Sunday, October 19, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #10

"Let Them Eat Cake"



The Challenge: Let Them Eat Cake

The Recipe: While there were lots of delicious-sounding cakes, I didn't want to eat a whole cake by myself for no reason and I needed something challenging, so I went to some early American sources for breakfast and tea cakes that don't use baking powder. I learned that cream of tartar, cornstarch and saleratus (precursor to baking soda) plus eggs were used as leavening agents.



BREAKFAST-CAKE

 

Two table-spoons sugar, two of butter, two eggs, one cup milk, one (scant) quart flour, one tea-spoon soda, two of cream tartar; bake twenty minutes in a quick oven.--Miss Emily L. Burnham, South Norwalk, Conn.
Estelle Woods Wilcox, Buckeye Cookbook, Minneapolis, Minn.: Buckeye Pub. Co., 1877.

I also made

CUP CAKE



Cup cake is about as good as pound cake, and is cheaper. One cup of butter, two cups of sugar, three cups of flour, and four eggs, well beat together, and baked in pans or cups. Bake twenty minutes and no more.


Lydia Maria Child, The Frugal Housewife, Dedicated to Those Who Are Not Ashamed of Economy, Boston: Carter and Hendee, 1830.


 
The Date/Year and Region:
Minneapolis, Minnesota 1877
New England, 1830
 
How Did You Make It:
There aren't any instructions with these recipes, but I'm a good baker so I proceeded like any other baked good. I warmed some milk and added some vinegar and stirred in my baking soda for  the cup cake. I sifted the dry ingredients, added some spices. I creamed the butter, added a beaten egg and mixed well. I added in the dry ingredients and milk. I didn't know what kind of pan to bake it in so I put it in muffin tins . 

For the cupcakes, I made them the same way except I added spices to the dry mix and chopped up some apples to add into the mixture.  I did use a tea cup to measure out my cups in the interest of historical accuracy. 
 
Time to Complete: About 30-40 minutes total using modern appliances. The cupcakes baked for about 20-25 minutes and the other cake about 15-20.

 
Total Cost:
I had all the ingredients on hand at the time.


How Successful Was It?:
I'm not sure how successful my breakfast cake was. It's sort of a biscuit like cake. It doesn't have any flavor, even with the spices added. The cupcakes smelled heavenly and taste divine! The apples and cinnamon really add to the taste. This is a great quick and easy muffin recipe I plan to use again! I only made half a batch since we had only two eggs left but I'll make the rest of the batch very soon.

How Accurate Is It?: Mostly accurate, aside from using modern electric kitchen appliances and 1% milk. I also added spices for flavor and apples to the cupcakes. I found recipes for cakes using dried apples from the same period but none cutting up apples and putting them inside the batter but I don't see why a housewife couldn't use up some apples in that way.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #9

"The Frugal Housewife"



The Challenge: The Frugal Housewife
I thought at first to make something from the Depression era or World War II but ultimately decided that it wasn't enough of a challenge. I needed to go way back and see how early modern housewives saved money in the kitchen. They seem to have trimmed the budget by eliminating cream, a large amount of eggs and expensive spices.

The Recipe: Water Pancakes

I found several recipes for pancakes, flapjacks and fritters. Pancakes were deep fried in lard and flapjacks or fritters were fried like modern pancakes. Water pancakes use what the housewife has on hand: flour, water, pearlash and buttermilk. It's cheaper than pancakes made with milk and eggs.

Water Pan Cakes--a cheap Dessert.

Stir a quart of warm water in sufficient flour to make a batter of moderate thickness; dissolve a tea-spoonful of saleratus, with a little salt, into a tea-cupful of butter-milk, or sour cream; beat it well; put a little lard in a frying-pan, and when it is hot, fry them. They are much better to be eaten hot, with sauce, sugar and cream, or any thing you may fancy. This is a very cheap dessert, and has been thought nearly equal to pan cakes made with milk and eggs.

