Apologies and Sugar Plums

From 1heckofaguy.com
The blog is slow right now, this is due to a combination of things, including slower internet at my new home.  

As soon as possible, the next installment of the Two Chicken Week will be up (it's already in the works).

In the meantime, with Yuletide on the way, I wanted to point readers in the direction of an old tradition that is gaining some new attention:  Sugarplums.

The Two Chicken Week--Part 1

Need a go-to menu for a week when money's tight?

Back in the day, before modern food preservation, you didn't really have recipes that called for, say, 5 chicken breasts.  What would happen is that you'd roast an entire chicken or cut of meat (or make it into a dish).  If there were leftovers, they'd get made into a pie, what was left after that became soup or stock.  Whole poultry or cut used, start to finish, in 4 days, tops.  In the spirit of that tactic, I bring you my use-everything tactic, for those tight budget weeks.

Dia de Los Muertos

First of all, check out The Old Foodie--here is a great post on Soulmass Bread today.

There is Steam in My Kitchen!

If you are unfamiliar with the concept of Steampunk, Scifipedia explains it rather succinctly as something that, "is set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century, and often set in Victorian era England—but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy, such as fictional technological inventions like those found in the works of HG Wells and Jules Verne .."

Of course, there's a lot more too it then that.   To me, as (obviously) a fan of the Victorian and Edwardian, it speaks of a time when there was still a possibility for adventure, where corners of the world still lurked undocumented.  It makes one wonder what might have been, without the advent of plastics, with style and manners retaining a softer look.

Of course, promptly after my little  mental airship into fantasy, the cook in me asks, what about the food?  I think there are a couple of ways someone might go on this.

The Gimmicky:

This is what we get into a lot when I see this topic discussed on various Steampunk boards.  It is, to me at least, the equivalent of taking just any old brown clothing item, tossing cogs and watch bits on it, and calling it a day.  Not that sepia and cogs aren't cool--this cake has been making the rounds online and is very well done, to say the least.  Huge, Rube Goldberg-esque machines also don't do the trick for me.  Technology has always been about doing something faster, easier, or more efficiently. 

If you want to discuss Victorian diets and food gimmicks, that actually leads in some interesting directions, particularly since that era invented the concept of "health food".  The Reverend Sylvester Graham invented the the graham cracker, convinced that a diet high in fat led to sexual excess (which, according to Snope's, was actually one of his lesser food eccentricities).  A similar eclectic vegetarian and Seventh-Day Adventist, bored with the non-meat oriented options for the Victorian breakfast table, developed corn flakes.  Or, you have salisbury steak.  The good Dr. Salisbury firmly believed that "vegetables and starchy foods could produce substances in the digestive system which poison and paralyze the tissues and can cause heart disease, tumors, mental illness and tuberculosis."

The Historic:

I have a soft spot for this one.  English cuisine traditionally gets a bad rap, but if you go back to Georgian period cooking, or look at the French-Inspired haute-cuisine of the turn of the last century, you find a lot of flavors that have become classics (with many people clueless about how delightful the original was), or have in a mass-produced age fallen by the wayside for no good reason.  For a crash course in 19th Century cooking, I'd strongly recommend some of the links in the sidebar, as well as the book Last Dinner on the Titanic, which provides an excellent cross-section of fare for First, Second, and Third class passengers(the last of which, incidentally, eating more nutritiously then the average modern American home).    I would also recommend some of my recent posts, such as that about Peaches Melba

The Mad Scientist:

Yes, there is a time and place for steam in the kitchen;  what enthusiasts often forget is that there are literally hundreds of kitchen gadgets that we have compliments of the Victorians!  The can opener, 1858(with cans first coming into use during the Napoleonic war).  The first egg beater, invented in Rhode Island in 1870.  Gelatin desserts and aspic creations meant hours of slaving over a hot stove, and immense talent in the chef.  Scientists started experimenting with pressure cookers clear back in the 17th Century, billed as, "A New Digester or Engine, for softaing bones, the description of its makes and use in cookery, voayages at see, confectionary, making of drinks, chemistry, and dying, etc.", but started to really come into it's own with industrial kitchens.  Personally, I can't think of a better example of Steam in the kitchen!

