Monday, August 25, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly #6: Seasonal Foods

The Challenge:
Concoct a dish based on the fruits and/or vegetables that would have been in season and available to the particular time you wish to interpret. It needn’t be the place you are in at this moment, but it should coincide with the season!

Cooling Beverages
Terminology of historic beverages often leaves history enthusiasts at a loss. Modern media seeking a new twist on an old beverage doesn't help matters.
With the abundance of summer fruits that were historically turned into beverages, this challenge was just right for providing a survey of historic summer beverages.
A recent event gave an opportunity to feature reactions as friends tried historic beverages.

Beverages at this time fall into some main categories based on the core recipe.
One basic type is still familiar and is still the summer classic. Juiced fruit sweetened with sugar and diluted with water. We still recognize Lemonade, but period recipes included Orangeade and Appleade too.
Other fruits were juiced, sweetened, and bottled for later serving as Syrups.

When the sweetened juiced fruit was served frozen, it was called Water Ice. These came in many of the fruit flavors that are popular for sno-cones and slushies today. Ices and ice cream fill a course in classic formal dinning, a tradition that shows up in the 1850s.

The next twist on the fruit based core was to add spices and infused waters. Classic recipes for Sherbet start with making an infused water, adding sugar to create a syrup, combining the syrup with juiced fruit and serving over iced water.

Today the idea of drinking vinegar puts a frown on the face, but the medical benefits are hard to argue with. From a survey of over 200 recipes titled shrub and fruit vinegar, I have traced the history of what contemporaries called these two beverages.
This recipe from 1803 is representative of a classic Shrub recipe of the 18th century.
From: The Frugal Housewife, or Complete Woman Cook by Susannah Carter, 1803, page 202
To make Shrub.
Take two quarts of brandy, and put it in a large bottle, adding to it the juice of five lemons, the peels of two, and half a nutmeg; stop it up, let it stand three days, and add to it three pints of white wine, and a pound and a half of sugar; mix it, strain it twice through a flannel, and bottle it up. It is a pretty wine, and a cordial.
As you see, it was considered a party beverage and filled with alcohol... LOTS of alcohol. Vinegar was a common preservative and fruit vinegars are listed in the "home brewing" sections. At this point, the demarcation between the two beverages is clear- Shrub is an alcohol based party beverage and Fruit Vinegar is a good means of preserving fruit and refreshing beverage.
The earliest recipe I have found that is titled Shrub but uses the fruit preserved in vinegar base is in 1830.
From that time on, the over-all number of shrubs decrease while the over-all number of fruit vinegars increase. There is also an increase in the number of recipes titled Shrub that are fruit vinegar based. Clearly, the core recipe of fruit preserved in vinegar, sweetened into a syrup, served diluted in cool water was quite popular by mid 19th century while alcohol based shrubs were surpassed by punch and cocktails.
I posted the results of my survey of fruit vinegar and shrub terms on my blog, "History Hallway Heartburn".

The final drink I will touch on is Switchel. This popular re-enactment beverage shows up in period periodicals of the 1830s and 1840s as a healthful drink for agriculture workers. Many of the references were from New York state, though modern researchers consider Switchel to be of New England origin. Like it's cousin Shrub, early recipes for Switchel included alcohol, in this case rum, which was replaced by vinegar as the Temperance Movement gained ground.This vinegar based summer beverage includes molasses and sometimes ginger, diluted in water. The most common titles are "Haymaker's Punch", "Harvest Drink", and "Haymaker's Drink" when looking through recipe books.

So, to summarize:
Fruit-ade: juiced fruit, sugar, water
Fruit Syrup: juiced fruit, sugar, water
Fruit Water Ice: juiced fruit, sugar, water, served frozen
Sherbet: infused water, sugar, juiced fruit, spices, served chilled
Shrub: alcohol, juiced fruit, sugar, (sometimes spices and milk), water
Fruit Vinegar Water: juiced fruit steeped in vinegar, sugar, water
Haymaker's Punch: vinegar, molasses, (sometimes ginger), water

The Recipe(s) and Modes:
Lemonade with Raspberry Syrup (for Janita and Noah)
From: How to Mix Drinks, or, The Bon Vivant’s Companion by Thomas, 1864, page 83
222. Lemonade* (Use large bar glass.)
The juice of half a lemon.
1 table-spoonful of sugar.
2 or three pieces of orange.
1 table-spoonful of raspberry or strawberry syrup.
Fill the tumbler one-half full with shaved ice, the balance with water; dash with port wine, and
ornament with fruits in season.

