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Archive for August, 2012

This past Sunday, I happily participated in my first-ever Battle
of Brooklyn Commemoration and Re-enactment at Brooklyn’s

Green-wood Cemetery. And I had an absolutely awesome time!
HUZZAH!

It was a fantastic event all-around. We had A-plus excellent
weather, for starters. Then there were troops from New York
(including Long Island) and New Jersey, speechifying by men
portraying General George Washington and Benjamin Franklin,
tactical maneuvers with marching soldiers of both sides, gun
fire and those-oh-so-ear-shattering cannon blasts, officers
on horseback who overtook the rebel colonials from behind,
fifes and drums, and so much more.

While all the above was going on, I was busy at the fire pit
dealing with the day’s menu of fish and Indian meal bread.
Both were placed on planks, then set before the fire. They
turned out beautifully! My fish was a Sea Bass (cleaned and

gutted in advance by yours truly, natch!) that was stuffed
with forcemeat made of bread crumbs, salt pork, an egg,
parsley, marjoram, butter, a bit of wine, and salt ‘n pepper.

I had a marvelous time cooking, observing the proceedings,
seeing old friends and making new, and chatting with all
the visitors. It was SUCH great fun that I can hardly wait
to do it all again next year! HUZZAH!

Of course, finding moments to take photos of the goings-on
were few and far between. I managed to get a few, however!

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I’d like to give a Big Shout Out and a Loud HUZZAH! to Paul Gasparo
who dug my fire pit AND loaned me his portable table AND brought
a bag of remnant hardwood sticks from his local lumber yard for me
to use as tinder. I would’ve been up the ol’ proverbial creek without
a paddle if he’d not provided his assistance.
A Big Thanks to Pat Roos,
as well, for her help with clean-up. Both are members of the Huntington
Militia (LI)
. All was greatly appreciated!
HUZZAH!

Pat and Paul during the Baking Workshop portions of Deb Peterson’s
Historic Foodways Symposium at Ft. Lee (NJ):

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This past weekend I trekked up to Ft. Lee to attend another
Historic Foodways Symposium sponsored by Deb Peterson.
As usual, it was an absolutely fantastic two days of lectures
and hands-on cooking. The focus of the program was “Sugar,
Spice, Isinglass & Cakes, Great & Small.”

On Saturday, attendees heard information-packed lectures
from Deb, Mercy Ingraham, Clarissa Dillon, and Cate Crown.
Then Sunday was the day for cooking out at the site’s bake
oven and fire pit. Using receipts (recipes) from various historic
cookbooks, we worked on numerous dishes that were either
baked in the oven or boiled over the fire. Everyone was able
to try their hand at any dish and to move around to see what
was being done for each. And so, under Cate’s watchful eyes,
participants worked on small Pound Cakes, Dutch Cakes, and
apple and “Ananas, or Pine-Apple” tarts. Puddings were King
at Clarissa’s station, including Suet, Wine, and Chocolate. She
supervised the making of “A French flummery,” as well. Spices
were ground to make “Kitchen Pepper” at Mercy’s table. And
Deb instructed folks on making batches of two sugary treats,
“Spanish Nut” (cacao beans) and lemon ‘n orange “Bomboons.”

Of course, when all was said and done and baked and boiled,
the consuming began. And believe me, it took no time for each
and every dish to disappear! In fact, as you’ll see below, I have
far more photos of the preparations then the finished cakes and
puddings. Ahh, well, maybe next time!
(Which, by the way, we all hope there IS a next time, at some
point, in one form or another. Pleeeeeeeease, Dearest Deb!)

Nevertheless, I think it’s safe to say, on behalf of all those who
participated, that an educational, awesome, and simply glorious
time was had by all. HUZZAH!

_________________________

The oven is fired up:

Cate Crown, Baker Extraordinaire:

Simply awesome!

Three bakers, sharing baking tips…or perhaps a bit of gossip?!
(Paul Gasparo, Cate, and Neal sorry-I-didn’t-get-his-surname):

Deb Peterson, Official Symposium Wizard:

Mixing up the tart crust:

Patting it down in pie pans:

Apples for one of three tarts:

Done and ready for baking:

Slicing up ananas or pine-apples for the other two tarts:

Cooking ’em down (the apples were not cooked):

Filling the other tart shells:

FIRE!

WOW!

Love this! HUZZAH!

