Friday, April 20, 2018

Eggs and Tomatoes

Stewed tomatoes for breakfast - a very British thing.  Also a very breakfast thing in nineteenth-century America. 

Eggs and Tomatoes comes from Mrs. Bliss's 1850 volume, The Practical Cookbook  (Philadelphia).  It's not a seasonal thing for me right now, since, being April, it's not tomato season.

The Recipe

To facilitate peeling the tomatoes, I put them into boiling water to blanch them.  Once the skins split, I removed them with a slotted spoon, removed the skins, halved them, removed the seeds, and then rough chopped the remainder

Blanched tomatoes

I melted two tablespoons of butter in a frying pan, added the chopped tomatoes, and let them cook.  I added salt and pepper to taste.

Since the tomatoes were already warmed from the blanching, this didn't take very long.  I beat six eggs with a fork as if I was making scrambled eggs.

Pour the eggs into the stewed tomatoes and begin stirring.   I presumed the eggs were to be cooked as if they were scrambled since no one wants raw eggs coating tomatoes.

Stir until the eggs are firmly done (my husband does not like soft eggs, so any egg dish we share must be firmly set)  They're only getting there in this picture.

Once the eggs were cooked, I drained the frying pan.  The tomatoes continued to release liquid while cooking and the resulting dish had a lot of extraneous liquid.


Reseason to taste and enjoy

My Evaluation

The dish tasted nice - tomatoes and eggs go well together.  The eggs tuned out rather "curdy" - they separated into small particles, reminding me most of cottage cheese.  They tasted fine, but it's not a texture I enjoy for eggs, being a fan of fluffy eggs.

I would seriously consider draining the tomatoes before cooking them, even though removing the seeds and seed pulp already reduced some of the fluid. 

If I were to cook this again, taking my personal tastes into account, I would consider sauteeing the tomatoes in a different pan, draining them well, and then adding them into the eggs as the eggs began to set.  Or, I would consider not stirring the egg and tomato mixture, letting it cook something like a frittata.  

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Coddled Eggs

A good breakfast egg is a delightful thing!  And, evidently a controversial one as well.  Inspired by the dust-up over Alice Water's wrought iron egg spoon (for a mere $250), I decided to take a look at some period egg recipes.

Today we look at the coddled egg.  I love eggs prepared in all ways, but coddling is not in my normal repertoire, somehow seeming fussier to prepare, although it really isn't.  To coddle is to pamper, to protect to the point of overprotecting.  A coddled egg is cooked out of the shell, gently and slowly, in water rather than over direct heat in a frying pan.   I've made coddled eggs in my modern life but was curious how a period recipe might vary.

A Period Version

The Praire Farmer, July 1852, p 331
I found this recipe copied verbatim in many cookbooks. The difference that stood out when I compared it to modern techniques, was that pouring boiling water on the eggs was the preferred method.  Every modern recipe I have read has the cook break the egg into a cup or small dish, then gently slide it all at once into the boiling water.     I was also very excited by the idea of actually coddling an egg on the breakfast table with no heat involved, but decided that would have to wait for another day.

Let's Cook!

Version 1:  Pouring on the Boiling Water

I chose to use a cast iron chicken fryer with deep sides.  I cracked my first egg into the pan, set at low heat, and gently poured boiling water over the egg.   This was the result - much of the white separated from the yolk and floated off like independent clouds.  NOT a desirable result.

Although you can see the water boiling in this picture, I reduced the temperature considerably and started timing.  At 2  1/2 minutes, I decided to pull the egg even though the recipe suggested 9.  The yolk was looking uncomfortably bright yellow for my taste; I prefer my eggs to have runny yolks.    Unable to capture all the coagulated free-floating egg whites, I wound up with this result.

The yolk was less done than I had feared, in fact, it still had some nice runniness


Version 2: Immersing the Egg

The whites were more than disappointing in the first attempt, so I decided to go with a more traditional coddled egg.  I slid the egg into the boiling water directly from the shell, which resulted in a  much more satisfying, tidy egg white  You can still see the free-floating egg white from the first attempt in the pan.  Our initial recipe does tell us that we can immerse our egg, although it regards that to be the inferior technique.

This time I was going to attempt the full 9 minutes suggested in the recipe, so I reduced the heat to the very lowest setting.  Since the pan was shallower than a saucepan, I spoon basted the water over the yolk.

The coddled egg at 9 minutes

For the ultimate test:  the firmness of the yolk!  The whites were clearly set nicely (the floating whisps are from the first attempt, which resulted in wandering whites)

This yolk is set more firmly than I normally enjoy, although it is acceptable as a soft boiled egg.  The runny yolk on the plate is leftover from the first egg.   I think the final cooking temperature would depend upon the results desired.   

