Sunday, November 30, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #13: 

"Ethnic Foods..."

The Challenge:Ethnic Foods

I tried really hard to use one of my Italian grandmother's famous recipes, but could not document any of them in historic cookbooks and I sadly realized I don't even like Italian food except for macaroni and fried dough, neither of which my mother would let me make in her kitchen right before Thanksgiving.

I then turned to my mom's side of the family and chose to honor her Norwegian heritage with a Norwegian Christmas recipe. My mother's mother's maternal grandmother, Hannah Eriksen, was born in the Lofoten Islands in northern Norway in 1854. She spent her teenage years with her grandparents and an aunt her own age in T
romsø, where the family ran a tourist hotel for those who came to look at the northern lights and those seeking a health spa-like place. (Apparently, it's not as cold as it looks). There she received an education and prepared for her confirmation. Around the age of 16, she went to work as a governess for another family in Tromsø. Hanna left Norway in November 1881 and landed in New York a few weeks later where she met and married a Danish immigrant named Henry Jorgensen. 
Hanna Eriksen Jorgensen, my great-great grandmother

When my grandmother was growing up in the mid-late 1920s, her Bestemor Jorgensen lived with the family in their home in Yonkers, New York until her death in 1931. Bestemor Jorgensen passed down her family history and traditions to her daughter, Hilda, and granddaughter, who passed them down to her daughter and to me. 

Christmas is the time when my family feels strongly connected to our Norwegian roots. While researching my family history, I came across a blog My Little Norway, written by an Australian transplant living in northern Norway with her Norwegian husband and children.  Christmas is a huge holiday in Norway, beginning with Advent and ending on January 13. December 23 is a big family holiday where everyone gathers to decorate the tree. A popular decoration includes Pepperkaker (spice or rolled cookies) which are decorated and hung on the tree. Another Norwegian Christmas tradition is baking 7 different kinds of cookies.

The first Norwegian cookbook, The Household Book for Poor Families in Cities and Rural Areas, was first compiled by Hanna Winsnes in 1862. Hanna Winsnes seems to have been a poor people's Martha Stewart or Norwegian version of Sarah Josepha Hale and Catherine Beecher, writing books on household management, gardening and animal slaughtering. Read more about her at My Little Norway.

Hanna Winsnes

L-Jay did a great job translating old Norwegian into modern English for this recipe. 

The Recipe:
Brown cookies no.2
Two pounds of syrup and one pound of powdered sugar is put on the fire with half a pound of clarified butter. When it boils add bit by bit six marks of flour, that are compacted well. Two lots of prepared pot-ash is mixed in the dough when it has turned lukewarm, take two lots of cloves and two lots of cinnamon, both finely ground, a couple of handfuls of finely cut pommeranz or lemon zest and one pound of finely chopped almonds..The dough is left for next day in a cool place, after which it is rolled, but not too thinly, and cut into cookies with a spur. On each cookie put a scolded almond. Put in the oven after the brown bread has been taken out.

L-Jay notes :
A ‘mark’ is an old German measurement – six marks equals 1.7kg
A ‘spur’ is similar to a pasta cutter for ravioli
A pommeranz is a bitter orange-like fruit from Asia called bitter orange in English. In 1902 the pommeranz and the mandarin was crossed thus creating the clementine – a Christmas fruit in Norway

QNPoohBear's notes:
Golden Syrup is a type of cane syrup commonly found in Britain. In the U.S. we can get it at large grocery store chains like Stop & Shop or stores like World Market or Wegman's.

The Date/Year and Region: 1862 Norway
How Did You Make It:
I had to Google for a modern American version that matched the ingredients in the historic version. There are many many variations on the recipe and each country has their own type of Pepperkakkor. I used the modern recipe from Scandinavian Baking Without Eggs by Charlotte Peyk for measurements and consulted Ekte Norsk Jul: Traditional Christmas Foods by Astrid Karlsen Scott for the right type of syrup.

