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The Hobby - Food

A Pip of a Name

I love libraries.  I have stated this on more than one occasion but and this is a big BUT a Kindle Fire appeared in my stocking this Christmas.  It wasn’t love at first click but I’m warming up to the glow from the fire.   

Sherlock Holmes resizedI’m fairly certain any statistician worth his or her data would have me reading a romance novel or a cookbook but they would be wrong.  The genre for 2013 appears to be detective novels – starting with the complete Sherlock Holmes series of stories.  As I read, I can guess the killer early on in many of the tales because I have now seen the same plots repeated and slightly updated on CSI, Law and Order, NCIS etc.  Science may have progressed but the plots remain the same.  

Yes, I do remember the theme of this blog is food.  Food is about to come in play with my ramblings. A feature I’m enjoying in my electronic reading is the ability to highlight a word and have a definition appear.  Admittedly some of the words used by Sherlock Holmes aren’t in a modern dictionary but I’m surprised how many are.  Take “ulster” for example.  When I see the word Ulster I immediately think of Ulster Knife Works – manufacturers of the first Girl Scout knife but when Sherlock tosses an ulster on before leaving Baker Street I’m pretty sure he’s not wrapping a knife around his neck. A quick tap on the screen and I now know about an ulster overcoat.  

The “pip” is more interesting and luckily it is food oriented.  In one story a client came to see the great detective Holmes and told the tale of an envelope being opened and five orange pips dropping out. I was fairly certain from the passage that a pip was an orange seed.  A tap on the tablet’s screen and yep, I was correct, except the definition said “like an orange seed.”  

Pomegrante pipsOther fruit have seeds too. Now I had the nagging thought “are those fruit seeds called pips as well or do only oranges get this odd little name?” A further search revealed that my thinking was correct. Many other fruit have pips; especially pomegranates.  The entire inside is nothing but pips.   

 Still further research led me to quite a few definitions for “pip” with none really related to the others.  Pips are also the dots on dice or if you’re in a verb sort of mood a pip is also what happens when a baby chicken breaks out of its egg shell.  It pips at the shell.  

DiceOranges, eggs and dice – now we’re talking breakfast with a side game of craps.  No that’s wrong: maybe I’ll use the dice to play Monopoly.  

 I’m enjoying Sir Arthur Conan Doyle because he’s so descriptive.  His killings are intriguing and he immerses you directly into his century with his descriptions of people, unfortunately less so with food.  My thought is that food is so commonplace to an era that it needs no description.  His readers could easily visualize statements such as: He ate a pickled egg or the roasted goose was laid on the sideboard.  It takes more for a reader to visual the “baddie”.  No matter the decade to bring reality to the story and give the reader a clue a villain needs large dirty well-worn hands (to pick up the pickled egg) or a have a permanent sneer on his face (as he surveyed the plump goose).  

 I have not given up my love for the library.  I can wander, touch and feel books in the library. The room is mine to explore and my local librarians have such intriguing books on the browser shelf.  On a tablet I need a starting point before I begin scrolling for titles.  Currently I’m working on finding a happy balance between my two reading sources.  You can be sure though whether its paper or electronic there will be food somewhere in whatever I read.   

A Dinner Party and a Hunting Knife or Two

The holiday are coming and with it the search for new recipes to serve at holiday parties.  I’ve been in a fall mood this week and randomly looking through cookbooks.  I believe I have found a cocktail that will amaze and astound your guests.  Imagine sweeping out of the kitchen, tray filled with cocktails for each guest.  They wait in anticipation for your toast; but before you salute the evening or special guest you let them know about your newest cocktail sensation:  Prune Eggnog!

Joy of Cooking 1943 The best thing I could say when I saw that recipe was ptooeeyucky*@!  and few similar words.  I’m not sure that I have yet gotten the taste of that sound off my tongue.  Yes, it was from a legitimate cookbook, in fact one of the great standards; Irma Rombauer’s The Joy of Cooking.  It was the 1943 edition which might explain some of the odd food combinations.