Lea, Elizabeth E. . Domestic Cookery, Useful Receipts, and Hints to Young Housekeepers. Baltimore: Cushings and Bailey, 1859.



We have lots of apples so I also made:

A Bird's Nest Pudding.

Pare and core some apples, enough to fill a deep dish; they should be ripe, and such as will cook easily. Make a custard of five eggs, to a quart of milk, and sugar and nutmeg to taste; pour this over, and bake half an hour.


from the same cookbook as above

There are lots of variations on Bird's Nest Pudding but this one uses the least ingredients. It's thrifty because it uses milk instead of cream and the custard bakes with the apples. The recipe first appeared in The American Frugal Housewife in 1832 and has been repeated in modern cookbooks such as the Old Sturbridge Village Cookbook
 


 
 
The Date/Year and Region: 1859 Baltimore, MD/1830s New England

 
How Did You Make It: I combined instructions for water pancakes with instructions for making flapjacks. I also made sour milk by heating milk in the microwave for 30 seconds, adding vinegar and stirring. When the milk was soured, I added modern baking soda instead of pearlash. I then fried the pancakes like modern pancakes. I made only half a batch.

I also made a half batch of Bird's Nest Pudding for the three people in the house. I followed the instructions from the OSV cookbook using fresh apples we picked at an orchard. The orchard didn't have heirloom apples but I picked MacIntosh apples because they are an old variety. I used two Macouns (a modern variety that's more firm) and one MacIntosh for the sake of historical accuracy.
 
Time to Complete: Forever for the pancakes - it took a good 1 1/2 hours before they were all done. The pudding took about an hour plus time for the milk to cool.
 
Total Cost:
I had all the ingredients on hand at the time. The apples were a bit expensive at $1.35/lb.


How Successful Was It?: 
The pancakes are pretty bland and tasteless. I tried them with a variety of toppings: cinnamon and sugar, nutmeg, raw honey and maple syrup. The sweeter the topping, the better the pancakes tasted. They don't taste like modern pancakes. 


The pudding was largely successful. I don't think I cooked it enough because the batter didn't really firm up. I spooned the custard over the baked apple. I like it better as a custard sauce than a baked cake. The apples were too big or the dish too shallow for that I think. I'll try another recipe soon as we still have loads of apples. 


How Accurate Is It?: Mostly accurate, aside from using modern electric kitchen appliances and 1% milk.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Return to Georgette Heyer: The Nonesuch

The Nonesuch

by Georgette Heyer

Arthur Barbosa © Dutton, 1963


Sir Waldo Hawkridge has just learned that his late, unlamented cousin has just left him an estate and a fortune, to increase his already large fortune. Waldo's aunt covets the fortune for her son Julian (who doesn't need it or want it) and his cousin Lawrence covets the fortune for his own selfish reasons. Cousin George just makes wry comments about Waldo's plans for the estate. He intends to build an orphanage! How shocking! Sir Waldo ignores everyone's comments and takes Julian with him north to Yorkshire to inspect Broom Hall. Intending to stay only a little while in a place where they know no one and no one knows them, they arrive to discover that Sir Waldo is something of a legend for being a noted Corinthian. All the local lads want to ape him. One local, however, strongly disapproves. Miss Ancilla Trent, governess/companion to Mrs. Underhill's daughter Charlotte and niece Tiffany Wield, is a well born woman of three-and-twenty who knows a thing or two about Corinthians - her cousin is one and she has no use for him and his idle set. Sir Waldo is shocked by her misconceptions and intrigued by the one lady who wants nothing to do with him. He sets out to correct that opinion! Meanwhile, his cousin Julian is bowled over by the beautiful Tiffany. Ancilla worries about what will happen when Julian discovers Tiffany may have the face of an angel but the disposition of a devil. Waldo worries what will happen if his aunt finds out his cousin is dangling after a merchant's heiress! Tiffany has her sights set on a higher prize but must make all the gentlemen adore her. Waldo has the perfect solution to Tiffany's scheme. Ancilla and Waldo find unexpected allies in each other as they go about chaperoning the young adults in the neighborhood. The young ladies and gentlemen find unexpected friendships and romance blossoms in this classic Georgette Heyer tale.

