Monday, June 22, 2015

Celebrating the 100th Post with a Hundred-Year-Old Recipe



I was truly astonished when I realized that this is my 100th post for this blog.  How should I celebrate it?  What would be appropriate?  I struggled with that for a while.  Should I do something spectacular?  Something on the 100th page of a randomly selected cookbook?  Even though my work levels have dropped, I still have other responsibilities than cooking, so what I chose had to be reasonable in its demands.

What I settled on was using a 100 year old cookbook, which turned out to be an excellent decision for an historical recipe blog.  You see, I live in California and this year is the 100th anniversary of the Panama Pacific International Exposition, a world's fair, which was held in San Francisco.  If you know the history of that city, you know that a major earthquake followed by huge fire had ravaged the city in 1906.  The Exposition was a chance for the city to rebuild and to show to the world how wonderful it could be.  San Francisco pulled it off with style only nine years after its devastation.

http://www.nps.gov/prsf/learn/historyculture/images/lightshow.jpg
The fair committee created a beautiful "Jeweled City" with representations from countries around the world and from various U.S. states, along with displays of technology, agriculture, geographical wonders, and (of course) an amusements and concessions area.  You can view pictures and documents at the San Francisco Public Library website:  http://sfpl.org/index.php?pg=2000041101  and learn even more about its history at http://www.ppie100.org/  (Their "Stories" page has a video with actual footage taken at the fair!)

One of the exhibitors was the Sun-Maid Raisin company and they published a book of raisin recipes, the Souvenir California Raisin Recipe Book, which they sold for 25 cents.  I found a copy of it on their iPad website, sunmaid.com, where they offer a selection of their raisin cookbooks from the last 100 years, available for individual download.


If you go to their non-iPad/iPhone website, http://www.sunmaid.com/book/, you can get their PDF book and read a lot about the history of the company, including the discovery of Thompson Seedless grapes, the woman who became the face on the box, and how the Exposition lead to the company's widespread recognition.  It has recipes but not the historical ones.

On the introductory page of the 28 page souvenir booklet, the dedication is " 'To Mother' who in addition to her many other responsibilities is vitally interested in providing 'Good Things to Eat'..."

They point out that the recipes contained within are all prize recipes:  "We have eliminated all those that are commonplace.  We have printed in this book only those that produce the most delicate and most palatable foods."

I was amused at their blatant sales propaganda, under "The Economy" section:
Raisins, then, are economical because they supply the body with needed food-properties.  Nothing that is food is waste.  Raisins are not a luxury.  Economize by doing without other edibles that do not produce health, strength, and energy.  Never be without raisins.  Keep them always in the house.  Give them to the children after school in place of questionable candy.
There are several categories of recipes in the booklet:  bread, cookies, cake, candy (I guess they aren't of the questionable type), pie, puddings, miscellaneous dainties, and miscellaneous raisin dainties.

I selected "Raisin Puffs", which appears twice!  Once under puddings and once under raisin dainties.  I suspect some proofreading was neglected before publication but I am not bothered by this at all.  I liked it because it is a steamed pudding.

Raisin Puffs

Two eggs; 1/2 cup butter; 3 teaspoons baking powder; 2 tablespoons sugar; 2 cups flour; 1 cup milk; 1 cup Seeded Raisins, chopped fine.  Steam 1/2 hour in small cups.

<Note:  the other recipe says "1/2 package Seeded Raisins", which would be about 8 ounces by weight.>

Today's boxes are only 15 ounces, not the 16 ounces they used to be.
Yes, that is the entire recipe right there.  No other explanations given, I suppose because "everyone knows how to make a steamed pudding."  I decided to use my basic muffin batter mixing skills, that is, I beat the eggs and milk and sugar in one bowl, added the butter and mixed the liquids until the butter was broken up into small bits, then mixed the flour and baking powder in another bowl.  I added the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stirred until blended.  Then I folded in the finely chopped raisins.

Finely chopped using my ulu knife!
The batter was evenly divided into seven small glass bowls which were well-buttered.

Pre-steaming
The wok turned out to be the most convenient way for me to steam the puddings.  I had to do a balancing act to get the bowls all in and the cover on but it worked.  Once the water inside was boiling, I set the timer for 30 minutes and turned the heat down a little to generate steam without so much bouncing.  At 13 minutes left, I refilled the water supply with hot water and brought it back up to a boil.

After the time was up, I tested each puff with a toothpick to see if it was cooked in the middle.  They were all ready and I put them on the counter to cool.

Post-steaming
They looked for all the world like muffins, except they weren't browned from baking.  They slipped easily out of their bowls after I ran a small knife around the sides.

Before tasting them, I decided they needed a glaze, and what better to represent California than lemon juice mixed with powdered sugar?  I decided to glaze only four of them so the taste testing would include the original recipes.



The Verdict

My guest taster and I each tried an original puff and a glazed puff.  We both liked what we were eating:  the puffs were not too sweet and had a moist, dense texture with a mellow raisin muffin-like flavor.  I thought they needed a little salt in the batter but he, who eats much more salt than I do, did not feel it was necessary.

A closeup of the middle
Success!  I think the puffs would be a good substitute for muffins if you were camping or otherwise did not have an oven available.  I liked that they only steamed for 30 minutes, rather than the several hours a full-sized steamed pudding requires.

