Transcribing my Granny’s cookbooks

On New Year’s Day, I took my boys to my Granny and PawPaw’s house for our annual family ritual of eating black-eyed peas for good luck.  My aunt brought some delicious spoonbread, and my kids raided the ever-present candy jar in the windowsill.  When I took our dishes in the kitchen to put them in the sink, my eyes were drawn to the shelf above it, where I found a yellowed, brittle stack of cookbooks that looked ancient.  I picked up the stack and sifted through it.  It was a treasure trove of mid-twentieth-century housewife instruction:  a copy of the “New American Cook Book” by Lily Wallace from 1941, stacks of the little recipe cards you used to pick up off the shelf in the supermarket in the 1970’s and 80’s to help you make something quick and cheap.

The crowing glory of my Granny’s cookbook collection was her very own, handwritten recipe book.  It was in an old composition book with a missing cover, the pages faded, most of them with water or oil damage.  This is the recipe book I could picture my grandmother scribbling in whenever she came across an appealing-sounding recipe in Woman’s Day or Better Homes and Gardens, the book she probably reached for when my mom and aunt and uncles were kids and headed home from school and she had to get dinner on the table after a day spent working at the department store.

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I’ve typed all the recipes it contains – all the ones I could make out, anyway – into my Paprika recipe app so I can keep them.  I’d like to pick some of them, maybe the ones my mom and her siblings remember my Granny making when they were little, and have them made into a nice cookbook or scrapbook with some family photos.  For now, I’ll share a couple of them:

Quick Pocketbook Rolls

I remember having these rolls with our Thanksgiving dinner when I was a kid and we went to my Granny and PawPaw’s house for Thanksgiving.  My Granny was always stirring a huge bowl of mashed potatoes, and my PawPaw was giddy with excitement at the prospect of using the electric knife.  My aunt and cousins cook Thanksgiving dinner now, but I think we may have to add these rolls to the menu.

1 cup milk

1 tbsp. sugar

butter

3 1/2 cups sifted flour

2 tbsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 egg

In saucepan, combine milk, sugar, 2 tbsp. butter and egg.  Heat slowly until butter is barely melted.  Remove from heat and stir in flour sifted with baking powder and salt.  Turn out onto floured board and knead until smooth  Then roll to 1/4 inch in thickness and cut in rounds with 3 inch cookie cutter.  Brush with melted butter.  Grease center with back of knife, fold over and press edges together.  Put on greased cookie sheet.  Bake in hot oven 20 minutes or until brown.

Fudge Bars

My mom tells me that when she was little, my Granny used to make the best fudge.

1/3 cup shortening

1 cup chocolate chips

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup flour

1 cup nuts

1/2 tsp. vanilla

2 eggs

1/4 tsp. salt

Mix shortening and chocolate together, then mix rest of ingredients and bake.

Farewell 2014 – Hello 2015!

What better way to close out the year than with a family road trip?  My mom, my boys and I piled into the car on the last day of 2014 and headed to James Madison’s Montpelier, the home of America’s 4th President, who is considered to be both the father of the Constitution and the architect of the Bill of Rights.

We stopped for lunch in the Town of Orange, where we ate Italian buffet specialties at Mario’s Pizzeria.  I have to admit, I was expecting something similar to the Pizza Hut lunch buffet, but man was I pleasantly surprised.  The buffet had a seafood section, with mussels and clams steamed with garlic, fried shrimp and fish, shrimp in homemade marinara and a seafood medley.  Other Italian entrees on the menu were chicken parmigiana, chicken lasagna, steak pizziola and the best pizza and stromboli I’ve tasted outside of New York City.

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From downtown Orange, it’s only a ten minute drive to Montpelier.  The house, originally owned by President Madison’s father, ultimately was bought by the DuPont family, who left it to the National Trust for Historic Preservation upon the death of the last owner.  Since 2000, the Trust, along with the Montpelier Foundation, has been renovating and restoring the home and grounds back to their footprint at the time of Madison’s retirement from Washington in 1817.

