Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Maslin Bread

Maslin bread was the common bread of the medieval period.  It consists of wheat mixed with rye, barley, or whatever has happened to grow in your field, lightly bolted to remove some of the bran and risen with sourdough.  While there was a clear preference for wheat-only bread, the reality is that many regions in England are not great for growing it, and farmers planted mixtures of grains as insurance that one of them would produce well in any particular year.*

I have tried, and tried, and tried to make a 100% whole wheat sourdough risen bread.  It doesn't work.   My duck flock has enjoyed the results, but no one else.  But by carefully adapting directions from Breadtopia, I finally got this!

The key is some white flour.  Sourdough works a lot better on white flour, so the bolting step is not because they preferred white bread (although they did), it's vital to getting it to rise.  I used all-purpose flour rather than bread flour, as English medieval wheat was low in gluten.

Maslin Bread [Adapted from Breadtopia]

Evening of Day 1:
200 grams (7 oz. or 7/8 cup) water
120g (4 oz. or 1/2 cup) sourdough starter
236 grams (8 1/3 oz or 2 cups) whole wheat flour

Morning of Day 2:
274 grams (9 2/3 oz. or ~1 1/4 cup) water
85 grams (3 oz. or 7/8 cup) rye flour
250 grams (8 3/4 oz or 2 cups) white all-purpose
170 grams (6 oz. or a tad over 1 3/4 cups) barley flour
13 grams (scant tbs.) salt


Evening of Day 1:
Mix all ingredients together.  Ferment (let sit out at room temperature covered loosely with plastic) at 69F for 12 hours.

Morning of Day 2:
Add day 2 to day 1 ingredients.  Knead, place in plastic covered bowl and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Morning of Day 3:
Form a boule (round loaf) and ferment (let sit out on counter) 5 hours at 69F.

Bake at 485F for 40-45 minutes.


Verdict: Fabulous.  Look at the inside!

Mmmm.  It is pretty darn dense, but not brick-like.  It had a beautiful, crispy crust and a chewy inside.  I scoffed the heels before anyone else could get them... for quality control.  It was enjoyed by all who hadn't recently had dental surgery.

*How To Be a Tudor, by Ruth Goodman

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Sourdough Oatcakes

Under the Haps of his saddle, each man carries a broad plate of metal ; behind the saddle, a little bag of oatmeal: when they have eaten too much of the sodden flesh, and their stomach appears weak and empty, they place this plate over the fire, mix with water their oatmeal, and when the plate is heated, they put a little of the paste upon it, and make a thin cake, like a cracknel or biscuit, which they eat to warm their stomachs: it is therefore no wonder, that they perform a longer day's march than other soldiers." -Jean Froissart (c1337-c1400) a Frenchman, visited Scotland during the reign (1329-71) of King David II.
Early Travellers in Scotland.  edited by Peter Hume Brown. 1891

I feel pretty confident about the historicity of this recipe, but it is conjecture based on the following facts:

1. "Oatmeal" does not here mean "rolled oats" or "steel-cut oats," as these weren't invented until the 19th century.  It means oat flour.

2. When you use a wooden bowl to make dough frequently, you trap yeasts in the crannies and cracks: thus, sourdough.  Mix dough in a wooden dough bowl, wait a few hours, you now have raised dough.

3. Raised dough is yummier than flour paste, and if these Scottish soldiers could mix flour and water together, their mums at home could do the same thing and then wait a couple of hours before cooking the dough.

4. Modern oatcakes are either leavened with baking soda, yeast, or left unleavened.  Baking soda was unknown until the 19th century, and yeast requires the making of ale nearby so you can use the foam.

5. It is so friggin' easy it is inconceivable that anyone could have failed to figure this out.

Sourdough Oatcakes
active sourdough starter
oat flour

Combine oat flour and water to the consistency of pancake batter in a non-metal bowl. Add a dollop of sourdough starter and a pinch of salt.  Mix, cover, and leave until it increases in volume.  Do not stir the batter, you will smash the bubbles.  Fry in cakes.

Here is the result of a thick batter:

Here is the result of a thinner batter:

Verdict: Pretty good!  Better with butter and honey, as many things are, of course.  They are easy to undercook in the middle, so my first batch was only edible around the edges and gummy in the middle.  Surprisingly light and fluffy on the second try, though.  If you cannot find oat flour, and do not have a grain mill, put water and quick- or old-fashioned oats in the blender with enough water to make a batter, then add in quick oats or whole wheat flour to thicken to the consistency you are aiming for.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

How to make a confection from pine-nut kernels

The Elixirs of Nostradamus: Nostradamus' original recipes for elixirs, scented water, beauty potions and sweetmeats.  Edited by Knut Boeser.  [1552]

Aaaarrghhh.  I am so done with candy for a while!  I kind of went on a candymaking spree recently, and now the very sight of these, lovely as they were, makes me want to heave.

