Italian Braised Pork Chops w Tomato & Garlic Sauce

Costoletta di Maiale alla Pizzaiola

Here is detailed information on the origins, makeup, and health benefits of garlic, plus a great recipe for braising pork chops, using tomatoes and garlic, which is inspired by a receipt from the 1960’s Time-Life Books Foods of this World.  1

Among its multi-themed books, The Cooking of Italy, provides these great braised pork chops with tomato and garlic sauce. I have adapted this by braising the chops in the oven, rather than on the stove top, as the original instructions require.  The method of braising in the oven brings out the best of flavors in food; my recent entries on Cote de Porc Sauce Nenette and Braised Cabbage exemplify this.

Background of Garlic

Garlic (Allium sativum L. family Liliaceae) is a species in the genus Allium, a group of plants in the lily family, in which there are more than 500 species; these are native to the northern temperate regions.  About twenty of these 500 species are important human foods that have been prized for thousands of years.  2

Their antiquity can be seen in reference to the incident in Exodus in 1230 B.C., when the Israelites lamented in the wilderness: “We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely, the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick…”  3

Garlic (Allium sativum) is a member of the onion (Amaryllidaceae) family.  It is believed that garlic originated from Allium longiscuspis, as it does not appear in the wild as a species of its own; the mutation that resulted in garlic probably took place in central Asia.  4

How Garlic Grows

The name garlic is an Anglo-Saxon word that meant “spear-leek”, or rather a leek with a slim, pointed leaf blade instead of a broad, open one.  5

The bulbs of both onions and garlic are made up of a central stem bud and surrounding leaf bases.  Each leaf base swells with stored nutrients during one growing season, which then supplies them to the bud during the next season.  Onions, garlic, and most of their relatives are primarily grown for their underground bulbs-swollen leaf bases-that store energy for the beginning of the next growing season.  6

Note: an onion is a multi-layered bulb, or swollen leaf base; a garlic  bulb or “clove” consists, however, of a single, swollen storage leaf, of which there are a dozen or more of these cloves tightly fit together in a head of garlic. 7

Sweetness of Cooked Garlic Is Due to Fructose Sugars

Garlic and its relatives, in the onion family, accumulate energy stores in chains of fructose sugars, rather than in starches; thus, long, slow cooking breaks these sugars down to produce a marked sweetness, a delicious, savory quality.  This cooking process transforms the strong, pungent, sulfury flavor of garlic; this strong, offensive raw flavor of garlic was originally meant to be a chemical defense in the plant, to deter animals from eating it.  (See Sage Turkey and Braised Cabbage, for more on defensive chemicals in plants.)  8

The Unique Makeup of Garlic Produces Health

Garlic (A. sativum L. family Liliaceae) is used not only as a spice in foods, but also in traditional folk medicines.  There is much evidence of a wide spectrum of pharmacological effects of A. sativum and its active compounds with low toxicity; the sulfur compound Allicin-only occurring when garlic is crushed or injured-is the most important alkaloid being responsible for these beneficial effects.  Though allicin is thought to be primarily responsible for the antimicrobial effect of garlic, other sulfur compounds have some roles in the effects of the plant as well: diallyl disulphide (DDS) and siallyl trisulfide (DTS) are active against yeasts, while S-allylcysteine (SAC) is the most abundant organosulfur compound present in aged garlic extract .  9

Health benefits of garlic may include a lowering of high cholesterol and high blood pressure.  Eating raw garlic may also prevent heart disease and boost the immune system.  It is, however, most important to consult with one’s doctor, before starting any treatment regime.  10

Flavors and Sting of Raw Garlic

Members of the onion family, of which garlic is one, have distinctive flavors coming from their individual defensive use of the element sulfur.  When onions, leeks, garlic grow they take up sulfur from the soil and incorporate this into four different kinds of chemical ammunition.  These four ammunitions float in the cell fluids, while their “enzyme trigger” is held separately in a storage vacuole.  Damaging the cell, by chopping or chewing, releases this enzyme, which breaks the ammunition molecules in half, thus producing irritating, strong-smelling sulfurous molecules; some of these can be very reactive and unstable, therefore they continue to evolve into other compounds.  11