What caught my eye as I was skimming through the book was actually the first recipe.  It’s what people would immediately see so I’m sure she put her best food forward.  The category was cocktails (non-alcoholic) and the first recipe for a dinner party was a Tomato Juice Cocktail.  I’ve never been served tomato juice at a dinner unless it had vodka and a celery stick in it so this was a surprise.  Also surprising was the amount of time spent to create this drink.   A hostess would need to start early to have these cocktails ready for her guests:

3 ½ cups tomatoes

½ cup water

1/ slice onion

1 stalk celery

½ bay leaves

3 sprigs of parsley

Simmer those ingredients for 30 minutes then strain.

Season the liquid with

1 tsp. salt

¼ tsp. paprika

¼ tsp. sugar

Chill – because you want to serve it thoroughly chilled.

Sounds like V-8 may have gotten their inspiration from Irma.  

Tomato Juice cocktail 

She also had recipes for pineapple, orange or apricot eggnog but the prune drink made me skip quickly to a new chapter; hopefully with recipes I might like to try. 

 We’ve all been at a friend’s house for a cookout and decided to help a bit with the baked beans.  You know the drill, sneak in a bit more ketchup, mustard or even Worcestershire sauce.  By the time everyone at the party has had a turn in the kitchen you have some great tasty beans.  In addition to bacon and the above listed ingredients Ms. Rombauer added chopped celery to her beans – interesting – actually sounds good to me. 

 I never met Irma Rombauer or her daughter Marion Rombauer Becker who provided artwork for the cookbooks and took over editing when her mother was unable to continue.  The member of the family I have met is Ethan Becker.  A Renaissance man, Ethan continues his family cooking legacy. He attended Le Cordon Bleu in Paris but acknowledges he really learned how to cook from his mother. In certain circles Ethan is better known for his love of the outdoors.  He has designed quite a bit of gear for outdoorsman including survival and combat knives.  His knives originally were sold under the Becker Knife and Tool brand but now are manufactured and sold by Ka-Bar Knives.

I met Ethan Becker at a knife show where it seemed odd to be discussing The Joy of Cooking while men dressed in camo rushed by to find the perfect knife for field dressing a deer.  The man was charming and just as happy to talk cooking as hunting knives.  What a delight.  This was two years ago and I wasn’t aware of that Prune Eggnog recipe or I would have asked him his opinion or if he ever tried it.  Perhaps I’ll see him at the same show next year; if so I’ll be prepared with the cookbook in hand to ask his opinion on that concoction.

Any odd recipes out there that you have tried and actually liked.  I'm in the mood to try something new.  No prune juice though.

Two Kitchen Mysteries Solved

Janann headshotI don’t know about you, but I kind of stumbled into Food History.  It’s not like I majored in the subject at college.  No, my education has come from the ever popular hobby of cruisin' yard sales, consignment shops and antique shops.  It is sad, the cooking utensils of my childhood are now showing up as – dare I say the word - “antiques.”   I even still own and use some of the items I was seeing labeled “mid-century.”   It’s a term I don’t approve of, antiques should be over 100 years old, not from the golden age of childhood, the 1950s and its neighboring decades.

Some antiques stump me.   

Take this for instance:

Crinkle Cutter I bought it because it looked like something I should know what it did – but I didn’t have a clue, neither did my husband or the lady who sold it to me. After a spirited discussion, in which alcoholic beverages played a part, hubby voted for something to create a wavy pattern in cake frosting. I’ve decorated cakes before – this didn’t look like anything I knew about.  After holding the mystery object and studying it from every angle I finally decided it was a crinkle cutter.  A quick search on the internet and I knew I was right.  Just to be sure I tried it out. 

Crinkle cutting potato It worked but was much too slow to seriously use on a bag of potatoes.  After cutting only 2 potatoes I was convinced, it did cut crinkles into food but it was much too hard to use to ever cut potatoes for an entire meal.  Consequently, I still prefer buying my crinkle cut fries from the fast food establishments.

In all honesty, the crinkle cutter worked quite well on cheese, and carrots were a breeze. Not a total wasted purchase. I'll put it in the gadget drawer for some future hors d'oeuvres tray.

Crinkle cut cheese  Crinkle cut carrots  

And Yet Another Mystery Antique 

As the crinkle cut debate was raging my cousin sent a photo and challenged me to discover what it was.  She said it was one of the favorite utensils in her kitchen.

