springs under the lake and the earth.

As we drove to the Laugarvatn Fontana spa and wellness centre we were dazzled by the winter scenery. Vast snow covered expanses of land, mountains in the distance, clutches of Icelandic horses huddled together around a bale of hay. The Laugarvtn Lake became visible and the clouds of steam from the hot springs could be seen from miles away.

There has been hot spring facilities on the site of Laugarvtn Fontana  since the 1920’s when locals would come to soak in the hot springs. In 2011 the present building and pools were built in a modern style keeping the tradition of a sod covered flat roof.

Outdoor hot pools of differing temperatures are provided for soaking and are positioned beside the lake. A buffet provides a lunch and dinner of chef prepared, locally sourced food for visitors.

The Bread Tour is given each day at 2:30 to show how bread has been cooked in this area since the early 1860’s. The recipe used by Fontana is an old family recipe cooked by the family of the owner Siguröur Rafn Hilmarsson. He told me that it was cooked on special occasions and served with trout, salmon, lamb, herring and boiled eggs. We trudged down the black sand beach on the lake until we came to three mounds of sand, each with a stone on top, placed like a cherry on a sand sundae. Steam came up from the sand. Our bread guide, started digging with a shovel until he hit the buried treasure – a plastic wrapped large pot. He pulled it out and placed a new pot of rye dough into the hole, covered it with sand and made a rock tipped mound to mark the spot.

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Mound of sand with a stone marking the spot the bread is buried to cook for 24 hours. 

This rye bread dough had cooked under in the moist heat of the earth for 24 hours. He removed the wrap and we watched the bread emerge from the pot when back in the restaurant. Dark brown, steaming and moist, the bread was cut into pieces and we sampled our slices with butter.

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Guide on the Bread Tour digs up cooked bread and prepares to place new pot of bread in the ground.

The bread was warm and sweet tasting and had an extra taste of excellence being an ancient gift baked by the earth’s powerful heat.

I spoke to a guide whose tour had stopped to take the bread tour. She told me that rye flour began to be imported to Iceland only in the mid 1800’s and this is when the locals began to cook the bread under the earth only in places near hot springs

This was a taste of bread history with a difference. Thanks to the Laugarvatn Fontana for continuing the tradition and demonstrating lava baked rye bread.

Here is the recipe used to make the bread.

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Hotspring baked rye-bread from Langarvatn Fontana

  • 5 cups rye
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 tsp.baking powder
  • 1 tsp.salt
  • 1 liter milk
  • 250 ml.water
  • Put the mixture into a bowl and mix together.
  • Grease a pot with butter, so the bread will come out easily.
  • Put the dough in the pot and wrap the pot thoroughly so the hotspring water won’t get in.
  • Dig a hole in the boiling sand and leave the pot there for 24 hours.

For those bakers with no black boiling sand:

I cut this recipe in half and put the dough mixture in a greased metal mixing bowl and  placed it in my slow cooker and added some water to create steam. I set the slow cooker for 4 hours. Here are photos of the results.

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Gallagher’s Boxty House – Dublin Preserving Potato History

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Pádraic Óg Gallagher handed me four oddly shaped potatoes and told me that these “Lumpers” were his favorites. He said it with passion. He told me that this was the variety eaten before a blight wiped out the crops and changed the history of Ireland the 1800’s.

I had come to meet Pádraic because his Dublin restaurant, The Boxty House specializes in boxty – a traditional Irish potato dish, with a history. Boxty is made by mixing mashed potato with grated potato and sometimes flour. The mixture is turned into pancakes, or formed into balls and boiled, sliced and fried. The earliest literary reference to boxty can be found in a writing by William Wilde in 1804. Patrick Gallagher, (not our Pádraic) known as Paddy the Cope wrote about boxty in a short story called Boy in Ireland.

“Boxty was looked on as a rare feast, probably because there was white flour in it. There were no shop graters to grate the potatoes on then. Every house made its own grater by ripping a canister and punching holes in it. We had great feeds of boxty on turf cutting days and on the days of scouring flannel”

Boxty was first popular in the north west of Ireland and it’s popularity spread across the country with time. Thanks to Pádraic’s creativity, this dish has evolved into modern variations that have become popular both in Ireland and in Irish restaurants in other countries.

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PETER SERVES A BOXTY PLATE 

Pádraic is a recognized expert on the potato. He has written and presented papers on the potato, it’s history in Ireland and has grown more than 100 varieties of potatoes. He shared several theories that explain how the potato came to Ireland. Some think that potatoes drifted ashore from Spanish galleons that brought the vegetable back from conquests in South America. Others speculate that the potato arrived through trade with the Spanish. Many European countries did not eat the potato and fondness for the vegetable grew with time. In the 18th century France the potato was considered to be poisonous and was thought to cause leprosy. The potato was not indigenous to North America but was brought by the Europeans when they began to colonize.

