Monday, November 28, 2011

It's National French Toast Day!

Contrary to popular belief and technically speaking that is, French Toast isn't toast at all. As a matter of fact, it wasn't even created in France. In it's simplest form, French Toast is day-old bread dipped in a batter of egg and milk, and sauteed in butter. According to Mr. Breakfast, French Toast was introduced in 1724 by a man who owned a tavern near Albany, New York. His name was, you guessed it, Mr. French, Mr. Joseph French!

Do you know what they call French Toast in France? Pain Perdu or "lost bread." How apropos:) While exploring the Origin of French Toast, I became intrigued with the many national coats French Toast may cloak. For instance, in Britain, French toast may be referred to as Poor Knights of Windsor or Poor Knights Pudding. Eggy bread is another English term you may hear.

The popular history behind French toast (aka German toast, American toast, Spanish toast, Nun's toast, Cream toast, Breakfast toast, Mennonite toast, Pain Perdu, Panperdy, Arme Ritter, Suppe Dorate, Amarilla, Poor Knights of Windsor) is that it was created by medieval European cooks who needed to use every bit of food they could find to feed their families. They knew old, stale bread (French term "pain perdu" literally means lost bread) could be revived when moistened with milk and enriched with eggs. The traditional method of cookery was on a hot griddle prepped with a little fat (butter, oil). Quite like today...The Food Timeline

I hope those tidbits about French Toast are going to satisfy you for the time being because, I want to talk about my favorite version of French Toast; the Monte Cristo Sandwich. Have you heard of it? Don't worry if you haven't, I haven't come across another person besides Marion that knows what a Monte Cristo Sandwich is here in central Pennsylvania.

Most food historians generally think that the Monte Cristo sandwich is a variation of a French dish called Croque Monsieur. This original grilled cheese sandwich consisted of Gruyere cheese and lean ham between two slices of crust-less bread, fried in clarified butter. It was originally served in 1910 in a Paris cafe. This sandwich is still a popular snack or casual meal throughout France and Switzerland in most bars and cafes. It is usually made in a special sandwich grilling iron consisting of two hinged metal plates, each with two shell-shaped indentations. At most Paris cafes, the Croque Monsieur is no longer prepared as a square sandwich but rather as a one-sided tartine made with a large single slice of bread from a round loaf. What's Cooking America

As a matter of fact, just the other morning I asked the chef at my morning cafe whether he had the ingredients on hand to perform a Monte Cristo Sandwich. Well, I didn't say it quite like that. I simply asked Justin, the cook at Sunset West, if he knew what a Monte Cristo Sandwich was. He didn't. I then asked if anyone had ever come into the diner and requested a Monte Cristo Sandwich. He said someone had a few years ago and ironically enough, they too were from New York. Perhaps, it's a New York thing. I doubt it.

Basically, a Monte Cristo is a gussied up triple decker sandwich filled with tender slices of ham, turkey and cheese. That's how I prepare it anyway. However, it took me longer than I care to admit on getting it quite right. You see, in the past, my Monte Cristo sandwiches never held up quite right like those I use to get at my favorite diner in New York. And since it didn't appear anyone in the immediate vicinity was going to serve it to me on a silver platter, I just had to learn to make it on my own. Well, wouldn't you know it, I discovered the secret here. Most recipes I've encountered in the past didn't include adding flour to the eggy milk batter. And although the sandwich still tasted yummy, it just didn't have any substance. I tried changing up the bread, slicing the cold-cuts thinner, thicker and even omitting one of the "decks" and it still didn't feel quite right. Well, using this recipe, with a few minor ingredient changes, the results were exactly what I was looking for.

Monte Cristo Sandwich
adapted from norecipes.com
makes 2 sandwiches
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup freshly grated pecorino romano
1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
6 thin slices of challah bread or brioche
1 tablespoon butter
2 ounces Emmentaler (Swiss) cheese, sliced thin
1/4 pound sliced honey roasted turkey
1/4 pound sliced black forrest ham
powdered sugar
strawberry or raspberry jam

Whisk the egg, milk, flour, cheese and nutmeg together until smooth. Heat a skillet or griddle large enough to accomodate all the slices of bread in a single layer over medium heat. Dip the slices of bread into the egg mixture, giving it a few seconds on each side to absorb the batter.

Add the butter to the pan once it is hot, then place as many slices of battered bread onto it as you can fit. Wait till it is golden brown and crisp on one side, then flip and top 4 pieces of bread with the cheese. Put the turkey on 2 of cheesed slices of bread and the ham on the other 2 cheesed slices of bread.

Fry until the bread is browned and crisp on the second side, then make the sandwich by stacking a ham slice with a turkey slice topped with a plain piece of French toast. Slice the sandwiches in half, dust with powdered sugar, and serve with a small bowl of jam.

I didn't have any "fancy" bread on hand when the urge struck so I used plain ol' white sliced bread. Pepperidge Farm I believe. I added a sprinkling of vanilla sugar to the egg and milk batter because I usually add vanilla sugar to regular French Toast. As for the turkey, ham and cheese, I used Boar's Head products because IMHO, they are the next best thing when I don't have fresh turkey ham or cheese on hand. The first time I prepared it, Marion and I had it for breakfast. Yes, we skipped going to Sunset one morning and had this instead. That's my daughter Michele's home made freezer strawberry jam slathered on top. Delicious in its own right!!!