The Exotic:

Yes, traditional 19th Century food is often seen as boring, but it really was an age of discovery.  Foods began to circle the globe.  Curry and exotic spices which hadn't been common since the Middle Ages began to make a regular appearance in European cooking.  Foods like tomatoes and potatoes from the Colombian Exchange circled the globe with Caucasian colonists, permanently changing the face of food.  There were also bad affects--particularly when it came to the mass-produced, nutritionally deficient food that became desired as a symbol of position and upward mobility under Colonial Rule. The same thing also occurred with American immigrants, since cooking the "American Way" was considered a necessary part of fitting in, leaving old customs, and ways of dressing and eating at the door as much as possible. 

So what can be taken from all of the above?  I personally believe that Steampunk Food should be like Steampunk literature--taking what was in the direction of what might have been.  Instead of trying to slap "steam" on top of something already in use, or clinging to historical authenticity, there are some questions that we cooking enthusiasts should be asking ourselves:

What was the big, new, thing back in the day?

How would it have been different with quicker global travel, a la airship(the things that were amazing treats on the Titanic are an excellent resource for this)?

What would a crew have eaten that could cover the globe in a month or so?  Like tattoos told the story of where a sailor had been, what flavors and ingredients would have been popular had shelf life not been such an issue?  Would they have remained strange and lower-class, or been embraced by chefs like Escoffier? 

With a little research, the possibilities really are endless!  Not only that, it's a great reason to start to cook from scratch, and really come to understand the degree to which we stand on the Victorian's shoulders in the kitchen, for better or worse.

Gerald, the Cast Iron Skillet

Why yes...I name my cookware, not just actually living things, like a sourdough start...why ever do you ask?

Our move is, for the most part, done, and I'm shocked again about what in my kitchen really shines when I have limited resources.  So long as I have a soup pot, and my cast iron pan, I'm ok.  I think the same held true for many of our ancestors, given the popularity, still, of dutch oven and other forms of cast iron cooking in America. 

Cheesy Hash Skillet, Craft Foods

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Cake in a Cup

Raspberry Chocolate Cheesecake from our local spot, The Cocoa Bean. 
They're super, super trendy right now.  Even my little town has bakery that only does cupcakes, and sells them for insane prices(although they're fantastic...I have to admit). 

The Africa Cookbook: Tastes of a Continent

I'll be honest, here...there are rumors in my family that there was once a miner married to a Native American woman.  But those remain unconfirmed.  I'm white.  Fishbelly, burns in ten minutes of sun, goth is default merely because I rather like black, white.  And I'm in love with this cookbook.  

It's not the food of my grandmothers, in any way, shape, or form. It's about as foreign to me as a cookbook could get. But it is Great Grandmother's Food for millions of people.  Jessica B Harris does an excellent job of weaving together recipes and stories from her travels, making the food of Africa accessible and engaging. 


Now the Harvest is in,
Grain is in the bin.
Through hard work and God's aid
The year's rent has been paid.
With Pennies to spare
We're off to the Michaelmas Fair!

The Gallery of Regrettable Food

As much as I love the old and retro, all of us have some meals that we look back on with a mixture of amusement and downright horror. 

Bento, the Obscenely Adorable Lunch

Cookingcute.com, a great resource, although no longer live.
As the mother of a preschooler, I watch the increasing popularity of bento with a new interest this back to school season.  For those of you who aren't familiar with the term, a bento is a Japanese lunch box, containing little bits and bites of different foods, often in a multi-tired container(also referred to as a bento).   The concept is extremely old, but the modern applications are often fascinating.

Onions, Fish, and Barley; Anglo-Saxon Food

From the Cornell Library

It probably comes as no surprise that I have at least one Medieval cookbook.  Pleyn Delit is a personal favorite, particularly since it includes a reprinting of the original recipe, not just their version.
For a cookbook from an era before standard measurements is no small thing, since it allows the cook to interpret the recipe based on their own intuition. 