422. Raspberry Syrup.
2 pints of filtered raspberry juice. 
41⁄4 lbs. of sugar. 

Select the fruit, either white or red. Having picked them over, mash them in a pan, which put in a warm place until fermentation has commenced. Let it stand for about three days. All mucilaginous fruits require this, or else they would jelly when bottled. Now filter the juice through a close flannel bag, or blotting-paper, and add sugar in the proportion mentioned above; this had better be powdered. Place the syrup on the fire, and as it heats skim it carefully, but don't let it boil; or you may mix in a glass vessel or earthenware jar, and place in a pan of water on the fire. This is a very clean way, and prevents the sides crusting and burning. When dissolved to the "little pearl" (see No. 12) take it off; strain through a cloth; bottle when cold; cover with tissue-paper dipped in brandy, and tie down with a bladder.

Mode: I prepared the raspberry syrup first by juicing the raspberries and straining them through a cloth. Then pouring the juice into a pan, I added sugar and brought the whole to a soft boil. When cool, I bottled the syrup. For the lemonade, I brought sugar and water to a soft boil to create (in bar-tending terms) a Simple Syrup. I added the juiced lemons and orange. When cool, I bottled the mixture. To serve I used 3/4 glass of lemonade mix and 1/4 raspberry syrup.

Janita says, "Delicious! Very Refreshing!"

Noah says, "You are gonna bring lemonade, right?"

Watermelon Ice (for Mandy)
From: The Sunny Side Dessert Book by S.T. Stone, 1893, page 22
Select a ripe and very red melon, scrape some of the pulp and use all the water. A few of the seeds interspersed will add to the appearance. Sweeten to taste, and freeze as you would any other ice. If you wish it very light, add the whites of three eggs thoroughly whipped, to one gallon of ice, just as it begins to congeal. Beat frequently with a very large iron spoon. Freeze hard.

Mode: I bought watermelon pieces for convenience. I juiced the watermelon through a clean cloth. I added sugar to the juice. I froze the mixture hard and then let it gently melt before serving.

Mandy says, "Heaven! Absolute Heaven!"

Turkish Sherbet (for Sherri and Katie)

Turkish Sherbets.
--Extract by pressure or infusion the rich juice and fine perfume of any of the odoriferous flowers or fruits; mix them in any number and quantity to taste.
When these essences, extracts, or infusions are prepared, they may be immediately used, by mixing in proper proportions of sugar; or syrup and water, some acid fruit, such as lemon, pomegranate, tamarind, &c., are added to raise the flavor, but not to overpower the perfume, or taste of what the sherbet is made.
These sherbets are very healthy, having all that is exhilarating, with the additional refreshing and cooling qualities so requisite in hot countries, and free from fermentation, which is destructive in certain degrees to health, however satisfying for the moment.

Mode: I made an infusion of aromatic citrus by steeping lemon and orange peels in boiling water overnight. I added sugar, the juice of fresh red currants, and ginger.

Sherri says, "Oh, this is SO good. Katie, you must come try this!"
Katie says, "It's tart, but I could grow to like this."

Raspberry Vinegar Syrup (for Kim and Janine)
From: The Lady's Receipt Book, A Useful companion for large and small families by Eliza Leslie, 1847, page 141
French Raspberry Vinegar.
--Take a sufficiency of fine ripe raspberries. Put them into a deep pan, and mash them with a wooden beetle. Then pour them, with all their juice, into a large linen bag, and squeeze and press out the liquid into a vessel beneath. Measure it; and to each quart of the raspberry-juice allow a pound of powdered white sugar, and a pint of the best cider vinegar. First mix together the juice and the vinegar, and give them a boil in a preserving-kettle. When they have boiled well, add gradually the sugar, with a beaten white of egg to every two pounds; and boil and skim it till the scum ceases to rise. When done, put it into clean bottles, and cork them tightly. It is a very pleasant and cooling beverage in warm weather, and for invalids who are feverish. To use it, pour out half a tumbler of raspberry vinegar, and fill it up with ice-water.

It is a good palliative for a cold, mixed with hot water, and taken as hot as possible immediately on going to bed, so as to produce perspiration.