Various Preparation Methods Produce Unique Flavors

The raw flavor of various alliums is created by the mixture of these produced molecules.  The resultant flavor from this mixture depends on the initial ammunition, how thoroughly the food was chewed or chopped, the amount of oxygen that gets into the reactions, and finally how long the reactions last.  It follows that the preparation methods, such as chopping, pounding in a mortar, or pureeing in a food processor, will all result in distinctive flavors, even with the same allium.   Note that the end flavor from this mixture of molecules produced is especially potent in garlic, for it produces a hundred-fold higher concentration of  initial reaction products than do either onions or leeks.  12

Flavors Derived from Cooked Garlic

Heat causes the various sulfur compounds in garlic to react with each other and other substances; this produces the range of characteristic flavor molecules, which we experience in cooked garlic.   We find that the taste of garlic varies with different dishes; this is because the cooking method, temperature, and medium strongly influence flavor balance.  Trisulfides tend to result, when garlic is baked, dried, or microwaved, and these give off characteristic notes of overcooked cabbage.  If looking for a strong garlic flavor, high temperatures and the medium of fat are required; together these produce more volatiles and a stronger flavor than do other methods and mediums.  Interestingly, the type of fat used also changes flavor: relatively mild garlic compounds persist in butter, but rubbery, pungent notes come to the forefront in more reactive, unsaturated vegetable oils.  (I always recommend using avocado or coconut oil in cooking, as olive oil is carcinogenic at high temperatures; for more on healthy oils, see Nutty Coconut Pie.)  13

Unique Flavors Brought on by Blanching and Cooking Garlic Whole

My last entry, on Lentils for an Emergency, employed whole garlic cloves added to the lentils boiled in water; this method and medium produced unique garlic flavors in this dish.  Both the cooking of whole garlic and blanching inactivate the flavor-generating enzyme stored in the vacuole.  As noted, this enzyme starts the whole reaction process, when released by chopping or chewing raw garlic; thus, sulfurous molecules are produced that continue to evolve into other compounds, and various flavors result as seen above.  Boiling, or blanching, the whole garlic in with the lentils limited this enzymatic action, bringing to the dish only slightly pungent, sweet nutty notes.  These same relatively mild flavors are also found in garlic blanched whole in a vinegar-base, such as found in pickling.  14

Availability of Garlic Today

The University of Missouri’s Integrated Pest Control claims that China produces most of the world’s garlic and that 90% of all garlic grown in the U.S comes from California.  15

A recent conversation with Trader Joe’s provided the information that most of America’s garlic comes from the Gilroy area in California, which is known-at least in the U.S.-as the garlic capital of the world.

Recently I could not get garlic at our local Fred Meyer’s, when testing this last lentil receipt.  They informed me that presently China is not providing garlic on the world market; therefore, many nations are getting it from California, resulting in the shortage with Fred’s supplier.  Since this time, this chain store has had it off and on.

Trader Joe’s, however, has carried it throughout this pandemic; they said that theirs comes from various ranches and farms in the Gilroy area.  Traders also informed me that for years they haven’t sold any products produced in China, due to the heavy metals and arsenic present there; they guarantee that not a single ingredient, of their private label items, is sourced from China-this is 90% of their stock.  They added that they cannot be this definite with the other 10% of their products, which are under their own individual labels.

Lesson Applied

As referred to at the beginning of this entry, the Israelites were wanting to go back to Egypt, for their appetites were crying out for the luxury of melons, cucumbers, leeks, onions, and garlic.  In Egypt they had known these in abundance, but this amidst the cruelest of forced labor, which they forgot in their weakness experienced in the wilderness.

My spirit initially wanted to grieve what had been an appearance of the loss of garlic, a month ago.  I had a choice to make, as we all do: will we trust this process we find ourselves in with Covid-19, or hold onto what may have seemed better in the past?