How to make a confection from pine-nut kernels
Take as many well-cleaned and carefully shelled pine-nut kernels as you will, dry them or toast them a little.  

Or take them whole with their skins and shells and put them in a basket.  Hang this over the hearth near the fire and leave it there for three days.  Thus the heat from the fire wills lowly penetrate them and dry them.  Then take them out and clean them thoroughly.  Next take two and a half pounds of nuts, being careful to keep them close at hand.  Then take some of the most beautiful and best Madeira sugar, dissolve sufficient of it in rose-water and boil it until it attains the consistency of a jelly.  If it is winter or a time when there is a lot of moisture in the air, boil it a bit longer, but if it is summer, then let is just simmer.  This is when it does not boil over or bubble when it boils, which is a sign that the moisture had been evaporated; but to be brief, when it has boiled to the consistency of a jelly, as I have said, take the preserving pan off the fire and put it somewhere where the liquid can dry off and become firm.  Then give it a good stir with a piece of wood and beat it continuously until it turns white. When it begins to cool down a little, add the white of a whole or half an egg and beat it well again.  Next place it over the coals, in order to allow the moisture from the egg-white to stiffen, and when you see that it is properly white and like the first lot you boiled, take the dried, well-cleaned pine-nut kernels and put them into the sugar.  Stir them with the wood so that they are thoroughly mixed with the sugar--this should still be done over the coal fire, so that the mixture does not cool too quickly.  Then take a wide wooden knife, like the ones used by shoemakers, and cut the mixture into pieces, each weighing an ounce and a half, but not more than two, which would not be good, and spread them carefully on to some paper until they have properly cooled, at which stage put a little gold leaf on to them and your confection is ready.  If, however, it is not possible to obtain pine-nut kernels anywhere, use peeled almonds instead, dividing them either into two parts or three and mixing them with the sugar to make this confection.  And if there are too few pine-nut kernels, you can replace them with pieces of almonds, for the latter are not dissimilar to the former in taste and potency.  You can also use fennel which is flowering or in seed, which is kept in houses and used during the wine harvest.  When your sugar has almost completely boiled and is hot and white with everything mixed in it or scattered over it, it looks  like manna or snow and is so beautiful and lovely.  

This recipe took two tries.  The important parts are the ratio of the egg white and sugar, and the temperature it is cooked to.  My first attempt resulted in something like horribly sweet Italian meringue, kind of the consistency of marshmallow cream.  

Dang it, pine nuts aren't cheap!  Grrrr!  I baked them into macarons, which worked okay.  The flavor was good enough to make another attempt, but teeth-achingly sweet.  So very sweet.

For attempt #2, I used almonds, which are much cheaper than pine nuts, and modified a divinity recipe.  Which worked lovely!

Pine-Nut Confection
3 C. sugar
3/4 C. water
2 egg whites
1-2 t. rosewater
1 C. almonds or pinenuts
3 T. fennel seeds

Line a 9x13 pan with oiled parchment paper.  Toast your nuts lightly, and then toast the fennel seeds.  It doesn't take long, especially the fennel, don't let them burn!  Stir together the sugar and water in a pan, then turn on the heat to medium.  Do not stir once it is heating. When it comes to a boil, put the lid on for two minutes.  Take off the lid, and insert a candy thermometer.  Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks in your stand mixer, and then drop the rosewater in.

When the sugar syrup reaches hard ball (250-265 F.), start up your mixer again and slowly drizzle the syrup into the egg whites, trying to hit the side of the bowl on the way down instead of the egg whites directly.  Don't try and scrape out the last bit of syrup with a spoon, just put that pan down and get back to the mixer.  The mixture will look glossy.

Keep running the mixture until it loses the glossy look and looks a little thicker, around 5 minutes.  Fold in the nuts and seeds gently, and spread into the papered 9x13 pan.  You could also make little dollops on a flat papered pan or silicone.

Let cool and dry, and cut into squares.

Verdict:  Delightful!  They are light and fluffy.  I actually loathe divinity because of the sickly sweetness, but the fennel and nuts take the edge off just enough to make it enjoyable to me in small doses.  Divinity usually has corn syrup added for a smoother texture, so this is just a little gritty.  Similar recipes include honey or brown sugar, which would have the same effect as corn syrup.

