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.

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