The word of God instructs us:

“I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: That thou mayest love the Lord thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days: that thou mayest dwell in the land which the Lord sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”  16

We can choose life and not repeat what the Israelites did, by complaining that this journey is too hard.  Instead of looking backwards, we can stand on the promise that the name and blood of Jesus redeem everything, which we place in our Father’s hands. Only God can bring blessing out of this Covid-19 chaos, produced by Satan, and this only, if we ask believing.

Below is my adaptation of Time-Life’s great recipe for Costoletta di Maiale alla Pizzaiola, with its healthy garlic.  Enjoy its simplicity.

References:

  1. Waverly Root and the Editors of Time-Life Books, Time-Life Books Foods of this World, The Cooking of Italy (New York: Time Inc., 1968), p. 178.
  2. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 310.
  3. The Holy Bible, KJV, Numbers 11:5.
  4. https://ipm.missouri.edu/MEG/2015/9/Garlic-A-Brief-History/
  5. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 311.
  6. , p. 310.
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3874089/
  8. https://ipm.missouri.edu/MEG/2015/9/Garlic-A-Brief-History/
  9. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), pp. 310, 311.
  10. , p. 311.
  11. https://ipm.missouri.edu/MEG/2015/9/Garlic-A-Brief-History/
  12. The Holy Bible, KJV, Deuteronomy 30: 19,20.

finished product

Costoletta di Maiale alla Pizzaiola (Braised Pork Chops w/ Tomato and Garlic Sauce)  Adapted from a recipe in Time-Life Books Foods of This World: The Cooking of Italy, 1968.  Yields: 5-6 servings.  Total prep time: 45 min/  active prep time: 25 min/  Braising time: 20 min.

2 tbsp oil  (Avocado is best here, as olive oil is carcinogenic when heated to high temperatures.)

5-6 center-cut loin pork chops, cut 1”-1 1/2” thick  (Trader Joe’s carries boneless, French cut, center cut pork loin chops for $6.49/lb.-the best price around for this high-quality pork.)

1 tsp finely chopped garlic  (For easy prep, may use 1 cube of frozen garlic, available at Trader’s.)

1/3 c chopped, fresh, oregano leaves, or a combination of 1/2 tsp dried oregano and 1/4 tsp dried thyme, crumbled  (Trader’s generally has a 4” pot of fresh oregano, just enough for this receipt-the original recipe in Time-Life calls for the 1/2 tsp dried oregano and 1/4 tsp dried thyme.)

1/2 bay leaf

1/4 tsp salt

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 1/8 c drained canned tomatoes, pureed (May puree these in a food processor, blender, or Vitamix.)

1 tbsp tomato paste

3 tbsp butter

1/2 lb. green pepper, seeded and cut in 2”-by-1/4” stripes  (Organic is important, as peppers readily absorb pesticides.)

10 oz fresh, sliced mushrooms  (Mushrooms are least expensive and of high quality at Traders.)

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Puree the drained tomatoes, using a food processor, blender, or Vitamix (set aside).
  3. In an ovenproof stockpot with lid, heat 2 tbsp of oil, over medium heat.
  4. browning chops

    Generously salt and pepper the chops, after drying them with a paper towel (drying is important for browning to take place); then, brown them in the hot oil for 2-3 minutes per side; transfer to a plate (see photo).

  5. With a long-handled spoon, degrease the juices, by tipping the pan to the side and skimming most of the fat off the top, leaving about 1 tbsp of fat. Add garlic, oregano, bay leaf, salt, and wine vinegar to meat juices; bring to a boil, stirring constantly; while cooking, be sure to deglaze the pan (scrape the bits of meat and herbs cooked off the bottom, using a plastic spatula).
  6. chops prepped for braising

    Stir in the pureed tomatoes and tomato paste. Return the chops to the casserole, bring to a boil, and baste the chops with the sauce (see photo).

