I wanted to use some version of “The Ant and the Grasshopper” for my title because while I’d really like to be down at the canoe landing and staring out across the sparkly lake, I decided I had better make like an ant and work before I play. The grasshoppers have been buzzing in the grasses these late summer afternoons, and the sun has finally ripened a couple of my cherry tomatoes. One of the big beefsteaks was starting to turn color, but something took a big ol’ bite out of it. I suspected a creepy-crawly tomato worm but could find no trace of the sucker last evening. I threw out the two or three fruits he/she had sampled (why not eat the whole darn thing before moving on to the next, I’d like to know?) and decided that pests are simply a part of the big picture.
It’s easy to be philosophical when one’s parents have stopped in with a bag of free produce from their larger and much more productive garden.
Summer weekends are a fabulous time to shop . . . in your neighbor’s yard. No, I’m not advocating late-night raids of the blueberry bushes and corn rows. I’m tallking about yard sales. Some readers may remember an earlier entry regarding old cookbooks and my quest for pre-World War II tomes. I scored one beauty at an antique store in nearby Cornish village a couple of months back. It is a musty, solid little book entitled LEFTOVERS MADE PALATABLE: HOW TO COOK ODDS AND ENDS OF FOOD INTO APPETIZING DISHES by Isabel Gordon Curtis.
LEFTOVERS MADE PALATABLE circa 1901
This little jem was published in 1901 by the Orange Judd Company. The first chapter begins, “Do not throw away scraps of fat” and procedes to explain how to save all the bits of cooking fat and drippings and suet, to clarify them, and to use them for frying ala the ubiquitous vegetable shortening of today. “If only a teacup of fat is added to this supply once a week, it will save the buying of fat for frying purposes, even in a large family.” (pg.1)
The book goes on to give multiple recipes for using leftovers of every type: stale bread, cold coffee, cereals, sour milk, cold potatoes, vegetables, sauces, beef, veal, pork and ham, poultry, stale cake, cheese, and fruit. You know the recipes are old because each one lists only a few simple ingredients and absolutely no canned soup. Take Plain Cabbage Salad for instance: “2 cups shredded cabbage, 4 tbs. oil, 1 tsp. salt, 2 tbls. vinegar. Shred cabbage very fine and leave in ice water for an hour. Drain it and marinate with the dressing. This is a favorite supplement to fried oysters.” (pg. 75)
While the simplicity and lack of processed food products pleased me, I was dismayed by the frequent mention of refrigeration. Isabel Curtis must have been referring to old-fashioned ice-boxes, right? It got me wondering when the first refrigerator was invented. Off I went to cyberspace to find out.
I turned first to Wikipedia. (See here) According to the section on the history of the refrigerator, the first refrigerator coil which condensed aromatic vapours as a coolant was invented in the 11th century. The 11th century! Okay, I just about fell off my chair. Wasn’t that medieval times? The Dark Ages? And yet, in America at the turn of the 20th century, half the population used ice-boxes for cooling food while the other half just used the even more natural method of root-cellaring.
Home refrigerators did not become commonplace until 1927 with the General Electric Motor-top model, long after my 1901 cookbook was printed. Take a look at the frontispiece photograph of young ladies in floor-length dresses and long aprons and little white caps ranged ’round a table at the New England Cooking School of the Good Housekeeping Institute.
Lady cooks from 1901
Thinking about refrigeration, or lack of it, one can certainly appreciate the important place of the family milk cow in 1901. At this stage in history, fresh milk meant that morning’s milk, not the stuff in the jug with this week’s date stamped on the side. However, clabbered milk and butter and cheese and sour cream had their place in the home cook’s repertoire. LEFTOVERS MADE PALATABLE includes thirty recipes for using up sour milk, including cottage cheese. (Those of you who read last week’s entry will appreciate this discovery.) “4 Quarts sour milk, 1 tsp. salt, dash white pepper, 4 tbls. cream. Put the sour milk in a large pan and into it pour four quarts of boiling water. Allow it to stand for five minutes, then turn it into a pointed muslin bag like a jelly bag. Hang this up at night over a pan and let it drain. In the morning it will be dry and ready to mix with the cream and seasonings.” (pg. 47)
One of these weeks I’ll order an extra gallon of milk from Downhome Farm and try to make cottage cheese. Maybe when the weather isn’t quite so warm. The old warnings about diptheria and whatnot are hard to purge from the deep, dark recesses of the brain, no matter how much I’ve read on the subject of the nutritive value of raw milk. Is nutritive a word?
Yes. A quick look at the old Webster’s Dictionary confirms it on the page with guide words nuciature – nux vomica. Nux vomica? Sounds just like what I was worried about, n’est ce pas? Or some spell from a Harry Potter book, one of Severus Snape’s conconctions, perhaps. In fact, it is only the latin word for a poisonous seed. See, you never know what you’ll find out here Outside the Box.
Anyway, on the same shelf as LEFTOVERS, I spied another book with the enticing title NEW ENGLAND FLAVOR. Unfortunately, this tome by Haydn S. Pearson turned out to be a charming memoir of a New Hampshire childhood and not the cookbook I was hoping it to be. Fortunately, I also like charming memoirs of New England persons, and so this well-preserved volume with pretty little pen and ink illustrations by Leonard Bosburgh came home with me, as well. It should make for some cozy reading this fall when I sit outside wrapped in the shawl my sister sent home from Venezia this summer and sip Earl Gray from my favorite Monroe Saltworks mug.