Well, it was so darn good, I just had to make it again a few weeks later. This time topped with fried apples!!! Oh my holy goodness, it was scrumptious!!!

I would be remiss if I didn't mention one more crumb I learned about French Toast in my travels. It seems, for those of us who live in areas of the world where snow is inevitable, the weather may dictate when the French Toast Weather Alert goes into effect. What? You've never heard of the French Toast Weather forecast? I hadn't either. It seems, it has everything to do with mobs of people running to the grocery store to pick up the bare necessities of milk, bread and eggs when the weather person warns us of an impending snow storm or hurricane. Suzanne, the Farmer's Wife has a great post about French Toast and the weather on her blog if you would like to dig deeper:)

FYI: If you have ever seen the movie Unstoppable with Denzel Washington, chances are you too have seen Sunset West.

1. Is French Toast Really French?
2. The Origin of the French Toast
3. Pain Trouve au Four (Baked French Toast)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Where's the Sage?

How many of you remember that 1980s Wendy's commercial where Clara Peller insists on knowing "Where's the Beef?" I remember it like it was yesterday, Wait!, it was yesterday!!! In the Fluffy Bun commercial, Clara Peller, a feisty elderly woman, gets just a little ticked off when she is served a huge hamburger bun and a teeny weeny hamburger at a competitor's hamburger "joint."

Clara Peller was 81 years young when she reached legendary fame in that $8 million dollar advertising campaign for Wendy's. Her ruffled face was on everything from T-Shirts to coffee mugs with a couple of greeting cards for good looks! It seemed like everyone got on the Where's the Beef kick!
Fast forward a few years, or more, to Sunday, November 20, 2011, less than a week before Thanksgiving. Marion and I decided a few weeks ago that we were going to have a quiet non-traditional Thanksgiving. Oh yes, there would be turkey with all the trimmings albeit, small on the turkey and even less on the trimmings. How much can two women eat after all? For those of you who may be new to this blog, Marion is a friend of mine from New York. A few years ago when I moved to Pennsylvania, I invited Marion to share my home with me. To my delight, she graciously accepted and we've been like two peas in a pod ever since:) This is a picture of her on her 91st birthday.

Every now and again, Marion receives phone calls from relatives in New York. Truth be told, we don't get many visitors though in our corner of the world. The last "big" visit we had was in July when my daughter and the kids came in from Idaho. It seemed like everyone came to visit our visitors! They did a bit of visiting too. Here they are with their Uncle John:)

You can imagine our surprise when Marion got a call from her grandson, this past Friday, saying that he and his pregnant wife were coming up to share Thanksgiving with us. Thankfully, we hadn't gone Thanksgiving Day food shopping yet. Our plan was to go on Sunday morning after church. And so we did. It wasn't really as chaotic as may be expected. Under "normal" circumstances there would be a long list of "must haves" and maybes? We stuck with the must haves and omitted the maybes altogether. I would love to say the whole shopping experience went over without a hitch but, no can do. It all stems around The Sage! Now that I look back on the morning, I suppose we should have gone into State College to go food shopping.

"Where's the Sage" I hear Marion questioning the produce person, as I'm squeezing a few lemons for the hummus. (we had decided on hummus for snacking on as we were cooking; pre guests:)

"It's in the produce section" I hear a young voice flippantly reply.

"Where's the Sage" I hear Marion saying again as if she was hard of hearing. She isn't. I sometimes think she hears better than I do. I know for sure she sees better than I do with my reading glasses on and her eyes bare:)

"Where's the Sage" she yells, again, with a notable sign of impatience in her voice. I make my way to the shopping cart where Marion is standing askew.

"What seems to be the problem?" I question politely?

"I can't find the sage" she replies with a tone of frustration in her voice. "And no one will help me" she adds.
Not to worry, I assure her. I have bundles of Sage drying in the garage. "We need fresh sage," she insists. "Let's look over there" I point to the small section of herb plants I spied by lettuce section. "There's no fresh sage here" she quips. Once again I reassure her that there's plenty of Sage in the garage hanging from the ceiling. I'd show them to her, and you as a matter of fact, if I could only get us both out of the produce aisle and back home...

Herb for the Wise

Close your eyes real tight and try to imagine a Thanksgiving without Sage. Chances are, you can't unless you don't celebrate Thanksgiving in your neck of the woods. In that case, imagine plump rich home made sausage links minus the Sage. You definitely can not if you're Marion. Marion attributes her enhanced memory to Sage. And, she's not the only one. The ancient Greeks and Romans believed Sage to be a memory stimulant. Arab physicians believed Sage extended life expectancy to the point of immortality! Another plus to Marion and the testament "He that would live foraye (forever) must eat Sage in May"

Marion also swears by this Sage and Peppermint Facial Steam. Try it when you're feeling all washed up and crinkly. You'll be delightfully amazed!
After washing your face, fill a large bowl with about 2 pints of boiling water and add 2 tablespoons of freshly chopped sage and 2 tablespoons of freshly chopped peppermint. Hold your head about 12 inches above the bowl and cover your head with a large towel to prevent the steam from escaping. After about 10 minutes, gently pat your face with a face cloth rinsed with cold water.
Now don't you feel like a new person!!! Here are a few more things I learned about Sage on our ride home.