  7. Cover and place in oven for 20-25 minutes, or until there is no color in center, when cut with a knife. Baste occasionally during braising period; rotate chops a time or two, only if all the chops don’t fit in a single layer in stock pot.
  8. Meanwhile spray bell pepper with a vegetable spray (for an inexpensive, effective spray, may combine 97% white distilled vinegar and 3% hydrogen peroxide). Let sit for 3 minutes and rinse well.
  9. Cut peppers in 2” x 1/4” stripes.
  10. vegies cooked

    Melt the butter in a large sauté pan, over medium heat. When hot, add the sliced peppers and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Mix in the mushrooms, evenly coating them with the fat.  Cook until desired texture is achieved, stirring occasionally (these will cook a little more later); set aside.  See photo.

  11. When chops are finished cooking, remove them to a platter and cover them with foil; start reheating the vegetables.
  12. IF the sauce is too thin, place stockpot with sauce on top of burner and boil liquid over med/high heat, stirring constantly (sauce should be thick enough to coat a spoon heavily).
  13. Blend hot vegetables into thickened sauce and spoon over pork chops, either on the platter itself, or on individual plates. (Note: it is possible to prepare this recipe ahead, and at this point put aside the casserole, with the chops sitting in the sauce and vegetables. Three-quarter-hour before serving, bring the casserole with the sauce and chops, to a boil over medium heat; then, place casserole in a preheated oven at 250 degrees, for warming.)  See photo.
  14. Serve and fully enjoy!

Ridpath Salad, from the mid-20th century

Ridpath salad

Let’s examine what is the healthiest bacon on the market,  as we indulge in an outstanding 1950’s salad,  while reminiscing about the historical Davenport and Ridpath hotels, in Spokane, WA.

This Ridpath salad dates back to my early childhood days in the mid-twentieth century; then my family traveled to Spokane, from our little mountain village of East Glacier Park, MT, on such special occasions as school-clothes-shopping.  During these trips, we always stayed at the Davenport, and ate at least one of our meals at the Ridpath, where their signature salad was served, with its pickled beets, eggs, bacon, and more.

The Healthiest Bacon

Today, with our high health-consciousness, we may be reluctant to indulge in regular bacon, but fear not, for there are safer alternatives out there.  The three recommendations in choosing the best bacon are: the uncured, reduced-sodium, and center-cut options.  1

Uncured bacon has no nitrates or nitrites and generally tastes no different.  (For more on the history of curing and nitrates/nitrites, see respectively: The Best Corned Beef  and Disguised Ham .)

Reduced-sodium bacon may not appeal, for it may present a small taste adjustment, which is quickly overcome.  This change is important, as the salt used in producing bacon isn’t the high quality pink salt-Himalayan and Real Salt, which is actually critical for optimum health.  Rather, the sodium in bacon is harmful to our bodies; thus, reduced-sodium bacon may be the best choice, if you are planning on having more than one serving (2-3 pieces)-and this only on rare occasions.

The final instruction is to look for center-cut bacon.  This is bacon that has less fat; being mostly meat; thus, it is healthier and tastes even better.  It also is easier to cook, for it doesn’t curl so readily.

To get a brand that has all the above three qualities, you may have to go to a health food store, such as New Seasons or Whole Foods, but it’s really worth it.   You will also be able to find some of these three recommendations, in various brands at your local supermarket.

Davenport Hotel  2

The Davenport Hotel, which my family stayed at during the mid-twentieth century, was built in 1914.  Louis Davenport, however, neither provided the idea or the finances for it, but because of his already strong name in the city-as a restaurant owner widely established in hospitality-he was made its overseer and first proprietor.  Rather, it was it was commissioned by the Davenport Company, a group of Spokane’s leading businessmen, who desired a large public house for boarding and entertaining their guests.

Along with engaging Davenport, this group chose Kirkland Kelsey Cutter as the architect, for it had been Kelsey who had expanded Davenport’s highly acclaimed restaurant in 1904.

Davenport and Cutter employed lavish architectural elements from Italy, France, England, Spain, and Imperial Russia, with the lobby being inspired by the Spanish Renaissance style.  Among its lush details were Irish linens from Liddell, which came over on the Titanic; all this lent to the establishment’s promoting itself as “one of America’s exceptional hotels.”