My recipe:

1 c. Lyle's Golden Syrup 
1 1/4 c. softened butter
1 1/4 c. granulated sugar (you could use superfine)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground gloves
5-6 c. flour
zest from 2 clementines

I made it pretty much the way Hanna Winsnes wrote it except I used a modern electric stove and substituted baking soda for pot ash. I melted the butter, syrup and sugar on the stove until boiling. I crushed some whole cloves with a rolling pin and added them and a generous dash of cinnamon to the mixture. Then I added the baking soda because the spices activate the soda. When the mixture was bubbly and cooled a bit, I added clementine zest and enough flour to make the dough stretchy and not too stiff but able to be rolled. I ate a lot of the dough before it even left the pan... I managed not to eat it all and put the dough in waxed paper and in a plastic ziplock bag into the freezer. A week later I took the dough out, microwaved it on low power until it was soft enough to roll. I rolled the dough about 1/4" thin and cut with a pastry cutter on the diagonal. My grandmother helped grease my cookie sheets with shortening and preheat the oven to 350. We baked the cookies for 5 minutes and let them cool a bit before moving to a wire cooling rack to cool. You can decorate the cookies for a more modern touch.

Time to Complete: 1 day
Total Cost:
We bought the Golden Syrup and it cost around $5 for a bottle. The rest of the ingredients I had on hand. 

How Successful Was It?:
Um do we have any cookies left? Peers inside the cookie tin... not many! These cookies are so addicting. The recipe gets a two thumbs up from my family and an "These are the best cookies I've ever had!" from my sister-in-law. Next time I would use zest of one clementine and add some cardamom and maybe some ginger to make them more gingerbread like but they're excellent the way they are. Finally! Success with a 19th century recipe!

How Accurate Is It?: 
 I omitted the almonds and used baking soda instead of pot ash but other than using modern electric appliances, the recipe is 100% accurate.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #12: 

"If They'd Had It..."

The Challenge: If They'd Had It...

The Recipe:
Macaroni (Macaroni and Cheese)

The recipe first appears in  The Virginia Housewife in 1824. Thomas Jefferson
brought the recipe back from France and helped to popularize macaroni and cheese by serving it to dinner guests during his presidency. Mary Randolph's brother was Thomas Jefferson's son-in-law.

Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife: or, Methodical Cook (1824)
The Date/Year and Region: 1824, Virginia

How Did You Make It:I took a short cut and used boxed macaroni. Not having noodles, I used traditional modern elbows. I grated Italian Parmasean and Peccorino Romano and followed the directions for half the dish. The other half I cheated and used modern shredded cheddar. Then I baked it in the oven at 450 degrees forever.

Time to Complete:
Not sure because apparently Parmesan doesn't melt! 
Total Cost:
We had the ingredients on hand but I know the cheese is expensive. This is not the kind in the green can you find at any cheap grocery store. This is real imported cheese.

How Successful Was It?:
Not very. Parmasean doesn't melt and I overcooked the macaroni. Even my dad didn't eat it beyond the original taste. 


How Accurate Is It?: 
 The cheese was accurate but I think spaghetti is more traditional in Italy and I used an electric oven. I also put cheddar on half the macaroni. That part tasted fine.

I also tried to make Roman French Toast.   

Another sweet dish
Break [slice] fine white bread, crust removed, into rather large pieces which soak in milk [and beaten eggs] Fry in oil, cover with honey and serve." ---Apicius Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome, edited and translated by Joseph Dommers Vehling , recipe 296 [Dover Publications:New York] 1977 (p. 172) 

I used a boule roll from a local bakery. This is obviously not the kind of white bread the Romans had because it's impossible to remove the crust. I soaked in a mixture of egg and milk and fried in butter, not liking olive oil or knowing what other oils the Romans might have had. Then I hit a snag when I couldn't get my brand new bottle of  local honey open! I used the last drop of my old bottle of local honey. It tasted pretty good and was mostly true to the original recipe.