  • Sage (salvia officinalis ), also called Red or Garden Sage, belongs to the Mint family.
  • There are more than 750 varieties of Sage but only a few are used in the kitchen.
  • The Romans used "the sacred herb" in their baths to ease aching muscles and sore, tired feet.
  • American Indians used it for medicinal purposes. They claimed it cured skin sores.
  • In the the early nineteenth century, Sage was used to disguise the flavor of spoiled meats.
  • Sage is a rich source of vitamin A.
  • It is said, that in 812 AD., Sage's medicinal properties were so important that Charlemagne ordered it planted on the imperial farms in Germany.
Have you heard the legend of the "Vinegar of the Four Robbers?" It goes something like this:
Story Of Four Thieves: During a terrible plague epidemic that swept through Europe, there were four robbers who became well-known for robbing houses of plague victims. Despite the enormous risk, they were able to resist falling ill. When they were finally caught and sentenced to death they were promised their freedom if they gave their secret for how they escaped from catching the deadly disease. The recipe they gave, which may be still be found in the archives of Toulouse,not only included the essential oil of Rosemary, it also contained Sage. They had compounded a vinegar steeped with sage, thyme, lavender, rosemary and several other aromatic herbs which, as we know now, are strong germicides. (Maurice Mességué's Way To Natural Health and Beauty ©1972 pg. 90)
"He who would live for aye Must eat sage in May." Old English Proverb.

From time immemorial sage has been renowned for its wonderful health-giving properties. The very name of the plant, Salvia, means health, and the Arabians have a proverb which was old in the days of Charlemagne: "How can a man die who has Sage in his garden?" The Chinese valued this herb so highly that the Dutch in old days carried on a profitable trade by exchanging sage for tea, and for one pound of dried sage leaves the Chinese gave three pounds of tea. The proper time of year to eat sage or to drink sage tea is in spring, and formerly country folk used to eat quantities of it with bread and butter or bread and cheese. There is an old belief that where sage prospers in a garden the woman rules, and another that the plant flourishes or withers according to the prosperity of the master of the house.
The health benefits of this native Mediterranean shrub are documented by many sources. The English herbalist, Gerard wrote, "Sage is singularly good for the head and brain, it quickeneth the senses and memory, strengtheneth the sinews, restoreth health to those that have the palsy, and taketh away shakey trembling of the members." Steeped in folklore or steeped in tea, Sage symbolizes domestic virtue, wisdom, skill, esteem, long life, good health and in some cases, increased psychic powers. It's no wonder that the International Herb Association awarded Sage the title "Herb of the Year" in 2001. (Horseradish is the Herb of the Year for 2011 and next year, we'll be celebrating Roses:)

In the kitchen, not only does Sage infuse a depth of earthy fragrance to stuffings and dressings, the sweet savory flavor of Sage compliments dried bean dishes, stews, sauces, roasted meats and fish dishes. It has a digestive affinity to rich and fatty foods. It is often used with pork, goose and duck. Sage is used as a flavoring in a cheese called Sage Derby. (pronounced "darby")
Sage Derby

Sage Derby is a cheddar type gourmet cheese made using leaf sage for flavor, and colored using chlorophyll (plant coloring) to give a green marbled finish. The finely chopped sage leaf gives a subtle extra flavor. Sage Derby is matured for around 12 weeks as per mild cheddar. (source)
I can tell you from my own experience, Derby cheese makes for an interesting quiche:)
Sage used to be held in such repute that both bread and cheese were flavoured with it in the making, and one herbal doctor even advocated its use instead of tobacco. Red sage is rarely seen, but what a handsome plant it is when well grown! There are few leaves more beautiful than its deep maroon-coloured ones, especially in early spring when they contrast so well with the tender green of the young shoots. Old-fashioned country folk say that red sage never does well unless the original slip were planted by some one with a "lucky hand."
Below is the recipe for Crispy Sage Leaves with Aioli pictured above. It was harvested from one of my favorite herb magazines; Herb Companion (Nov. 2007) I hope I have inspired you to find room in your pantry for Sage. Enjoy:)
Crispy Sage leaves with Aioli
Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

1. Another Clara Peller ad (in this one she's driving a car:)
2. TV Commercials We All Remember
3. A Garden of Herbs: Being a Practical Handbook to the Making of an old English Herb Garden... by Eleanour Sinclair Rohde (1922) @googlebooks
4. The Nutrition of Sage
5. Myths About the Sage Herb
6. Legend of the Sage Plant (A Christmas Story)
7. How to Harvest Sage (it doesn't seem like this blog is still updating but the descriptive pictures are worth the trip!)
8. Top image courtesy Herb Companion
1. Sage Cheese Appetizer (savory combination of sage, garlic and cheese)
2. Walnut Sage Cheese Crisps ("a nice party cracker.")
3. Pineapple Sage Pound Cake (Pineapple Sage makes a lovely flower garden plant. The crimson flowers and pineapple sage scented leaves bring lots of butterflies and hummingbirds:)
4. Roasted Butternut Squash Polenta with Fresh Sage
5. Sage Cheese recipe (1857)
6. Derby Sage Parsnips

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Thanksgiving Lady" and the Honored Pumpkin Pie

As the title of this post might suggest, there was indeed a woman behind the promotion of Thanksgiving as a national holiday. Her name was Sarah Josepha Hale and you can read the first passage about the "Thanksgiving Lady" now or, you can join in as I share the rest of the article by Mariette Bowles as found in the November 1941 issue of American Cookery Magazine.

The Honored Pumpkin Pie

Thanksgiving Lady

This is Mrs. Hale's own recipe, no doubt the one by which were made the pies that held the place of honor at the Northwood feast.