It was on the roof of this hotel that the first commercially licensed radio station in Spokane was set up in 1922.  KHQ featured Harry “Bing” Crosby, a drop-out from Spokane’s Gonzaga University, who later became world famous for his singing.

Having sold the hotel in 1945, Davenport died in his suite in 1951.  It was shortly after this that my family first began staying here.  My brother Paul, two years my junior, can recall being taken in the arms of the bellhops around the lobby to gaze into the large fish tanks.  I remember the beauty of this majestic room, as well as the scurrying about of those attending to us.

The Davenport was closed in 1985; it was re-established, after a $38 million dollar renovation, by local entrepreneurs Walt and Karen Worthy, in 2002.

Ridpath Hotel  3

While we stayed at the Davenport in the 1950’s, we always ate at least one dinner at the Ridpath Hotel, which doesn’t exist anymore as a hotel, but rather is the Ridpath Club Apartments, a renovated, low-income, apartment complex, since 2017.

This grand hotel, the Ridpath, was known as Spokane’s longest, continuously run hotel, with its original building, built in 1900 and destroyed by fire in 1950.  Being promptly rebuilt, the doors of the second iteration of the Ridpath closed in 2008, a half a century later; thus, its continuous existence covered 108 years.

The original Ridpath Hotel, established by Colonel William Ridpath, suffered its first fire in 1902, but was subsequently restored.  The other fire, in 1950, totally destroyed this 5-story building.   It was 1952, the year of my birth, that San Francisco architect Ned Hyman Abrams completed the design of this second rendition, a twelve story building, with the architectural style of modernism.  It was during this decade that my memories of this establishment were formed.

History Translated into Personal Experience

The memory of their famous Ridpath salad is vivid to me, as is Caesar salad at this hotel (for history of the latter’s origin, see Creative Caesar Salads).  For Caesars, they would coddle the egg with a Bunsen burner table side; this fascinated my young mind, as did the strong garlic, tantalizing my tongue beyond imagination.

Food holds a power over our souls; we look for the good in this.  Tastes can invoke recollections of the past in our hearts; certain recipes call forth experiences from our childhood, as well as strengths and weaknesses found in our present existence.  We watch these, as they surface in our minds, tending to these impressions with care-allowing positives in and rejecting negatives.  This ordering of our life’s palate always produces good fruit in us.

References:

  1. https://www.self.com/story/weekend-approved-bacon and https://www.healthline.com/health/cured-vs-uncured-bacon
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Davenport_Hotel_(Spokane,_Washington)
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ridpath_Hotel

light olive oil good for dressings

Ridpath Salad  Yields 6-8 servings.  Total prep time: 20 min (only if preparing your own pickled beets and croutons, total time for these two items: 1 hr 10 min/  prep time: 10 min/  cooking time: 1 hr).

2-3 small fresh beets, or 1-15 oz can of pickled beets

1 c raw apple cider vinegar, if pickling your own beets

1/2 lb bacon

3 lg eggs

3 Roma tomatoes  (Organic is best.)

1-6 oz package of organic greens  (Available at Trader Joe’s for $2.29.)

croutons  (Use ready-made, or see recipe at Healthy Greens .)

1-2 garlic cloves, for optional rubbing of serving bowl

Dressing

1/4 c vinegar of your choice  (I used lavender.)

1/3 c olive oil  (See photo above, for a light olive oil from Trader’s, for $7.99/liter, that works well in dressings.)

2 med/lg cloves of garlic  (For easy prep, may substitute 1 cube frozen garlic from Trader’s.)

1/8 tsp oregano  (Organic is inexpensive at Trader’s-$1.99.)

1/8 tsp basil  (Also available at Trader’s.)

1/8 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; a fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco for $4.95 for 5 lbs.)

  1. rubbing skin off cooked beets

    If pickling your own beets, cut roots off beets, spray with vegetable spray (an effective, inexpensive spray is a combination of 97% white distilled vinegar and 3% hydrogen peroxide); let sit 3 minutes and rinse well.  Boil until tender.  Remove from hot water, cool, and rub off skin with your hand (see photo).