If you just sub rosewater for vanilla and add pinenuts and fennel seed to a standard divinity recipe, I don't think there would be a big enough difference to be noticeable to most people.

And not a single crumblet was wasted.

Now I'm going to go eat some protein.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

How to make an attractive candied sugar (Rock Candy)

The Elixirs of Nostradamus: Nostradamus' original recipes for elixirs, scented water, beauty potions and sweetmeats.  Edited by Knut Boeser.  [1552]

It is rock candy.  Half of you have already done this in an elementary school science lesson.  But look how old the recipe is!  Amazing!  There are also a few minor details involving poop that have not survived the years.  

Take about nine pounds of the most beautiful and whitest sugar (for a beautiful work is created from something beautiful, just as something bad comes from something bad or ugly) and dissolve it in an appropriate amount of water.  If you do not consider that the sugar is sufficiently beautiful, clarify it until it has no more sediment.  When you have done that, dissolve it completely and boil it again until it acquires the consistency of a syrup.  It is better to overboil, rather than underboil it, for then it would candy to a salt.  As soon as it is boiled, take an unglazed earthenware pot which has been specially made for the purpose and put a small pine twig, a reed or a small rod into it, so that the sugar may candy in the middle.  


When you have inserted your chosen rod, then pour the hot sugar into the pot, put the lid on it and seal it roughly with lime, merely in order to keep the heat inside for longer, and immediately bury it under some warm manure, be it in a public or private place.  If you think that the manure is not hot enough, pour some hot water over it and see that there is a good pile of it, so that the pot may stand in the middle - so cover it up well and leave it for nine days and nights.  At the end of that time take it out of the dung heap, open the pot and pour out the syrup which has not yet candied and you will see that of the nine pounds of sugar, about five or six pounds will have candied.  When you have properly drained the syrup out of the pot, get some good hot water and wash it out two or three times, so that it does not become affected by the syrup adhering to it.  Add this water to the syrup and if you want to make this confection you must do it this way and not another way.  You can make it another way, but that will cost at least as much.  You should also know that if the sugar stays under the manure for longer than nine days and the manure were hot, it would not candy, for the steam from the manure contains moisture, which penetrates everything, so the sugar would need an even longer time to candy. 

Verdict: Unfortunately, I am fresh out of manure.  What a shame.  Instead, I just stuck my jar in a cupboard.  And... it's rock candy!  Super easy!  It tastes terrible, actually, because I tried using lavender oil to flavor it.  I was all, how much should I put in?  Couple drops?  More?  *chug chug chug*  I got carried away.  Maybe when I can scrub the taste out of my mouth in a few months, I'll try flavoring something else with lavender.  It lingers.  

For rock candy instructions, please google "rock candy."

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Rendered Suet II: or, An Attempt to Mend the Horrible Fiasco Which Traumatized Everyone

First, review Rendered Suet I.  Here are the main points, if you don't want to click: 1.) suet is kidney fat from cattle and is used for steamed puddings and candle making 2.) it was a horrible fiasco which left my house smelling of rotting fish and made me dry heave intermittently for over 24 hours.  I vowed to never ever ever NEVER EVER do it again.


While poking around another butcher shop recently, I discovered this!

Unlike the first time, it was labelled!  They knew what it was without me explaining!  It is PRE-GROUND.  I was so excited I freaked out the cashier.  Especially after she told me they only carry it during the holidays, and I grabbed another sack.

When I got home, I just knew my husband would be as excited as I was.  He was so delighted, he stared at me like a startled deer for several minutes before telling me, "I love you and support your hobbies and trust you with the health of my body."  He was even more excited when he found out that the slow cooker would be rendering the suet in the garage while he worked on the car brakes, so he could enjoy the aroma.

I tossed both bags in the slow cooker, along with a couple cups of water, the set it on low.  About two hours later, it was all melted.  Much faster than the first time.  And unlike last time, it just smelled vaguely beefy.  Not offensive at all.

I poured another couple cups of water in a large bowl for good measure, hoping the gunkies would settle down into the water and leave the fat nice and clean, then strained the hot fat into the bowl.

These are all the gunkies that were strained out.

After cooling, it is nice and white and clean.  It slid nicely out of the bowl in a disc because of the water.

Ready for the freezer.  This is theoretically self stable, but... ehhhhhh.

In conclusion: this was totally fine and not scary or gross.  I revise my opinion about rendering suet being the worst thing ever.  So if you want to try it, I suggest you get it from a butcher who knows what it is without you explaining, and get it pre-ground.