The home is laid out as a duplex, as Madison’s aging mother lived with him until her death in 1829 at the age of 98.  She had her own wing of the house, while James Madison, his wife Dolley and their children lived in the other half of the house.  The Madisons entertained many of the important figures of the day, including Thomas Jefferson, who lived right up the road at Monticello, outside Charlottesville, and Andrew Jackson.

Especially touching was the story of Madison’s slave, Paul Jennings, who served Mr. Madison until his death in 1836.  Jennings, who was with Madison the day he died, and who later published his “Reminiscences,” including an account of Madison’s last day, was sold by Dolley Madison to Daniel Webster in 1846.  Webster allowed Jennings to work off the cost of his purchase, and freed him in 1847.  In 1848, Jennings helped to organize the largest attempted slave escape in U.S. history, which failed.  Thinking of Jennings’ days at Montpelier, serving James and Dolley Madison as they entertained the greatest political thinkers of the time, it is not difficult to understand Jennings’ desire to put the principles of liberty into practice on behalf of enslaved African-Americans.

The tour of the house and grounds was informative and interesting.  The exterior renovation is complete, but the interior work continues.  The downstairs is filled with period accents and furnishings, some authentic to the time, and others that were actually present in the house at the time Madison lived there.  The Montpelier Foundation is involved in researching and tracking other furnishings and artifacts from the home through the various sales and auctions since Dolley was forced to sell the estate in 1844.  Consequently, the upstairs of the house is sparsely furnished, with most of the attention having gone to Madison’s famous library, where he researched the political systems of the past two thousand years in order to formulate the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.

On the grounds of Montpelier, the buildings of the slave quarters are undergoing excavation.  Several homes, a smokehouse and a kitchen have been placed in their historical setting, and interpretive panels explain how the enslaved peoples of Montpelier would have lived during Madison’s time.  Unfortunately, the location of Paul Jennings’ grave is not known, but in 2009, his descendants held a reunion at Montpelier to honor their ancestor’s life and service to one of the greatest of our nation’s founding fathers.

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After a fun, relaxing New Year’s Eve celebration at home, my whole family gathered, as they do each year, at my Granny and PawPaw’s house to chow down on black-eyed peas with stewed tomatoes and my aunt’s delicious spoonbread.  You know the old tradition:  If you eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day, you’ll have good luck all year.  From Food History Crossroads to you – have a wonderful 2015!

Vivian Howard’s Grits Changed My Life

By now, the festivities of the holiday season are behind us, and the new year is ahead.  The kids are out of school, I’m off work and we’re all enjoying our Christmas presents.

This year, my husband took my advice and went to Southern Season to find a gift for me.  I knew as soon as I saw the logo on the side of the rustic wooden crate – “Vivian Howard for Southern Season” – that I was going to love whatever was inside.  I’ve been a fan of Chef Howard’s since becoming addicted to her PBS show, “A Chef’s Life” earlier this year.  In the crate were a jar of Boat Street Pickled Figs and a bag of Old School Brand grits, along with a recipe card explaining how to “Pimp My Grits.”

Now let me just take a minute to explain that I am a Richmond, Virginia born and raised, Southern, grits-loving girl.  I’ve been eating grits my whole life, so I know a thing or two about good grits.  I remember my mom making pots of grits on the stove when I was little – delicious, thick and savory with a couple of pats of butter or some sausage and cheese thrown in.  I’ve been known to routinely eat instant grits for breakfast at work, and I’ve extolled the virtues of good ‘ol Southern grits to my Northerner friends and acquaintances.  I’ve eaten grits in some amazing restaurants, and I love my favorite Richmond grits:  Croaker’s Spot’s cheddar ranch grits (absolutely divine served with their fried fish).

With all that being said, Vivian Howard’s “pimped” grits quite literally changed my life.