The potato was a food staple in Ireland and when a disease hit the crops in 1845/6 many people starved to death or emigrated to other countries.

The Boxty House is located in the popular Temple Bar district of Dublin, where tourists and locals visit the pubs, drink Guiness and hear traditional music. Pádraic opened his restaurant in this area of the city in 1989 when rent was cheap because this was an area of Dublin to avoid. His risk paid off and now his location is perfect. He remembers fondly eating boxty as a child. As a young man, while working in Caracas, Venezuela, he had the idea to turn the boxty pancake into a dish similar to one popular in South America. As a trained chef, he returned to Ireland, opened his restaurant and twenty-nine years later he is still making boxty history. His modern take on the traditional boxty has been hugely successful. One dish on the Gallagher Boxty House Menu is: “Our Famous Gaelic Boxty” which is described on the menu as: Tender medallions of Irish Fillet Beef in a Whiskey and Mushroom Cream Sauce wrapped in a traditional Leitrim Boxty pancake. That dish has come along way from the humble plain boxty served in the peasant’s house. But even a plain boxty pancake gives us the special taste of a vegetable that has been grown, prepared and enjoyed on tables in many countries for centuries.

On The Boxty House website is this description of their vision:

“It’s a place where there is a strong connection with the land, our culture and our history, a place where we invite people to embrace the origins of the Boxty Pancake and the home grown produce on the menus.”

For more information visit their website at http://www.boxtyhouse.ie

 

 

 

 

The Oldest Thanksgiving Desserts

 

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Well written history books describing the earliest cookery in North America always include the very important role of indigenous peoples in helping new settlers learn about the foods of the New World. Fascinating, is the marrying of the two cultures and the dishes that were turned out as a result. In the bookFood – The Gastronomic Story by Evan Jones talks about the early incorporation of corn and beans into the diets of the pilgrims. The indigenous peoples taught the settlers how to grow beans, using tall corn stalks as a pole. An early dish that was taught to the settlers was msickquatash, a corn/ bean dish eaten by the Indians, (although the use of the name Indians is currently considered to be by most, inappropriate in Canada, it was used in the writing of this book and is still widely used in the U.S.)

The first American Thanksgiving dinner is widely believed to have been in 1621, and consisted of venison, roast duck and roast goose, clams eels, wheat and corn breads, leeks, watercress, wild plums, homemade wine. Not a turkey or pumpkin pie in sight. Settlers from Britain in the New World used corn and incorporated it into their style of cooking. As time passed and the Thanksgiving feast changed, desserts such as the two following were served. Indian pudding is a very old dish and is included in many old cookbooks. It demonstrates the use of corn(in the form of corn meal, to make what was considered a sweet dessert often served on Thanksgiving.

Indian pudding is a very old dish and is included in many old cookbooks. The Fort George Bill of Fare includes a receipt that was from the Pocumtuc Housewife: A Guide to Domestic Cookery by: Several Ladies 1805.

Indian Pudding 

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  • 4 cups milk
  • 5-7 tbsp. cornmeal
  • 3-4 tbsp. molasses
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon or ginger
  • Heat 2 cups of mile to almost boiling, and add cornmeal and stir well. Add in molasses, salt and spices and mix together. Pour into a large greased baking dish and pour in remaining milk. Bake at 325 degrees for about two hours, stirring often.

 

 

 

 

 

Fast-forward two hundred years. I baked a traditional Indian Pudding using modern corn meal, molasses and a gas oven instead of an open-hearth fireplace. When I tasted the dessert, it tasted bland to my highly sugarized tastes but I topped it with some molasses and whipped cream and it tasted like fine custard with substance.

Thanksgiving Pudding 1 from the Boston Cooking School Cook Book 1917

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  • 4 cups scalded milk                 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 1 ¼ cups rolled crackers         1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar                                1 ½ cups raisins
  • 4 eggs                                            ½ grated nutmeg

Pour milk over crackers and let stand until cool; add sugar, eggs slightly beaten, nutmeg, salt, and butter; parboil raisins until soft, by cooking in boiling water to cover; seed, and add to mixture; turn into buttered pudding dish and bake slowly two and one-half hours, stirring after first half-hour to prevent raisins from settling ; serve with Brandy Sauce.

Brandy Sauce

  • ¼ cup butter                       Yolks 2 eggs
  • 1 cup powdered sugar     Whites 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons brandy       ½ cup milk or cream

Cream the butter, add sugar gradually, then brandy very slowly, well beaten yolks, and milk or cream. Cook over hot water until it thickens as a custard, pour onto beaten whites.

