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Archive for May, 2009

Mystery-Kitty

Here’s one of my favorite photos of a stray cat that, Photo02_0
for more than a year, has taken up residence in my
back yard. Prior to this past year, however, he/she
(am still not sure) made fairly regular visits (usually at meal
time), but to the front. Now, he/she seems content
to live in the back.

I call him/her Mystery-Kitty, because of his/her unknown
beginnings and for the occasional multi-day
disappearances….for his/her
apparent need for human
attention and the times
of total disinterest…and
for the fact that he/she will rub up against your leg, give you a sweet
nose-kiss, follow you from here to there, and then the next minute,
runs to hide and/or swipes at you with claws fully drawn. I have,
albeit rarely, heard him/her purr.
Rarely.
It would seem that he/she has had a tough life. The left ear tip has been
sliced off, and there’s a scar on that same side of his sweet little face.

In any event, it’s not a bad match, he/she and I, for now. And since
summer and lovely outdoor-days are upon us, I thought I’d stray
from my normal posting topics and share a look-see at M-K.

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I will be conducting my Fireside Feasts series of historic cooking classes
again this summer out at the Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum. They will be held
on four specific Thursdays during July and August. We’ll prepare, cook, and eat
a variety of dishes that would’ve been typical in the early 1800s. And yes, it’s
participatory! Visitors will help with all preparations. In the past, we’ve made
everything from simple cornbread and jonny cakes to boiled and baked puddings
to fish on a plank and oyster loaves. This summer’s fare will be just as varied.
Come join the fun!

2009 FIRESIDE FEASTSPhoto19_18A
5 to 7 PM
********************
July 9
July 23
August 13
August 27

********************

The Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum is located at 5816 Clarendon Road, at the intersection
of Ralph Avenue, in Brooklyn.

There are numerous ways to get there. I find the fastest to be:
*Take the 3 train to Sutter Ave/Rutland Road
*Exit the station at the door to the LEFT
of the tollbooth.
*Go down the stairs…just a few hundred feet away is the bus stop
for the B47.
*Take the B47 to the corner of Ralph Ave. & Clarendon Rd.
*The Museum is right across the street, with the entrance down
to your right.

For more info, go to http://www.wyckoffassociation.org.
Or call (718) 629-5400.

See you there!

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Photo20_19AThis photo was taken at the Confectionery
class I recently attended at Bolton Mansion,
in Levittown, PA, which was led by Susan
McLellan Plaisted of Heart to Hearth Cookery.
The white porcelain pot contains Syllabub,
or “silly bubbles,” a common 18th Century
beverage. And it’s filled with just that,
nothing but bubbles. Bubbles that were
created when air was blown into a mixture
of cream and wine that’s been infused with
lemon juice and rosemary.

The little ceramic star-shaped “patty pans”
in the foreground contain caraway seeds.
These tiny slivers of intense flavor await their
multiple coatings of sugar, thus becoming confits.

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During one session of 2008’s Fireside Feasts, we made Oyster Loaves.
I used the receipt in Hannah Glasse’s First Catch Your Hare┬┐ The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1747). However, similar versions can be found in several other historic cookbooks.

Now, you may be wondering, “Just what are Oyster Loaves?” Well, it’s a dish
in which cooked oysters are served inside hollowed-out French Rolls. Sounds
easy enough, particularly the “cook the oysters in their own liquor” part. The
more difficult portion was finding French Rolls. I didn’t find any, so I made
my own. As I’ve previously mentioned, there are many historic receipts
for French Bread, but I chose Hannah Glasse’s:

TO MAKE FRENCH BREAD

Take three Quarts of Water and one of Milk, in Winter
scalding hot, in Summer a little more than Milk warm,
season it well with Salt, then take a Pint and half of good
Ale yeast not bitter, lay it in a Gallon of Water the Night
before, pour it off the Water, stir in your Yeast into the Milk
and Water, then with your Hand break in a little more than
a Quarter of a Pound of Butter, work it well till it is dissolved,
then beat up two Eggs in a Bason, and stir them in, have
about a Peck and half of Flour, mix it with your Liquor,
in Winter make your Dough pretty stiff, in Summer more
slack; so that you may use a little more or less of Flour,
according to the Stiffness of your Dough, mix it well,
but the less you work it the better, make it into Roles,
and have a very quick Oven, but not to burn, when they
have lain about a quarter of an Hour, turn them on the
other Side, let them lie about a quarter longer, take them
out and rasp them, stir your Liquor into the Flour as you
do for a Pye Crust; after your Dough is made cover it
with a Cloth, and let it lie to rise while the Oven is heating.

