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Archive for January, 2012

I made Apees many times while working at Conner Prairie
years ago. A batch would be baked for afternoon tea every
now and then at the Campbell House. And as I said, what
I remember most about my past dealings with these small
cakes was that, when baked, they were to be light in color,
and that they were made with sour cream. Then recently,
as you know, I whipped up a few batches of Apees for use

at the Crane House during the Big Tour. I shared the receipt
(recipe) here,
as well, and it does indeed state that the end
result is to be “slightly coloured,” but, good golly, there’s no
sour cream! What? Why not? How can that be?!

Well, let me first give you a little background to this story.

You see, back during my glorious days at CP, I didn’t select
the receipts I used. Rather, they were chosen for all cooks
by someone else, most likely many years earlier. Of course,
at the time, I had no idea what the sources were for many
of them. However, seeing as it was a living history museum
(at the time, that is), I always believed that each and every
one came from genuine, authentic, real-live historic cookbooks
that were appropriate (and highly so) for the site’s specific
time period (1836). Turns out, however, I was wrong. In fact,
I’ve since learned that some were far from being “appropriate,”
even far from being historic. And knowing what I know now,
I’m amazed, and disappointed, at what passed as “historic”
back then, especially considering all the emphasis that was
placed on the need for historical accuracy.

So, if the oddball Apees-with-sour-cream receipt wasn’t pulled
from a bona-fide historic cookbook, what was the source? Well,
it came from what I like to call a “pseudo-historic” cookbook,
the kind that shouldn’t even exist, let alone be used at any
type of historical site. Namely, The Conner Prairie Cookbook,
edited by Margaret A. Hoffman (1985 and 1990):

APEES
1 C. butter
1 1/3 C. sugar
2 eggs
2 1/3 C. flour
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1/4 tsp. salt
2/3 C. sour cream

Work the vanilla into the butter
and then add the sugar, a little
at a time, until it is very smooth.
Beat in the eggs. Mix the flour,
cream of tartar and salt and add
alternately with the sour cream.
Drop by spoonsful into baking pans.
Bake about 10 minutes in a moderate
(350 degree) oven. Cookies should
be very pale.

Forget the fact that the first thing the directions say to do is
to “work the vanilla into the butter” when there’s NO vanilla
on the ingredients list. Did you notice all the, um, “unusual”
ingredients? (including the missing vanilla) Golly, the only ones
this has in common with Eliza Leslie’s historic Apee receipt
are the flour, sugar, and butter. I mean, seriously. Two eggs?
Cream of tartar? And then there’s that real oddball that’s
been stuck in my memory all these years: the Big Dollop
of SOUR CREAM?!? What the heck?!? WHY? And where are
the caraway seeds? All of the other truly historic Apee receipts
I found have caraway seeds. Why are there none in this one?
Or, is the sour cream supposed to be a substitute for them?
But why do you need, or would you even want, to exchange
them for something else? And if you do, why trade them
for SOUR CREAM?!?

Now, I’ve tried diligently during the past three (nearly) years
to remain non-bitchy here, but there comes a time… And I’ll
write more in depth later about this topic, but for now, well,
see…dagnabit…this is what I just don’t understand:

When a person, or a group of people, decides to put together
a cookbook containing historic recipes from another time period,
why is it that, instead of selecting actual recipes from cookbooks
that were published during the chosen era, they choose to make
them up out of thin air? Why do that? How is that OK with anyone?
Such a newly-created recipe is certainly NOT historical. It’s basically
a fake! And often, as in this case, there’s little that even vaguely
approximates a genuine historical receipt. Why would anyone put
SOUR CREAM into what’s essentially a cookie? What’s the point?
I JUST DON’T GET IT.

Of course, the biggest problem is that these “pseudo-historic”
books like this, which contain recipes that are “modernized,”
“adapted for modern tastes,” and/or made up entirely, are
assumed to be, and passed off to everyone as being, historically
authentic, when most definitely THEY ARE NOT!! Not to mention
people automatically assume these books are legit because they
were written, published, and distributed by an historic museum
or other such institution. And unfortunately, there are many,
MANY others just like this one floating around. The whole thing
just drives me nuts!

Stayed tuned, dear readers, there’s alot more to come on this.
ALOT more!

____________________

NEXT: Back to the food shared with visitors at the Crane House

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As mentioned previously,
I made small cakes known
as “Apees” this past month
for use at the Israel Crane
House
during the annual
Essex County (NJ) Holiday
Historic House Tour. They
seemed to be a big hit with all the folks who came
to visit, as there were no leftovers. HUZZAH!

Here’s the receipt (recipe) I followed. It’s from the first
edition (1828) of Seventy-Five Receipts, for Pastry, Cakes,
and Sweetmeats
, by “A Lady of Philadelphia” (otherwise
known as Eliza Leslie):

APEES.
A pound of flour, sifted.
Half a pound of butter.
A glass of wine, and a tablespoonful
of rose-water, mixed.
Half a pound of powdered white sugar.
A nutmeg, grated.
A tea-spoonful of beaten cinnamon
and mace.
Three table-spoonfuls of carraway seeds.