I only gave this one 4 stars because there are several problems that keep it from being a 5 star book. First, there's an excessive amount of cant. I love how Heyer works in the period language but this is too much. When the men talk to each other it's almost unintelligible. She does a much better job in other books. Next, the romance is secondary to Tiffany, as Tiffany would wish it to be. Tiffany is a horrid, spoiled brat who needs to be taken firmly in hand. Someone should have spanked her when she was a toddler. She dominates the whole book with her tantrums and gets the last word in the novel. I love the central romance and how Ancilla and Waldo fall in love. This is one of the most romantic of Heyer's novels. There's speaking glances, exchanged looks, shared jokes and two waltzes. There was great potential here but the last third of the plot fell off. Then there's the misunderstanding. On my first read years ago, I couldn't figure out why Ancilla believed what she did. I can see it better now. She was scared of her own feelings and scared of what she thought she knew about Corinthians in general and Sir Waldo. She let the neighborhood gossips get to her. I think she let them bother her on purpose because she was afraid of having her heart broken and afraid of going to London among Waldo's friends where she wouldn't fit in. I don't know how she figured out the truth. It seems like a quick jump. The conclusion to the romance is incredibly unsatisfactory!

The characters in this novel are fabulous as always. Tiffany is so incredibly horrid that readers just want to slap her. I empathized with her feelings in a few places but the way she acted was incredibly selfish and immature. She's young but she's old enough to know better. Ancilla is a great heroine when she's on page. She's not in the story a whole lot. She needed to be in it more. She's intelligent and strong, like most of Heyer's heroines. She has a sense of humor too and needs it to deal wit Tiffany. Sir Waldo is a dreamy hero. On my first reading, I fell in love with him right away. He's so witty and charming that I couldn't help myself. I love his sense of humor and the way he deals with Tiffany and his cousins. He's thoughtful and a philanthropist to boot. Not to mention his prowess at driving to an inch.

This still remains in my top 10 Heyer list despite the problems.

North and South (Elizabeth Gaskell)

North and South

by Elizabeth Gaskell

North and SouthNorth and South by Elizabeth Gaskell -- Historical Fiction/Romance

This is a long book but well worth it. It's a classic Victorian novel that every woman should read. Our heroine, Margaret Hale, the daughter of a county clergyman, grew up in London with her wealthy relatives. She was a sort of companion to her cousin Edith who is now getting married. Margaret looks forward to returning to her parents in the country, enjoying long walks in the forest and become reacquainted with the locals. She returns to find her mother in poor spirits and her father on the verge of something that will change all their lives forever. When Rev. Hale finds he can no longer in good faith be a clergyman in the Church of England, he moves his family to Milton, a northern manufacturing town, where he will teach the classics to willing pupils. Milton is full of smoke, "shoppy" people and one rude mill owner, a Mr. Thornton who believes commerce and progress equal success and success makes the man. Over the course of the next three years Margaret's life will change in ways she can hardly imagine as she deals with adjusting to life in a manufacturing town and the tragedies she finds there. This story has often been called Pride and Prejudice with a social conscience. It's also a love story for the ages. Margaret and _____ are right up there with Lizzy and Darcy in the romantic literary canon.

How do I love this book? Let me count the ways... First, there's the amazing heroine Margaret. She's a proto-feminist character. She speaks her mind no matter what and she desires above all else, independence. I found her a bit hard to like at first. I seem to be in the minority in that but she's alternately very good and alternately snobby. She can't help but have absorbed some London views but she's so kind to the poor of the South and such a clergyman's daughter that I think she should have a little bit more kindness for shop people. The people she meets in Milton help her understand much more about reality and help her form her own opinions. By the end of the book, she is one amazing woman!