Study the photo for a minute – do you have a clue? 

Wearever Juicer I guessed some type of potato ricer but I was wrong. Look again, do you see the spout?  It’s an orange juicer.  After yet another internet search I discovered it has a strainer that keeps the seeds out of the juice.  Good for oranges, lemons and limes.  No seeds and a handy spout for pouring into your glass for a Vitamin C start to you day. Clever!  Apparently Wearever made these in the 50s.  I wonder why I never saw one before?  Did my mother not love me enough to strain the seeds? 

Do you have some odd kitchen utensil lying about; before you put it out at the next yard sale send a photo perhaps together we can figure out what it is.

Recipe Cards and Star Wars - Forever Together in My Mind

As I was attempting an extensive house cleaning I came across a book filled with recipe cards.  Like finding a high school yearbook or long lost love letter the cleaning was put aside as I read through the cards and thought about the people who had given me the recipes.

 Eggplant Parmesan Recipe 

First and foremost was a recipe for Eggplant Parmesan.  The card is has been splattered with water or grease but those stains don’t blur my memory.  It’s been years since I made this recipe but because of it I learned to appreciate eggplant; consequently I judge all Italian recipes by the quality of their Eggplant Parmesan subs.  I love Eggplant Parmesan, thanks to Susan and her recipe card. 

Star Wars and The Recipe Card 

When I got the card it was during the time Star Wars first flew onto the movie screen.  At the time Susan’s husband was a medical student at Emory University.  Susan and I met because we both worked in the same department at the medical school.  The card is smudged – almost beyond readability but I can just make out the recipe.  Enough so that when the weather cools down a bit I’ll make the recipe again and recall the wonder we all had at the special effects in Star Wars.  Sadly, the jump into hyperspace is not nearly as breathtaking when seen on a TV as it was in the movie theatre.  My grandchildren, and even my children, cannot comprehend the awe that was Star Wars when it arrived in theaters.  That magic was akin to the first time we melted cheese in a microwave oven.

 Memories flood back as I flipped through those recipe cards from aunts, grandmothers even friends of my mothers.  Cards that recalled my youth.  Cards given as wedding shower presents.  Recipes I carefully copied out of magazines. 

Mother decorating wedding cake 

My Mother’s First Recipe 

I have to stop my recipe remembrances to tell a story on my mother.  Mother, Jean Dunham Davis, was at one point a respected wedding caterer and hosted memorable dinner parties.  It seems when she was first married she could have used a few recipe cards.  She had no idea how to cook and every night made her new husband, my father, a sandwich using potted meat.  After a year her mother sternly took her aside and told her she had to learn to cook!  Mother said she insisted that “Clark loved potted meat” but my grandmother wisely advised her that his love would only last for so long.  Luckily for her marriage she took the advice.  

Recipe Cards are Better Than the Internet 

Recipes on my cards include brownies, Moroccan Chicken with lemons and olives, rum cake, yeast rolls and more.  As these recipes were being lovingly hand written and passed down through the generations who would have thought that one day with a click on the finger all these and thousands more could be found within seconds.  Yes, I can find so many recipes on the internet but what I can’t find online are the memories that went with the cards.  That’s more precious than the recipes themselves.

 Do you have a favorite recipe tucked away on a card somewhere?  Share your story with the Grit community.

Knives Fit for a Lady to Collect and Use - Glass Knives

People have made knives from glass starting back in the Stone Age.  Obsidian knives were knapped, like arrowheads, and were crude at best.  Long after man had moved out of caves and into houses there was a point when glass was popping up in the most unusual objects including once again knives.    It was during the Great Depression that the term glass knives took on an entire new meaning.

I have a friend with a collection of glass knives: pink, blue and clear.  Bennie frequently displays them at knife shows and I have spent time asking him questions about the knives.   Truthfully, with the exception of the photos of food being cut, all the other knives and boxes are part of his collection.  He speaks highly of the sharpness of his knives but says a chip makes them almost worthless.

