Looking Back

“Looking Back: Improve upon (or try an alternate version of) a previous challenge, or a recipe you are already comfortable with.”

I. Love. Chocolate.

Like seriously, I think chocolate is the Food of the Gods. Imagine my dismay when a historical recipe I was making for one of the last round’s challenges went horribly wrong. So horribly wrong that I didn’t take more than one bite and threw the entire batch away. The challenge was Sweets for the Sweet and I decided to make a chocolate caramel candy recipe. I took the time to do it just as written. The ingredients included Baker’s chocolate, brown sugar, butter, and milk. The resulting candy tasted like bitter molasses. It was awful.

Creole cover

When I saw this challenge, I decided I would try to make historical candy again, but with a different recipe. I chose my recipe from La Cuisine Creole: A Collection of Culinary Recipes, From Leading Chefs and Noted Creole Housewives, Who Have Made New Orleans Famous for its Cuisine, a cookbook I found on online at Michigan State University’s Feeding America website. This website is an invaluable source for historical cookbooks that have been scanned in and are available free of charge. You can find the digital copy here: Feeding America  La Cuisine Creole was anonymously printed in 1885, but its authorship is generally accepted to be attributed to Lafcadio Hearn. While the majority of the receipts are for Creole cookery, I did find a recipe for chocolate caramels that sounded similar to the recipe I had used with just a little difference in sugar.

Along with chocolate, I can use this entry to extol the virtues of something else I love – Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. My mom and dad brought my brother and I to Williamsburg when I was a child, then again in my early teens. As an adult, I have been there with my own family another six times. One of my favorite activities there is to sit in the middle of the Governor’s Palace Green and soak in the atmosphere. The colonial area is closed to motor traffic during the day, so all that can be heard is the slow clopping of horses’ hooves as they pull various types of carriages and wagons full of tourists from stop to stop. The smell in the air is that of boxwood in the spring and summer, a pungent spicy greenery that forms many of the garden hedges. My dream job is to be a historical cooking interpreter at the Governor’s Palace kitchen. It is located in a separate building on the edge of the courtyard and contains two rooms. One is a still room where all manners of confections and culinary delights can be found as well as various copper kettles, forms and implements for cooking. The other room is the kitchen proper with a large colonial style fireplace and adjacent oven. Foods are prepared using vegetables from the garden behind the building as well as fruit, milk, and other ingredients produced right there in the colonial area with historically accurate recipes and skills. The food is not available for tourists to eat, as it would not be able to pass quality tests, but for them to see the types of meals that were made for the British governor and his family to eat.

The last time we went to Colonial Williamsburg, the kitchen staff were making chocolate. They started with roasting the nut to rolling the chopped nuts, allowing the emollients within the nut to bring it to a semi-liquid form. The chocolate was then scraped off the chocolate stone, a special rolling stone that was heated to also help with the liquefying of the chocolate, and dropped into discs on parchment paper.  After they hardened, the discs would be stored for use as flavoring in hot water, as drinking chocolate was the only way it was consumed. The smell of chocolate in the kitchen that day was almost overwhelming. I spent a couple of hours there observing how the chocolate was made and trying to soak in as much information as possible.

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While I do not have a chocolate stone, I was able to purchase American Heritage Chocolate. If you have not heard about this chocolate, you can learn more here: American Heritage Chocolate  Basically, it was developed by Mars Wrigley, the company that brought us M&Ms.  Forrest E. Mars, Jr. worked with a team of historians with research by more than 115 global experts to create American Heritage Chocolate.

The Recipe:

Chocolate Caramels

Since my last try with chocolate caramels went so horribly wrong, I approached this time with extreme trepidation.  The recipe looked easy enough, but it did last time too!

2 C milk

4 oz grated chocolate

1 ½ C white sugar

Butter

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I prepared my block of chocolate by hand grating it. Once it was grated, I coated my cooking pan with butter, based from a different recipe I had read as well as preparing the dish I would pour it in when it was time.

I mixed my ingredients together and placed the mixture on a medium heat. I brought it to a rolling boil, all the while watching it carefully that it did not burn. I’m not a candy expert, so I decided to use my thermometer in order to be accurate with the temperature. “Stiff enough to pull” appeared to be soft ball stage via my research, which was 235 degrees Fahrenheit. As the mixture boiled and began to reduce, it became a rich, dark brown. The steam smelled amazing. As I watched my thermometer, I could only get it to 230 degrees, where it stayed for 10 minutes. It just would not go higher. I inched the stove knob slightly higher and immediately smelled it starting to burn. I decided to remove it from the heat, hot enough or not.

I poured it into my pan and waited patiently for it to cool.

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Since it did not get hard enough to cut or pull into pieces, I poured the thick, heavy sauce into a container. It tasted just as amazing as it smelled. There was no way I’m letting this go to waste! Now I just slip into the refrigerator and sneak a spoonful of it!

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The Date/Year and Region: 1885, New Orleans, Louisiana

Time to Complete: The whole process was 45 minutes, including the grating of the chocolate block.

Total Cost: I had all the ingredients, so $0 for me.

How Successful Was It?: While I couldn’t get the firmness needed, the resulting sauce is amazing.

How Accurate Is It?: I used an electric oven and candy thermometer.

