Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Apples From Orchards, and Grapes From the Vine

        The jewels of September. See how they glow. Crab Apple. Apple-Maple and Wild Grape. Jelly and jam. Essence of Autumn. This is an abundance year. Some years are not so. This spring the blossoms smothered the branches. This fall the apples and grapes hang pendulous.

        Apple blossoms are like brides. Ethereal, blushing, full of sweetness. Fleeting beauty. The petals fall, carpeting the earth. The while, buds are forming, growing, maturing, becoming small, hard nubs, then ripening to full blown fruit.

           " As the apple tree among the trees of the wood...I sit down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit is sweet to my taste." sings the Song of Solomon.

         A hat full of wild grapes is the perfect amount to make Jam. I know this, because I raised free range children. Their play ground was the woods, and the streams and the meadows. They had two rules. One was, when you catch a brook trout, you run home with it as fast as possible. So I can cook and eat it while it still carries the taste of hilly brooks and granite shoals. The other was this. If you find wild grapes while exploring, mark that spot in your memory. And when they are ripe, turn your hat up, and fill it. Because who has a bucket on an explore? And many an adventure was had, high up in the trees, swinging and jumping to fill those hats. When they got older, there was pick ups to stand on, and reach grape vines, too.
        Long ago, when New Hampshire belonged to the deer and the Indians. Before these granite hills knew about September. When days were measured by moons and harvests. Already then the grape vines twisted around the mighty trees, God grew grapes. 
         On winter mornings, when you open a jar of wild grape jam, you are a part of the ages. There is the scent of warm autumn sunshine. The flash of blue sky. The light of the harvest moon. The taste on your tongue holds the tang of living, and dying. The sweetness of birth. The memory of other years.

       The essentials of jelly making. It's not hard. I use powdered pectin, and you just follow the directions in the box. So I don't need to go into that.

         This Foley Food Mill is the best thing if you make grape jam, rather than jelly. I see it now in antique shops, so it is old fashioned, but I like mine. A few turns of the crank and all the seeds and skins are separated from the pulp.

                                              Jewels, indeed!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Cod Cakes and History

        This is the story of Cod Cakes. I made them the other night, and they were delicious. A cod fish is really quite an ugly fish. But, like an alluring woman, the cod has made men wander far from home, searching for them. Nations were made, and lost because of them. Ships were built, sailed, lost at sea. Some even came back home loaded with them. Our country flourished because of them. Wars were fought over them.

     This story begins with a cute little wooden box. Of salt cod. And two young men who had recently fledged their nests. Awesome find at the grocery store, this little wooden box. It definitely has possibilities. And salt cod? Surely it's much like beef jerky. You can gnaw on it. No refrigeration, no cooking. Right? Especially if you live the young mans dream. The perfect bachelor life in the carriage shed of a house. A house with a name, even. A wood stove and a lantern? You are all set.
     Much to their surprise, chagrin, even, salt cod is not like beef jerky. In its just out of the box state it is actually inedible. Yep. That is why they made salt cod. Long before the colonists came to Cape Cod, long before the Vikings came to North America, the Basques came. They came chasing the glorious cod fish. They stayed, and salted the fish to fill their boats and then brought them back to Europe. Salt cod fed the medieval peasants.
     Any way, this Gramma came to the rescue, and made them cod cakes, to show them how you use salt cod.

        This is a one pound box, so it ends up being a lot of fish. After you soak it! I put it in a stainless steel bowl, covered it with cold water and put it in the refrigerator for twenty four hours. During that time, I poured all the water off, rinsed the fish and covered it with fresh water four times. This takes out the salt and plumps up the fish, which miraculously looks like fresh filets again. Put it in a colander to drain.

      Wash, peel and dice fairly small, five medium potatoes. Boil them until soft. Drain. Now comes the tedious part. You need to shred the fish. its a little tough, but you can do it! This step would be much easier with fresh, boiled cod. Put the potatoes and shredded cod in a large bowl. Add one medium onion, diced small.

      The onions go in with the fish and potatoes. Add two beaten eggs, four tablespoons of flour ( I used Gluten free), a squeeze of lemon juice, or lemon thyme, and mash them all together with a potato masher. Shape them into patties. Beat an egg with a little water in a shallow bowl. Dip each patty in the egg wash, then in crumbs of your choice.. panko, ritz, I used GF cornflakes that I pulverized in my blender.  I put them on a waxed paper lined cookie sheet. I made about twenty patties. Put them in the refrigerator to firm up, as this makes it easier to handle when you fry them.  At this point you can also freeze them, or some of them if you don't think you can eat that many.
       Now you're free to go read a book or whatever, til supper time!