  2. Next, cut beets in 1/2”x1/2”x 2” slices.  Put beet slices in a small container and cover with apple cider vinegar.  Refrigerate for 24 hours.
  3. Boil eggs.  Cool, peel, and set aside.
  4. Place bacon in a large, cold frying pan.  Turn heat on to medium and brown well on one side before turning.  This method helps some with curling of bacon, as does using center-cut bacon, which is mostly meat (see photo below).
  5. center-cut bacon in cold pan

    Shake all dressing ingredients in a pint jar; set aside.

  6. Place greens in a large bowl, optionally rubbed with garlic.  Top with all other ingredients, toss with dressing, and serve.

1950s’ Lemon Bars

1950s’ lemon bars

Here I give details concerning the known history of tantalizing lemons-dating back to before Christ-as well as a time-tested receipt for lemon bars.

In the 1950s, my mother often made these great bars, using a then popular recipe probably derived from a magazine, to which I have added my touches to make them simpler, tastier, better!

There are many variations of fruit that grow on trees in the genus Citrus, and these are prone to form hybrids with each other, making it hard for scientists to work out family relationships.  Today it is believed that the common domesticated citrus fruits all derive from just three parents: the citron Citrus medica, the mandarin orange Citrus reticulate, and the pummelo Citrus maxima.  1

Lemons, so valued for their acidity-often 5% of the juice-are widely used in cooking and are highly revered in the making of beverages, pectin, medicines, and beauty products.  This fruit may have originated as a two-step hybrid, in which both steps were citron-crossed with lime.  It is proposed that the first step of this hybrid arose in the area of northwest India and Pakistan, while the second took place in the Middle East, where the citron, crossed with lime, was crossed additionally with pummelo.  2

In Food in History, Reay Tannahill postulates that people may have been eating lemons and limes as early as 2300 BC, when the cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-Dato, of the great Indus civilizations, were at their peak.  3

Around 100 AD lemons arrived in the Mediterranean via Arab traders; by 400 they were planted in orchards in Moorish Spain.  Presently they are mainly cultivated in subtropical regions, with many varieties of true lemon, as well as a couple of further hybrids, such as the Ponderosa and Meyer lemons; the Ponderosa is large and coarse, probably a lemon-citron cross.  The Meyer, probably a cross between the lemon and either orange or mandarin, however, is thin-skinned, with less acid, and a distinctive flavor due in part to a thyme note (from thymol); this later came to California in the early 20th century.  4

“Curing” promotes longer shelf life of lemons.  Being picked green, they are held in controlled conditions for several weeks, allowing their green skins to yellow, thin, and develop a waxy surface; curing also promotes enlargement of the juice vesicles.  5

Epicures appreciate the preserved lemons of northern Africa as a condiment; they are made by cutting and salting lemons and letting them ferment for several weeks.  (Up to a month may be required, as suggested in the great recipe at https://nourishedkitchen.com/morrocan-preserved-lemons/.)  This process allows for the growth of bacteria and yeasts, which softens the rind and changes the aroma from bright and sharp to rich and rounded.  6

Often attempts are made to shorten the steps with many in-depth cooking procedures today.  Such has occurred with these preserved lemons-for example they are frozen and thawed to speed salt penetration, then salted for a few hours or days.  This will bring some of the needed chemical changes as the oil glands are disrupted and their contents are mixed with other substances, but without fermentation, full flavor development will not occur.  7

In On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee writes that lemon comes via Arabic from a Persian word, reflecting the route these Asian fruits took as they made their way to the West.  8

Enjoy the explosion of great flavor in this proven lemon bar recipe!

References:

  1. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 373.
  2. Ibid., p. 377.
  3. Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: Three River Press, 1973, 1988), pp. 38, 39.
  4. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 377.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid. and https://nourishedkitchen.com/morrocan-preserved-lemons/
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.

finished product

1950s’ Lemon Bars  Yields: 16 small bars.  Total prep time: 55 min/  active prep time: 20 min/  inactive prep time: 10 min/ baking time: 25 min.  (There was a note on Mom’s recipe to add more lemon to this original 20th century recipe; thus, I increased both the lemon juice and flour to 3 tbsp each.)