A Third Way, Which I Did Not Attempt Yet, Two Eggs Being Enough for One Day

The Practical Cook Book  of 1850 gives us another option for timing.  The author, Mrs, Bliss, obviously agrees with my preference for a runny yolk.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Kitchen Pepper

Last fall I decided to make some kitchen pepper.   What is that, I hear you say?  Kitchen pepper is a basic seasoning mix that seems to have been fairly popular in the nineteenth century, based on its inclusion in historic cookbooks.  I encountered the concept of Kitchen Pepper a number of years ago when I read my first reproduction cookbook, The Kentucky Housewife (1839).  Unlike its designation as a "pepper," the actual product is a mix.

I tucked it away in the back of my mind, where it stayed as I started learning how to cook historic recipes.  In the meantime, I made walnut catsup, lemon catsup, and mushroom catsup.  The idea of other seasonings intrigued me.  Plus, I wanted an interesting demonstration for a reenactment.  So, one lovely October weekend, I, with the help of friends, made kitchen pepper.

The Kentucky Housewife

Making the Kitchen Pepper

I started with whole, dried ingredients, including blades of mace, which I found at an Indian grocery.
I chose dried whole ginger root for my ginger source and dried red pepper. I weighed all the spices out at home on my kitchen scale.  The ginger and the red pepper seeds would prove troublesome to grind.

Into a mortar and pestle, and time to grind away.   As the weekend progressed, one of my friends volunteered to help with the grinding.  By the end of the weekend, we had a nice powdered mix.

Add caption

Kitchen pepper smells unlike anything I have ever had - you can smell the sweet spices, but they are off set by the various peppers.   I bottled the results up and brought them back home.

And there it sat.  Making kitchen pepper was an interesting intellectual exercise, but - was I willing to trust it on my food?   The idea nagged at me.  Could I explain to people that while I was willing to make it I was too scared to actually use it as a seasoning?

The Kentucky Housewife mentions kitchen pepper is good in meat gravies.  I decided I would sprinkle a bit on the edge of some rib eye steak I was broiling at home.  And the seasoned part was delicious - to our total surprise.

Soooooo - I tried again.  The next time I made steaks, I used the Kitchen Pepper as a rub. It was fabulous.

Next attempt at seasoning modern food - scrambled eggs.  This was great too.

Other Versions

 The recipe for Kitchen Pepper as found in The Kentucky Housewife does not seem to be the standard version.  Most cookbooks, both British and American, had this version:

The Kentucky Housewife's version has much more pepper.  The more common version uses Jamaica pepper (allspice) instead of mace and includes salt.    I'll have to try this one next to see how they differ (other than the salt).

Sunday, January 21, 2018

A Knitting Heritage

Part of dealing with a family death is making decisions about possessions - what to keep, what to sell, what to discard.    Depending upon your attitude towards possessions and your sentimentality, the decisions can be very difficult.

After visiting our parents' graves this Christmas, my brother and I made a quick stop at our family home.  There is much to go through, much to sort, much to decide.  I realized one very easy decision would be about my mom's knitting needles.  I have very little sentimentality about them, although I did learn to knit on them.  Knitting needles are tools; I knit, so taking her supply seemed logical.

I was actually looking for Mom's knitting needle roll, but I didn't find it this trip.  To simplify matters, I stuffed all the odds and ends into a shopping bag and brought them back home with me.  I frequently see old knitting needles in thrift store, having been bundled off along with the rest of the unwanted items.  No judgment is meant in that statement: to those who don't knit, the tools are useless clutter.  As a knitter, I always look at the needles, often bringing home things that will fit into my equipment.

Back home, I emptied the bag onto the floor and started sorting into pairs and types.  I knew that the vast majority would be Susan Bates aluminums - these are the needles I always remember seeing in my Mom's hands, and are one of my least favorite types.  Knitting needles are a very personal choice for each knitter, and I dislike the cold feel of aluminum needles.  Since my mother had problems with arthritis,I never understood her preference for aluminum. Mixed in with these were some bamboo (my gifts to her) and German needles (my sister's influence). I hear the needles click in my memory, and see my Mom rocking in her rocking chair, knitting.  Evenings are indelibly associated with Mom knitting or ironing, mainly knitting.

Some of the needles were older, vintage plasics, either celluoid or bakelike, still flexible, but warm to the touch.  Older metal needles went into this grouping  Many of these needles showed shaping to the knitter's hand, a common occurance with thinner needles.