       When you are ready to cook them, get out the old cast iron. Heat up about an inch deep  oil of choice. I saved some bacon grease from breakfast and added that for extra flavor. In my ten inch pan, I could do five patties at a time, two minutes per side.  We had tiny red skin potatoes and over easy eggs with ours. I made tartar sauce for them, too. ( Mix some mayo with a nice glob of relish and a drop of maple syrup.)

       The early colonists used every part of the cod fish. Skin, bones, insides. Not just the prize pieces of fish. I am sure they would be horrified at our wastefulness. Thanks to the iron horse cowboy, who just happened to be reading a book about the history of cod fishing. Jakob and Dillion got a good meal, and a history lesson along with it. You can't beat that!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Cabbage Patch Soup

 You will either love it or not like it very much at all. I have been making it for many a year. It's one of the iron horse cowboys favorite suppers. I don't remember where I saw the recipe, but its easy, its quick, its economical, it smells delicious and it's tasty. So I guess you can't beat that!
       Chop up into medium dice one small or half of a large onion.
       Do the same to three stalks of celery.
       Ditto some cabbage. This all depends on how much chopped up cabbage you will like in your soup.
        Into the cast iron skillet they go, with a big dab of butter.

      Cook over medium heat until softened, stirring occasionally. Here's where the house already begins to smell good.
      Transfer the vegetables into your soup kettle.
      Brown some hamburger in the same skillet. Sprinkle it lavishly with Lawry's seasoned salt and smokehouse pepper. This, again, is up to you. How much hamburger do you like in your soup? These days, hamburger is so expensive, you might not use too much. Or you can use venison or what ever meat you might have around. Or just skip the meat. It will still be good!
        Transfer the hamburger into the soup kettle. Add two cups of water and let it cook over medium heat for a few minutes.
         Now add some tomatoes. This is why this is such a nice soup. You can just use what you happen to have around. A can of stewed whole tomatoes, a can of diced tomatoes, some chopped up fresh ones from the garden, or just a can of pureed if you don't like lumpy tomatoes.

      Now a can of dark red kidney beans. Scoop that in. Or whatever kind of beans you might have hanging around. Or no beans, if your kids don't like 'em!
       You can add more salt and pepper, to your taste.
        Add one can of pasta sauce, or some ketchup, or what have you, t make it nice and tomato-ey.
        Simmer it till you're ready to eat. It doesn't hurt it at all to simmer away for a couple hours, but you can eat it right away. This is nice if you don't get going on supper till late. Its done, the house smells good. Slice up a loaf of bread, get out the soup bowls..tada! Supper's on.

        Give it a try. Add your own twist. Or come on over. I'll make you some!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Rye Bread and other Stories

      A long time ago a boy named Bill was raking the oats in a seemingly unending oat field on  his fathers farm in Northern Michigan. He is fourteen years old. He stands, leaning on his rake for the briefest moment, turning to glance and make sure his father does not notice him slacking off. He hears the faint, lonely wail of the two thirty p.m. freight train coming on down that track, every day, right on time.
   . He can see it now. The rumbling wheels , the smoke billowing, heading out, out of this town, out of this place, running the track to far away places with far away names. It is August. The sweat runs down the back of his neck in rivers. The dusty oats will never get done. His mouth is dry and his hands are blistered.. Father and the hired man have their backs to him. The rake drops. He swings his legs over it  and strides across the oat field in an easy lope, the oats bending, then standing back up beneath his feet. He makes a graceful leap into the open box car. The train begins to pick up speed.
       Lying on the warm, hard box car floor, he watches the oat field fade away.. The familiar roads. The familiar towns. His known world fades away. He lets the rhythm of the wheels rock him to sleep.
      On a cold snowy  February day a post card arrives for his mother in that little Michigan town. "Did you get the oats raked?" is what it says. It is mailed from Seattle. A hobo roams where  the trains go, stopping at his will. The country is wide, and it holds a hoboes world. There are snow storms in Texas, did you know? The Pacific is a mighty ocean. It slams against the rocky shores, and swells gentle at the ports where the ships come and go. The western mountains are mighty and steep, even for freight trains. West Virginia has hills and curves and tunnels. In Florida grapefruits and oranges grow on trees.
     When winter comes, you can head for the warmth. if you want to. In summer the rivers are cool and they wash away the grime of the journey. There are forest, too that you could write home about, if you had a pencil and a penny for a stamp. A hobo jungle has comaraderie. They share their last crust with you. Except for the big cities, it is clean and peaceful, this America, your home.