 Three Glass Knives by Vitex Glas

The glass knife I purchased isn’t as sharp as Bennies.  It has quite a few nicks on the cutting edge but standing in the antique store I knew I wanted that knife, flaws and all.  What’s the allure of glass knives anyway?  I can think of various reasons:  They were made in the USA; they are unique and most important for me is the fact that I’m rather an addict for items from the early part of the 20th century.

Sliced Tomato 

Remember, it was a time before the widespread use of stainless steel.  Acidic foods such as tomatoes and citrus would tarnish carbon blades but not glass.  That was the main selling point for the knives by both the Dur-X Company and Vitex-Glas Knife Company.  

Mango being Sliced 

In addition to being impervious to citrus the knives were also said to slide effortlessly through meringues, cakes and Jell-O.  Yes Jell-O!  Don’t you always cut your Jell-O with a knife?  I don’t but you may have different culinary habits.  I’d love to verify the cake, especially angel food cake, theory because no matter what knife I’ve tried I still flatten my angel food cakes when I attempt to slice them.  I didn’t expect the rough edge on my knife to really cut anything. Surprisingly I have to admit it did cut cleanly through the tomatoes and Mango, even the shortcake.

 Shortcake being cut 

Made from crystal (the Depression era term for transparent uncolored glass) the chief problem with the knives was that they were made of glass.  Instructions tell users to cut on soft wood, never on a metal surface.  Then there’s the inevitable kitchen accident of dropping a knife.  Need I say more?  

It has been frustrating the last few years not to have money to spend on frivolous items which brings up the final reason I like the glass knives.  They‘re still available, still useful and still a way to collect Depression glass without spending a lot of money.  If you’re interested in having a piece of history a glass knife is a great item to start collecting.  The knives are available in the standard clear glass but also amber, blue, green, pink and white.  Several years ago you’d need to pay $50 for a knife and box (boxes are more valuable than the knives) but today the price has dropped considerably.  I paid less than $10 for my knife and box.  I’m sure the prices will go up one day but since I don’t collect to make money that’s not important to me.  I enjoy being able to hold a beautiful piece of American history in my hand.

Card from Glass Knife Box

A Southern Classic - Peach Cobbler - So Easy a Child Can Make It

It’s so easy a child can make it – Peach cobbler.  Living in Georgia, the Peach State, we eat a lot of peach cobbler. Peach Cobbler in Georgia is like Key Lime Pie in Florida – every restaurant says they have “the best.”  You probably have a favorite recipe yourself and I’m sure it’s great.  In fact feel free to bring it by and after several helpings I’m sure I’ll confirm your cobbler is the best one I ever ate that day.  

Peach Cobbler CookedCobblers are one of those food items I just assumed have been made forever, but thinking about it there had to be a first time.  Just like oysters, snails and truffles someone had to be the first.  I love the internet.  Within minutes of pondering where peach cobbler came from I had several “accurate histories” at my fingertips.   From the short and concise to the lengthy and detailed I have read more about peach cobbler than I ever wanted to know.  In a nutshell; when cobblers came to America they were not filled with fruit but most likely came stuffed with various meats.  At some point fruit became the focal point.  All you need to know about cobblers and it’s a great trivia fact too, is that to be classified as a cobbler the dish has to have a bottom layer of fruit covered with some type of pastry. 

Easy peasy; fruit on the bottom, pastry on the top.  You’re probably ahead of me on this thought: it’s the pastry that makes all the cobblers so different.  I have enjoyed cobblers topped with pie crusts, batters, and even dropped biscuits.  It didn’t seem to matter if the crust covered the entire dish or was dropped in blobs on the top I can’t think of a peach cobbler I didn’t enjoy.

Purists will argue that fresh, ripe juicy fruit works best but I would venture to say most cobblers around here use canned fruit.  As an experiment; ok it was not an experiment it was an act of desperation because the peaches I bought were too hard, I used both methods.  I combined fresh sliced peaches and a can of peaches. Yes, most people would also peel the peaches but I enjoy the texture of the skin. 

My current favorite recipe for Peach Cobbler is this one –

So Easy That a Child Can Make It Cobbler 

Mix Together:

One Cub Flour 

1 Cup Self-Rising Flour

1 Cub Sugar 

1 Cup Sugar

Melted Butter 

1 Stick melted butter

One Cub Milk 

 1 Cup Milk

The recipe doesn’t call for any spices but I crave cinnamon so that was added to the mixture – probably a Tablespoon, give or take.  I just shook the can until I felt good.