It starts with the quality of the grits themselves, and there’s a huge difference between even my favorite store brand, House Autry, and the stone-ground Old School grits.  Then I discovered that Chef Howard uses milk (though she mentioned that you can use other liquids – water, or stock for savory grits).  I don’t know why, but I’ve never thought to use milk in my grits.  Lesson learned.

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Next, forget the old adage about a watched pot never boiling.  If you’re making grits, you’re watching your pot, though Chef Howard does offer the advice of using a double boiler if you don’t want to constantly stand and whisk – with the downside being that that method could take up to two hours (ain’t nobody got time for that!).  In went the grits and milk, on went the heat.

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Next is the labor-intensive part.  You want the grits to heat up almost to a boil, then stay on a simmer while they thicken.  This means near-constant whisking to keep the milk from scalding and the grits from burning to the bottom of the pot.  You want a nice, thick texture before you pull them off the heat, then Chef Howard instructs to add cream.

At this point, you can pour them into a bowl and “pimp” them.  I took Vivian’s suggestion and topped mine with a couple of pats of butter, crumbled oven-baked bacon, pickled figs and freshly-grated Parmesan.

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And there you have it – Vivian Howard’s pimped grits!  The combination of the salty, crispy bacon and Parmesan with the sweet and sour taste of the figs was the perfect match for the creamy grits.  I don’t know that I will ever make grits the same old way again.

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Happy holidays, and best wishes to all for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2015!

Pennsylvania Dutch Food Culture in Lancaster, PA

Ever since I was little, my parents have taken me and my brother and sister to the Pennsylvania Dutch Country of Lancaster, Pennsylvania regularly.  As a kid, our summer vacation was often spent staying at a campground or a cabin for a week and visiting all the antique shops, farmer’s markets and Amish and Mennonite farms and stands.  Last Spring, my mom, my sister and I took my two boys back to Lancaster for a weekend trip, and my dad and brother felt left out, so the weekend after Thanksgiving this year, we took the whole family!  The weekend was perfect.  We stayed in a cabin with a woodstove and there was snow on the ground.  We got to see the downtown Lancaster Christmas tree lighting and watch Santa arrive on a fire truck.  We went to Dutch Wonderland, the tiny amusement park on the “main drag” of Route 30 that I adored when I was a kid.  And we ate… lots…

For anyone who’s never been to Lancaster, the main thing you need to remember is that the “Pennsylvania Dutch” aren’t really Dutch.  The German immigrants who sought religious freedom in America would tell people they were “deutsch” – the German word for a German person.  The miscommunication stuck, and the Amish were labeled the Pennsylvania Dutch, although most of them came from Germany, bringing their food culture with them.

One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to Lancaster’s Central Market.  This historic building just off the town square was originally opened in 1730, and features market stalls from local meat and cheese vendors, bakeries, produce stands and coffee shops.

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Oasis at Bird-in-Hand‘s meat and dairy products

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Checking out the chocolate

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Historic Lancaster Central Market

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Desserts from Shady Maple

We visited one of my favorite farmer’s markets in Bird-in-Hand on Saturday.  I had to re-stock my German spicy mustard from S. Clyde Weaver and I bought some amazing homemade fudge from Sweet Legacy Gourmet.  I love that the Bird-in-Hand farmer’s market vendors offer lots of samples, especially of the specialty meats and cheeses.  There were whoopie pies and shoofly pies in abundance!

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Bulk products like different types of flours and meals

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Mmm… desserts

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Shoofly pies!

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Sweet Legacy Gourmet

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Pickled everything!

After our farmer’s market visit, we drove just down the road to the Bird-in-Hand Family Restaurant and Smorgasbord.  Smorgasbord is a German word for what is essentially a buffet, with more dishes and desserts than you can shake a stick at.

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Buffet items

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Desserts (more shoofly pie!)

If you ever get the chance to visit Lancaster, you will fall in love with it.  There is a thriving downtown restaurant scene and plenty of opportunities to try Pennsylvania Dutch cooking.  The Amish and Mennonite style of cooking is steeped in German, Austrian and Swiss food traditions with a focus on simplicity and excellent-quality, fresh, local ingredients.  Once you’ve tried a shoofly pie, pickled vegetables or a pretzel in Pennsylvania Dutch country, nothing else will ever measure up.