1 c plus 3 tbsp unbleached white flour  (Bob’s Red Mill organic is high quality.)

1/2 c butter, softened

1/4 c powdered sugar  (Organic is best; available at Trader Joe’s.)

2 lg eggs

1 c sugar  (Coconut sugar is ideal, in place of the white; may also use turbinado, raw cane sugar.)

Zest of 2 small lemons  (Organic is very important, in order to avoid the taste of pesticides; available inexpensively at Trader’s.)

3 tbsp lemon juice, fresh squeezed

1/2 tsp of salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; an inexpensive fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco.)

1/2 tsp baking powder

  1. golden crust

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  2. Spray lemons with a safe, effective, inexpensive produce spray (combine 97% white distilled vinegar with 3% hydrogen peroxide).  Let sit for 3 minutes and rinse well.
  3. With a fork in a medium bowl, blend 1 c flour, butter, and 1/4 c powdered sugar, until mealy like a pie crust.  Pat mixture firmly into an ungreased 8” x 8” pan and bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown (see above photo).  Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes.
  4. frothy filling mixture

    Meanwhile zest lemons, then juice them.

  5. Slightly beat the eggs in a bowl with an electric mixer; blend in your choice of 1 c white, coconut, or turbindo sugar.  (For info on coconut and cane sugars, see Zucchini Bread-2017/07/24-and Pear Pie-2016/10/31-respectively.)
  6. Mix in remaining 3 tbsp flour, salt, and baking powder; add lemon zest and juice, beating until frothy (see photo above).  Set aside.
  7. bars at end of baking

    Spread lemon mixture evenly on top of slightly cooled crust.  Return to oven and bake for 25 minutes more, or until golden brown.  Note: this will firm up more with cooling.  See photo.

  8. Dust with powdered sugar and cut into 16 pieces, while bars are warm.  Refrigerate leftovers.

1950’s Wild Rice with Almonds

wild rice laced with mushrooms, almonds, and onions

The history of wild rice is intriguing!  From the 1950s forward, my mother frequently blessed our family and her many guests with this buttered wild rice, laced with mushrooms and roasted almonds.  It usually accompanied her pheasant casserole, which was Mom’s favorite dish.  (I will post the pheasant recipe the next time I am offered this wild fowl; both of these recipes came from Maude Benson, an “older” woman-to my young mind-in my village of 250 people in Montana’s Glacier National Park.)

In 1673, Jacques Marquette, a French Jesuit missionary-explorer, described this grain as a fausse avoine, or false oat, when he discovered the Mississippi River and the rivers near its headwaters.  This annual plant which he encountered was Zizania palustris, or what we call northern wild rice today.  1

Wild rice-not a species of the true tropical rice genus Oryza-is the whole grain of a cool-climate North American water grass. Its unusually long grains are up to three-quarters of an inch, having a complex, distinctive flavor, with a greenish-black seedcoat.  What you find on the market today is primarily cultivated in artificially flooded paddies, and harvested mechanically after the fields are drained; relatively small amounts come from uncultivated, naturally occurring stands.  It is necessary to read labels carefully, if you want to taste truly wild rice from its native region and savor the differences among small producers.  2

Originally it was gathered in canoes by the Ojibway and other native peoples in shallow lakes and marshes of the Great Lakes region of North America; it is the only cereal to have become important as a human food in this northern continent of the Americas.  3

This wild crop was first cultivated in the early 1950s by James and Gerald Godward, who were meeting the rising demand for this delicacy in the U.S.  4

This grain is unusual among other cereals in that it contains double the amount of moisture at maturity, around 40% of the kernel weight.  The result is it requires more elaborate processing than true rice in order to be stored.  This process includes maturing it in moist piles for one to two weeks; next, parching dries it,  enhances flavor, and makes the husk brittle; and finally it is threshed to remove the husk.  5

