Sunday, January 16, 2011

Easy Recipes Celebrating "Little House" Foods



These Sour Milk Soda Biscuits and the Cucumber Ketchup below are easy to make and bring the flavors of the mid-nineteenth century prairie into today's kitchens.  A bite or two of these amazing biscuits are a lesson in how life was different for the Laura, Mary and their parents. I've written about cooking in this pioneer era in two books -- see more about them below the recipe section. 

My great-great grandparents pioneered on the Ohio Pennsylvania line, chopping farmsteads from forest. Every fall they packed up barrels of potatoes and apples, home-cured ham, and made jars of  jams to go in the cellar next to the spring harvested maple syrup.  

Meals could be tasty and abundant all winter and early spring with all those ingredients and foods set aside. Yet, homemakers had to consider carefully the what they could make without some key ingredients we all take for granted. Eggs are a prime example. 

I've written about the natural fluctuations in egg supply before -- eggs a-plenty in the late spring, non-existent in the winter. As one of the people I quote in Food Will Win the War put it: "in fall and winter hens take their annual vacation. Don't blame them." And in my work with material from Prairie Farmer magazine in the 19th century, I ran across my share of "egg-less" recipes. To be sure farmers and grocery wholesalers did try to find ways to "keep" eggs from spring surplus to supply winter shortage. Prairie Farmer and other agricultural magazines suggested coating the eggs with wax or putting them down in barrels of lime-water stored in the root cellar. Huge cold-storage facilities kept eggs well-chilled near urban areas, but the quality was lacking. 

This egg-less biscuit recipe from the 19th century uses another ingredient common in from my grandparent's  and probably the Ingall's pioneering kitchen. Sour Milk. If you don't have any handy, follow the directions to add the vinegar to sour your own.

Soda Biscuits
2 teaspoons vinegar
3/4 cup milk
2 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Combine vinegar with milk and set aside to sour about 5 minutes. Stir flour, sugar and baking soda together in a medium bowl. Work in the butter with a fork until it no longer visible. Stir in about 2/3 cup of the soured milk. Add more if necessary to make a dough than you can knead until it is smooth. Roll out on a lightly floured surface. Cut with a one-inch biscuit cutter, flouring the cutter before making each biscuit. Place on lightly greased sheets and bake until browned, about 10 to 15 minutes. Makes about 2 dozen biscuits

Cucumber Ketchup

Prairie settlers took full advantage of everything from the garden. As late summer and chill early autumn days signaled the end of fresh-from-the-garden vegetables, it was time to pickle everything that could be put to good use livening up meals of cured meats and savory, sturdy beans. 

This Cucumber Ketchup recipe is adapted from Prairie Farmer magazine -- one that Charles and Caroline Ingalls would have read for crop advice, national news, and homemaking information--including tasty dishes that took advantage of farm bounty.  

Trendy restaurants are beginning to make ketchups from ingredients other than tomatoes. Our grandmothers, and even great-great-great grandmothers had the secret. "when it stops growing, pickle it or make it into ketchup or jam.  I have many favorite recipes from the Little House era including Strawberry Pickles, Cucumber Vinegar, Tomato Figs and this easy one adapted from an 1875 issue of the magazine--when Laura would have been eight years old and ready to help in the kitchen.

It is easy to make and keeps will in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks. Great on ham or chicken sandwiches and adds a fresh "bite" alongside salmon or even lamb or pork.  

Combine the cucumber and onion with the salt in a cheesecloth-lined colander and let stand over a deep bowl for one hour, or a bit longer. Then pour off the drained juices and gently squeeze the vegetable mixture to remove more excess water. If you wish to reduce the salt content of the finished ketchup, you may rinse the vegetables in water and squeeze the mixture dry. 

Mix the vegetables with pepper and vinegar in a heavy stockpot. Cook gently, over low heat, until the mixture is hot and has turned somewhat pale or yellow, about 10 minutes of simmering. Cool and then carefully process in a food processor with blender until smooth. (Our great-great-great grandmothers would have used a food mill or forced the mixture through a sieve.) Return the mixture to the stockpot and simmer until thick, stirring to prevent sticking and burning as it reduces or thickens. Pour into clean jars and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Or you may process in sterilized jars according to USDA rules. 

Cucumber Ketchup 
3 large cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and grated
1 small to medium onion, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups white vinegar

Combine the cucumber and onion with the salt in a cheesecloth-lined colander and let stand over a deep bowl for one hour, or a bit longer. Then pour off the drained juices and gently squeeze the vegetable mixture to remove more excess water. If you wish to reduce the salt content of the finished ketchup, you may rinse the vegetables in water and squeeze the mixture dry. 

Mix the vegetables with pepper and vinegar in a heavy stockpot. Cook gently, over low heat, until the mixture is hot and has turned somewhat pale or yellow, about 10 minutes of simmering. Cool and then carefully process in a food processor with blender until smooth. (Our great-great-great grandmothers would have used a food mill or forced the mixture through a sieve.) Return the mixture to the stockpot and simmer until thick, stirring to prevent sticking and burning as it reduces or thickens. Pour into clean jars and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Or you may process in sterilized jars according to USDA rules. 



Read more about foods and the times on the Midwestern Prairie in the years 1895 to 1939 in this book filled with easy-to-make recipes. Order from Minnesota Historical Society Press paste in this link
(http://shop.mnhs.org/moreinfo.cfm?Product_ID=1159ยบ
or from Amazon.com
Prairie Kitchen cooking, stories and poems.
More than 100 great recipes from 1841 to 1900
Order from Minnesota Historical Society Press -- paste in this link
(http://shop.mnhs.org/moreinfo.cfm?Product_ID=1159)
or from Amazon.com


Copyright 2015 Rae Katherine Eighmey. All rights reserved. 



Sunday, January 2, 2011

My New Favorite Ingredient


Hershey's Cinnamon Chips!

I first purchased these by mistake. I thought I was picking up a bag of milk chocolate chips, but somehow my hand strayed into the stack-o-chip bags next to it. Like any cook with a mystery ingredient, I began by tasting them. Pretty darn good right out of the sack. My recipe for chocolate chip cookies includes the standard semi-sweet with some milk chocolate chips mixed in. I added the cinnamon ones, very nice. They are good in oatmeal cookies, or just oatmeal, too. They melt down nicely for a fancy coating like white chocolate on whatever you coat with white chocolate. I'm still thinking of other ways to use these delightfully spicy chips, but it is with Snickerdoodles that the Hershey Cinnamon Chips come into full glory -- making this classic recipe from the 1950s even better.

Snickerdoodles with Hershey Cinnamon Chips

1 cup soft butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 3/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt, optional
1 cup Hershey's Cinnamon Chips -- or more to taste

Additional for coating before baking
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and beat well. Add the flour, cream of tartar, baking powder, and salt. Mix until dough is smooth. Stir in chips. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or put dough in plastic bag and chill for at least 2 hours. (You can put dough in the freezer for about 20 minutes if you are impatient. Or keep it in the fridge for a week, if you are not.) When ready to bake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Make the coating mixture by combining the sugar and cinnamon in a cereal bowl. Break off pieces of dough and form into balls about 3/4 of an inch in diameter. Roll in the cinnamon sugar and place on lightly greased cookie sheets about 2 inches apart. Enlist the kids to help. Bake until cookies just begin to turn brown and are firm in the center -- about 8 to 12 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Note: cookies puff up and then sink as they bake. Recipe makes about 8 dozen cookies 1 inch in diameter.