The Ladies' Tea Guild

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Historic Cooking: Artichokes, Italian Style from 1898.

This is another entry for the Historical Food Fortnightly project, which is now being continued on Facebook.

Artichokes, Italian Style. 
From _El Cocinero Espanol_, 1898.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
The Challenge: April 22-May 5: Flower Power. A dish that is floral, flowery, or flour-y, as you desire.

A month late in posting, but better late than never!  It took me a while to decide what to do for this challenge; I have orange-blossom honey, rose petal honey, dried rose petals, and both orange-flower and rose water in my pantry.  What to do?  I finally decided on artichokes – which are a flower! -- when I saw them in the grocery store, but then it took me another while to choose the historic recipe to use to cook them.  My first couple of artichokes had to be cooked and eaten in a not-particularly-historical-way when they were on the point of going bad, and I hadn’t yet chosen a recipe!  A week or so ago I bought some more artichokes and again, took more than a week to choose, not because there weren’t many recipes, but because there were so many choices! 

I selected a recipe from Encarnación Pinedo’s _El Cocinero Español_, which I have been slowly translating from the original 19th century Californian Spanish, because I’ve been wanting to try some of the recipes.  This recipe book is the earliest published cookbook from the colonial Spanish/Mexican California culture; I’m sure there are other recipe collections in existence, but as far as I know, they are still in manuscript form, hidden in attics and storage areas, and the California history scholars and museums that I contacted didn’t know about them. 

Page from _El Cocinero Espanol_,
by Encarnacion Pinedo, 1898.
_El Cocinero Español_ was published in San Jose in 1898, written by a lady from an influential Spanish ranch-owning family, who recorded the traditional Californio recipes that she learned at home, and at the Catholic convent school that she attended in the 1850s and 1860s (staffed by South American nuns).  At the time the book was written, the author, Doña Encarnación, was unmarried and lived with her sister, her Yankee brother-in-law, and their children, one of whom was already grown up and married to a Yankee.  The author and her sister were raised during a very difficult time in California history when the established community of Californios was being abused on all sides by American and English (and other foreign) immigrants and settlers, due to the misunderstanding, encouraged by the newspapers, that all land and property titles that existed before 1850 (California entered the United States), were legally null and void, and that all existing residents were reduced to the status of conquered enemies.  In reality, California was purchased (as part of the treaty that ended the war, because the residents had already started fighting for independence from Mexico), not conquered (it was the central government of Mexico that was conquered);  all property titles were upheld (but actually ended up being required to be confirmed in court), and all existing residents were automatically made citizens of the United States, but that is not how most people understood the situation!

In her introduction to the cookbook, which was initially written as a private family record of their history and food culture, Doña Encarnación records the animosity and distrust that her mother (her nieces’ grandmother) held for the foreigners, especially the Yankees, and attempted to pass on to herself and her sisters (including her nieces’ mother), and details some of the abuses that their family, in particular, suffered at the hands of the Yankees. The book was written in order to secure, to her nieces, their Californio family identity and history, in the form of the stories and recipes, which Doña Encarnación saw was not being taught alongside their American identity, and feared would be lost forever, as the girls would all, likely, marry American or other non-Californio men.  It is likely that the book was published because it fulfilled the same purpose for other mixed Californio/non-Hispanic families.

The Recipe: (where did you find it, link to it if possible)
There were several recipes for artichokes in the book; I chose this one because I had all of the ingredients already, and I wanted to see what the Californio definition of “Italian style” meant, since I am of Italian heritage.

Alcachofas á la italiana.
Se dividen en cuatro partes iguales, se les quita el cogollo, se frotan con zumo de limon y se cuecen en agua con sal y el zumo de un limon. Cuando estén cocinadas se retiran y se dejan escurrir para servirlas con salsa italiana.

Artichokes Italian-style.
Divide them in four equal parts, take out the hearts, rub them with lemon juice and cook them in water with salt and the juice of one lemon. When they are cooked, remove them and leave them to drain for serving with Italian sauce.
--from _El Cocinero Español_ by Encarnación Pinedo.

The Date/Year and Region:
Hispanic California, 1898.

Ingredients for Artichokes, Italian style.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
How Did You Make It: (a brief synopsis of the process of creation)
I made the recipe as stated; it was that simple!

2 fresh artichokes
1 Meyer lemon (you can use a regular lemon)
1 pinch of salt
1 quart of water
2 tablespoons of tomato pasta sauce (your favorite brand, or homemade)

Put the water into a saucepan and add the salt.  Cut the lemon in half, and squeeze the juice into the water; reserve the lemon halves.  Cut the stems from the artichokes, and pull off the lowest row of leaves.  Using kitchen scissors, cut the sharp, pointed tips from all of the other leaves.  Turn each artichoke stem-end up, and cut in half, lengthwise (the stem end is firmer and cuts much easier), and then cut each half in half.  Rub each artichoke quarter with the lemon halves on all cut edges to prevent oxidation.  

The artichokes trimmed, quartered,
the choke removed,
and the cut edges rubbed with lemon.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
Using a paring knife, locate the spot on the artichoke heart where the “choke” (fuzzy, fibrous, purple center) begins, and slice across the top of the solid part of the heart, separating the inedible “choke” from the heart until the knife hits the inside of the large leaves. With your knife or a spoon, scrape and lift the loosened “choke” fibers out of the artichoke, and remove all of them, rinsing the artichoke with water to make sure none of the fibers remain. Put the quarter artichoke into the salted lemon-water in the pan, and repeat with all of the other artichoke pieces.

Bring the water to a boil, and boil the artichoke pieces, covered, for 30 minutes, or until they can be pierced easily with a fork. Remove them from the water and allow them to drain for a few seconds in a colander, then place them on a serving dish and serve with the tomato sauce, warmed.

Time to Complete:
45 minutes.

Total Cost:
About $8 for 2 artichokes, $4 for 4 Meyer lemons, $3.50 for a jar of Prego with Mushrooms = about $9.50 for the whole dish (but you have lemons and tomato sauce left over).

The artichokes, boiling in the salted
lemon water.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
How Successful Was It?: (How did it taste? How did it look? Did it turn out like you thought it would?)
It was successful, and I would cook artichokes that way again.  I was surprised that you couldn’t taste the lemon at all, but it kept the artichokes from browning, which made them look better.  I didn’t make sure that the artichoke quarters were placed with the leaves down, in the pot, so the outer leaves were still undercooked by the time the heart was cooked perfectly.  I usually eat artichokes with mayonnaise, rather than tomato sauce, for dipping, but I liked the tomato sauce.

How Accurate Is It?:
I’d say it was near 95% accurate to what it would have been in 1898; I used commercially-made tomato sauce instead of making my own from scratch, and I cooked the artichokes on an electric conduction stove, but Meyer lemons were introduced into California in the 1890s.

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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)