 

Project “Family Food History” Thanksgiving

So of course by now, Thanksgiving has come and gone, and with it my Family Food History project.  Since my aunt always makes a full, traditional Thanksgiving meal with turkey and mashed potatoes and stuffing and gravy, I didn’t want to make a ton more food since I knew everybody would already be stuffed.  I settled on bringing:

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Gluhwein – German spiced mulled red wine

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Spekulatius – German spice cookies (the Dutch call them speculoos and they are amazingly delicious!)

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Bratwurst and Knackwurst with sauerkraut

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Yorkshire puddings

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Cheese plate with Scottish smoked salmon and cheeses from Holland, England, Scotland and Germany, served with French champagne dill mustard

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My aunt and the rest of my family made a delicious Thanksgiving feast.

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I made a pumpkin pie from scratch with hot water crust and used a pumpkin from my garden.  My cousin bought an apple pie with caramel sauce from the school marching band.

When we got home, me, my husband and our two boys listened to “Alice’s Restaurant” like we do every Thanksgiving.  Then I cooked second Thanksgiving just for us.

From my family to yours, I hope everyone reading had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

 

Project “Family Food History” Thanksgiving – Dutch and French Cuisine

So once I caught the genealogy bug, I dove in with both feet and started digging up amazing, enlightening and interesting stories about my ancestors.  On my mom’s side, I’m German, English, Scottish, Welsh, Dutch and a tiny bit French.  On my dad’s, we’ve got English, Scottish, French and Welsh, with an ancestor I’ve been able to take back to William the Conqueror and even beyond!  You know what that means, all my Viking fan friends.  I am indeed a descendant of the historical Rollo!  Rollo – otherwise known as Robert (his Christian name, natch) Ragnvaldsson – was William’s great-great-great grandfather.  [Keep an eye on this blog next Spring for a special project to coincide with the return of “Vikings” on the History Channel.]

I have to say, though, that one of the most amazing stories I’ve come across in my family is from my Granny’s side (my mom’s mother).  Some of her ancestors – the Dutch VanMeteren’s – go back to the late 1600’s in the Hudson Valley region in New York.  In Kingston, in the former village called Wyltwick, the VanMeteren’s and some French Huguenots (some of whom I also count as ancestors) lived and worked.  At that time, the area was the frontier, with the Catskills behind them and angry native peoples, irritated at these white intruders, living in the forests and mountains surrounding the town.

The following account is a fascinating reminder of why I adore genealogy research so much.  The history of my ancestors is truly connected to the history of America, and stories like this make it almost tangible:

“In the fall of 1662 Jan Joosten Van Meteren settled in Wildwych (now Kingston, Ulster County, New Jersey [sic]) and dwelt many years in that vicinity, which included the towns of Hurley, Marbletown, and Esoppus. He is not noted in the activities of that community until the 7th of June, 1663, the date when the Minnisink Indians made an attack on the village and its vicinity raiding and burning the settlement of Hurley and Kingston and carrying away women and children in captivity. Among the latter were Jan’s wife and children, Jooste Jans being one of them as well as Catherine du Bois, the wife of Louis du Bois, and their daughter Sarah; whom Jooste Jans Van Meteren later married. These were taken to the fastnesses of the Catskill Mountains and remained in captivity for months, but were rescued on the eve of torture by du Bois, and Captain Martin Kreiger’s company of Manhattan soldiers; the trainband finally rounded up the Indians and defeated them on September 3, 1663. In connection with this tragic experience the following statement is quoted: “About ten weeks after the capture of the women and children, the Indians decided to celebrate their own escape from pursuit by burning some of their victims and the ones selected were Catherine du Bois, and her baby Sara. A cubical pile of logs was arranged and the mother and child placed thereon; when the Indians were about to apply the torch, Catherine began to sing the 137th Psalm as a death chant. The Indians withheld the fire and gave her respite while they listened; when she had finished they demanded more, and before she had finished the last one her husband and the Dutch soldiers from New Amsterdam arrived and surrounded the savages, killed and captured some, and otherwise inflicted terrible punishment upon them, and released the prisoners.