John Muller, Director Extraordinaire of Historic Fort Lee:

The suet pudding, mixed and ready to go:

Clarissa Dillon shares the finer points of puddings, boiled:

Again, the Suet Pud:

Which was placed on the pudding cloth:

And wrapped:

Then tied:

Ready to go:

And into the pot:

Look! The oven is ready. HUZZAH! How do we know?

Because the interior bricks are now white, whereas they
started out covered in black soot:

Deb discusses the making of “Bomboons”:

TA-DA! It’s a sugar loaf!

And yes, the proper term is loaf, NOT cone:

Breaking up and pounding out the sugar:

Roasting the “Spanish Nuts” (aka cacao beans):

The beans, down to the nib stage, and then pounded:

Cooking a mixture of pounded nibs and sugar:

Rolling it out on a buttered plate. Better do so quickly,
though, before it all hardens!:

Chocolate Bomboons:

Mercy’s spices:

Nutmegs and mace:

Rolling out the dough for the little cakes (which are essentially
what we now call cookies):

The oven is at the desired temperature (about 450 degrees).
Time to clear out all the coals and ashes:

Once cleared, the floor is swabbed with a damp cloth, and
the door is put in place to hold in the heat until all dishes
can go in together:

The Pound Cake batter had to be beaten for 1 1/2 hours.
Thankfully, no one person wore out an arm as everyone
took a turn:

Currants were added to the batter, which was then scooped
into little tins:

Citron was minced for the Chocolate Pudding:

Into the mixture it goes:

And the entire batter is poured into the pudding cloth:

And another pud for the pot:

Finally, all the dishes to be baked in the brick oven were
prepared, and they started to go in:

Paul slides a tart deep into the oven:

TA-DA! The baked Apple Tart:

Baked Wine Pudding:

A yummy threesome consisting of a Pound Cake, the Wine Pud,
and a Pine-Apple Tart:

The boiled Chocolate Pudding:

And lastly, the marvelous boiled Suet Pudding:

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NOTE: If anyone would like the receipts we used, just let me know.

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To continue with our open hearth vs cast iron cook stove
thread, here are the second set of the 12 reasons I think
the hearth is the best option. Not to mention, it’s my
personal preference, as well. HUZZAH!

The other reasons I think a hearth is better are:

7.) See the reflector oven below? Well, if you traded your
open hearth for one of them fancy cast iron cook stoves,
you can kiss it goodbye. In fact, you can say farewell

to the roasting of any and all meats entirely. Sure,
you can put it in the stove’s oven, but that merely
BAKES it. Dries it out. Yes, eventually various stove
models were developed to accommodate similar tin
ovens, but who wants to wait ’til then to enjoy a bit
o’ juicy ‘n delicious roast beef?! Or a pair of roasted
squab? (Not to mention, will you be able to afford
yet another new stove?! And then learn its quirks?!)

8.) The issue of, oddly enough, safety. With an open
hearth, you SEE the fire. It’s right there. It’s huge. It’s
blazing. You SEE the piles of hot coals and/or the pots
set on them, and thus you know where NOT to walk.
Acquire a cook stove, and although it’s contained in
that little box, you can’t SEE the fire. You can’t always
tell if it’s on or not (hmmm, sounds like those modern
ceramic tops!). Sure, it looks harmless, but lay something
on top or lean against it absentmindedly and…yowza!

9.) Pesky installation issues: You couldn’t just visit your
local mercantile, buy a cook stove, bring it home, put it
in your kitchen, and start it up. No. Your new cast iron
monster requires a chimney, just as your fireplace did.
But you can’t just set it in the fireplace and be done
with it. No, again! You’d also have to buy and install
miles and miles and MILES of stove pipe, which’d have
to go from the stove over to and up your pre-existing
fireplace chimney; OR over and into the wall above it,
then up that same chimney; OR into that wall, up and
out an additional flue that you’ve hollowed out of, well,
um, somewhere! Nevertheless, hope you’re good with
carpentry and masonry. And engineering. And…. Oh,
by the way, when a cook stove was installed, more
than likely, your fireplace was rendered inoperable.
Sorry ’bout that!

10.) I’ve heard MANY times that a “benefit” of having
a stove is that the menfolk of a household no longer
needed to hang around as much. You see, supposedly,
less chopped ‘n split firewood is required for a stove
as for a fireplace. HA! Let’s just put an end to that
myth right now! Not only were the men (and anyone
handy with an ax) needed, they were needed MORE.
The reason is simple: pretty much any size log could
be burned in a fireplace (even those massive holiday
“Yule Logs”), but that is NOT the case with a cast iron

cook stove. In fact, the wood has to be chopped up
and split into smaller pieces, so it’ll fit into a stove’s
enclosed, limited-space firebox. Of course, the size
of individual pieces depended somewhat on your
stove’s specific dimensions, just as it did with the
size of your hearth, but overall, no matter how big
or small it was, any and all firewood had to be cut
to fit.