Take out the seeds and pare the pumpkin or squash; but in taking out the seeds do not scrape the inside f the pumpkin; the part nearest the seeds is the sweetest; then stew the pumpkin, and strain it through a sieve or colander. To a quart of milk, for a fair pie, three eggs are sufficient. Stir in the stewed pumpkin with your milk and beaten eggs till it is as thick as you can stir round rapidly and easily. If the pie is wanted richer make it thinner and add another egg or two; but even one egg to a quart of milk makes very decent pies. Sweeten with molasses or sugar, add two teaspoons salt, 2 tablespoons sifted cinnamon and one of powdered ginger, but allspice may be used or any other spice that is preferred. The peel of a lemon grated in gives a pleasant flavor. The more eggs, says one American authority the better the pie. Some put one egg to a gill (4 ounces) of milk. Bake about an hour in deep plates, or shallow dishes, without an upper crust in a warm oven.

Here, too, is her recipe for the equally important chicken pie:
Wash and cut the chicken (it should be young and tender) in pieces and put in a dish; then season it to your taste with salt, pepper, a blade or two of mace, and some nutmeg. When your paste is ready for the chicken, put it in and fill it about two-thirds with water; and several lumps of good sweet butter, and put on the top crust. A pie with one chicken will require from one hour to three-quarters of an hour to bake. If the chickens are old, or at all tough, it is best to parboil the pieces in just sufficient water to cover them; then strain this water and add it to the pie; no other moistening will be required.

Today, chicken pie seems generally to have yielded to a turkey as the most important item of a Thanksgiving menu. The variety of pies served as dessert is now much more limited than it was on the Thanksgiving Day the Romelee family celebrated more than a century ago. There are now few heads of household who can look at a crowded table and say proudly that everything--except spices and salt--came from their own farms.

None of this would have surprised Mrs. Hale. She knew that Northwood pictured a way of American life that even when the book was written was rapidly vanishing into the past. She knew and intended that future readers would smile a bit at the manners it so carefully portrayed. That purpose explains her painstaking attention to the details of the meal.

It does not altogether account for the character of the Squire, however, or for his grace--"the breathings of a good and grateful heart." To understand that, you have to look, as he probably did himself, back to the Pilgrim Fathers. Thanksgiving was their idea originally. It was left to Sarah Josepha Hale to realize that the idea was a good one to pass along to us--one day of every year set aside for us all to feel "good and grateful", and to eat American Pumpkin Pie.

I just can't end this post without including a recipe or two for Pumpkin Pie. Here are a recipe I found in a back issue of Taste of Home Magazine.

Egg Nog Pumpkin Pie

And what would the Thanksgiving Season be without a dash of whimsy? I know some of you have seen this poem before and for that I aplogize. For those of you who have not, here's a Pumpkin Pie recipe in verse form:

Pumpkin Pie
Grandmother Lord was a woman wise
And this is the way she made pumkin pie:
Wash pumpkin and cut it small,
Put into, cook in a kettle tall
So that the bubbles will not pop out
To spatter the stove all round about.
Let it bubble and boil and stew
The livelong day 'till it's brown all through;

Stirring it often, and when its done,
Make it through the colander run.
Take of molasses. half a cup,
And with 3 of pumpkin mix up:
Cup and one-half of sugar white
And salt one-half a teaspoon quite.
Mix these well, stirring does no harm--
Then ginger, cinnamon, butterwarm,
A teaspoon each of the above
To season the pies of the Yankee's love.

Then four fresh eggs and a quart of milk,
Line three round tins with pastry white.
Beat well and stir 'till as fine as silk;
Pour in your filling and bake them quite

A full half hour, 'till they're well done
Then let them cool, and sire and son
And husband and preacher and family friend
Will praise your pumpkin pies no end. 
North Dakota Baptist Women Cookbook

1. Sarah Josepha Hale @ wiki (has both a picture of her and title page of the Northwood book
2. Northwood; a Tale of New England, Volume 1 By Sarah Josepha Buell Hale @ google books
3. Behind Every American Thanksgiving is a Great Woman
Additional resources and recipes can be found in Part One of this post.
1. James Beard's Pumpkin Pie With Candied Ginger

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The "Thanksgiving Lady" and Indian Pudding

The following article, by Mariette Bowles, was printed in the November 1941 issue of American Cookery Magazine.

Thanksgiving Lady

Each year at Thanksgiving time everyone quite properly honors the memories of the Pilgrim Fathers who gave the original idea, and of Abraham Lincoln, who made it a national affair. But another and equally important influence seldom receives sufficient recognition--Sarah Josepha Hale, remembered as the editor of Godey's Lady's Book, but infrequently recalled as the woman who put Thanksgiving Day into every American home.

Mrs. Hale's earliest ambition, she said was twofold: "to promote the reputation of my own sex and to do something for my country." These purposes are evident in all the accomplishments of her extraordinarily busy life. An enthusiastic advocate of higher education for girls, a hearty supporter of legislation to protect women's rights, she used her position as editor of one of America's most influential magazines in a way that benefitted "her own sex and her own country" throughout her long and crowded career.