In New England, a young widow with her two children lives on a hillside. She is sweet and quiet talking. One day Bill wanders up from Boston to see some relatives. He works at odd jobs. He visits and tries to swing into a steady life. The years had  gone by, full of adventure, but sometimes at night it got lonely. When they coyotes bark, and the owls talk to each other in the tree tops. Then the nights felt black and the light of the moon wass cold.. The young widow has a friendly smile. The talk comes easy. Bill tells his plan to his cousin Mildred. She boards at the same house as he does. He catches her in the hallway. He swears her to secrecy. "Mildred", he says, "I am going to marry Ellen tomorrow. So will you iron my shirt and mend my pants and not tell a soul?" Well, Mildred did. She would still giggle like the young girl she was on that day, when she tells you about it. She was in her nineties  the last time I heard this story.
It was Bill who taught Ellen to make this bread. He had learned it somewhere in his days of wandering over this great land. He called it depression bread, because it has so few ingredients, and it is so economical to make. I always thought that was why it tastes so good. It has history mixed in it, and adventure. It has laughter and probably a few tears to season it. Every time some one makes it, I wonder..when we have been sleeping the long sleep, and the wind and the snow and the sun have washed our gravestones clean and white...will our descendants have any excellent memories to talk over and pass on? I wonder.. Go forth, and make bread. It feeds the body and warms the soul.

It was the best wedding gift we received, and it has lasted the longest. This recipe for Rye bread. Written in spidery hand writing on lined yellow paper. From Ellen to the iron horse cowboy, because she knew how much he liked to eat it when he was at her house.
Rye Bread
Dissolve 4 tblsp. yeast in a half a cup of warm water and a tblsp. of sugar in a one cup measure.
. Let it rise until it fills the cup.
Add this to 4 cups of warm water in a large bowl.
Add a fairly big handful of salt.
(This will be around one heaping tablespoon.)
(If you don't add the salt, it will not have any flavor.)
Add 2 cups of rye meal
(It is not easy to find rye meal. Graham flour also works, and rye flour, but if you can find the meal, it has much more texture.)
Stir this in.
Add 2 Tablespoons of caraway seed
 Begin adding your white flour, a little at a time until your dough is smooth and elastic.
 I always mix and knead by hand. I love the steady cadence of it, and the rhythmic thump. thump as you roll it around. It is soothing and comforting. I can't say that a bread mixer would make the bread any better or worse. It is definitely better for the bread maker! Wash out your bowl, butter it and put your ball of dough back in the bowl. Cover with a damp towel and let rise until doubled.
Punch the dough down and shape into 4 loaves. Put in greased pans and again rise until doubled.
Originally this bread was just shaped into round loaves and put on a cookie sheet.
Or sometimes it was just baked on the racks of the wood stove with out any pans.
It's all what you  have!
They also sprinkled it with coarse salt before they baked it.
 If you are too health conscious for all that..then just put it in loaf pans and no salt and use your clean modern oven!
350 for about 30 minutes.
simple. Wonderful aroma. Mouth watering taste.
I have made hundreds of loaves of this bread over the years.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Mrs. Dicksons Candy

          This is the kind of recipe that you know will be good! Bespattered and dog eared and smeared and barely readable. It has been used so many times. I know it by heart. But I always take it out and let it sit on the counter and get a few more splatters! Its just comforting. I think of the history, and "How many years have I been making these now??" And you know, I really don't know. A long time. Just a long time. They always turn out just perfect. Never had a batch mess up. Mrs. Dickson really knew what she was doing!
           Mrs.Dickson? Well, I didn't know either. For a whole lot of years. I thought she might be fictional, like Betty Crocker. Then one day, the iron horse cowboy and my friend Marty (he's an iron horse cowboy, too!) were having coffee and conversation and I put some chocolates out for snacking on. "Um hm", says Marty, " Mrs. Dicksons." Marty is not fast with words. He ate another one and kept silence. So I had to ask. Seems Mrs. Dickson was his neighbor when he was growing up. His sisters used to visit her and and learned how to make these candies. This was out in Washington Satte. About as far away from New Hampshire as you can get, by land!
           I had first gotten a lovely box of these chocolates from my sister for Christmas. Yup. Many moons ago. The iron horse cowboy claimed, (and still does) that they are the best chocolates. Ever. Get the recipe, he says. I did. There you see it. In her perfect handwriting. I can start out like that, but after a few lines, it gets messy. I don't know if she still makes, them, but I do. Every Christmas. Many batches. Gifts for everyone who needs something special. My grandkids wouldn't think it was Christmas if they didn't get their baggie of chocolates.

