The Ladies' Tea Guild

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #13 -- Ethnic Foodways: my great-grandmother's biscotti.

Soft Biscotti.  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
The Challenge: #13 – Ethnic Foodways. Foodways and cuisine are at the heart of every ethnic group around the world and throughout time. Choose one ethnic group, research their traditional dishes or food, and prepare one as it is traditionally made.

My family is half Sicilian and a quarter Calabrese (from Calabria in southern Italy), and traditional (for us) Italian holiday food includes a few types of cookies.  When my grandmothers were alive, we usually bought our cookies at the Italian bakery, or from the supermarket (Stella D'oro brand used to carry some of our favorites), but now, purchased cookies are less available to us, so in the last several years I've started researching and making some.  This has also helped me enjoy all our Italian cookie favorites, since my nut allergies have made most traditional Italian cookies not an option for me (lots of almonds and hazelnuts). 

The issue with re-creating historic Italian cookies is the fact that literacy has not been a common skill in Italy and Sicily for many years – really only since World War 2.  My own grandparents were the first literate generation in their families; their parents were illiterate, and so was the rest of that generation, so their recipes have been passed down by mouth and by example, rather than being written down.  With that oral tradition comes the tradition of each person making the recipe slightly differently, according to their own tastes, which makes it hard to trace it back to the "original" version! 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #12: If They'd Had It -- the Quince Marmalade version!

ingredients for Quince Marmalade. Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
The Challenge: #12 -- If They’d Had It -- November 2 - November 15

I had a hard time deciding which recipe to do for this challenge.  Should I choose mushroom ketchup, quince marmalade, macrows (macaroni), or something else?  I wanted to do them all.  I ended up wavering between the ketchup and the marmalade, and when I found the ingredients for both recipes in the farmer's market and in my pantry, I decided to do them both.  The quinces for this recipe came from the heritage apple vendor at the farmer's market. 

Quinces are a very old type of fruit.  Similar to apples and pears, they have a very hard flesh that doesn't soften until it's over-ripe, a delicious apple-y fragrance, but a very bitter and astringent taste that doesn't mellow out until it's very over-ripe.  They also have a lot of pectin in them.  They are mentioned as far back as ancient Rome, when they were recommended to newlyweds on their wedding day; nibbling on a slice of quince was supposed to perfume their breath!  

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #12: If They'd Had It -- Mushroom Ketchup.

ingredients for Mushroom Ketchup.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
The Challenge: #12 -- If They’d Had It -- November 2 - November 15 "Have you ever looked through a cookbook from another era and been surprised at the modern dishes you find? Have you ever been surprised at just how much they differ from their modern counterparts? Recreate a dish which is still around today, even if it may look a little - or a lot - different!" 

Not exactly a dish, but ketchup is a common condiment on American tables.  Tomato ketchup is what we know today, but tomatoes only entered the recipe in the mid 19th century.  Earlier ketchups were made from fruits, walnuts, mushrooms, oysters, or anchovies, and were said to have been inspired by a salty, savory, spicy condiment that some 18th century English sea captain or government official tasted in the Far East.  The first recipe for ketchup was published in E. Smith's The Compleat Housewife in 1727 in London, and again in 1767 in North America. Originally more like Asian fish sauce, "ketchup" or "catsup" recipes in Europe used European ingredients, and used the Anglicized version of the original Asian name.  The idea, however, is even older.  In Apicus' recipes from ancient Rome, there is one for "Tree Mushrooms", which calls for boiling them and serving them with liquamen – a sour fish sauce – and pepper. 

Several of my food history acquaintances online have made mushroom ketchup in the past year or so, and I've been wondering about it, too.  I've seen recipes for walnut ketchup, grape ketchup, and anchovy ketchup, but since I'm allergic to walnuts, I don't care for anchovies, I didn't have any grapes, and I love the fresh mushrooms from one of the vendors at my local farmer's market, I decided to make some mushroom ketchup.  Most 18th and 19th century recipe books include at least one recipe for one of the kinds of ketchup, and according to James Townsend & Sons' cooking videos, mushroom ketchup was so common that it may have been what people meant when they wrote about serving certain foods with "sauce." 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

image from Hubpages.
The baking marathon is complete.  There will be 27 people at dinner today.  Hope your holiday is full of fun and family and you remember all that you have to be thankful for! 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly: Challenge #10 -- Let Them Eat Cake! with Rice Cakes With Butter

Mrs. Hale's Rice Cakes With Butter, from 1841.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
The Challenge: #10 -- Let Them Eat Cake! October 5 - October 18
"The 16th is the anniversary of the beheading of Marie Antoinette (zut alors!). In honor of Madame Deficit, prepare your best cake from a historic recipe. And then eat it, bien sur."

