Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Fall Feast

This past Saturday I enjoyed a lovely fall day with some great friends at Bentonville Battlefield.   I spent most of the day in the kitchen, but oh how rewarding it was! The meal of the day was chicken, green beans & sweet potatoes. We also had fresh bread that  I had prepared earlier in the week.  While  I did not use recipes out of books for this meal, I did use my knowledge of period cookery, and what I had on hand.
The Chicken. 
Chicken all seasoned & ready to cook
Cooked chicken, sliced for eating
Since the program was about life on the homefront, I decided to not got with a fancy meal, but instead focus on what we had on hand. I took a whole hen, rubbed with some salt & a bit of butter and popped her in the pot, then surrounded it with small potatoes, a sliced onion and some fresh basil. The pot is filled about 2/3's up with water, then lidded and placed on the fire.  (Note: I put the chicken in breast down, to ensure it cooked all the way.) The chicken cooked for about 3 hours. Then was flipped over and cooked for about 20 more minutes. To ensure that the chicken is cooked all the way, cut into the breast near the bone, there should be no pink in the meat.

The Green Beans
Green beans have not changed in 150 years. Well, I don't think so anyway. The beans were fresh, and I snapped off the ends, and snapped the longer beans in pieces to make them smaller. They were placed in a pot of water with some salt and a piece of butter. They were the last thing I put on the fire as they did not take as long to cook.

The Sweet Potatoes 
The pots filled & cooking strong! 
Again, something that would have been on hand. The sweet potatoes are coming out of the fields in abundance, so I cooked up a few. Again, no recipe. I took 5 large potatoes, rubbed them with butter and placed them in a dutch oven to bake for about 2 hours.  They took so long because I had to keep opening the lid to show spectators that there was really food in the pots. 

A full plate
After lunch was done, we all enjoyed a great helping! The chicken was almost bones when everyone was done picking at it. The food was so good!   
It was a great day! Full of fun. I forgot how tiring it was to be bent over a fireplace all day scraping coals & getting temperatures just right. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Learning From Art

As someone who spends hours searching through books reading first hand accounts and recipe's its nice to look at the colorful art brought to us by our ancestors. The colorful paintings provide a window to the past. They are the "snapshots" of the past. While photography was invented, and used, there are few images inside of homes and of common people carrying out their daily duties. For images that look into daily period life, I turn to paintings.
Some of the best domestic scenes were painted by Lilly Martin Spencer. Spencer used incredible details in her paintings that allow us to almost feel like part of the scene. 
Peeling Onions c. 1852
In Spencer's Painting Peeling Onions we can see the variety of fruits and vegetables, even the chicken waiting to be prepared. We can also see the utensils being used. The subject is hold a knife in her hand, and there is a spoon on the table. We can also see a small pot, some sort of bottle, and a crock on the table. This style of painting lets modern viewers see they shape and style of utensils that were used. The painting also shows us the variety of foods that were prepared.

The Young Wife First Stew c.1854

In this painting we have two subjects in the kitchen, preparing a meal(stew). Again, we see a variety of foods waiting to be prepared, mainly vegetables.  The kitchen in cluttered with ingredients, spilling off of the table onto the chair and to the floor. In this scene we get a wider look into a kitchen. The background is full of period gadgets! The shelves are full of crockery and tin ware waiting to be used. We get a glimpse of the fire place too. This scene allows us to see more the "kitchen" as much as the food being prepared.

By studying these paintings we can get a view of what a 19th Century Kitchen was really like. We can view a little piece of their world and get a better understanding of how they lived their daily lives. As a result we can improve our own interpretation, and our own presentations. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Egg Cups- A Breakfast Dish

This dish has become a household favorite. It is so easy to prepare, and it is very similar to modern deviled eggs.
The recipe, "Egg Cups- A Breakfast Dish" come from Housekeeping in Old Virginia, 1879.

I boiled 4 eggs, hard ( you can use as many as you like). After waiting for them to cool, they were peeled and halved. The yolks were mixed as described. I used ham as the meat this time, chopped it fairly small. I used about two tablespoons of butter, and salt and pepper to taste.  You need to mash the mixture for a while to get all the egg yolk mushed up and mixed with the ham, the butter/oil helps smooth out the mixture.

After getting the filling completely mixed up, it gets spooned into the egg halves. I have found that there is no neat way to this, and the filling is quite messy.

The recipe calls for a cream sauce over the eggs. I did not add the sauce to the eggs this time, as DH was going to eat them for lunch. The sauce is easy, put about half a cup of cream, with a little sugar (about at tablespoon) in a double boiler to heat the cream. The sauce does add a sweetness to the eggs if desired.

No. 3 Apple Pie

In preparation of an upcoming event, I decided to try some new recipes, one of those being apple pie. I have never made an apple pie, so this would be my first adventure, and for some reason I seem to have better results with recipes that are 150+ years old, I don't know why, so please don't ask (however, my DH has a theory on this).
 So, the crust.
I chose a simple recipe for the crust and pie out of  "The Practical Cook Book", 1850. It seemed simple enough, and since I can't really have a food processor at a Civil War event I needed a new crust recipe (my usual crust recipe came out of a Woman's Day magazine from last year).  So I chose "No. 1 Common Paste".  Converted to modern measurements it called for 2 sticks of butter ( I used unsalted at room temp to blend better), 4 cups of flour, 1 Teaspoon of salt, and about  1 cup of water.  I mixed the dough with my hands to make sure I had a good consistency. I turned it out on my wooden board that I kneed my bread on. It was almost too much dough for the small board, so I halved it to form a top & bottom crust. With the bottom rolled out nicely, I placed it in my lightly floured pie plate.  Crust, successful, so far....

 The pie. I chose again out of the same book for the pie. "No. 3 Apple Pie" sounded good. The recipe did not specify what apples to use, I chose Gala, they have a sweet taste that I really enjoy.  Peeled and sliced 3 large apples were enough to fill the crust. I heaped them into the crust. Since there were no measurements for the spices, I guessed. I chose the molasses from my cabinet that my grandpa brought me last year from the mountains (that is some good stuff!!!). I drizzled until the apples looked nicely covered. Then added the cinnamon, sprinkling it over the molasses. I did not have any allspice, so I dashed in a pinch of nutmeg,and the salt.  It looked so good at this point that I decided to snap a picture! My DH was excited at this point too, despite the mess I was making in the kitchen. It smelled good too! I was giddy at this point, it really looked like pie! 
I rolled out the rest of the dough for the top crust, and pinched it together on the sides, pulling off the excess dough as needed. Cutting a slit in the top as directed for steam to escape. Hmm, this may actually work!
The pie went in a "Moderate Oven" which means anywhere from 350-375. Mine was set at 350. Baked for 45 minutes, the crust did not really brown, except part of the edges. I wasn't sure when I took it out of the oven, it looked the same as when it was put in.  We let it cool for a bit before being too excited to wait any longer. It smelled so good as I cut into it! We scooped out some! IT WAS PIE! I made a successful pie! The apples were so good! The crust was a little bland, but after it soaked in the syrup it was nice too! 

For the future pie I think I will use a bit less flour. It was too much for the size of my pie plate. I may add a little sugar to the crust as well since it was a bit bland. But with less flour it may have more flavor too. I may let it cool longer too. The insides were a bit runny, which I noticed later after cooling became more like syrup. Other than that, it was good experience, and I plan on making it again soon!!