Sift the flour into a broad pan,
and cut up the butter in it. Add
the carraways, sugar, and spice,
and pour in the liquor by degrees,
mixing it well with a knife. If the
liquor is not sufficient to wet it
thoroughly, add enough of cold
water to make it a stiff dough.
Spread some flour on your paste-
board, take out the dough, and
knead it very well with your hands.
Put it into small pieces, and knead
each separately, then put them
all together, and knead the whole
in one lump. Roll it out in a sheet
about a quarter of an inch thick.
Cut it out in round cakes, with
the edge of a tumbler, or a tin
of that size. Butter an iron pan,
and lay the cakes in it, not too
close together. Bake them a few
minutes in a moderate oven, till
they are very slightly coloured,
but not brown. If too much baked,
they will entirely lose their flavour.
Do not roll them out too thin.

Interestingly, I frequently made Apees decades ago (eeegad!)
when I worked at the then-living history museum Conner Prairie.
They were baked in the cast iron stove and served with afternoon
tea at the Campbell House. Now, at this stage of the game, I really
only remember two things about making them all those years ago:
that they should be nearly all-white when taken out of the oven;
and that they were made with sour cream.

So, then, um, uh…wait a minute…made with what?! Sour cream?!?
Nooooo, that can’t be right! Can it? Surely the…what? Why?!?

Stay tuned….

____________________

NEXT: Got sour cream?!?

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For two days this past December,
The Israel Crane House was again
included in the group of properties
that comprised the Essex County
(NJ) Historic Holiday House Tour.

Of course, just like last year, I was
busy at the hearth in the kitchen,
chatting with all the visitors, while
cooking a dish or two. A lovely array of historically-appropriate
winter-season foods graced the kitchen table, as well. As usual,
I had a grand time talking to folks as they sampled the various
dishes. HUZZAH!

And so, just what was included in this spread of historic foods?
Of course, I began planning the “menu” weeks in advance. I
didn’t want to repeat last year’s offerings entirely, but at the
same time, I didn’t want to start from scratch, either. So I kept
many of last year’s dishes, particularly those that were popular
(mincemeat pie, gingerbread cakes, pounded cheese, etc.), and
added a few new. Most were prepared/cooked during the week
preceding the Tour; only two were made on-site while visitors
came and went. A few others, such as a smoked ham, chestnut
“innards,” and candied orange peels, were store-bought. Oh,
and yes, all of it was meant to be eaten. HUZZAH!

_______________

Okay. Like last year, I made two types of small cakes (aka our
modern cookies): Apees and Gingerbread Cakes. The latter
were the “repeats” and the former the new.

First up, the Apees:

By the way, those little black specks are caraway seeds:

The receipt (recipe) came from Eliza Leslie’s book Seventy-Five
Receipts, for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats
(1828):

Ready for the oven:

Looking mighty good:

A plateful of Apees:

____________________

NEXT: Eliza Leslie’s Apees receipt

Read Full Post »

I know, I know. Believe me, I KNOW! Nearly two weeks ago,
on New Year’s Day, I wrote:

I promise to get back to writing
here more often!

Yeah, sure, you bet! dagnabit. Guess I should’ve just stuck
with “Happy New Year” and been done with it! Alas, I didn’t.
It’s pretty amazing, though: take some time off from writing,
and suddenly a couple of days becomes several weeks. Like
I said, dagnabit!

So…enough of that. Time to get moving! Okay, think I’ll start
with my historic cooking activities back in December. Naturally,

I was incredibly busy at the hearth of the Israel Crane House.
Two main events were the month’s first Sunday (Dec. 4) and
then the annual two-day Essex County (NJ) Holiday Historical
Houses Tour (Dec. 10 & 11).

First up, that Sunday. Now, if I could remember what I did….
Har! Har! Just kidding. I brewed hot spiced cider, cooked up
apples ‘n sausages, and baked a cornbread. Oh, and I hung
cut squash near the apples (from weeks earlier) on the mantel
to dry AND merrily showed off the pumpkin I’d dried at home.
Visitors were constantly coming and going the entire time, and
I had a blast chatting with them all. HUZZAH!

____________________

Spiced cider set to brew:

Cornbread’s prepped and ready:

It’s a-bakin’ on the hearth:

YUM!

Interestingly, even though my cornbread was quite tasty, and
it disappeared in no time, it also crumbled far too easily. So as
I served pieces to more and more visitors, I wracked my brain,
trying to figure out what’d gone wrong. Why was it so crumbly?
Then suddenly, it hit me! With all the hustle ‘n bustle, mixing up
the batter, talking to this ‘n that person and then another, I’d
completely forgotten to add the egg! Which means there was
nothing to bind it all together. dagnabit. Yep, even I make one
or two goofball mistakes now and then. HUZZAH! Oh, wait, no,
that’s not the word, um…what? Oh, never mind. Onward!

Apples ‘n sausage sizzling while the cornbread bakes:

The above food combination was highly popular during the 18th
and early 19th centuries, and receipts (recipes) for it abound
in cookbooks of those times:

Mmmm, the perfect food for a cold afternoon:

Preserving food for winter, such as hanging squash to dry, was
extremely important in past centuries:

And…TA-DA! My dried pumpkin:

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Happy New Year! May it be a great one for all.
For my part, I promise to get back to writing
here more often!

And now, a few fireworks courtesy of the folks
at Prospect Park here in Brooklyn:

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