                                                            Mrs. Dicksons Chocolates    
                                                    Here's what you need:
                                                       4 cups nuts, coarsely chopped ( I use walnuts )
                                                        1 cube butter or margarine
                                                       2# powdered sugar
                                                        1 cup angelflake coconut
                                                       1 teaspoon vanilla
                                                         1 can Eaglebrand Milk
                                                        18 oz. chocolate chips
                                                          1/2 slab parafin, melted
                                  I use my kitchen Aid for this. It's easier, as the fondant is quite stiff. Dump your powdered sugar in the mixing bowl. Melt your butter and pour it over the sugar. Add your nuts, angelflake, vanilla and eaglebrand. Mix thoroughly. Take the bowl off the mixer and cover it and put in the refrigerator for a hour or so. Now you form it into balls. How big? How big do you want your candy to be! I make mine fairly small because then I get more candies.
                                  I cover a cookie sheet with wax paper to put the balls on. It makes about two cookie sheets full. Put them in the freezer. They are ready in about an hour, but I often just take them off the coookie sheets and put them in bags until I have time to dip them. The more frozen the better.
                                 When you're ready for the big job, you need to melt your chocolate chips and parafin together. I do it in a double boiler. It just works best for me. I'm sure you could use the microwave. You want it in some thing fairly deep so when you dip the balls in the chocolate they are completely covered. When the chcolate is melted, dip the balls in with whatever you have handy. I use tooth picks, because the iron horse cowboys chews them in lieu of smokes, so I always have hundreds of them around. When one gets too chocolately, just dash it and get another one! Work with only a few at a time, and leave the rest in the freezer.If they are at all soft, they fall off the dipping stick and drown in chocolate. Not a nice demise. Hold them over the chocolate to drip, then place on your wax papered cookie sheet. It's tedious. It takes awhile. But you don't have to do them all at once. You can save some for another day. Put them back in the freezer to harden. We leave them in the freezer. They taste better nice and cold, and they never get so hard you break your teeth or any thing.

                        I wonder if that sweet little neighbor lady in Washington ever realized how far reaching her kind heart was? All those miles and all those years and all those hundreds of Mrs. Dicksons candies! Well, I've gifted them to teachers and preachers and doctors and lawyers and cowboys. And friends and neighbors and relations and strangers. They all know of her! Pass it on. Try your hand at the best chocolates in the world. Thank you, Mrs. Dickson!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Anna Pavlova, You Are A Friend of Mine

        Along time ago, somebody in a fancy hotel in New Zealand, made her a special dessert, and named it for her! Imagine! Nobody ever did that for me, not even in a humble kitchen! But, oh! I am so glad for that chef...Can you imagine a world with out Pavlova? The iron horse cowboy can. He doesn't count Pavlova as MAN food. So I have to make it for when girls are coming for treats. Never had a pavlova? Don't you just love that name? Doesn't it sound rather beguiling?
       Yet it is so simple to make. Funny, how sometimes the most complicated seeming things are really so simple! Let me say, a pavlova is also gluten free, so no excuse for unelegant GF desserts! A Pavlova is not too sweet, it melts in your mouth, you can do it up with any number of good things, you can make it days ahead of serving it, it looks really special, it tastes marvelous...well, I could go on and on.
       Anna was a tiny litle Rusian Ballerina. Famous around the world. Danced until she was in her fifties. Died suddenly from pnemonia. But inbetween living and dying, she went to New Zealand and had her very own dessert! They served it to her with whipped cream and fresh strawberries and kiwi, which is , of course, very New Zealandish! I bet she just dived right in and gobbled it up. Ballerinas work pretty hard, don't you know, and are actually very muscular and strong. I try to imagine twirling around on my toes and it just makes me dizzy. She was most famous for her Swan roles. She had to dance around in a feathered costume! It is amazing!

       So. For Pavlova you need egg whites. So If you make things that use all kinds of egg yolks - voila - you have a good excuse to make Pavlova!

