Friday, September 27, 2013

Aren't you hot in that?

  There are upsides & downsides to historic cookery. I get to produce some of the best food that I have ever tasted, but I have to do it over a hot fire. A majority of us that do historic cooking demonstrations do so over open hearths in historic kitchens or in fire pits outside. Unless its really cold outside, the answer is yes, I am hot. But, I do so for my own safety. Very rarely do I cook when I am not "in costume", meaning I am fully dressed from the 19th century. Chemise, drawers, corset, petticoats, dress, apron, stockings, boots. Yes, 8 pieces of clothing, and yes it does get hot, but like food, I want to do it right. But sometimes, it can be hazardous with big skirts around open fires.

Fire safety is a real issue. There is always the threat of flames catching skirts at just the wrong time. In our historic kitchen at work we keep fire extinguishers nearby, in camps there are always buckets of water just in case. Some of the ways we can help keep such a thing from happening is to look at images from the past. 
"Shake Hands" Lilly Martin Spencer

CDV C. 1860s

What do we notice from both of these images? Both are ladies are in kitchen settings from the mid-19th century. They are wearing their clothing in a similar manner. We see that the skirt of the dress is pulled up and pinned/tucked behind the body (even the baby in the CDV, just like mom!).Pulling the skirt up has revealed that these ladies are wearing a "work petticoat", or a petticoat that is not white, probably made of wool. Both wearers have also shortened their sleeves. It is unclear in the Spencer painting if the sleeves are pushed up or indeed short sleeves like those seen in "Kiss Me and You'll Kiss the Lasses". In the CDV it is obvious that "mom" has unbuttoned her sleeves and pushed them up out of the way.  One thing we cannot really tell from these images is that "work" dresses usually had shorter skirts so that feet did not get tangled up in the hem.  This  look can be easily replicated.

Photo Credit: Leslie Macon

If you will be cooking on an open fire, I strongly recommend a wool work petticoat & a wool work apron. Wool will smolder rather than catch the flame. There are constant reminders in living history circles about the importance of natural fibers. Not only are they accurate, but they are safer. Modern fibers such as rayon and polyester burn quicker than cotton, linen & wool. Chemically enhanced fabrics also melt, and can melt to the skin causing worse injuries. No fabric itself is fire retardant, so be careful with whatever you wear

Want more:  Part 2  Part 3

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Pumpkin this, pumpkin that

Now that fall is here I have pulled a compilation of pumpkin reciept's to try! I have found a variety of pie & pudding reciept's over the past few days. Here is a sampling of what I have found from a few go-to books.

Confederate Receipt Book, 1863
I did make this pumpkin bread a few years ago for a shortages program. I used canned pumpkin & not fresh. The result was a heavy, "gummy" bread that received mixed reviews. 

The Housekeeper's Encyclopedia, 1861

The Virginia Housewife, 1838

The Practical Cookbook, 1850

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Plain Family Dinners for September

Meal planning is a popular go-to these days with hectic schedules fore everyone in the house. However, we see that they may not be that much of a new idea. Check out this week of  family dinners from How to Dine, Dinners & Dining, 1866. 

Check out all of those soups!! I think we may need to try some soups & stews soon!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Indian Pound Cake

So I recently acquired Hearthside Cooking by Nancy Carter Crump. It is a book that I have had my eye on for a while, and would you know that WAHLAH it was on my shelf at work (a perk of the system I must admit).  I perused the pages for days soaking in what Crump has to say; and as one who is constantly trying to find better, more accurate ways to do things, this was a wealthy of knowledge and I highly recommend it to anyone.
Back to the food- where this particular recipe comes from I am not too sure. Crump credits Eliza Leslie with the recipie for Indian Pound Cake on pg. 202. I have found at least two references to such a cake- in Seventy-five receipts for pastry, cakes, and sweetmeats, 1836, under "Indian batter cakes". Also found in Directions for Cookery, in Its Various Branches, 1844. 
Recipe as seen in Directions for Cookery, 1844.
The cake does have a simple list of ingredients; flour, cornmeal, sugar, butter, eggs, etc. This is a great option for making a cake when you don't have a chance to run to the store, most of these items are pantry staples. I warn you, make sure you have enough time to put this cake together (about 30 minutes). I try to do everything manually- not using electric mixers, etc.- so that I can get more accurate time if it is something I want to try in a camp setting. This cake also took about 4 bowls to mix- but I am a messy baker!

Start by combining your dry ingredients. The recipe suggest 2 tsp of grated nutmeg, I tend to think it is a bit overpowering, so I only used about half of a nutmeg.

Beating the eggs "until foamy" will take some time. You can use an electric mixer if making this at home- if not, pull out your trusty whisk and get to it....then when you get tired- make your husband whisk as well! Remember the eggs are the leavening for this recipe so this is a vital step.
Check out his lovely Regency Sideburns! 
When those eggs are nice and foamy- start creaming your butter, adding a little sugar at a time until well incorporated, beat until  nice and fluffy.
Now, there are three different elements to the cake- dry ingredients, eggs, and sugar/butter. Time to combine these.  Add about one third of the dry mix to the butter, incorporate well, then add about one third of the eggs, combine well- continued until well mixed.  This will be a very thick batter, more like a dough, but don't worry!
Put batter into a well buttered tube pan-
Cake batter in my great-grandmothers pan. 
Place in a 325* oven- this cake will take about a hour and half to bake.  During this time, sit, rest your arms, this has been a workout of a cake!
Check your cake- when a knife comes out clean, it is ready. Turn it out of the pan, and TA-DA...CAKE! I am amazed every time my cake falls right out of that pan perfectly.
This cake turns out to have a great flavor! It tastes like very sweet corn-bread. It is a nice cake when it is fresh out of the oven. But, as Eliza Leslie suggests, its does become very dry and hard and almost like sawdust if left sitting out. I made this particular cake for an event I was attending, and forgot it :(, and when we got home it was too dry to eat.

I must say that I think this has been my most successful cake to date, good flavor, not too heavy.

Happy Cooking!!