Most Medieval Cookbooks, though, Pleyn Delit included, have a tendency to focus on Norman influences, and with good reason.  The Normans had a much more diverse court, with trendy food, using lots of different sauces, and even showcasing recipes from the Moors in Spain.  There is also a greater emphasis on spices and presentation, with "subtleties", foods that were meant to look like something else, being a big-ticket item.
A King with his witan (council).

We can spend more time on those another time....If it's not as exciting, why do I have a soft spot for Anglo-Saxon food?

1) It's simplicity makes it easy for the lone cook to re-create. Even with modern technology, a late Medieval feast requires months of planning and a committed team to pull off.  I did my first Norman dinner at the age of 14, and for a family of five, it took three weeks prep, and two solid days of cooking.  Most Anglo Saxon food is so simple that with a little searching for items that aren't a regular part of the modern palate(but still sold at the average super-market), you could prepare it for a family dinner at home.

From Saebert's Folc, and Essex reenactment group.  More great pictures at their site. 

2) Anglo-Saxon food is healthy.  The British Museum Cookbook (a treasure that I regret that I do not own) paints a very clear picture of a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, and fish.  Honey is the primary sweetener.  While Germanic and Viking groups raise images of feasting on wild boar, drinking copious amounts of mead and ale, such behavior was a special event(not to mention wild boar being debatably healthier having lived on a foraging diet, then our modern, hay and grain fed cattle). There was also a more diverse use of grains like spelt wheat, barley and rye...all of which are easier on the digestive system for the average person of Northern European descent. 

3) Including more diversity in your life.  The average person has a set group of foods they buy in the store, that they rarely diverge from (think about what you buy in a month).  Many foods that were common to our ancestors have fallen out of favor, and often have never even been tasted by modern generations!  When was the last time you had nettles, or turnips, or rabbit?  How do you know you don't like them unless you try?

Here's a simple, tasty start, from the above British Museum Cookbook:

Griddled Trout With Herbs
Serves 6

The herbs below are what might have been used in Anglo-Saxon East
Anglia, but use whatever you might fancy. Try to use fresh, although
dried is acceptable.

6 fresh cleaned trout
6 sprigs fresh rosemary, or 1-2 tablespoons dried
75g (3 oz) soft butter
18 fresh mint leaves or 2 teaspoons dried
leaves from 6 sprigs fresh thyme or 2 teaspoons dried
6 fresh sage leaves or 1 scant teaspoon dried
1-2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
6-9 grinds black pepper

Put one sprig or generous shake of rosemary down the middle of each
fish. Chop all the other herbs and seasonings and mash them into the
soft butter. Use this to coat the fish generously on each side. Griddle,
barbeque or grill it for 4-5 minutes on each side or till the skin is
well browned and the flesh flaking off the bone. Baste now and then with
the butter which runs off. Serve at once with lot of fresh bread and a
salad or a simple green vegetable.

More basic information.
More Saxon and Viking recipes.

Dame Nellie Melba

Melba....Melba...how do you know that name, and why is it tied to food? 

Five Reasons I Have a Love-Hate Relationship with Martha Stewart

As the aliens eyed the seating arrangements with suspicion...all hope of the embassy dinner's success evaporated.  

 I don't think there is an adult middle-class American woman alive who doesn't have an opinion about Martha Stewart.

Meals for the Bachelor

I usually talk about very women-oriented stuff on here...today is an exception.

One of my favorite sites these days is The Art of Manliness.   No, it's not geared towards me, by any stretch of the imagination.  Instead, this site generates a feeling that is the online equivalent of the now extinct Men's Lodge,

In Search of The Wild Huckleberry

Image compliments of Eutopos Farm Website

I first noticed huckleberry syrups, jams, and treats during a trip to the Museum of Idaho shortly after we moved up here.  Hmm...looks good, but what's a huckleberry?  Like Huckleberry Finn?

Halloween has come early!

Yep...I know...it's a couple of months still.  But it's one of my favorite holidays, so it's going up early.