All of the characters have their good and bad points, with the exception of one or two. John Thornton is an especially complex character. He's a mill master who pulled himself up from poverty. He has definite opinions and like Margaret, is very stubborn in changing those opinions. Yet, unlike most men of his time and class, he's willing to listen to Margaret and consider her viewpoint. He also longs for comfort, compassion and love. He is a very loveable man! His mother, on the other hand, is hard. She doesn't show her emotions easily but she is a lot like Margaret. She's strong and capable and proud. Her daughter Fanny and Margaret's cousin Edith exemplify what was typical of women of their social class at that time. Neither really come off very well by modern standards.

The workers are portrayed sympathetically, with one particular family taking center stage. Bessy Higgins is a young woman Margaret's own age who is dying of cotton lung (tuberculosis). She is a fairly typical Victorian martyr but she and Margaret are able to draw off each other and learn new things. Bessy's father is a firebrand who speaks his mind and gets into trouble for it. I really like him and he adds a lot of interesting depth to the story. Without him, you pretty much have an industrial Pride and Prejudice but Higgins shows Margaret first hand what the workers are like and what they're thinking and feeling. This allows her to form opinions and share them with anyone who will listen.

I can't really say a lot more without giving away more of the plot, but this book is among my favorite Victorian novels of all times. When you're done reading, watch or rewatch the miniseries featuring Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage. :Swoon:!

What I Read in September Part IV . . .

What I Read in September Part IV . . 
.
Tuesday's Child (Child, #2)Tuesday's Child by Barbara Hazard -- Regency Romance

Sir Christopher Wilde returns to London for the first time in many many years. He ran away to India at 17 and made his fortune in the shipping trade. Now his father and older brother have died and he must take up the duties of the baronetcy. He finds it all very tedious and his London friends shallow and callow. He's far more interested in the lovely young woman who cleans the brass doorknobs with such joy. When he discovers the "maid" is actually the lady of the house, Miss Felicia Simmons, he's determined to find out who she is and how to help. Felicia is an impoverished young lady of Quality with an ill father and a big heart. She takes in waifs and strays in need of a home and feeds urchins at her door each night. She barely has enough herself and must make ends meet by teaching music lessons. When her situation becomes more precarious, she takes in lodgers, Miss Cecily Perkins, a spoiled beauty and her mother. Then out of the blue, Felicia's godmother returns to England and wants to take up Felicia. Felicia is reluctant to accept, but the members of her household insist. Being launched into the ton isn't easy for Felicia and if anyone knew the truth about her, she would be ruined. Always by her side is Sir Christopher to tell her what to do. She can not understand why he always commanding and authoritative. She admires him and fears a certain look in his icy gray eyes. Chris doesn't believe in love and has no use for women. Why then is he so eager to help Felicia?

This is rather a Cinderella type story, at least for the first 1/2 of the book. The writing is decent and the author incorporates a fabulous amount of detail about the everyday lives of Londoners in 1811. Felicia's world is not the glittering world of ballrooms and drawing rooms - at least not entirely. I liked the gritty details as much as the fashion and ton activities. Actually I liked the gritty details better because it made the story stand out. The misunderstanding is unique and actually kind of funny. After that the plot drags a bit. The last third of the book is like a different story. A villain is introduced randomly into the story and serves as the catalyst to bring the action to a conclusion. This part felt a bit rushed.

The characters add a lot of dimension to the story. Felicia is not just another Cinderella/Mary Sue. She's proud and stubborn and has a bit of a temper. She can stand up for herself and take care of herself when she has to. I admire her strength and her big heart but I think she could have saved her money and donated her time or/and money to a worthy charity. You can't solve the problem of London's poor all by yourself. That to me, was her only real fault. I had issues with Chris. His story doesn't come out until late in the novel and we only get it second hand. He comes across as rather too steely and authoritative for my tastes. He also has a heart of gold but hides it. I didn't like his anti-woman attitude much either. The secondary characters add the humor to the story. I loved all the various members of Felicia's household, even little George who is such a rascal. I had a love/hate relationship with Marjorie. She's so bubbleheaded, it's annoying yet she means well and she's funny. Her husband is amazing and they're very sweet together. Spoiler for those who know Georgette Heyer's The Nonesuch: Cecily is even worse than Tiffany!

