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Archive for November, 2012

Well, actually it was called “Spoon-a-Thon,” but since soups of all
kinds were the stars of the day, it was really a “Soup-a-thon.” Or
at least, that’s what I called it!

The event was a fund-raiser for the Montclair
Historical Society (MHS)
, which oversees four
properties, including the Israel Crane House,
where it was held. Several local restaurants
participated by offering tastings of their best
seasonal soups. Other activities took place
throughout the day, as well, including story
telling, House tours, and meeting MHS’ new
resident chickens.

Of course, as part of this Big Event, I was inside the Crane House,
cooking up some tasty soup of my own over the open fire. I made
“A Turnip Soop,” per Hannah Glasse’s instructions in her cookbook
The Art of Cookery Made Plain & Easy (1747):

A Turnip Soop.
Take a Gallon of Water, and a Bunch
of Turnips, pare them, save three or
four out, put the rest into the Water,
with half an Ounce of whole Pepper,
an Onion stuck with Cloves, a Blade
of Mace, and half a Nutmeg bruised,
a little Bundle of Sweet Herbs, a large
Crust of Bread; let these boil an Hour
pretty fast, then strain it through a Sieve,
squeezing the Turnips through, wash
and cut a Bunch of Salary very small,
set it on in the Liquor on the Fire, cover
it close, and let it stew. In the mean
time cut the Turnips you saved into
Dice, and two or three small Carrots
clear scraped, and cut in little pieces;
put half these Turnips and Carrots into
the Pot with the Salary, and the other
half fry brown with fresh Butter. You
must flour them first, and two or three
Onions peeled, and cut in thin Slices,
and fry’d brown; then put them all into
the Soop, with an Ounce of Vermicella.
Let your Soop boil softly till the Salary
is quite tender, and your Soop good.
Season it with Salt to your Palate.

I made a batch at home for display purposes, and then I worked
on another throughout the course of the day. It takes several
hours to prepare and cook, as it’s not exactly a “simple” soup.
In fact, few historic soups are. Most are comprised of not only
multiple ingredients, but they also require numerous steps…cook
this, strain that, push this through a sieve, fry these, chop those,
and so on. It’s far more complicated than your basic modern-day
routine of “open, pour into a pan, heat, and eat!”

I chose this soup because it calls for assorted root vegetables
that would have been available in the fall. At the same time, it
didn’t require a meat base, as so many others of the 18th and

early 19th centuries do. It provided me with a challenge, too, one
that I was eager to tackle: I needed “an ounce of Vermicella.” Yep,
I had to make some pasta. What fun!

Fortunately, there’s a receipt for Vermicelli in the same edition (1747)
of Glasse’s The Art of Cookery:

To make Vermicella.
Mix Yolks of Eggs and Flower together
into a pretty stiff Paste, so as you can
work it up cleverly, then roll it as thin
as it is possible to roll the Paste. Let
it dry in the Sun; and when it is quite
dry, with a very sharp Knife cut it as
thin as possible, and keep it in a dry
Place, it will run up like little Worms,
as Vermicella does; though the best
way is to run it through a coarse Sieve,
whilst the Paste is soft. If you want some
to be made in haste, dry it by the Fire,
and cut it small. It will dry by the Fire
in a quarter of an Hour. This far exceeds
what comes from abroad being fresher.

I just love that last line, don’t you? Making your own is “fresher” and
“far exceeds” any from some foreign land. It sounds oh, so 2012-ish,
doesn’t it?! But I digress. Back to the soup…

Now, I’ve made my own pasta many times, yes? HA! Yeah, NO! Well,
actually, I have made noodles a few times, but that was years ago.
Of course, I’ve often seen pasta of all kinds being made on various
and sundry TV cooking shows (“Lidia’s [Bastianich] Italy in America”
on PBS springs to mind). In any event, I took Glasse’s receipt and
dove in. I made a small amount first, with a handful or two of flour

and just one egg yolk. The end product was just fine, but, boy, was
it a struggle. The dough was rather dry at first, making it difficult to
work with. I eventually got the consistency I wanted, though, and
I rolled it and cut out the pasta. Then I decided to make another
batch, only this time, I used two egg yolks, instead of just one. Well,
it wasn’t any easier! In the end, all was well and good as before, but
golly, what was the problem? Was I doing something wrong? Or was
that how it’s supposed to be?

Thing is, I remembered that those TV-show cooks used the whole
egg, whereas Glasse’s receipt calls for the yolks ONLY. It was rather
puzzling. So finally, I went online to see just what others had done.
And guess what? No one, not a single person, used ONLY the yolks.
Nope, they all used the ENTIRE egg, the yolk AND the white. It was
an interesting discovery, that’s for sure. Ahh, well, perhaps Glasse’s
receipt is truly unique! Or maybe it’s how “it was done” in the 18th
century? Or perhaps, it’s just another possible method, then and
now. Or something!

Enough of that. Here are the few photos I was able to take during
the recent “Soup-” um, “Soop” er, I mean, “Spoon-a-Thon.”

Oh, and the plated soup shown first is what I made in advance.
And yes, I ate a bowl of it. I’m not a big fan of turnips, but this
was mighty good! HUZZAH!

_______________________________________

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Yep. That’s right. All hail the woman who’s largely responsible
for “inventing” our Thanksgiving holiday: Sarah Josepha Hale!
HUZZAH!

During the mid-19th century, Hale lobbied tirelessly for a national
day of thanksgiving. At the time, it was already observed somewhat
regularly in New England, but she thought it should be nation-wide.
As the first-ever female editor of Ladies’ Magazine and later, Godey’s
Lady’s Book
, Hale used her position to publish numerous editorials
promoting the idea. The New Hampshire native also wrote letters
to any and every politician she could find, including then-President
Abraham Lincoln. Her campaign finally proved successful when he
declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. However, it was
many years before the entire country embraced it. Nevertheless,
Thanksgiving has become one of America’s beloved celebrations.
And we owe it all to Hale’s incessant efforts. It’s amazing what
one person (and a woman, at that) can do!