Next up – Soup!

I’ll be cooking for you soon!

Amber

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History Detective

“History Detective – For this challenge, you get to be the detective! Either use clues from multiple recipes to make a composite recipe, or choose a very vague recipe and investigate how it was made.”

Using a Family Treasure

For this challenge, I turned to my personal hoard collection of cookbooks. I chose the one that is the nearest and dearest to my heart – the handwritten cookbook of my Great-Grandma Olive. It is written in a journal dated 1914 on the cover.

greatgrandma olive

My Great-Grandma Olive was born in Albion, Michigan in 1880. In 1898, at the age of 18, she married my Great-Grandpa Jud Hoyt, and they were the parents of my maternal grandfather Daryl, the youngest of five children. Olive and Jud were farmers in rural Michigan where they had a self-sustaining farm on land that was homesteaded by Jud’s father, Lewis Hoyt. Their home received electricity in 1944, they did not have running water, and the outhouse was in use as the only means of relief until the mid 1970s. My Great-Grandpa Jud raised draft horses with which they did the majority of their farming. The picture above was taken in the late to mid 1930s.

Within the pages of Great-Grandma Olive’s collection of recipes I discovered a recipe that was very vague – a perfect recipe to use in this Historical Food Fortnightly challenge.

Soldier Cake

The recipe was for Soldier Cake, and it was simply a list of ingredients along with the dates 1917-1919 written next to the title. This meant it was directly from the time of the United States’ involvement in World War 1.

The United States officially declared war upon the German Empire on April 6, 1917. On August 10, 1917, the U.S. Food Administration was established under the direction of Herbert Hoover to manage wartime supply, conservation, distribution and transportation of food. This was largely a voluntary program that relied on Americans’ compassion and sense of patriotism to support the larger war effort.

This included voluntary restriction on meat, wheat and sugar. Individuals were encouraged to participate by modifying eating habits to increase the amount of food that could be shipped to US troops stationed in Europe as well as the people from the Allies who had already been at war for three years. The promotion encouraged eating fresh fruits and vegetables, which would be harder to ship overseas, as well as limiting wheat, another fairly easy commodity to send overseas. As a result of these conservation efforts, food shipments to Europe doubled within a year and consumption in the United States dropped by 15 percent.

Part of the war propaganda included demonization of the German population. I found evidence of a statement or oath that my great-grandmother had included within the pages of her recipes:

the oath

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It appears that my great-grandmother did her part with the use of Soldier Cake.

soldier cake

She appears to have written it only to remind herself of some of the key ingredients. There is no time or temperature for baking, there is no mention of flour and there is only the word “Spices”. Another notation that is under each of her recipes it that of “All” underlined and circled. I asked my mom if she knew what that stood for, and she had no idea. So if any of you dear readers have a theory, I would love to hear it!

I began my investigation of Soldier Cake by looking for other recipes called that. I found references online to cakes that were sort of similar, but nothing with the same ingredients. So, then I made an online search with the words “cake, molasses, sour cream, egg” in the search field. That took me to a site that had a recipe for “President Harrison Spiced Molasses Cake” edited by Peggy Trowbridge Fillippone (homecooking.about.com) She states that molasses cake was a particular favorite of President William Henry Harrison, who was the foodie of his day. The recipe source was from The Spice Cookbook by Lillie Stuckey and Avanelle Day, published in 1964.

In the end, I called upon my personal experience and spice imagination to determine what needed to be done with this recipe. I assembled the known ingredients, then raided my spice rack for the rest.

I knew I needed some salt, which was not in the original and I knew I needed flour to get the batter to a cake consistency.

I mixed the known ingredients together, which was a very thin tasteless consistency. From there, I added a little of this spice and that spice. I continued tasting until I had a combination that really hit. At that point I added 1 cup of flour, which was just perfect in turning the thin liquid into a cake batter consistency. The batter filled one 9″ baking pan and I decided to bake it at 350F for 25 minutes. My toothpick came out clean and after some cooling, I turned the cake out into a glass pan.

This was amazing! It was very moist, dense and rich with flavor. In fact as a couple of days passed, it only became more flavorful as it mellowed. I could totally envision my Great-grandma Olive baking this cake as a midday treat, and as firm as it was, it would be a perfect accompaniment to a lunch taken to the field.

The Recipe: My Great-Grandma Olive’s personal recipe collection written in her hand in a 1914 journal, from my personal hoard collection.

The Date/Year and Region: 1917-1919 World War 1 era, made in Michigan (Midwest), however I am not sure the origin of this recipe. I’m guessing Great-Grandma Olive may have heard it from a neighbor or friend.

How I Made It: See above.

Time to Complete: 40 minutes, including spice tasting and baking time.

Total Cost: For me, nothing. I had all ingredients at hand. I would estimate a minimal cost of $5.00-$7.00.

How Successful Was It? Total success! I will definitely make this recipe again. The only thing I would add would be whipped cream, or possibly ice cream.

How Accurate Is it? I used a hand mixer and it was baked in an electric oven. I will say that this just goes to show that molasses was a very good substitute for sugar. I would like to hope that Great-Grandma Olive would approve!

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Next up – Sweets for the Sweet!

I’ll be cooking for you soon!

Amber