A perfect example of using firewood that was not
the best size could be seen awhile back on the PBS
documentary wherein the staff of Cooks Illustrated
re-created an entire meal using adapted receipts
from Fanny Farmer’s cookbook.* I had to chuckle
repeatedly as the cooks struggled with the fire
in the cook stove. They kept trying to stuff full-
sized-but-split logs into its firebox! Your pieces
were too big, people! Of course, using such big
chunks of wood seriously affected the cooks’
ability to regulate the flames and therefore, the
cooking temperatures. Ahh, if only they’d used
smaller, more appropriately-sized pieces! I doubt,
however, that anyone involved with the production
had bothered to hone his or her wood chopping
and splitting skills. Oh well….

11.) In conjunction with this provision that the wood
used in a cast iron cook stove must be smaller than
that for a fireplace: it also means the wood’s gonna
burn faster, and so it has to be replaced more often.
You’re constantly having to feed the fire. Which takes
time away from any cooking. If you wait too long to
add more wood, or just haven’t gotten to it, and then,
oh dear, your fire goes out…! Ahh well, maybe your
family and guests weren’t all that hungry, anyway?!

Let’s pause here briefly, and take a look at what
the author of The Housekeeper’s Book (1837) says
about these very issues:

…I am sure it is not possible [sic]
to have cooking in perfection,
without a proper degree of heat,
and, as far as my observation
has gone, meat cannot be well
roasted unless it be before
a good fire.

She then continues:

A cook has many trials of her
temper, but none so difficult
to bear as the annoyance
of a bad fire; for with a bad
fire she is never able to cook
her dinner well, however much
she may fret herself in the endeavour;

12.) The home fire: as many commentators of the 1800s
lamented, say, “So long” to family values when you
trade your open hearth for a cook stove. Yep, there’ll
be no more gathering of family and friends ’round
the hearth. No more sittin’ before a blazing fire,
with folks telling stories, pluckin’ tunes on a fiddle,
daughters practicing their sewing, and sons their
newly-acquired whittling skills. Yep, just whisper,
“It’s been nice knowing you” to that welcoming
ambiance of a roaring fire, with its flickering flames
dancing on the floor and walls. Yes, indeedie, it’s
all about to disappear (and did). Unfortunately,
snuggling up to a hot coal-black metal box just
wasn’t the same as gatherin’ round the hearth.
Alas, it was the end of the world as the common
woman (and man) of the 19th century had known it.

Finally, here’s another passage I found that comments
on a later “past vs the future” debate. It’s from Coon
Tree
, by E.B. White (1956!). Compare his comments
on the “progress” of his time with that in the piece
I shared above. Clearly, the more things change,
the more they remain the same:

We have two stoves in our kitchen
here in Maine—a big black iron stove
that burns wood and a small white
electric stove that draws its strength
from the Bangor Hydro-Electric Company.
We use both. One represents the past,
the other represents the future. If we
had to give up one in favor of the other
and cook on just one stove, there isn’t
the slightest question in anybody’s mind
in my household which is the one we’d
keep. It would be the big black Home
Crawford 8-20, made by Walker & Pratt,
with its woodbox that has to be filled
with wood, its water tank that has to
be replenished with water, its ashpan
that has to be emptied of ashes, its
flue pipe that has to be renewed when
it gets rusty, its grates that need freeing
when they get clogged, and all its other
foibles and deficiencies. We would choose
this stove because of the quality of its
heat, the scope of its talents, the warmth
of its nature (the place where you dry
the sneakers, the place where the small
dog crawls underneath to take the chill
off, the companionable sound it gives
forth on cool nights in fall and on zero
mornings in winter). The electric stove
is useful in its own way, and makes a
good complementary unit, but it is as
cold and aseptic as a doctor’s examining
table, and I can’t imagine our kitchen
if it were the core of our activity.

There you have it. If I lived back in say, 1836, I’d definitely
prefer an open hearth over a cast iron cook stove. But what
about you? Which would YOU choose? And why?

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*Fannie Farmer revised and published The Boston Cooking
School Cookbook
in 1896.

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