For a better overview, please do check out Jas. Townsend & Sons video about suet.  It is excellent.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Making Purging Rose-Water, or: Catharticum Imperiale

The Elixirs of Nostradamus: Nostradamus' original recipes for elixirs, scented water, beauty potions and sweetmeats.  Edited by Knut Boeser.  [1552]

While Nostradamus is most famous for vague prophecies, he made his living as a physician.  And, as we know, that means he has candy recipes!  Because sugar is a health food.

Making Purging Rose-Water
which, if you take an ounce of it, will produce a wonderful effect without any other ingredient.  Pregnant omen may be given it during their first and last months and it may be taken at any age and at any time without the slightest danger. 

Take 900 or almost 1,000 of the most beautiful flesh-colored roses, the buds of which are half-open and which still have leaves.  When you have carefully plucked off the leaves and cleaned the buds in the best possible manner, rub the buds between your hands, so that in case one were still whole, it would open and the hot water would be able to penetrate it all the better.  Then put the roses into a large glazed earthenware pitcher and boil them sufficiently in well water.  Add additional boiling water and stir the roses well with a pieces of wood or a stirring spoon, so that they are well mixed up and covered with water.  Leave them to steep for twenty-four hours.  At the end of that time, pour everything into a kettle and boil it up two or three times.  Strain off the broth and compress the roses as hard as you can in a press or between two pieces of wood until nothing remains except dry white roses.  The broth will look like red wine and will smell like rose-water.  Pour everything into a Venetian glass container suitable for the purpose.  Next take a further 500 stripped roses and, as before, put them into the pitcher.  Then take the said broth and heat it until it is almost boiling.  At that stage pour it over the roses and, if there is not enough, add a little boiling water.  Leave the mixture to steep again for a further twenty-four hours.  At the end of that time strain everything, compress the roses as hard as possible and, when that has all been done, take about eighteen ounces of sugar (without cleaning it first) and put that into the broth.  Boil it until it acquires the consistency of a syrup, but has not boiled as hard, since the roses have a sticky slime which will thicken the syrup.  As soon as the syrup boils, pour it into a glass or glazed earthenware container.  If you take an ounce o this in the morning it will be exceptionally wonderful and have a very good effect.  Some people enrich this with rhubarb and then it works even better.  As such it is known as catharticum imperiale, that is a purging or cathartic juice, suitable for noble lords, kings, and emperors.  That is what happens if you add rhubarb to it.  

Take Four ounces of the best and most exquisite rhubarb and a drachm of good strong cinnamon.  Pound everything and, when the syrup has almost boiled, take the rhubarb, wrap it up in a clean felt cloth and suspend it from a string into the syrup while it is boiling.  Squeeze it out and when the syrup has boiled, pour it into its container and hang the rhubarb in it, covering the container carefully.  This juice should be used by noble lords who have authority over others but who are unable to control or master their anger, for by taking only one ounce of it, their rancour will be dissipated.  Also it is extremely good for getting rid of the three-day fever and for protecting people against it and is numbered among the royal purgatives which may be taken without any ill-effects.  It can equally well be prepared another way, so that it is just as good, potent and suitable for purging.  

Collect and extract 1500 half-open flesh-colored rose buds?  Sure, Nostradamus, let me get right on that.

As the wind is southerly and I know a hawk from a handsaw, I decided to instead use pre-made rosewater.

Big Fat Lazy Cheater Catharticum Imperiale
1. Put a bunch of chopped up rhubarb and a cinnamon stick in a pot
2. Add some water
3. Simmer until the rhubarb falls apart
4. Strain
5. Add sugar and simmer until it is a syrup
6. Add rosewater until it tastes nice

Verdict: This is excellent.  Rosewater, cinnamon, and rhubarb are great together.  It would make a really fabulous gelatin, and I'm totally going to try it sometime.  I told my kids that it was a medicine from a long time ago when they thought sugar was really good for you, and it was supposed to help cranky people be nice.  A spoonful was inserted in each mouth, and it met with general approval.  Soon after, both of them claimed to be feeling REALLY CRANKY and needed some special medicine to help them feel nice again.  The poor dears obviously sensed this medicine's effectiveness.  They have very sensitive natures.  So it works!  SCIENCE.

In my head I like to imagine some noble lady reading this book and being all, hmmmm! "'This juice should be used by noble lords who have authority over others but who are unable to control or master their anger, for by taking only one ounce of it, their rancour will be dissipated.'  Excellent!"  Then next time her husband is on a rampage, beating serfs or kicking dogs or murdering French P.O.W.s

"Here honey, try some of this drink I made for you for no reason, certainly not because you are a giant tool who threatens to put babies on pikes and smash in the skulls of the elderly.  Love you, lambkin!"