Oyster Loaves

Oyster Loaves

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Just for fun, I started looking for other “white bread” receipts in the other
historic cookbooks (reprints/facsimiles, all) that I have. Most, as I’ve said,
are of British origin. I’m quite surprised to discover (thusfar, at least) that
I’ve found exactly…none. Nada. Zippo. I will continue my quest, of course,
but all I’ve found are receipts for “French” bread (and/or rolls). Of course,
this lack is probably because most every cook knew how to make your
basic white loaf, and so instructions weren’t needed. But, still….

In addition, I have Marie Kimball’s version of Martha Washington’s book.*
Apparently, she didn’t deem it necessary to even include the one receipt
we’ve previously noted (“To Make White Bread”). In fact, she doesn’t
include any of her breads! A travesty, in my opinion.

Which brings up another pet peeve of mine: If you’re going to transcribe
or reprint a centuries-old cookbook, please, PLEASE, include every item
in the original. Don’t just pick and choose. Include them as they were
originally written, as well. Ms. Kimball adapted every receipt, rewriting
them in the modern “1/2 cup this” and “3 tablespoons that” jargon.
Sacre Bleu! Drives me nuts.

It’s fine to include that information, but please also offer the receipt
as it was initially written. THAT’S what we food historians want to see,
and from what we hearth cooks want to work. Or at least, it’s what
this historian and hearth cook wants.

Well, that’s my soapbox rant for today!

*****************************
* The Martha Washington Cook Book by Marie Kimball, NYC 1940.
The “better” version: Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats transcribed by Karen Hess, NYC, 1981

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The historic bread receipts that I’ve shared with you thusfar have all been
for “white bread.” So I thought now I’d offer one or two for French Bread,
so you can see the differences between them. Remember, adding
ingredients such as eggs or milk, makes for a more enriched, and
hence, more French, bread. In addition, it’s important to note
that these next receipts are from cookbooks that were originally
published in England (including Martha Washington’s), and so they
have a decidely British bent. Therefore, what those living in the British
Isles and colonies thought of as “French Bread” may not necessarily
have been what the French actually ate. The English loved their ale,
as well, and so bread bakers almost always used brewer’s yeast
for leavening, whereas the wine-drinking French most likely
used sourdough.

Here, from Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery, as transcribed
by Karen Hess:

TO MAKE FRENCH BREAD

Take a gallon of flowre & put to it a little salt,
a pinte of ale yeast, a quart of new milke heated,
but not too hot. poure these into the flowre, & mix
them with one hand, you must not knead it at all.
then heat a woollen cloth & poure your paste on it,
flower the cloth, & lap it up. then make it into a dosin
of loves & set them on a peele, flowred, & lay a warm
wollen cloth on them. your oven must be allmoste hot
when you mix your bread. heat your oven pritty hot,
& chip your bread when it comes out.

More to come.

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As part of the (modern) bread baking class that I took this past week, I was
able to make bread using an historic receipt. HUZZAH! The class has been
beneficial in providing me with multiple opportunities to practice and strengthen
my bread baking skills. I will certainly put all that I learned to good historical
use! It was great fun, too, to make a bread from a centuries-old receipt.

I chose “To Make White Bread” from Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery,
as transcribed by the late noted food historian Karen Hess. My bread baking
instructor, Chef Faith Drobbin, at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE),
helped me not only understand the receipt itself, but also to adapt Hess’
interpretation of it.