                                          3/4 cups sugar
                                         2 tsp. corn starch
                                         4 egg whites
                                          1 tsp. cider vinegar
                                         1 tsp. vanilla
                                          sprinkle of sea salt
                              Turn on your oven to 200 degrees. Mix 1 Tblsp. sugar with the corn starch
                              and set to the side. Beat your egg whites until stiff.. This is where you are so
                              thankful for your KItchen Aid! It takes awhile and if you had to do it with a
                             hand mixer or a whisk, you would never, ever make Pavlova! When the egg
                             whites are nice and stiff, add the rest of the sugar a little at a time. Continue
                            beating until they are thick and glossy. Add the corn starch and sugar mixture
                             and the sprinkle of sea salt. Gently fold in the vinegar and vanilla.
                             Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. I make individual sometimes, so
                            you just drop spoonfuls on the paper and with the back of a spoon make a nest
                            in each one. This recipe will make six. Or you can make one large one, with a
                             large nest in the middle. Bake for one hour. Then turn the oven off and leave
                           them in until they have cooled completely.

                   After they have cooled, you can keep them tightly closed in a cool dry place for a week, but that would be a long time to wait for good eating! Quickly! Right away! Fill that nest with whip cream and pile on the berries! I am a total blueberry fan, but you can use what ever you like. Or, and this is the good thing about Pavlova, it is so diverse! You can fill it with pudding, or custard, or just fruit. You can use saucey berries if you don't have any fresh. You can just pick one up in your hand and munch it. Ice Cream? Yogurt? Let your imagination (and taste buds ) run wild.
                   Another thing, if you use brown sugar, the Pavlova will be a lovely  latte color. Which reminds me, you can use coffee or cappacino or chocolate powder, too, to add your favorite flavor. 

            Beautiful? Gooodness. Those are champage grapes on the side. Teensy tiny grapes that fill your mouth with sweetness and pop. Introduced to me by my old boss, Chef Barry. How about we send the iron horse cowboy off on his iron horse, and I'll dance up a Pavlova. We'll have it with strong black coffee, and silver spoons, and we will be giddy with happiness. You can tell me stories, or play me a song, or we can swirl around on tiptoes and pretend we are Annas.
           You never know what might happen in the Raggedy Garden Kitchen!


Monday, August 26, 2013

The Queen of Hearts

   The Queen of hearts, she made some tarts, all on a summers day.

        The iron horse cowboy ate them...
        And that's okay. I made them for him. And giving credit where credit is due, he did share them with his friends and relations. (Like Rabbit, we have lots of friends and relations). That's a good thing.
         Tarts are so much fun, and easy, too. Just make your favorite pie crust, either from scratch, from a box mix, or a ready made one. Roll it out and cut circles with whatever makes the size you want. A regular bisquit cutter makes a nice tiny one. A canning jar ring works for larger. A wide mouth ring will be a nice manly size!

Sometimes I do hearts, like for a tea party or something. Pie crust is messy. Or else it me, the queen of hearts. I always have a huge mess when I do pie crust. That is half the fun! Anyway, transfer your cut out pieces to a cookie sheet. I use baking paper, cuz filling always oozes out, and throwing away baking paper is easier than scrubbing burned pie filling off cookie sheets. Then plop a dollop of filling on each cut out. It should just fill the middle. Then put another cut out on top . Seal the edges with a fork. Brush each one with water and sprinkle generously with sugar. Bake at 350 for about 15 to 20 minutes. I recommend cooking your filling first, or use canned, because they cook too quickly to actually cook apples or other fruit.
You can top a regular pie with pastry cut outs, too, which looks real clever, if you want to impress anyone. But once you cut into it and it disappears down the gullet, well, all that work..for what?? I like pie when it's still warm, and ice cream melts all over it. So you can't do that with tarts. You have to wait till they are cool enough, and then they are excellent finger food. My apple tree is on overload this year, so I have to invent ways to use them up. Apple jelly and apple sauce uses up lots of them. If I am thinking of feeding friends and relations, though, I go for apple bars. I make two big cookie sheets at a time. That's tricky, rolling out such a big portion of pastry, but it can be done. I frost them while they are still warm with a powdered sugar glaze, and every body loves them.

Oh, my! I would hate to see the pile of apple peelings I've made in my life! Thank goodness I always know of a pig pen that appreciates lots of apple peelings! Just make sure you get them to the pigs before they ferment. Although a bunch of drunk pigs lolling around and leaning against each other is hilarious. (They sleep it off quickly).

The iron horse cowboy makes a quick get away with his tarts!
      The guys up at the Garage will be happy!  If you come over, we can eat apple somethings, and have a good chat!