Incidentally, Hale was quite a prolific writer. She penned a variety
of works, including cookbooks (such as The Good Housekeeper,
which was first published in 1839), numerous novels (she even
described a Thanksgiving dinner in one), and the nursery rhyme
“Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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Before we’re too far removed from our recent election, I’d like
to share a couple of author’s comments about Election Cake,
that uniquely-American celebratory treat.

First, the late food historian Karen Hess has this to say in her
introduction to the facsimile of the second edition of American
Cookery
(by Amelia Simmons; Albany, NY; 1796):

A word on her famous ‘Election Cake,’ one
of many recipes which did not appear until
the Albany edition, so that it cannot be
identified specifically with Hartford, which
it often is. It is simply one of the ‘Great
Cakes’ of English culinary tradition, to be
made for festival occasions, huge loaves
of highly enriched yeasted bread, flavored
with sugar, spices, and lovely rosewater or
spirits of some kind, as well as raisins
or the like, recipes for which abounded
in cookbooks of the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries. Certainly in 1796,
Election Day would have been a major
festival, a cause for celebration.

Mary Tolford Wilson also makes note of these special cakes in her
opening essay to the facsimile of the first edition of Simmons’
American Cookery (published in Hartford, CT; 1796):

It [the second edition] was an extensively
revised and considerably augmented work.
There were new recipes such as ‘Election
Cake’ (beginning with thirty quarts of flour),
‘Independence Cake,’ and ‘Federal Pan Cake,’
recording by their names America’s awareness
of its new status as a nation.

And so, one final HUZZAH for Election Cake!

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It’s here! Today is the Big Election. So to celebrate this day while
at The Israel Crane House this past Sunday, I made the perfect
dish: an Election Cake. HUZZAH!

I used the following receipt (recipe) from Mrs. Child’s The American
Frugal Housewife
(12th edition, 1833; originally published 1832):

ELECTION CAKE.
Old-fashioned election cake is made
of four pounds of flour; three quarters
of a pound of butter; four eggs; one
pound of sugar; one pound of currants,
or raisins if you choose; half a pint of
good yeast; wet it with milk as soft as
it can be and be moulded on a board.
Set to rise over night in winter; in warm
weather, three hours is usually enough
for it to rise. A loaf, the size of common
flour bread, should bake three quarters
of an hour.

I find it interesting (and a bit humorous!) that Mrs. Child refers
to this Cake as “old-fashioned,” despite the fact that, at the time,
such cakes had been around less than 50 years! Yep, Election
Cakes are strictly an American “invention,” just as is our whole
electoral process. And thus, you’ll not find a single receipt for it
in earlier cookbooks. In fact, there’s only one other, prior to the
publication of American Frugal, and it’s in American Cookery (1796),
by Amelia Simmons. As you’ll see below, Simmons’ receipt is similar
and yet different. Of course, most notable is the vast quantities
of each ingredient, even though they’re basically the same (at
least in part). But what I found intriguing was the inclusion of
not only a few spices, but also wine AND brandy. Hmmmm, eat
several slices of Simmons’ Cake and perhaps be easily persuaded
to change your vote?!

At the same time, an Election Cake really isn’t all that different
from many other cakes, particularly those that include raisins
and/or currants. It’s probably because, when someone (who
was most likely a woman) had the brilliant idea to bake a cake
for an upcoming election, she didn’t make up an entirely new
receipt; she merely selected an already-familiar one. In a way,
it’s similar to what the early settlers in this country did; they
took an unknown New World ingredient (such as corn), mixed
it with an Old World receipt, and thus created a “new” dish.
In this case, an oft-used receipt (possibly one for a good
ol’ British plumb cake) was selected, re-named, and given
a new function and new status.

Back to Amelia Simmons’ receipt:

Election Cake.
Thirty quarts flour, 10 pound butter,
14 pound sugar, 12 pound raisins,
3 doz eggs, one pint wine, one quart
brandy, 4 ounces cinnamon, 4 ounces
fine colander seed, 3 ounces ground
allspice; wet the flour with milk to
the consistence of bread over night,
adding one quart yeast; the next
morning work the butter and sugar
together for half an hour, which will
render the cake much lighter and
whiter; when it has rise light work
in every other ingredient except
the plumbs, which work in when
going into the oven.

Now you see why I chose to use Child’s receipt! It was, indeed,
a bit simpler, at least ingredient-wise. I also made it even easier
(I think!) by quartering the proportions (starting with just one
pound of flour and so on). Working with yeast was challenging,
as most of the cakes I’ve made using historical receipts haven’t
called for it. I probably should’ve let it rise longer. Or started it
at home and finished it at Crane’s. Or something. The problem
with that is, I didn’t know for sure I’d even be going there, due
to Hurricane Sandy issues, until Saturday. However, the good
news is, it didn’t really seem to matter, as the final product
turned out well and was quite tasty! Visitors greatly enjoyed
it, as did staff members. Some even had several slices! So,
by and large, I’d say it was a delicious success. HUZZAH!

As usual, I wasn’t able to get many photos, but here are a few:

While the cake was rising and then later baking, I also cut up
and strung a few apples to hang on the mantel for drying:

Overall, it was a fantastic day! HUZZAH!

________________________________________

ADDENDUM: I failed to note above that the above Election Cake receipt
is from the second edition of Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery, which
was published in Albany, NY, in 1796. This receipt was NOT in her first
edition, which was published in Hartford, CT, also in 1796. My apologies!

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