I won't go out of my way to find more Barbara Hazard books but if I come across more, I would probably read them.

What I Read in September Part III . . .

What I Read in September Part III . . .

Big Money by P.G. Wodehouse -- Historical Fiction/Romantic Comedy

Beresford Conway is a secretary for Mr Frisby, a tyrannical American financier in London but he dreams of adventure. If he had the money, he would travel around the world on a packet steamer. Unfortunately his aunt died and left him with a thousand shares of worthless stock and an unprofitable copper mine so work he must. Godfrey, Lord Biskerton, is also in need of money but his solution to to touch his friends for funds. Ideally, he should find a wealthy bride with money to fix the crumbling old ancestral estate, but he's not disposed to matrimony. He does have a solution to Berry's problem though - find some chump to buy up the copper mine "Dream Come True." Berry's employer is eager to help, for his own personal reasons of course. He's not about to part with his own money but he knows someone who would be a willing buyer. A solution to Biscuit's financial situation soon presents itself in the arrival of Ann Moon, Frisby's niece. Ann arrives in London after having rejected the most eligible (but boring) suitors in New York. She dreams of adventure and romance. If Biscuit can pull off his plan, it will benefit his whole family. However, his creditors are after him and he must go underground a bit. A situation ensues in which Berry mistakes Biscuit for the head of a cocaine ring and jumps into a young lady's car on a high speed chase out of London. Berry has never done anything like this before but the young lady is under the impression he works for the Secret Service. She disappears from his life before he can get her name but he knows he's madly in love. How can he marry a girl he doesn't know? How can he marry without money? Then there's the little matter of the lie he told about his job. As Biscuit hides out from his creditors, he discovers some very surprising things about himself and his neighbors.

This story gets off to a slow and boring start. At first it's about the two young men in need of money and I didn't see where the story was going. Then it picks up once Ann enters the picture. There are some typical wacky Wodehouse moments where I wonder how in the world he came up with such absurd situations? No one does screwball comedy like Wodehouse. There are several romances - all predictable. One is major and very sweet and the other two are more in the background. I didn't like the way the main romance concluded. It seemed strange and was very rushed. I was sort of hoping that the characters would show some growth but only one really does. I really liked Berry. He's sweet and kind. I feel a bit sorry for him with everything he has to deal with. I was rooting for him to find happiness. Biscuit is a typical Wodehouse young aristocrat, except he has a bit more brains. I thought his solution to the financial situation towards the end very bizarre and not something I would have thought of. Ann is a bit silly and not really the kind of girl I want to be friends with. She's young and naive and I can relate to her feelings of rebellion but she doesn't really show a lot of sense. I didn't like her in the end and didn't really understand her feelings.

Though this book isn't one of Wodehouse's better known works, it's enjoyable and I think old and new fans should read it.

What I Read in September Part II

What I Read in September Part II . . .

Thrush Green (Thrush Green, #1)Thrush Green (Thrush Green 1) by Miss Read -- Historical Fiction

May 1 is dawning in the sleepy Cotswolds village of Thrush Green and that means the fair is coming. Young Paul, who has been sick in bed, is eagerly awaiting the doctor who will tell him if he's fit to go to the fair. Paul's aunt Ruth has been staying with him while recovering from a broken engagement must discover where her future lies while old Doctor Bailey and Mrs. Curdle, the proud gypsy woman who runs the fair, must do the same. Mrs. Curdle hates to close the fair but she hasn't been feeling well lately and her choice heir, her grandson Ben, has been moody and mopey all winter. She fears he won't want to run the fair anymore and there's no one else in their clan who can do it as well. Ben has a secret though, he's madly in love with a local girl he met last year. Will she remember him? Will she forgive him for not coming to visit or writing? Will his proud grandmother accept his choice if Molly does forgive him? Molly, the Sexton's daughter, is sometimes Paul's babysitter and sometimes barmaid in the next village and on weekends, full time caretaker of her drunkard father. She dreams of romance and adventure but she isn't sure her heart's choice is the wise choice. Young Dr. Lovell is visiting Thrush Green to work under Dr. Bailey. He's fallen in love with the village and the people and regrets that he'll have to leave some day, but for one night he will enjoy the fair and forget his troubles. Various other inhabitants see the fair as a nuisance and have their own problems to worry about.