Thanksgiving Day was, therefore, a singularly appropriate holiday for her to sponsor. More than the Fourth of July itself, it is truly our national festival, honoring the sense of prosperity and general well-being that is--our country at its best. Then, too, Thanksgiving has done more even than Mother's Day "to promote the reputation of the American woman." Nowhere do her skill and ability show to better advantage that at the annual dinners that she prepares for her children and grandchildren to remember all their lives. Had Sarah Josepha Hale done nothing more than institute such a national holiday, she would have gone a long way toward realizing the two ambitions she had as a little girl.

Of course, Mrs. Hale did not invent Thanksgiving Day. The Pilgrims did that. She did not even have the original idea of having it proclaimed nationally. That was George Washington. But after him came a long interval during which the day was celebrated in a haphazard fashion, on different days in the different parts of the United States; in some religions, not at all.

It was always an important occasion in Mrs. Hale's native New England. Her first book, Northwood, contains a description of such a dinner as she must often have attended in Newport, New Hampshire, where she spent her girlhood and young womanhood. Most of the characters in the novel are people who might have been her neighbors, though a couple of Englishmen wander through the pages, very cleverly helping the author fulfill her purpose. Descriptions and explanations of American life and customs are plausible, even necessary, to make everything clear to strangers from across the sea.

New Hampshire Thanksgiving

The Thanksgiving dinner which one of them attended must have impressed him as much as it does a modern reader. Perhaps you think you have eaten noteworthy meals yourself. But by Northwood standards almost any contemporary fare seems scant indeed. There was, as you would expect, roast turkey with savory dressing. There were the customary "innumerable bowls of gravy and vegetables." But this was only the beginning. Besides them on the table sat a "surloin" of beef, a leg of pork, a joint of mutton, a goose and a pair of duckling.
None of these, not even the turkey, was so important as the "rich burgomaster of the provision called a chicken pie. It was formed of the choicest parts of the fowl, enriched and seasoned with a profusion of butter and pepper and covered with an excellent puff paste, like the celebrated pumpkin pie an indispensable part of a good and true Yankee Thanksgiving; the size of pie usually denoting the gratitude of the party who prepared the feast.

Yankee Pies of Every Name

Pickles, preserves and butter are barely noted in passing, as are "plumb" pudding and custard. There were pies of every name and description ever known in Yankeeland, yet the pumpkin pie occupied the most important niche. All this was accompanied by cider, ginger beer (of which Squire Romelee's wife was especially proud.) and currant wine. The meal was concluded with an assortment of rich cake, sweetmeats and fruit.

No wonder that the Squire had said grace devoutly, in no superficial way, but as sincere "breathing of a good and grateful heart." No wonder Mrs. Hale found such a family celebration worthy of being cherished always by Americans everywhere. No wonder we have adopted it gratefully, though we may marvel a bit at the remarkable culinary skill and even more remarkable appetites of our ancestors of the 1820's.

It was in 1827 that Northwood was published, nearly forty years before its author persuaded Abraham Lincoln to issue the first Thanksgiving Proclamation, a custom that succeeding presidents have followed faithfully.

The novel was the beginning of Mrs. Hale's literary career, undertaken after the death of her husband. He left her to raise and educate five children, the eldest of whom was only seven years old. Her solution of the problem was an unusual one for a woman in her middle thirties, with little formal education, whose only previous experience had been teaching district school and running a household. She first wrote Northwood. Then she went to Boston to edit The Ladies Magazine. When that was purchased by Louis Godey of Godey's Lady's Book, she became his literary editor, first in Boston and later in Philadelphia. After she had become one of the most famous women in America, she was able to launch her campaign to put Thanksgiving Day into everyone's calendar.

She began writing to governors of the separate states, urging them to issue their own proclamations. This she did for several years, until finally she convinced Abraham Lincoln of the value of such a holiday to the nation as a whole. Om 1864 he proclaimed the last Thursday in November a day of national Thanksgiving. One of the "lady's editors" dearest ambitions had been realized.

That Sarah Josepha Hale appreciated the way it should be celebrated is clear from her description of the Northwood Squire's dinner. It is comforting to know also that she thoroughly understood the effort and skill that went into the preparation of such a feast. An experienced housewife herself, she had a practical knowledge of and great respect for the art of cookery. She was the author of several very popular cookbooks. Since they had a wide sale, it is fair to suppose that she contributed in a direct way to the success of many of the Thanksgiving dinners that were celebrated at her instigation. No doubt many of them were prepared in pantries and kitchens where Mrs. Hales Receipts for Million the New Household Receipt book...The Ladies New Book of Cookery or Modern Cookery (an English cookbook which she edited in the American edition) stood on the broad shelf.

Many of her ideas about food make strange reading today written at a period when she could say, "The art of making bread is the most important one in cookery." She explains in detail what a simple process it is. You can "set the sponge at seven o'clock and have the loaves out of the oven at twelve, a matter of a mere five hours. Most of this time, she adds, can be devoted to needlework, as only a half or three-quarters of an hour must be spent in kneading, which is, moreover a very "beneficial exercise."

America's Own Dish

Louise here:) The final excerpt for today's post from the "Thanksgiving Lady" story speaks to today's "national" day; Indian Pudding Day.

In The Story of Corn, author Betty Fussell uncovers the mysterious appearance of Indian Pudding for the first time in writing on March 26, 1722.

back to the story...

"Thanksgiving Lady con't

As a woman of familiar with "the best receipts of all the nations in the world," she devotes a great deal of her attention to dishes which are peculiarly American. Indian cakes, maize pudding (both the boiled and the baked), pumpkin, squash, and carrot pies are among the foods she lists as being native American--and delicious. "Plain Baked Indian Pudding" is one of her favorites. This seems to her to satisfy perfectly the three standards that she sets for good food; that it meets the standards of economy, health and taste.