Mode: I juiced the raspberries through a clean cloth into a pan. I added vinegar and gave it a boil. I added sugar continued to a soft boil. When cool it was bottled. To serve, I added a dollop of concentrate and diluted with water.
I also made Blackberry Vinegar and Strawberry Vinegar (or Acid).
Mode: I put the berries in a jar and covered them with vinegar. I let them sit for two days. I juiced the berries and vinegar into a jar of fresh berries. (discard the previous berry pulp.) I let them sit for two days. I juiced the berries and vinegar into a pan, added sugar, and brought the mix to a soft boil. When cooled, I bottled the concentrate.

Kim says, "Oh, yes please. I LOVE vinegar!"
Janine says, "I encourage all our guys to try vinegar. Some of them even like it."

Harvest Drink (for Doug)
From: The Skillful Housewife’s Book; or Complete Domestic Cookery, Taste, Comfort,Economy by Mrs. L. G. Abell,  1852, page 117
Harvest Drink
Mix with five gallons of good water, half a gallon of molasses, one quart of vinegar, and two ounces of powdered ginger. This will make not only a very pleasant beverage, but one highly invigorating and healthful.

Mode: Add half cup of molasses, two cups vinegar, and a dash of ginger to a pan. Bring to a soft boil, when well mixed. When cool, bottle it. To serve, dilute liberally with cool water.

Doug says, "It's growing on me, but I still like Strawberry Vinegar better."

The Date/Year and Region: 
The mid-Atlantic US from 1803-1893

Time to Complete: 
It took well over a week to make everything. Steeping the berries took longest.

Total Cost: 
About $35.00, buying the fruit fresh got expensive.

How Successful Was It: 

How Accurate Was It: 
I tried to follow the recipes to the letter in a modern kitchen. I'd say they got a fair taste of summer beverages.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #5: Pies!

The Challenge:
Make a pie! Meat, fruit, sweet, savory- but make sure it's documented!

English Curd Pie
I love pies. Loved ones comment often on my fondness for meat pies and await the annual apple dumplings with quivering noses. With this challenge, I wanted a challenge.
Curds was definitely a challenge, a challenge not to take modern short-cuts. Microwave? Lemon juice? Cottage cheese?
"Documented" to me means we start with the basic questions of historical interpretation. How would people of the era meet that challenge? Can I do that with relative safety? If not, how close can I come?
The closest I could come was powdered rennet tablets and pasturized milk. It took longer to set than anticipated, but eventually it did work.
Now I can stop being intimidated by the cheesecake recipes and give one a go. I just might even try some of the modern suggestions and come up with cheese.

The Recipe:
From: Miss Beecher's Domestic Receipt Book by Catherine Esther Beecher, 1846 page 106

One quart of milk.
A bit of rennet to curdle it.
Press out the whey, and put into the curds three eggs, a nutmeg, and a tablespoonful of brandy. Bake it in paste, like custard.

The Date/Year and Region: 
America of the mid 19th century.

How Did You Make It:
I used rennet tablets by Junket. Here's their instructions for use.
1/4 tablet to 2 cups milk.

1. Heat the milk in a stainless steel saucepan and, stirring often, warm it to the required temperature (each recipe varies slightly).
2. Still stirring, add the rennet (or citric acid), as for ricotta. Cover; let curds form without stirring, keeping the temperature steady.
3. Using a rubber spatula, break up the curd. This will allow the whey to separate from the curd. A resting period usually follows this step.
4. Place a sturdy cheesecloth over a bowl. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the curd to a cheesecloth.
5. Grab the cheesecloth and pull it tight, allowing the whey to drain off into the bowl underneath. 

At this point, I proceed with the historic recipe.

Into the curds, 3 medium eggs, 2 teaspoons nutmeg, and a generous tablespoon of brandy.
Mix well and pour into a pie crust.
Bake at 350* for 30 minutes.

Time to Complete: 
curds: 10 minutes cooking, 12 hours draining
filling: 5 minutes prepare
bake: 30 minutes

Total Cost: 
Total: $16.50

How Successful Was It: 
It was successful in that it set up and came out properly. I'm not sure I care for the flavor. I would likely add some sugar and go without a paste if making it to please myself alone.

How Accurate Was It: 
Confession time, Folks, I bought the pie crust. I wanted to focus on one new technique at a time and this time was curds. Otherwise, mostly accurate.