Captain Kreiger’s Journal which gives a general account of the expedition of rescue, unfortunately does not name him, but it is elsewhere stated that it was due to Jooste Jan’s three months’ association with the Indians, during his captivity, that gave him the knowledge of their habits, trails, plans and war feuds with other tribes, and so impressed him with a desire for their adventurous life.”

Knowing this amazing story, I have to pay tribute to my Dutch ancestors, and how better than with food?

The Western portion of Holland including Gelderland (where my ancestors lived before coming to New Netherland), has many specialties.  Dairy products play a prominent role, and indeed, this is the land of Gouda and Edam cheeses, as well as buttermilk rich in milkfat.  Seafood is abundant, thanks to the area’s proximity to the North Sea, and raw herring, mussels, eels, oysters and shrimp are all traditionally enjoyed in this region.  Buttery, sugary pastries are a Western Dutch delicacy, and of course there is plenty of local beer to wash it all down.  Advocaat, a liqueur of eggs, sugar and brandy, is something I’d love to try at Thanksgiving.  The trick is to find somewhere in Richmond that sells it!

As for the French portion of my family, which, I admit is tiny, there are obviously plenty of foods to choose from.  Our DuBois ancestors originally came from a town called Wicres, in the North of France not far from Calais.  In fact, the region’s name is Nord-Pas-de-Calais.  Foods from this region include turkeys, chickens and seafood, especially mussels.  Goat’s cheese and other cheeses, as well as chicory, are traditional to the region.  Andouillette sausages and smoked garlic are made there as well.

For the Thanksgiving table, perhaps I’ll make a few of the following recipes:

Apple Porridge

Blueberry Bread

Dikke Jennen soup

Arnhem Biscuits, or “Arnhem Girls”

Pear Cake

Little Mussel Cakes

Carbonnade (Beef Stew in beer)

Classic Moules-Frites (Mussels with French Fries)

So there you have it!  The last of the family food history from my mom’s side of the family, where we’ll be spending Thanksgiving.  Which dishes should make the menu?

 

 

 

 

 

Early Bird gets the biscuit

I’d heard a lot of buzz about Early Bird Biscuit Co. & Bakery, so I was excited to check them out as part of the Lakeside Avenue Holly Jolly Christmas festivities.  I am happy to say I was not disappointed!

The shop is teeny-tiny, in a small shopping center containing a tv repair shop and a magic shop.  Both my kids thought the neon “BUTTER” sign was awesome.  The shop also had a snow machine out front, which all the kids adored.

The interior is narrow and decorated with 1950’s charm.  A shelf near the ceiling features a row of antique radios and the display case shows off delicious desserts like snickerdoodle and gingerbread cookies and mini chocolate bundt cakes on vintage plates.  All the staff are upbeat and courteous – no small feat considering the store was slammed with customers who had just stepped off the Lakeside Avenue trolley.  The whole place smelled like melting butter, and racks of biscuits were stacked in a case behind the counter.

On the menu were the plain buttermilk biscuits with house made jam (that night’s was blackberry), and the crabby cheddar biscuit.  My kids got a mini chocolate bundt cake to split, and I grabbed a Blanchard’s coffee (Early Bird has their own Blanchard’s blend), and we headed outside to eat (and to let some of the waiting customers in!).

All I can say is that Early Bird does biscuits right.  They were big, fluffy, buttery and delicious, and the house made jam was amazing.  The crabby cheddar biscuit had just the right mix of flavors, and they were well balanced (i.e. the cheese didn’t overpower the crab).  Of course my kids loved the cake too.

I will definitely be back to Early Bird soon for more biscuits!

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