Pies of course, as one can see from the Northwood dinner, stand very high in her estimation. But they must be good. "A poor pie," she warns ambitious cooks, "is a sad thing indeed." Even Miss Acton, whose English cookbook she edited, did not meet Mrs. Hale's rigid requirements for a satisfactory pumpkin pie. (An indispensable part of a good and true Yankee Thanksgiving, you remember...)

I will continue on with part two of the "Thanksgiving Lady" and The Honored Pumpkin Pie on Wednesday. In the mean time, I harvested a Thanksgiving menu from The American Heritage Cookbook compiled by the editors of American Heritage Magazine for you to enjoy:)

For those of you who would like to try your hand at preparing Indian Pudding for each of your guests, here is a bit of a commentary once again from Betty Fussell in I Hear America Cooking.

Amelia Simmons gives three variations of "A Nice Indian Pudding," two of them baked and one of them boiled. The boiled one is the most primitive--salted and sweetened, put into a strong cloth to "secure from wet," and boiled twelve hours. Her nicest one is sweetened with sugar, then spiced, buttered, egged, and raisined, to be baked for a mere hour and a half because the proportion of meal to milk is so small that the results is more like a thickened custard than a hasty pudding...

Mrs. A L. Webster is the one who goes to town on Indian Puddings, in her Improved Housewife (1842), listing two boiled and three baked. Here the important distinction is between plain or rich. Her Plain Boiled Pudding may be made a little richer, she says by adding eggs and chopped suet, which, with grated lemon, cinnamon, and nutmeg, made up her Rich Boiled Pudding. This one is nice she says, cut in slices when cold and fried; or when hot, served with a sauce of drawn butter, wine, and nutmeg. Webster's pudding tips show what the colonial pudding maker was up against. She must first wash the salt from the butter, stone her raisins, avoid stale eggs, and remember to beat them, make her pudding bag of German sheeting ("a cloth less thick will admit water, and deteriorate the pudding"), wet the bag in water and then wring it out and flour it inside and remember to leave room for the pudding to swell...

Mrs. Webster's book was immensely popular at mid-century because she was as practical as Lydia Child but not quite as frugal. Thus her Indian Pudding called for grated lemon peel or essence. Often apples were added for variety, as was pumpkin, which I've used here and baked in muffin pans for speed and ease.

Happy Indian Pudding Day!
photo from What's Cooking America

1. Northwood (online @ google books)
2. The Good Housekeeper: or, The Way to Live Well and to be Well While We Live ... By Sarah Josepha Buell Hale (Google books)
3. Mrs. Hale's Receipts for the Million (available online)
4. Godey's Arm Chair: Thanksgiving as a National Holiday
5. The Story of Corn (google books limited viewing)
1. Crockpot Indian Pudding
2. Hasty Pudding - Indian Pudding

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Celebrating Gail Borden and Sweetened Condensed Milk

Quick! Check your pantry. Do you have a can of sweetened condensed milk lurking in your cupboard? Yep, it should be right by the evaporated milk you bought to make Pumpkin Pie. Did you find it? Good. Because today, we are talking about Gail Borden and one of his most successful inventions, (next to Elsie the cow that is:) sweetened condensed milk! (actually, Elsie didn't come along until many years later:)

"I tried and failed. I tried again and again and succeeded." ~Gail Borden~
By all accounts, Gail Borden Jr. was an extraordinary human being.
As an American philanthropist, businessman, and inventor, Gail Borden, Jr. envisioned food concentrates as a means of safeguarding the human food supply. He was the first to develop a commercial method of condensing milk, and the dairy company founded by him (renamed Borden, Inc., in 1968) expanded and diversified to become a sizable corporation operating in many areas of business.
Gail Borden, Jr., inventor, publisher, surveyor, and founder of the Borden Company, son of Gail and Philadelphia Borden, was born in Norwich, New York, on November 9, 1801. In 1816 the family moved to New London, Indiana, where Borden obtained his only formal schooling, totaling not more than a year and a half. He is thought to have been captain of the local militia when barely twenty years old. In 1822 he was a principal figure in rescuing a freedman from rustlers. Shortly afterward he moved to Mississippi in search of a milder climate to cure a persistent cough. In Mississippi Borden surveyed and taught school. In 1826 he was official surveyor for Amite County as well as deputy federal surveyor. (source)

It would be a futile attempt on my part to review the many accomplishments of "America's Milkman." I have referred to Dr. Borden often on this blog and at my Tasteful Inventions blog. Today, I would like to concentrate on that creamy, sugary, canned syrup we all indulge and love, sweetened condensed milk.
Returning from a trip to England in 1851, he was greatly distressed to see how hundreds of poor immigrants suffered—and their babies sickened and died—from lack of fresh milk on the long sea voyage. At that time the only way to provide milk at sea was to carry cows on the ship, but even then there was no ice for keeping the milk, no means of protecting it against contamination.