The glaze added a little bit of excitement but not as much as I had hoped for.  I enjoyed the puffs with and without the glaze.  I was worried at first about them not being cooked enough despite the toothpick test because the tidbits off the bottom of the bowls tasted a little doughy and floury.  However that was not the case once the puffs had cooled.

I would definitely do them again.  For variation, I would add some lemon or orange zest to the batter, and maybe some spices like cloves or cinnamon.  But they are fine as is and good for dessert, breakfast, or with a cup of coffee or tea.

Monday, June 1, 2015

We say "Salad" and They said "Sallat"

It is the beginning of June so summer is near and spring has had a chance to settle in and make the yard beautiful with greenery and flowers.  My work has finally slowed down so I have time to play in that yard!

I found myself restless and dissatisfied with the ideas I was getting for this blog post.  I wanted something with vegetables.  I wanted to use some of the plants in my garden.  And I wanted it to be the same but different.  I know, I know!  How do you meet all those requirements?

I spent this morning working in my herb garden, trimming and mulching and weeding.  I thought about how, during the Elizabethan period, fresh herbs were often a part of a good "sallat,", what we today call a salad.  Could I put together a fun and different Elizabethan-style sallat and enjoy it?

My feelings were mixed.  What I put into salads is usually lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, croutons, raisins or dried cranberries, and chunks of cheese.  Sometimes other items as they happen to be in my kitchen.  This is a tasty mix and I have no complaints with it.

However, fresh herbs can have strong flavors to taste buds not accustomed to them.  Tomatoes and cranberries were out as they are New World foods.  While croutons might have been used, I couldn't recall any references to them so I would leave them out.  What else could I add that would be appropriate to the period and still appealing?

I turned to one of my favorite books, The English Housewife by Gervase Markham, edited by Michael R. Best.

ISBN 0-7735-1103-2
The preface states this book "is the most comprehensive, the most practical, and the most readable of the many books of instruction written for women in the early seventeenth century."

In Chapter II he starts off describing the knowledge a wife must have of herbs:  how to grow them, the best times to harvest them, when to save the seeds, and, of course, how to cook with them.  His first receipt (recipe) is "Of sallats.  Simple sallats."
First then to speak of sallats, there be some simple, and some compounded; some only to furnish out the table, and some both for use and adornation.  ...  chives, scallions, radish roots, boiled carrots, skirrets, and turnips, with such like served up simply; also, all young lettuce, cabbage lettuce, purslane, and divers other herbs which may be served simply without anything but a little vinegar, sallat oil, and sugar;
He mentions, in his compounded sallat sections, ingredients like red sage, mint, violets, marigolds, spinach, blanched almonds, raisins, capers, olives, figs, currants, thinly sliced and peeled oranges and lemons, and pickled cucumbers.  I was pretty sure I could pull a variety of these ingredients together to make a sallat.

I collected small quantities of various herbs and flowers from my garden:  oregano, lavender, thyme, lemon verbena, rosemary, mint, violas, basil, and sage. (It is important to know that your plants are free from bug sprays and other toxins.)


They were rinsed with water and, as they drained, I assembled the "main" sallat. I used

spring mix (a blend of spinach and baby lettuces)
a shallot, peeled and sliced paper thin
a fresh cucumber, peeled and sliced
carrots, chopped and microwaved for about a minute to cook them to tender
dried currants
dried figs, thinly sliced
pickled pearl onions, chopped
pitted Kalamata olives that had been marinated in herbs and Cabernet wine, sliced
pickled capers

Lovely, isn't it?
I kept the quantities of these ingredients low (expect for the spring mix base) because I didn't want too much competition for flavors but I wanted a variety.

The herb leaves were stripped off the stems and either cut into slivers or chopped.  The lavender flowers were stripped and left whole. I put them into individual bowls so my guest taster and I could sprinkle them onto our individual sallats and judge their impact.  There were only four viola flowers so I placed them as decoration on top of the main sallat.


We scooped some of the main into our bowls then added whatever combination of herbs we wanted to try.  This was a great idea because it inspired us to have several bowlfuls each in order to sample the whole variety.  I think I had four servings.  We dressed our sallats with a balsamic vinaigrette.  We both tried eating a viola flower by itself.

The Verdict

We both concluded that the violas were pretty but didn't have much flavor.  I thought the lavender flowers were too strong and bitter to eat raw but I did start getting accustomed to their flavor.  My guest taster thought they were fine from the beginning.

A treat for the eye
We both liked all the herbs although some were strong and needed some getting used to.  My favorites were basil (no surprise there), thyme, and mint and they were the ones I kept going back to.  The sage was okay but I thought it needed to be chopped into smaller pieces.  The lemon verbena was strong and I kept thinking I didn't like it.  Eventually I liked it.

My guest taster's favorites were oregano, sage, basil, rosemary, and thyme.  He described their impact as "little bursts of flavor", which he liked very much.  He said he would love to have any of them again, including the bright flavor of the lemon verbena.

Success!  I am not doubtful any more about using fresh herbs in my sallats.  I know to keep their pieces small so to get those bursts without overwhelming the other flavors.

I served the sallat with chicken thighs baked in an Italian dressing coating and with an herb stuffing side dish.  Was this too much herb flavoring in one meal?  Not at all.  The flavors complemented each other and made for a very tasty dinner.