This challenge came along at a good time, because my brother and I each attended a wedding in the past fortnight, and therefore wedding cake played a small part in our thoughts recently.  My friend, the bride at one wedding, is allergic to wheat, so she had a completely wheat-free wedding brunch menu and had locally-made gourmet ice cream instead of wedding cake.  My brother's friend, the groom at the other wedding, is from the U.K. and he and his bride had two receptions, according to my brother: one with tea and cakes directly after the wedding ceremony and church service, and a dinner later in the evening.  My brother couldn't tell me what kind of cakes there were, only that they were fairy cakes (cupcakes) and brownies.  But a tea-and-cake wedding reception – how fun!  I'm pretty much up for tea and cakes any time, wedding or not.

My friend is a "foodie" and is always looking for good recipes, especially so now that she has been diagnosed with a wheat allergy.  I made her some wheat- and gluten-free Italian cookies for part of her wedding gift, and when I started researching recipes for this challenge, this rice flour cake recipe caught my eye.  Bonus: it doesn't contain any "wierd" ingredients that some modern gluten-free baking recipes have!  Everything apart from the rice flour comes from a normal pantry, and even the rice flour is relatively easy to find in areas with large Asian communities.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge: The Frugal Housewife, with Shrimp Curry from 1942.

ingredients for the Shrimp Curry (with trout).
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
The Challenge: # 9 The Frugal Housewife
Throughout history, housewives and housekeepers have kept a close eye on their budgets and found creative ways to pinch pennies while providing delicious and nutritious food. Create a dish that interprets one historically-documented method of frugal cooking.  

I chose to interpret frugality as a way to use pantry staples, including canned meat, to pull together an easy dish.  You could also use leftover fish from another meal in this recipe!

The Recipe: (where did you find it, link to it if possible)
Found in my grandmother's cookbook, Burnt Toast Recipes: Victory Edition, published in Los Angeles in 1942, this recipe for Shrimp Curry takes advantage of pantry staples to make it economical as well as tasty.  The recipe book is a collection of recipes put together by the Women's Auxiliary to the Women's and Children's Hospital in Los Angeles, which took care of the wives and families of servicemen who were stationed in the area during WW2.  My grandmother worked as a candy striper at the hospital during the summers, taking the train out from Omaha, NE where she lived and taught school during the rest of the year.

California seemed to be lucky in comparison to other areas, because of our climate enabling food to be grown year-round, as well as the large number of dairies and poultry farms, and everyday residents who kept a cow and a few chickens around for butter, eggs and milk.  Fish were being caught and canned in Monterey throughout the War, and while much of it was sent to other parts of the U.S., and overseas to our armed forces and our allies, there was still quite a bit of food available, with or without food rationing.  This recipe is frugal in its use of butter and imported spices, and makes good use of canned fish.  Although it calls for shrimp, any canned fish can be used.  (Ignore the mushrooms in the photo above -- they were part of another recipe but mistakenly got into the photo for this dish.)  

Shrimp Curry
Sautè 1 small minced onion in 2 tablespoons butter until onion is soft but not brown.  Stir in 1 ½ teaspoons curry, 2 teaspoons flour and ½ teaspoon salt.  Simmer tightly covered for 20 minutes, then add 1 can shrimp (cleaned and shredded), 2 teaspoons lemon juice.  Simmer for 5 minutes and serve with browned rice.  – recipe from Alberta Austin.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Antique Autos returns to History Park!

Vintage car in the park in 2012.  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
Some of my costume group in 2009.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
 I've been getting ready for the 14th Annual Antique Auto event at History Park, where the tea guild will be joining me for a picnic tomorrow afternoon.  It's such fun to research recipes and costumes -- because I always want to do something slightly different from what I did last year -- that I often find myself hurrying the morning of the event, and not finishing whatever costume or recipe I'd been working on, and pulling out something wearable from the costume closet, or something ordinary from the pantry, and going with that.  I'm hoping that this year will be different, since -- at the request of one of the guild members -- we are having a potluck picnic, and at least I don't have to make all the sandwiches.  I have decided to bring dessert -- a cake and some strawberries that I got at the farmer's market yesterday -- as well as the iced tea.  Then there's my costume; I could wear the 1920s frock that I've worn before, but I don't have a hat to go with it, or I could wear one of my Edwardian skirts, although I don't really have a good blouse to wear with them, or a proper hat, either -- just a modern straw hat with a ribbon on it.  I have all these plans to make blouses, and even some fabric to do it, and I want to make a tailor-made suit, and - and - and ... 

Anyway, while I decide, and work on my things, here are some suggestions from the readers of the _Woman's Home Companion_ magazine from 1916, so you can put together your own "motor picnic" in the next month or so: 
Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)