Condensed Milk Timeline:

Up to the early 1880s, condensed milk was the only kind of milk sold in hermetically sealed cans; evaporated milk was manufactured, but it was sold like fresh milk in open containers. Condensed milk was inexpensive to transport and its keeping qualities were highly dependable. I should mention, although this is a brief timeline of the evolution of condensed milk, Gail Borden's experiments; successes and failures were not without financial hardship and personal loss.
  • November 9, 1801: Gail Borden born in Norwich, New York.
  • 1851: Visiting a Shaker community at New Lebanon, N.Y., Borden was inspired by the vacuum pans he had seen used by Shakers to condense fruit juice. He decides that milk could be condensed in the same way without burning it or having it curdle. It then could remain wholesome indefinitely.
  • 1853: Gail Borden applies to patent his revolutionary process for canning milk by concentrating it in a partial vacuum and adding sugar to preserve it.
  • August 19, 1856: Gail Borden (nearly 56 years old:) receives US patent #15,553 for his milk condensing process. For the first time milk can be kept pure and storable without the benefit of refrigeration and also can be safely distributed over great distances...The first condensary is set up at Wolcottville, Conn—now the city of Torrington as Gail Borden & Company. Because of insufficient money to operate the factory, the plant was abandoned.
  • 1857: Gail Borden establishes the New York Condensed Milk Company and begins manufacturing and selling condensed milk under the now famous Eagle Brand.
New Magic in the Kitchen ca 1920s

  • 1858: With financial backing from Jeremiah Milbank the name of the company is changed to the New York Condensed Milk Co., and an office is opened in the basement of 173 Canal Street, New York City.
  • May 22, 1858: The first advertisement for "Borden's Condensed Milk" appears in Leslie's Weekly.
  • June, 1861: Just two months after the outbreak of the Civil War, a larger factory is needed and Borden moves to the village of Wassaic, New York which was located on the railroad and offered better chances for expansion. "The United States Government immediately commandeers the entire output of condensed milk for use in the Army and in hospitals."
  • 1864: Gail Borden's New York Condensed Milk Company constructed the New York Milk Condensery in Brewster, New York. This condensery, a model of cleanliness and efficiency was the largest and most advanced milk factory and was Borden's first commercially successful plant. Over 200 dairy farmers supplied 20,000 gallons of milk daily to the Brewster plant as demand was driven by the Civil War.
  • 1866: The first European condensed milk factory is built by The Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Company at Cham, Switzerland under the direction of George H. Page.
  • 1871: The first Canadian condensery was built at Truro, Nova Scotia, in 1871
  • 1874: Borden dies in Borden, Texas on January 11, 1874.
American Kitchen Magazine; 1899

Sweetened Condensed Milk Recipes

As I was scanning through an assortment of Eagle Brand recipe books in my collection, I became intrigued with one particular heading in New Magic in the Kitchen most likely published in the early 1920s. The ladies who compiled the booklet challenged themselves to note the difference in cooking the same recipes. One would construct the recipe using sweetened condensed milk and the other would use the "long" method of preparing the same recipe. The purpose of this experiment was to display the time and the number of ingredients in each recipe. Here are the results for two of the five recipes.

Intrigued by the notion, I chose this Graham Cracker Cake recipe from the booklet and a similar recipe for Old Fashioned Graham Cracker Cake found here.

Here's a recipe for Caramel Pudding from the same booklet and the Smitten Kitchen.

Oh this is fun! Let's change it up a bit though. I found this recipe for Butterscotch Dip in a more recent addition of Eagle Brand Dessert recipes. I also found an intriguing rendition at the Food Network, presented by Paula Deen.

As you can imagine, I could go on and on sharing sweetened condensed milk recipes. Alas, no can do...However, there are spoonfuls of recipes around you. I've left a few starting points below. One last thing, when it comes to sweetened condensed milk, it's very easy to make at home. Here's one recipe to make your own. And another from about.com
How To Make Sweetened Condensed Milk Substitute
Here's How:
1. Pour 1/2 cup of boiling water into a blender.
2. Add 1 cup of nonfat dry milk.
3. Add 2/3 cup sugar.
4. Add 3 tablespoons of melted butter.
5. Add a few drops of vanilla.
Cover and blend on high speed for 30 seconds or until smooth.
Remove from the blender.
Use in a recipe immediately or store in a covered container in the refrigerator.
Tip: A food processor may be used to blend the ingredients.

1. Condensed Milk and Milk Powder: Prepared for the Use of Milk Condenseries By Otto Frederick Hunziker (1920) @google books
2. Mr. Hires and the Black Cow (previous post)
3. Condensed Milk vs. Evaporated Milk; what's the difference?
4. Can I use fat free sweetened condensed milk in place of full fat?
1. Gloria, hostess of Canela Kitchen, is a huge fan of sweetened condensed milk. A quick search on her blog turned up a delicious assortment of recipes!
2. Milk in a Can Goes Glam (Interesting article from The New York Times)
3. Sweetened Condensed Milk Cocada
4. Condensed Milk Fudge
5. Inside-Out German Chocolate Cake with a decadent sweetened condensed milk filling
6. Vietnamese Iced Coffee (Cafe Sua Da)
7. Impossible Cake (AKA chocoflan) (Pastel Imposible (AKA Chocoflan) Rick Bayless
8. Aunt Ruth's Famous Butterscotch Cheesecake Recipe

Sunday, November 6, 2011

November is...National Bread Month!

Boy that was some party we had here last month. It took me all week to recuperate! However, no longer can I ignore the fact that November has its share of monthly celebrations too. Take National Bread Month for example. Can you think of a better month to celebrate bread? Me either. As a matter of fact, as many of you know, I'm not much of a baker. But, I was thinking. Since I have already said a number of times that I was going to try my hand at baking bread, perhaps, (and that's a huge maybe:) November 2011 may just be that time. We'll see:)

A Grain of Wheat...