I recognized a selection of small steel crochet hooks as belonging to my grandmother, the most proficient crocheter of the family. These hooks were distinctive from the aluminum ones my Mom used.   My grandmother was a proficient maker of fine doilies and of pillow case lace.  During her last days, she made afghans for all of my family, crocheting stitches on wool squares to make bed-sized blankets for each of us.

The smallest number were the oldest - steel knitting pins, bone and dark wood needles.  These I believe were either my grandmother's or her mother's

None of these needles are valuable in and of themselves - but they represent a tradition of handiwork - of women's domestic arts used to beautify a home or to make clothing.  I could see changes in technology and fashion in the materials used.  Holdng the tools used by women in my family, I felt a sense of a hertitage passed from one to another, an appreciation of a way to busy idle hands with beauty.  

Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Yoked Dress

It was time to make a new dress, something I seldom do.  My reenacting wardrobe is more driven by necessity than stylish desire. 

My mother had passed away in March and I decided to wear second-stage mourning in her honor.  Full mourning, involving all black clothing and a black bonnet with a long black mourning veil would take more time than I had to pull together, having only a month between my mother's death and a national event at Shiloh.    We had obligations to attend the event, so remaining home wasn't an option.     Since reenacting involves a healthy dose of make-believe, there is no way for others, be they reenactors or spectators, to know one is not simply showing a mourning impression (pretending to be in mourning), and women in full mourning are often met with insensitive or callous comments.  For those reasons I decided to wear a lighter stage of mourning, one that involves black and white, gray, and lavender.  

I dug into my stash of fabric for this micro check in black and white cotton. The white is actually more of a cream, but I decided to go with what I already had.   Mourning clothing does not rely on much ornamentation, so I knew I wanted to make something a little more interesting than my normal fitted bodice pattern.  

Looking at original cdvs of women, I decided to use a yoked bodice.  Many reenactors tend to delegate the yoked bodice to youthful styles, but looking closely at a number of images shows the yoke to also be an adult style.   A yoked bodice divides the bodice material horizontally, usually above the bust.  The area above the division is treated normally, but the section below the divide is pleated.  I did not have a commercial pattern for this project - I used my fitted bodice pattern and worked out the rest.

The bottom part of the bodice is either gathered or pleated, but I noticed more pleating.  The pleats take the place of the normal gathers or darts to control fullness at the waist and bust.  (To the best of my knowledge, all these images are from Ebay.  If you are the owner and would like an image removed, please contact me and I will be glad to comply)

Contained neat pleats, top embellishment
Soft gathers with a self-ruffle at the join

What look to be tiny pleats, ruffle at top

  Larger soft, loose pleats

                                                   More constrained pleats, no finish at seam.

As we can see, there are several options available - soft gathers or pleats, a smooth seam joining or a self ruffle, and a plain finish or one with an additional embellishment at the seam joining the top and bottom of the bodice.

I chose the bottom image as my inspiration partly because I was using a check for the fabric.  I tend to like more tailored options, so the unembellished seam and the clean pleats appealed to me.

This is my finished dress.  The skirt is pulled up with skirt lifters since the ground was very uneven (we were camped in a bean field) 

I liked the way the pleated yoke turned out.  Please pardon the oddly shaped collar - I was in a hurry to finish the dress before we left.  I have since replace it with a better collar.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Raspberry Fruit Vinegar, also known as Raspberry Shrub

Shrubs, a drinkable form of fruit flavored vinegar, have been popular in contemporary mixology for a while, but they are far, far older.

Historic Shrub - and Why You Should Drink It!

In the 1700s, "shrub" denoted an alcoholic beverage.  By the nineteenth century, "shrub" has moved to a non-alcoholic version.  Perhaps to keep that distinction clear, the name of the drink has changed to "fruit vinegar,' but the change is not always consistent.  "Shrub" still appears as an interchangeable name, although "fruit vinegar" is more preponderant.

My first encounter with the concept of a drinkable vinegar came from The Kentucky Housewife  of 1839, which is still one of my favorite period cookbooks.  

Important Lessons Learned Along the Way

I first tried making shrub a number of years ago, primarily for historic interest.  I learned several valuable (and rather funny) lessons from my first experience.

1.  Strain the shrub.  Keeping the raspberry pulp does not add interest or additional flavor.  Instead, you have seeds and pulp bobbing against your lips as you drink, which is not a pleasant experience.

2.  When served, shrub is diluted.  Quite a bit.  Taste testing it straight is NOT something that will make you or your friends anxious to have more.

3,  Vinegar based drinks are a learned pleasure.  Sip slowly.  Add more water if you need to. And try the drink more than one time.