"Mua ha ha ha ha ha haaaaaa."

Friday, January 6, 2017

Racist White Lady Mexican Chicken Soup

Foods of the Foreign Born, by Bertha M. Wood [1922]

It is the Roaring Twenties, and America is in trouble.  Immigrants are pouring in, with their foreign ways, and their foreign foods.  It was a threat to public health.  Public health workers and private concerned citizens alike labored to convince these new immigrants to abandon their native foods and homogenize into milquetoast blandness.  How?  With milk, toast, pabulum, and other pale, bland, overcooked foods.  This effort was not met with universal delight by the immigrants in question.

One woman, Bertha M. Wood, decided this approach was... not racist, but ineffective.  She studied different ethnic groups so that she could develop a set of recipes for each group.  These recipes were intended to be within spitting distance of each ethnicity's traditional foods, but stripped down of anything suspicious.  Like flavor.  And spices.  And color.

Gee, thanks Bertha.

Hey, at least she made an effort.  That's pretty forward-thinking for 1922.

With that in mind, by modern standards, this cookbook is really racist.  It seems to be written for health workers and charities, and each section has a preface outlining what each ethnicity is like. Yikes. The section on Mexicans is particularly condescending.  Let's take a look!

*They are not a people who love academic work, but they enjoy any educational training which develops the use of their hands. Their interest lies largely in music, flowers, and the arts.

*To look at their homes, one would think that they were decidedly unsanitary. This is not necessarily so, but depends almost entirely upon the water supply.

*The people are responsive to right treatment, although suspicious, but not necessarily unstable. Their suspicious nature handicaps efforts to get their cooperation. They are responsive only to the degree that they understand the motives. 

*The prevalent idea is that Mexicans are very deceitful. This may be so if their suspicions are aroused; otherwise they are no more deceitful than any other nationality. They are extremely courteous, and in their way cooperative.

*When not too highly seasoned, Mexican dishes are very tasty.

*Only lack of variety and the use of hot flavors keep their food from being superior to that of most Americans.

*Undernourished and malnourished children are frequently found in Mexican families. They are served with the same foods as the adults, foods highly spiced, with a large amount of fat added, or corn meal fried in fat. Bland foods are quite unknown in their dietary. 

*As the Mexicans come north or intermarry, it would be better for the children and adults to learn to eat the simpler foods of the American people, boiled or baked, with less spice and fat.

*Any nurse or dietitian can persuade them to use cereals or baked or boiled fish and meats and vegetables, if they gradually reduce the amount of tomato or pepper for flavor until it becomes a bland dish, easier to digest and not harmful to the kidneys.

Chicken Soup
1 chicken
4 cups water
1 green pepper
1/2 cup rice
2 tablespoons salt

Cut up chicken and boil in salted water with chopped green pepper. When chicken is done, remove and add rice to liquid. Cook until soft.

We know that the soup doesn't actually include the chicken, because this is the next recipe:
Baked Chicken and Rice
Make as Chicken Soup, adding chicken, cut in dice, to rice drained from soup. Brown in oven.

Verdict: I used white rice and one can of mild green chiles, because it seemed most appropriate.  It... it wasn't great.  Before giving it to my family, I added chicken, black beans, lime juice, a packet of taco seasoning (yes I see the irony), and sour cream.  I also added cheese on top.  Much better!


*When the Mexicans intermarry with Americans, the result of the cross dietary is that often there is double the amount of fat taken at a meal by the American. The Mexicans put their fat into the food, while the American puts his on the food. Therefore if he eats bread and butter, or potatoes with butter and green peppers fried in oil and rice, he is getting more fat than a Mexican would get. He would eat his bread without butter, and would not eat potato and butter with peppers and rice.

Well, she's not clearly not wrong on that one.  Tex-Mex is not known for being low-fat. Whatever.  Cheesy refried beans are one of the best things on the planet.

I asked a friend whose family emigrated from Mexico to look over the Mexican section, as I don't know a lot about the subject.  He said many things, including, "Is this how they invented Taco Bell?" as well as, "Peanut butter doesn't go in pork tamales." and ended with a some pointed remarks about Bertha M. Wood as a person.  He said at very least, this soup should have tomatoes and some kind of spices added.

Fun fact for Americans: Did you know that there is a stereotype in the rest of the world that Americans put cheese on absolutely everything?

Fun fact for non-Americans: It is 100% true.  If this meets with your disapproval, please refer to Prince Hal above.

In conclusion: thanks, immigrants!  Your culinary contributions have made my life a lot more delicious.  That said, we will steal your food, and we will melt cheese on it.  The melting pot of America is actually fondue.