Greased Dish 

Grease a 9 x 13 pan – pour in above mixture.  It’s very soupy.

Peach mixture 

Drop peaches on top – to more or less cover the top.  It’s your cobbler, use as many peaches as you like. I’m partial to peaches but if you’d rather use blueberries, blackberries or some other fruit go ahead. 

Sugar for topping 

Sprinkle 1/2 cup sugar on top – this was the hard part for the child.  She poured most of the sugar in one spot and we had to brush ii/spoon it across the rest of the top.  Let’s just say one person got a really sweet piece of cobbler.

Bake at 350 degrees for anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 hour.  You want the top to be brown and toasty.  Typically I’m ok with 45 minutes but with the harder fresh peaches I needed to let it bake for the full hour.

Patiently wait to cool and serve alone or with ice cream.

Peach Cobbler ready to Eat 

It's summer – time to enjoy the fruits of good ‘ol US growers.  

CCC Food - Part 2

“He won’t eat his vegetables!”  What mom hasn’t said that?  The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) didn’t have any moms around but the leaders in charge of the camps knew that in order to keep the young men working they had to serve healthy food.  Serving the food was one thing, making sure the workers ate it was another.  

Vegetable SoupOne solution at several camps was to serve vegetable soup, every night. The catch was each person had to eat a bowl of soup before he could have the rest of your meal.  CCC workers recall every soup having at least one above ground vegetable and one below ground one.

CCC dining hall construction for state parkThe CCC boys may have built sturdy dining halls for state parks but rarely ate in them.  The beams and rafters are at A. H. Stephens State Historic Park in Georgia.  The dining hall and cabins built specifically as a recreation area are still in use by scouting organizations, family reunions and other groups.  The CCC camp was located at another location in the park.

Food was served in the field or at the camp’s own dining hall.  Laid out in the style of Army units the first camps were tent structures but progressed into actual structures for the workers.  Whether it was during the summer using mattocks to prepare the ground or planting seedlings in the fall there was no shade available so when the noon meal arrived workers started looking for the coolest spots they could find.  It was every man for himself and the best spots were usually in the shade under the trucks. 

Throughout the nation, camps were individualized to the region.  Many camps served food in a traditional chow line; take your metal plate and head down the line.  Other camps were more civilized with china and a home-style approach.  Eight men sat at a table and then the food was brought to each table on platters. 

Being a cook in a CCC camp did have its benefits.  Gordon Eck who was moved from his home state of Georgia to Oregon had a 4 day shift; 4 a.m. until 9 p.m. Then his time was his own; it’s where he learned to play golf.  Other cooks spent their free time hiking in the mountains where the water was still so clear they could watch the trout flashing by. 

The food may have been plentiful and nutritious but one worker, Horace Chandler, said the one blot on his CCC record was the time he got a hankering for some of his momma’s cornbread.  He headed home for 3 days.  Although there’s a mark his record there was no other punishment.   He didn’t try going AWOL again but said the cornbread was worth it for that one time.

Vogel State Park Sign As important as the food was to the CCC workers it had an effect on the locals as well.  Hidden away among all the CCC ephemera in the John B. Derden CCC Museum at Vogel State Park in Georgia is a card with a food tale from the other side.  This story happened in another park but luckily the story is kept in the museum's memory. 

The story is about a family with 9 children.  Their humble home was next to the road traveled daily by the CCC trucks.  One day a worker tossed a loaf of bread to one of the children.  Mayhem ensued as all nine tried to snatch a piece of the best bread ever baked.  Whether from generosity or just the amusement of watching the melee, every day thereafter, as the trucks rolled past, a loaf of fresh bread got tossed to the children.

CCC plaque A H Stephens State Park Georgia Next year the CCC celebrates its 80th anniversary.  There aren’t many men left who were part of FDR’s Tree Army.  If you know one, take the time to thank him for his hard work saving the forests of America and providing us with numerous parks and roads. 

 Former CCC workers Reunion at Vogel State Park 

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