Fast forward 100 years. I baked a Thanksgiving pudding 1 and found it to have an interesting taste that was moist with much of the taste from the raisins and sauce. But there is an appeal to adding a simpler dessert to the Thanksgiving feast and remembering our roots and times when food was appreciated more because of the work that went into growing and preparing each dish. It was a time when convenience in the kitchen and the luxury of so many easily acquired ingredients was not a part of  people’s lives.

 

 

 

Historic Thanksgiving Menus for Prisoners and Presidents in U.S.

 

 

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State dining room at the White House 

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Dining Room in Alcatraz set for a festive occasion – Courtesy of National Park Service 

Strangely enough, the meal on the trays of the inmates at the Alcatraz prison in California and on the grand tables of the Presidents of the United States historically contained many of the same main dishes. The food traditions of Thanksgiving have remained basically the same for the past two hundred years, with regional differences, on many tables across North America. It is common to cook turkey with dressing, potatoes, root vegetables, and pumpkin pie as part of the Thanksgiving meal.

 

History.com defines the widely accepted beginnings of the celebration of Thanksgiving. “In 1621, The Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states.”

It is a strong tradition wherever you are in America to have a fine meal on Thanksgiving to show appreciation for the harvest or just to celebrate the holiday.

Alcatraz Thanksgiving Menu from Alcatraz Dining Room 

Alcatraz was a maximum security prison built on an rocky island off the coast of San Francisco. From 1934 to 1963, 250 prisoners at a time were held within this penitentiary. Alcatraz is now a National Historic Site visited by thousands of visitors a year. The dining room is now an empty space full of silent memories of the Thanksgivings shared by inmates.

The prisoners on Alcatraz ate Thanksgiving dinner on their metal trays, in the dining room, and white sheets were repurposed as table cloths. A prisoner was considered to be fortunate to have a job in the kitchen assisting the cooks and much of the kitchen staff was comprised of prisoners. The cutlery was humble and counted, lest it be stolen as a weapon and especially the knives were watched closely in both the kitchen and in the dining room.

Men being punished for their disruptive behaviour while in the prison were held in solitary confinement, for a maximum of 19 days and the restricted diet was part of the punishment. The cells were dark and meals were served three times a day through a small window and eaten in the cell. A typical dinner was served at noon that consisted of ½ bowl of soup, 1 bowl of tea and four slices of bread. However, even in “solitary”, Thanksgiving was celebrated, as illustrated by the noon dinner served on Thanksgiving Day, November 28,1946 to the prisoners in solitary confinement.

  • Peanut Soup
  • Roast Turkey with Celery Dressing
  • Candied Sweet Potatoes
  • Giblet Gravy
  • Buttered Peas
  • Cranberry Sauce
  • Fresh Grapes
  • Pumpkin Pie
  • Hot Biscuits
  • Bread, Oleo (margarine), coffee

A Thanksgiving menu from The White House Cook Book by Mrs.F.L.Gillette and Hugo Ziemann dated 1877

In the White House the presidents and their families have always dined on fine historic china, with the best linens and silverware on the table. The tables and chairs were built of the best wood and skilled chefs cooked their meals. Service was formal and servants would have brought each course separately to the table. Here is a sample menu from a Thanksgiving feast at the White House, prior to 1877.

  • Oysters on a half shell
  • Cream of Chicken Soup
  • Fried Smelts
  • Sauce Tartare
  • Roast Turkey and Cranberry Sauce
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Baked Squash and Boiled Onions
  • Parsnip Fritters
  • Olives
  • Chicken Salad
  • Venison Pastry
  • Pumpkin Pie
  • Charlotte Russe
  • Almond Ice Cream
  • Lemon Jelly
  • Hickory Nut Cake
  • Cheese
  • Fruits
  • Coffee

Both Presidents and prisoners have enjoyed their annual Thanksgiving dinner for many years and it is almost certain that each person had memories of their childhood festivities however grand or humble.

 

 

 

A Bite of School Lunch History

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An image from early 1900’s of children eating school lunch in Britain 

As long as children have attended school farther than their little legs could carry them home for a mid day meal, the school lunch has existed.

The quality and quantity of lunches has varied over the years and both creativity and lack of creativity have made those lunches memorable for most school children.

When I asked Mary, aged 88, to remember her school lunches, she thought for a while. She remembered the one room schoolhouse in Nova Scotia with the pot bellied wood stove to keep them warm in the winter.

“We carried a glass bottle of stew and there would be a pot of water warming on the stove where we could heat our lunch.” She went on to explain that she also had a memory of sandwiches.

“Ours were made from home-baked bread and I was jealous of my cousin Shirley who had sandwiches made from store bought bread.”

She remembered her green metal lunch box with the two handles on top.

Children sometimes brought ingredients for a stew from home and the teacher would put them all in a pot to simmer while teaching.

I remember my school lunches from the 1960’s of bologna or peanut butter and jam sandwiches with big clumps of hard butter. An apple, and a cookie rounded out those lunches packed in waxed paper, neatly folded on the top and put in a brown lunch bag.