Here, again, is Martha’s receipt:

To Make White Bread

Take 3 quarters of a peck of fine flower, & strow salt
in as much as will season it. then heat as much milke
as will season it luke warme, & hould it high when you
poure it on to make it light. & mingle with your milke
4 or 5 spoonfulls of good yeast. worke your paste well,
& then let it ly a rising by the fire. your oven will be
hoted in an houre & halfe; then shut up a quarter
of an houre, in which space make up your loaves
& then set them in the oven. an houre & halfe
will bake them.

Now, Hess’ interpretation of the above is that, “based on the household alescan0020
measure,” three quarters of a peck of flour equals 24 cups.
That, in turn, is to be mixed
with 8 or 9 cups of liquid,
depending on whether
a stiff or a somewhat
softer dough is desired.

Well, 24 cups of flour! yikes
That’s 6 pounds! I sure
didn’t want to buy that
much, nor spend hours
on end making all those
loaves. Besides, it’d be
a bit impractical. So we
made it more manageable
and cut the amounts
by one sixth, meaning 4 cups of flour (1 pound) and 1 1/2 cups of liquid.

The receipt says to use all milk; I chose to split it, with half water and half milk
(that’s 3/4 cup each). In order to better approximate bread of earlier centuries,
particularly in England, I would’ve preferred to use half water and half ale, but,
I didn’t have any. Besides, Martha does specify milk. It makes for an enriched
bread and more like that of the French.

As for the yeast, we paid heed to Hess’ compliant that most people use too
much when attempting this bread. Only 1 teaspoon (of modern dry) was used.
The same for the amount of salt (1 teaspoon).

In short, this is what I did:
I added 1 teaspoon dry yeast to 3/4 cup warm (100 degrees) water, and
let it set. Then I added the 3/4 cup warm (room temperature, not heated) milk.

In a separate bowl, I put 4 cups of unbleached white flour (I used Hodgon’s Mill,
as it’s ALL flour and has NO additives of any kind) with 1 teaspoon salt and
stirred well.

Then I poured the liquid into the flour, and mixed well. The dough was
laid out onto a floured surface and kneaded ’til it was soft and sprung
back when poked; about 5 to 8 minutes.

Next, I put the dough into an oiled bowl (melted butter would’ve been
used, but in the interest of time, I used vegetable oil), rolled it around
so it was lightly oiled all over, covered it with a towel, and set it aside
in a warm spot to rise until double.

And I let it rise overnight. As in 6 or 7 hours or so. Doing this, will allow
that small amount of yeast to do its work. In addition, in earlier centuries,
when a brick bake oven was used, the bread (along with any pies, cakes,
cookies) was most likely made the day before firing up the oven. So, I waited.

The next morning, I took out the risen dough, shaped it into a round loaf,
and then put it back in the bowl for the second rise, again, for several hours.

Finally, I put it on a cornmeal dusted pizza stone, with a pan of water below
(this approximates the humidity of a bake oven), and put it into a 450 oven.
I checked it after about a half hour, found it was not quite done, and put
it back for another 15-20 minutes. And then, Viola! I had a lovely
little loaf of Martha Washington’s White Bread!

I want to try it again, using half water and half ale, to see if there’s any
difference in taste. In Martha’s time, yeast from the brewing of beer
would’ve been used. Or, maybe I’ll try the milk and the ale. I’d also like
to try baking it without water underneath. The result should be a softer
crust, which is what the English preferred; hard crusts were very French.

Finally, maybe I’ll do as Ms. Hess suggests, and add whole wheat flour and
some wheat germ to the white, in order to better mimic the flour of earlier
centuries. Although, this receipt IS for “White Bread,” and that is just what
everyone wanted to eat. Even in Gervase Markham’s Manchets receipt (posted
on 5/21;and manchets were just that, white), he calls for “the whitest flour…
boulted through the finest boulting cloth.” Having been to several working
historic grist mills, I know it is possible.

So there you have it, my adventure in baking historic bread. Feel free
to try it. Let me know how it turns out.

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