So what does this have to do with the formentioned yard sale? I’m getting there, trust me. This weekend on the way home from Parsonsfield to pick up my milk, I noticed a table loaded with cooking pans and decided to check out the yard sale as two of my Reverware lids have recently lost knobs, forcing me to gingerly pick lids off boiling pots with dishtowels in hand to prevent scalding myself at the stove. (Can you imagine trying to diagram that last sentence? Actually, it might be fun. Who needs Sudoku? We ought to turn our kids on to sentence diagrams.)
The Rumford book
Not only did I find a nice set of stainless steel pots for $5, I also scored a pretty, tatted-edged table runner and a treasure-trove of cookbooks. There’s the RUMFORD COMPLETE COOKBOOK, copyright 1908 in its 43rd printing in 1948. In this book, consomme is made with a quart of defatted meat stock . . . not a bouillon cube. Excellent. The baking powder is, of course, Rumford, which makes me wonder about those Anne of Green Gables
books. Was it Rumford baking powder that Ann wrote about? A quick search on the web tells me no. It was Rollins Reliable baking powder. However, I came across this interesting site which gives in great detail how to visit Prince Edward Island and find all kinds of places referenced in the Anne books. Take a look if you are interested in visiting the island.
I may have to revisit Green Gables from the comfort of my couch corner this winter. Funny how this entry on cookbooks into turning into an entry on books-I-want-to-read-this-winter. Must be the Ant in me.
Continuing onward in history, I also picked up Marjorie Standish’s cookbook, KEEP COOKING-THE MAINE WAY. Printed in 1973 by the Maine Sunday Telegram, this book also delivers lovely pen and ink drawings of a girl, eleven or twelve year’s old, I’d guess, stirring a pot, fishing from a pier, canning perserves, and eating cake under the watchful and envious eyes of a large cat. Mrs. Standish was well-known for her weekly recipe column in the SUNDAY TELEGRAM according to the note “About the Author” at the front of the book. At the time of the book’s printing, I was four years old. Here I discover the expected “cans of soup” ingredients . . . expecially cream of mushroom. Flipping through the pages, one encounters “packages of cream cheese” and “packaged stuffing” and even frozen packages of peas. Still, some of the recipes use authentic, whole ingredients, most noteably in the Fish and Shellfish section. The Fillet of Sole with Oysters looks particularly appealing with its quart of fresh mushrooms, sole, oysters, chicken broth, butter and lemon juice. (page 35).
Pennsylvania Dutch Cookbook
Two other books I picked up but haven’t had much time to peruse were the PENNSYLVANIA DUTCH PEOPLE’S COOKBOOK with the charming bird graphic on the front. This one was published in 1978. Also, the WISCONSIN COUNTRY COOKBOOK AND JOURNAL by Edward Harris Heth with some beautiful woodcuts by Arlene Renken. What is it I like so much about these black and white illustrations and recipes mixed together?
I guess they go together like, well, cabbage salad and oysters. This book was written in 1956, but I suspect the recipes may be older than the hills, passed down from one country cook to another before Edward Heth captured them for the printed page and posterity. I will review and share, maybe later this winter after I have tried out some of the Potato Pancakes, Dill Bean Roll Ups, Beef Goulash with Red Cabbage, and whatever Lupscush is. Am I becoming a foodie?
Maybe it has something to do with all this talk of impending peak oil doom, but I’m obsessed with food these days. Not so much the eating as the growing, storing, and cooking of it. I’m thrilled to see the yellow summer squash growing on the vines. Picking the prickly pickling cukes from my boxes is a thrill. I’m going out this afternoon and plant the old green bean squares with a late crop of lettuce. We ate the last of the green beans sauteed in a little olive oil and dried garlic with a splash of soy sauce. Delicious hot and even better cold the next day on top of a salad with some lettuce, onions, cherry tomatoes, and a bit more olive oil.
As for leftovers, a few weeks ago I found myself in possession of a half-loaf of homemade bread going stale,a few eggs from Sarah, and milk that needed to be used up. Remembering bread pudding from my childhood (in the 1970’s, but my mother knew a thing or two or three about real cooking), I hauled out the book of recipe cards she gave me at my wedding shower, and proceded to make a good, old-fashioned dessert. I will share it with you, my constant readers. Bon Appetit!
OLD-FASHIONED BREAD PUDDING
3 cups soft bread crumbs (okay, I took the bread, sliced it, and then cut it into cubes)
2 cups milk, scalded with 1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs, slightly beaten
14 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon or nutmeg
(raisins, 1/2 cup if you have them)
350 degree oven. Place bread crumbs in 1 1/2 quart baking dish. Blend in remaining ingredients. Place baking dish in pan of hot water 1 inch deep. Bake 40-45 minutes or until silver knife inserted 1 inch from edge comes out clean. Serve warm, with cream. (That you skimmed from the raw milk from the local farm, of course. SB)
Still much to do this summer–pickles and blueberry jam, cotton wrap skirts, and finishing my research on “the weed.” What have you been up to in August? What tasks lie ahead. Remember the story of the Ant and the Grasshopper, take the time to do the work necessary for a comfortable winter, but don’t forgo the grasshopper stuff altogether. Find an hour or two to sing and play in the summer sun. Make some bread pudding, or get an ice-cream maker and churn some homemade blueberry ice-cream. Check out the yard sales around town. Drop me a line anytime . . . Outside the Box.