Why Should You Even Think of Trying Fruit Vinegar/Shrub?

I now find fruit vinegars to be a pleasant drink in the heat of summer.  I sip them slowly and relish the fact that they are not syrupy sweet, which I find to be somewhat cloying.

Although our forebearers didn't understand the physiology and chemistry of electrolytes, vinegar-based drinks are restorative.  Haymakers' drinks such as switchel are also vinegar based.  

Fruit vinegars are historic.  What better way to fend off the heat at a reenactment than drinking a period-correct drink?  They are equally useful in modern settings.

Making Raspberry Vinegar/Shrub

The recipe for shrub is proportional, which is actually easier when working with berries.  


  • raspberries (although strawberries or blackberries work equally well). Because of the price of seasonal fresh berries, I prefer to use frozen raspberries (sugarless)
  • cider vinegar
  • white sugar   


Put the berries (frozen or fresh) into a large glass container.  A metal container may be reactive with the vinegar, so glass is preferable.

Pour in enough vinegar to cover the berries.  Let sit at room temperature for several days.  I normally place the bowl in my microwave to keep it clean and out of the way.

Line a colander with cheesecloth, place over a bowl or pot.  Pour the raspberry/vinegar mixture into the colander and let it drain into the bowl.  When the liquid slows to a slow drip, gather the cheese cloth together and squeeze the raspberry juice into the bowl.  Discard the raspberry pulp.

Measure the raspberry/vinegar liquid and pour into a saucepan. 

 For every quart of liquid, add half a pound of white sugar.   Bring to a boil and boil for several minutes.

Pour off into clean bottle(s).

To serve, pour a small amount into a glass and fill with water.  The quantity is to taste.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Cider Cake from The Kentucky Housewife

It's been such an incredibly busy and fulfilling summer, so I am far beyond in posting.  Let's swing back into action with a cider cake!

Cider cake just sounds so very autumnal.  Since the recipe calls for sweet cider, there does seem to be a reason for that feeling.

I've had mixed luck with various cider cake recipes.  While they taste nice, the resulting cake is heavy and dense.  Period cakes are much denser than our modern taste expects, but my results were heavier than normal.

Today's version comes from The Kentucky Housewife of 1839

The Recipe

What I Did

I decided to apply what I have learned about period cake baking technique to this recipe and beat the egg whites and yolks separately, rather than adding the eggs in whole, as I usually would.

I have a kitchen scale (highly recommend one!), so I weighed out my sugar.

Separate the whites from the yolks of 6 eggs.  Beat the egg whites until stiff.  

In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks until thick and lemony

In yet another bowl, cream the butter, add the sugar and continue creaming.  Add the egg yolks, cider, and 1 c of flour. Grate in 2 whole nutmegs.  Mix well.      Add "enough flour to make a thick batter."  I added flour a half cup at a time and wound up with a grand total of 3 1/2 c (including that first cup of flour).  The batter is a bit thick, but we are going to fold the egg whites into it, which will lighten it.

Gently fold in the egg whites until just incorporated.  The beaten eggs are the only form of leavening in this cake, so this is an important step!   Turn into a well greased pan (my pan of chose is a bundt pan)

Bake in a 350 degree F oven until done - for me this was 50 minutes.  Test the cake's doneness with a toothpick or cake tester.  As you can see, it looks pale on top., but the sides are clearly golden brown.

Remove from oven, let cool.  Remove from pan.  There is a bit of doming on the top of the cake, so it did rise a bit!


You may ice the cake if you wish.  Previous cakes have taught me that icing in this period is more akin to a glaze and is often fruit juice based.    In this case, cider seemed appropriate.  The sugar is granulated rather than powdered, so there is a grit and crunch to the icing.

1/4 c of cider
1/2 c of sugar

Mix well with a spoon,  Carefully spoon over the cake.

My Version of the Recipe

6 oz of butter
8 oz granulated sugar
2 nutmegs, grated
6 eggs, separated
2 c of sweet cider
3 1/2 c flour

Beat the egg whites until stiff.  In a separate bowl, beat the eggs yolks until thick and lemony.  Set aside.

In a larger bowl, cream the butter, add the sugar and cream together.  Add egg yolks and 1 c flour, Beat.  Add 2 c cider; grate the nutmegs into the mixing bowl.  Mix together.  Add the rest of the flour (2 1/2 c) and beat.  Gently fold in the beaten egg whites.

Turn into a well-greased bundt pan.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven until done (approximately 50 min).  Test doneness with a cake tester.

Remove from oven, let cool in pan.  Turn out ont a rack.  Place on a plate.  Ice if desired.