Thanks to Scrappin' Blogs for providing such awesome backgrounds totally free! 
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5 Leftovers Not To Throw Away

This great list showed up on CNN's Food Blog, Eatocracy yesterday, in an interview with Chef Russell Moore.  I thought these were great examples of not only using everything, but eating cheaper and tastier!
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Trying to investigate my personal past

This will most likely be a slow journey, but one that I'd like to update on as I go.  Since reading A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove, back in July, I've been spending a lot of time thinking about my own culinary heritage. 


If you haven't seen this site, it's pretty awesome. I believe that the original owner no longer runs it, having been overtaken by the Cheez Burger Blog Conglomerate, however, it's daily edible eye candy of the highest order.
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A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove

It's hardly surprising that I've had my eye on this book for a while now. Laura Schenone does an excellent job of giving an overview of Americans' lives in the kitchen while avoiding reading like a text book. It's not hard to forget, however, that Schenone is not a historian.

Remember to Keep Your Picnics Safe!

A lot of food safety rules weren't around when our great-grandmothers were planning their summer picnics, but after having worked almost 6 years in various aspects of food service, keeping food safe is important to me, especially as the temperature climbs!!! Here's a quick refresher for the most important ways to keep everyone healthy this Fourth of July weekend.

Locutus of Borg

It's time for me to get a new sourdough starter going. With my previous experiment, I've been shocked at how easy it is, given the right conditions. My MIL gave me a starter for Amish Friendship Bread that someone at church had given her.

Bringing Home the Bacon

There is an odd juxtaposition about this blog, for me. Cooking, particularly the labor-intense work that our fore-mothers put into cooking daily from scratch, is to most a taxing symbol of a bygone age.

Lips That Touch Liquor...

My husband's comment on the above picture: "Is that a threat or a promise?"

Since last time we talked about alcohol substitutions in food, I thought it would be helpful and interesting to do one on what our tea-totaling great-grandmother's would have consumed.

But What About the Vodka? The Science of Alcohol Substitution

There are many reasons why someone might want to substitute alcohol in a recipe: while the one that comes to mind immediately for me is religious dietary restrictions, it may be as simple as not wanting alcohol in a dish which will be served to children.

How, though, do you know what to substitute, particularly if you, like me, do not consume alcohol, and so do not have an idea of what flavors you are looking for?

Happy Mother's Day!

The huge gap since my last post is due to a move, so my apologies.

It's a little hard to believe in our modern era of brunch and flowers for Mother's Day, but having a day to honor mothers actually has a long history. The ancient Greeks and Romans honored mother goddesses such as Cybele and Juno during the spring. For our Medieval ancestors, this evolved into celebrating Lady Day on the Spring Equinox (around March 25th), in honor of the Virgin Mary. One of the early calls for a mother's day in America was the impassioned poetry of Julia Ward Howe, author of Battle Hymn of the Republic. In her Mother's Day Proclamation, Howe expresses her horror at the bloodshed of the Civil War, and calls on her fellow mothers to use their role within the home to teach their children peace, as well as to become an active voice for peace outside of that sphere.

February 11th--The Frugal Housewife

On this date in 1802 Lydia Maria Francis Child was born. We don't usually recognize her name now, but your great-great( in my case perhaps one more great) grandmother would have. Her book, printed in 1829, The Frugal Housewife made her the Julia Child of the 1830's-50's.

January 10th--Tea, Spices, and the East India Company

Tea is one of those ubiquitous flavors that can change the world while being completely taken for granted. It has both changed and promoted tradition, acted as a political linchpin, had a role in wars, been used as medicine, and has been both consumed and avoided for religious reasons. It has also been a sign of culture and refinement in almost every culture it has touched. Although Americans aren't as used to using tea in dishes as many Asian countries are, in recent years, black, white, and green tea have found their way out of the teacup and into recipes ranging from cheesecake to roast duck.

Today in the year 1839 brought the first Indian tea to England. Why is this important?

Home-made frozen dinners--Gyoza 101

There are a lot of foods that are easy to make a double batch of and freeze the other half for later. This can also be done with half a recipe, or in single servings if there are only one or two people at home--more incentive to cook without worrying it will go to waste!