This charming story takes place all in one day. It's divided into three parts and then each chapter is about a different set of characters. I found the story really worked that way because I developed a friendship with a set of characters and just had to know what would happen next. Though all the action takes place in one day, it works well for the story. The romances have already started to develop before the action of the story. Even though they're still a little unrealistic, it makes more sense this way than if the romance unfolded in one day. The writing is incredibly beautiful and descriptive. I've been to a couple Cotswolds villages so I can easily picture Thrush Green.

The story reminds me a lot of Cranford or Lark Rise to Candleford is that the story is about an English village populated by quirky characters. I especially liked the strong, proud gypsy woman, Mrs. Curdle. I felt sorry for her troubles and wanted everything to work out for her. I liked Paul and seeing the excitement of the fair through a child's eyes. The primary young adult women, Ruth and Molly, are a bit underdeveloped. I felt bad for Molly and hoped she would be happy but I found her story just a little bit unbelievable. Ruth's story takes awhile to unfold and when I finally learned the whole story, I didn't really feel bad for her. Her story doesn't come to a definite conclusion, which is kind of nice. The eccentric villagers provide the comic relief and I liked them, despite their faults. There are references that firmly date this book in the mid-20th century. I could have pictured it set between the wars though, the way the characters act. There are also some sexist and racist attitudes, common at the time, that I didn't like. Even so, I really enjoyed this book and look forward to reading more about Thrush Green.

Winter in Thrush Green (Thrush Green, #2)Winter in Thrush Green (Thrush Green 2) by Miss Read -- Historical Fiction

Two years after the events of Thrush Green have seen a few changes in the village. The main characters of the first book fade into the background while the secondary characters come to the forefront. Mr. Piggott grumbles about all the work he has to do while waiting for the pub to open; Ella and Dimity are busy being nosy about their new neighbor, a man who has recently arrived from Africa; Miss Watson, the headmistress is assaulted and robbed in her own home and her junior teacher Miss Fogarty must rise to the occasion; Nelly Tilling is on the hunt for a new husband and has her sights set on one unsuspecting man. Harold Shoosmith has come to England seeking an idyllic 19th century life, only to discover that in the mid-20th century servants are hard to come by, but the neighbors are kind, especially the vicar who appears very lonely. Mr. Shoosmith has come to Thrush Green to his hero, Nathaniel Patten's birthplace. Nathaniel Patten was a 19th century missionary and the 100th anniversary of his birth is coming up in March so Mr. Shoosmith and the vicar decide to plan a memorial. The locals can't decide what it should be but seem to want Ella to make it. Harold is appalled at the idea and must find someone rational to work with. A few romances are in the air and Paul Young has a new friend. By spring Thrush Green will have changed just a little bit more.

This is such a sweet, charming series. I like the third person narration better than the first person of the Village School series. Some of the elements of village life are the same in both series but the third person allows for emphasis on a variety of quirky characters. Each chapter alternates between a set of characters so it kept me reading to find out what happened. I knew exactly "who dunnit" so I wasn't surprised, I just wanted to know if that person got caught and how. One of the romances was predictable and one surprised me. One is a bit off-putting and one is very sweet. Some of the attitudes in the book are a little old-fashioned and some of the references are more modern than what I'm used to. This series is a hybrid between the classic English village novels of the 19th century and a modern local color novel. The writing is beautiful at times and also very simple. I think this series must appeal to elderly people who lived in a small town or village like Thrush Green. The characters are all feel so very real that they must be composites of real people. I plan to continue this series.