 1/4 c cider
1/2 c granulated sugar

Mix together.  Spoon carefully over cake.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Rhubarb Marmalade

Continuing with my harvest of rhubarb, I tackled a new type of preserve

Rhubarb Orange Marmalade.  Yes, you heard me right.

The Challenge
Historical Food Fortnighly Challege 12. In A Jam...or Jelly, or Pickle (June 3 - June 16) In a world before refrigeration, preserving food was an important task. For this challenge, make your favorite preserved food - bonus points if it’s seasonal!

I have discovered how much I enjoy period jams and jellies made without pectin gelling agents.  They are so easy to make and so delicious!  Strawberries would be the logical seasonal fruit in early June in northern Illinois, but I still have a surplus of the last strawberry jam I made.  Since my rhubarb was still hardy, I thought I should take advantage of its abundance.  And, I have loved rhubarb since my childhood.

The Recipe

Rhubarb is not the normal stuff of jams and jellies, modern or period.  As I researched, I did start finding recipes for a combination that sounded unusual - rhubarb and orange.  In true Victorian fashion, I found the same recipe copied from one cookbook to another.

The Wives's Own Cookery Book (1856, London), by Frederick Bishop may be the originator of the recipe.  One American instance is in The Family, Farm, and Garden and the Domestic Animals (1859, Auburn, NY,)  The name of this treat varies from rhubarb preserve to rhubarb jam to rhubarb marmalade.

I like rhubarb a lot. How bad could this be, since so many cookbooks recommend it?  Plus, I wanted to be seasonal - rhubarb is in my garden and the oranges were the last of my winter box and were starting to look a little softer. So, we combine the end of our winter fruit with a nice new seasonal vegetable (because rhubarb really is a vegetable).  

Time to Cook!   (Or What I Did)


1 quart of rhubarb, finely chopped
6 naval oranges
1.4 lb of white sugar (I used up all the sugar I had left in the house.  I suppose I should mention that I have a kitchen scale)

I picked the rhubarb, removed the leaves, and cleaned off any garden dirt.  I scrubbed the outsides of my oranges.

Knowing that rhubarb stews into fibers if left long, I chopped it finely and put it into a 6-qt pot.

I peeled the oranges and, using a thin spoon, scraped off much of the white pith.  I didn't attempt to be meticulous about it because much of the pectin is in the pith and I did want this to gel.  Naval oranges are seedless, so that wasn't a problem.

Scraped oranges peels

I chopped the oranges up on a cutting board with raised sides to retain the orange juice.  At a particular point, the orange just starts pulping.  Add pulped chopped orange and juice to pot with rhubarb.

Chopped orange and juice

I then sliced the orange peel finely and decided to chop the slices, thinking about what size of peel I would wish to find on my bread.  All the chopped peel was then added to the pot.

Slivered chopped orange peel

I had a choice of a range of 1 - 1.5 lb of white sugar.  Knowing sugar helps the gelling process and also knowing that both ingredients are tart, I opted for the higher range.  I weighed it out and added it to the pot and stirred well.

Looking very pretty and colorful

Over medium heat, I cooked for about 40-45 minutes, stirring occasionally.  I had no idea how this should turn out, never having seen such a preserve before, but I did not want it to be soupy.  The rhubarb broke down during the cooking, as did the orange pulp.  I also feared overcooking and having the marmalade set up into a cake (it's happened before....).  I tested by placing dollops on a ironstone plate and watching to see how it set up.  Around 45 min, the preserves held a long drip from the spoon and sat nicely on the plate.  I called it done and spooned it into preserved canning jars.

Yield - 7 cups

At the point I stopped cooking.  You can see the color from the rhubarb is gone, but it makes the preserves opaque


rhubarb - from the garden
sugar - a about a third of the bag, so around $1.00?
oranges - we bought them at least a month ago.  Perhaps $3.00?  At this point they were leftovers
canning jelly jars - in the basement.

Total- in the neighborhood of $4.00, assuming you don't need to buy canning jars.

How Authentic Is It?

Other than cooking it on a wood or coal stove or using a more period orange, I don't see how it could be anymore authentic.

How Successful Was It?

Because of the rhubarb, the marmalade doesn't have the clarity I would expect from orange marmalade.  The opaque nature is not a failure, just something different.  It actually has more of a look of applesauce - with oranges in it.

Seasonal?  Yes, very!

The rhubarb marmalade really does have a strong orange marmalade taste - with a bit of an "other tang," which is the rhubarb.  There is no stringiness in the finished preserve. The oranges pieces are thoroughly suspended in the marmalade, which is a sign of success.  It tastes really good!