Sunday, January 1, 2012

Peanut Meatose

Last year (an easy thing to say in January!), I visited the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento (  In their museum store I discovered and purchased this book:  Rufus Estes' Good Things to Eat(Dover Publications)

Mr. Estes was born a slave in 1857, was employed by a restaurant-keeper at the age of 16, and then became a cook for the railroads at age 26, where he continued for most of the rest of his life.  His culinary skills were so valued that he was assigned to cook in a special car that catered to celebrities.  Mr. Estes prepared food for presidents, princesses, famous actors and singers, and more.  He was trusted to provide them with a good meal and, upon viewing his recipes, I can see that that trust was not misplaced. 

His book offers nearly 600 recipes and they made my mouth water when I read them.  Well, all but one.  It is called Peanut Meatose, found on page 47 in the Lunch section.

Here it is:
"Dissolve one cup of cornstarch in two cups of tomato juice, add two cups of peanut butter and two teaspoons of salt.  Stir for five minutes, the pour into cans and steam for four or five hours."

Peanut butter, tomato juice, salt, and cornstarch?

It sounded pretty icky to me, to be honest.  But after trying some tomato bread toasted and spread with peanut butter, I realized that the combination of tomato and peanut butter might just be fine.  At this point, I had to try it!

So here goes.  I decided to make a half recipe.  I gathered the ingredients, mixed as directed, and placed it into a ceramic container for steaming.

A quick double-check with The Joy of Cooking confirmed my thoughts that the container needed to sit on a rack over water.  The lid fit tightly so high heat got the water boiling and then a low heat kept the steam going.  I wasn't sure how fast the water would boil off or how quickly a half recipe would cook, so I checked in on it every 30 minutes.

The water never got low enough for me to refill the container.  After about an hour, the mixture looked puffy.  After two hours, it was solid and was pulling away from the sides of the container.  I deemed it "done."

I removed it from the hot water and let it cool for about an hour.  The mixture settled a bit when cooled.

The result?  It was firm and had a nice crumb and texture.  I spread it on crackers and ... and ... and it tasted pretty good!  The flavor was nutty with a light tomato undertaste.  I think it would be good spread on bread with a little mayonnaise and lettuce.

My curiosity was aroused:  Why "meatose"?  A Google search of the name reveals that it was a brand name in the late 19th century.  Basically this recipe provided a meat substitute based on nut proteins.  This was popular during the Victorian era, during a period called "Reform Cookery" where choosing foods to be more healthy was all in vogue.  You can think of this as Victorian tofu!

I think if I had steamed this in cans as Mr. Estes suggests, I could have pushed it out as a whole cylinder and then sliced it for serving.

The Verdict:  I would do this recipe again, especially to serve to unsuspecting victims, uh, cheerful guests, to surprise them with something new and unique. 

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