Tummy Tingles

...from Tummy Tingles! Remember that cutie? Yep, it's the same book I shared for Gingerbread Day way back in June. How many of you tried that Fairy Gingerbread Recipe? (that should be a direct link to the image of the recipe) No one. Uh oh, it's that time of year you know. As a matter of fact, there are those who believe Gingerbread Day to be the day following Thanksgiving. I'm still trying to confirm that...

Tummy Tingles ©1937 is not the only wheat book published by Ms. Beardsley, she also authored a booklet tiled From Wheat to Flour the same year. I found a copy of her other booklet available online for reading at the Digital Book Index. Below is a "slice" of From Wheat to Flour.
It seems strange that anything as small as a grain of wheat could alter the course of history, yet nothing that man ever discovered has been of more importance to him than this tiny bit of food- stuff. Who first introduced wheat into the human diet will never be known, for he lived thousands of years before recorded history.
Probably the first people who used wheat as a food simply chewed the grain, making what farm children today call wheat gum. Of course, we know now that the kernel of the wheat berry, freed of its hard outer covering, or bran, can be ground to a fine white flour and from it, a delicious food, bread, can be made, but man was a long time learning this.

We do not know just how bread first came to be made. About twenty thousand years ago, in the Stone Age, people were making a coarse flour by crushing wheat on a slightly hollowed rock with a small stone held in the hand. Moistened with water, patted into little cakes, and baked in the sun, or on a heated stone, this coarse meal gave Early Man a bread stuff which he found satisfying and strengthening. He found, too, that wheat could be kept for a long time without spoiling. By gathering it when it ripened in summer, he could store it in skins, hollow trees, or other dry places and eat it when food was scarce. 

This single fact caused man's history to take a new and important turn. Since he was no longer obliged to wander from one region to another in search of food when the seasons changed, Early Man stayed the year around near the wild wheat fields. In time, he learned that the wheat plant, bearing many seeds, grew from one seed. Early Man was not a quick thinker, but once he realized that many seeds could be gained by putting one in the ground, farming or agriculture, as we sometimes call it began...online version con't

There once was a time when a homemaker's reputation depended, in good measure, on her ability to produce a good loaf of bread. Here's a rhyming 1903 recipe designed to help the new housewife meet with success by way of...you guessed it, Nebraska!
Bread Recipe Poem
"When a well-bred girl expects to wed, 'tis well to remember that men like bread. We're going to show the steps to take, so she may learn good bread to bake. First, mix a lukewarm quart, my daughter, one-half o milk and one-half of water; to this please add two cakes of yeast, or the liquid kind if preferred in the least.

"Next stir in a teaspoonful of nice clear salt, if this bread isn't good, it won't be our fault. Now add the sugar, tablespoons three; mix well together, for dissolved they must be. Pour the whole mixture into an earthen bowl, a pan's just as good, if it hasn't a hole. It's the cook and the flour, not the bowl or the pan, that 'makes the bread that makes the man.'

"Now let the mixture stand a minute or two, you've other things of great importance to do. First sift the flour use, the finest in the land. Three quarts is the measure, 'Gold Medal' the brand. Next stir the flour into the mixture that's stood, waiting to play its part, to make the bread good. Mix it up thoroughly, but not too thick; some flours make bread that's more like a brick.

"Now grease well a bowl and put the dough in, don't fill the bowl full, that would be a sin' for the dough is all right and it's going to rise, till you will declare that it's twice its size. Brush the dough with melted butter, as the recipes say; cover with a bread towel, set in a warm place to stay two hours or more, to rise until light, when you see it grow, you'll know it's all right.

"As soon as it's light place again on a board; knead it well this time. Here is knowledge to hoard. Now back in the bowl once more it must go, and set again to rise for an hour or so. Form the dough gently into loaves when light, and place it in bread pans greased just right. Shape each loaf you make to half fill the pan, this bread will be good enough for any young man.

"Next let it rise to the level of pans--no more, have temperature right, don't set near a door. We must be careful about draughts; it isn't made to freeze, keep the room good and warm--say seventy-two degrees. Now put in the oven--it's ready to bake--keep uniform fire, great results are at stake. One hour more of waiting and you'll be repaid, by bread that is worthy 'a well bred maid."

A Few Crumbs

The second week of November kicks of National Split Pea Soup Week.

Tomorrow, November 6, is National Nachos Day or I Love Nachos Day. It isn't, however, International Day of the Nacho, that was back in October on the 21st!


The world's largest peanut butter and jelly sandwich measured 40 feet long. It contained 150 pounds of peanut butter and 50 pounds of jelly. It was created November 6, 1993 in Peanut, Pennsylvania. Peanut Butter Fun Facts from Skippy:)
Hoo...Hoo...who doesn't luv Poppin' Fresh! He made his TV debut on November 7, 1965 and I blogged about it, right here.

Are you making a cake for Election Day? If you do, be sure and check out this Election Day Cake. Not only is it filled with goodies, it's got a whole lot of history for icing!!!

Need something to wash down that cake? GREAT! It's also National Cappuccino Day on November 8th!!!

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Did everyone see the "Newest Yoplait Smoothie Flavor" over at One Crazy Cookie? Tiffanee is also having a Yoplait Giveaway! (expires Nov. 10, 2011)