In the new millennium, lunches have changed in North America, and vary from ready prepared foods to a movement towards very carefully made, nutritious meals.

Lunch boxes are covered with images of cartoon images that promote popular culture.

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School Lunch as a status symbol

Repeatedly, when I asked others about what they ate for school lunches, the topic of “what others ate,” was raised.

Kris, a friend of German background was sent to school with liverwurst and beetroot sandwiches on brown bread. She remembers being mocked by the others who had white bread, with peanut butter or cheese slices on their sandwiches.

Helen, raised in Prince Edward Island, came from a large family and remembers being teased for bringing sardine sandwiches for lunch.

“Beans” was the nickname for a little guy who simply brought a can of beans to school and ate it cold from the can.

Children have a long tradition of trading food. It seems that “The grass is always greener on the other side of the street,” applies to school lunches as well.

It has long been a childhood custom to hide food that embarrasses or throw it in the garbage.

In the book “Home Baking” by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, school lunch bread is mentioned. The cylindrical loaves baked in apple juice cans were the most frequently cooked loaves by the author’s mother.

“They were our regular sandwich bread. While other kids had peanut butter and jam sandwiches made with slices of soft “boughten” bread, we had thicker round sandwiches filled with peanut butter, lettuce, and mayonnaise, or with cheese and lettuce. The firm, moist even crumb of my mother’s bread held its own and never softened into sludge or mush. At the time, we wished we had white bread sandwiches like everyone else. Only later did we realize how lucky we were.”         

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Kids from a school on Kingston Rd. near Highland Creek (in Toronto, Ontario) eat lunch in 1908 

Lobster for Lunch? 

There was a time on the east coast of both Canada and the United States when lobster was so plentiful that it was often the cheapest meat available. The children who took lobster and crab meat in their rolls and sandwiches were considered to be “too poor” to have a sandwich made with bologna or others fillings. Often the lobsters had washed ashore, offering a different taste from our live cooked luxury lobster now.

Residential Schools in Canada

Much has been written about the food served to the children in the residential schools for our indigenous children. From 1880 to 1996, many indigenous children were required to attend residential schools. Although the care they received varied, much evidence indicates that the children were malnourished, poorly fed and some children were the subjects of dietary experiments. Many adults raised in residential schools, have reported accounts of hunger, and the poor quality and monotony of the food they were served.

The American Woman’s Cookbook- The Lunch Box chapter 

An entire chapter is devoted to The Lunch Box in the American Women’s Cookbook, first published in 1938. This cookbook demonstrates the move towards a more scientific approach to cooking. Although this chapter is not focused only on school lunches, it demonstrates what was considered to be a nutritious and interesting boxed lunch.

The opening sentence for the chapter, The Lunch Box states: “As much care is needed in selecting and preparing the food for the lunch box as for the other meals served to the family.”

Menu Suggestions include the following:

Peanut Butter , Bacon and Lettuce Sandwiches,  Cauliflowerlets,  Carrot Sticks,                 Hard Cooked Egg,  Gingerbread,  Grapes,  Milk

Oven Baked Beans, Catchup,  Boston Brown Bread Sandwiches with Cream Cheese Filling , Cole Slaw, Applesauce, Milk

In a paragraph about packing the lunch it is suggested that food should all be wrapped separately in waxed paper and if possible packed in the order that the food will be eaten. Those were examples of lunches prepared with time and care.

School Lunches in other countries

There are countries that have a tradition of including the noon meal as part of the school day. Countries such as India, England, France and Finland have a history of providing lunch programs for all school children. Since 1879, all children in France, have been fed a hot meal for lunch that includes foods designed to give them an appreciation of traditional foods and proper table manners. In Finland, school lunch for all children has been provided since 1947 and they have a formula for plating the food that states that one half of the dish must be filled with vegetables, one quarter a starch and one quarter a meat or protein replacement. In many ways feeding the children together ensures uniform nutrition for at least one meal a day, and takes away the status in foods for children, introducing them to foods they may otherwise never try.

England has had lunch programs for many years. Ruth, who was raised in England remembers as a young child, walking 10 minutes from her school to a large dining room to eat a hot lunch. She has less than enthusiastic memories of her boarding school lunches from the time she was eleven, consisting of such food as fish, potatoes, peas, and a pudding.

An Old Green Lunch Pail

In my workshop is a small green metal lunch pail with two top handles. It is full of nails and screws that date back to the 1940’s. That must have been my mother’s green lunch pail. I think of all the meals packed by the loving hands of my grandmother. Since writing these words on my blog, I plan to retrieve that lunch pail, empty the nails, wash off the dirt. The chipped paint I will leave as a reminder of the many lunches that travelled in that little box.

It will now be used as a lunch pail again.