The parching process contributes to its firm, chewy texture, but also makes its cooking time longer, because its starch has been precooked into a glassy, hard mass.  Another factor giving it a relatively lengthy cooking time is its intact bran layers are resistant to water absorption, as they are impregnated with cutins and waxes.  This later quality protects the grains that fall into the natural lakes, allowing them to lie dormant for months or even years before germinating.  6

To improve water absorption and lessen cooking time, some producers will slightly abrade the grains, while cooks may choose to soak them in warm water for several hours, which isn’t all that effective.  7

Raw wild rice has flowery, green, earthy, tea-like notes.  The technique of curing amplifies the tea notes, but may also bring an undesirable mustiness.  Parching generates browning reactions, lending toasted, nutty characteristics.  Producers use different methods of both parching and curing, which brings variations in the flavor of wild rice.  These methods of curing range from none to brief to extended, while parching may utilize low to high temperatures, be over open fires, or performed in indirectly heated metal drums.  8

It has been said that how the rice was cured, as well as how old it is, dictates the timing required to prepare it.  Regardless of this actual cause, to insure readiness, it is best to prepare this dish before dinnertime, and then reheat it in a well-buttered casserole in the oven for 30 minutes.

References:

  1. James Trager, The Food Chronology (New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1995), p. 137.
  2. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004),  pp. 476, 477.
  3. Ibid., p. 476.
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_rice
  5. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004),  p. 476.
  6. Ibid., p. 476.
  7. Ibid., p. 476.
  8. Ibid., p. 476.

wild rice with cranberries, orange, and onion

1950’s Wild Rice with Almonds  Yields: 6 servings.  Total prep time: 1-1 3/4 hr/  active prep time: 30 min/  cooking time: 30-75 min.

Note: may make this ahead of serving to insure readiness, as cooking time will vary.  For poultry, substitute dried cranberries and orange with zest, in place of mushrooms and garlic.  For pork, substitute tart apple and celery.

1/2 c slivered almonds

1/2 c butter

1 c wild rice

3 c chicken broth  (Organic, free range broth can be purchased inexpensively at Trader Joe’s; better yet use bone broth for high nutrition, see Tortellini Sausage Soup and Bone Broth, 2016/10/10.)

1 bunch green onions, including green stems, chopped  (Organic is only slightly more expensive and so much healthier.)

1-1 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste  (I like this well-seasoned.  Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; a fine grind Himalayan salt is available inexpensively at Costco.)

3/4 tsp freshly ground pepper, or to taste

2 c sliced mushrooms  (For poultry, substitute: 1 c dried cranberries, plus 1 chopped orange with zest.  For pork, substitute: 2 c chopped tart apple, plus 1 c diced celery.)

2 lg cloves garlic, minced-only use this with the mushrooms  (For easy prep, may substitute 1 cube of frozen garlic; available at Trader’s.)

  1. rice about 15 minutes before being finished

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spread almonds on a cookie sheet and roast in oven for 10 minutes; set aside on a plate to cool.

  2. In a 3-qt sauce pan, melt 1/4 c butter over medium heat; add rice and sauté for 10 minutes.
  3. Add broth, raise heat to med/high, and bring to a boil.
  4. Lower heat and simmer until chewy, or soft-test for desired tenderness.  Timing will vary from 30 to 60 minutes, or longer.  Stir occasionally and WATCH WATER LEVEL CAREFULLY WHILE COOKING.  (See photos.)
  5. Meanwhile in a sauté pan, melt remaining 1/4 c butter over medium heat.
  6. Lower heat to med/low, add onions, salt, pepper, and mushrooms (substituting cranberries and orange with zest-instead of mushrooms-to accompany poultry,  or apple and celery for pork).
  7. rice completed to a chewy texture

    Sauté produce until desired tenderness is reached, stirring frequently.  At this point, add garlic-only if using mushrooms-and cook until aroma arises; set aside.

  8. Blend sautéed onion mixture and almonds into finished rice, adjust seasonings.  To insure readiness, may set aside at this point to reheat just before serving.  If doing this, place rice medley in a well-buttered 2-qt casserole and bake, uncovered, in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes.
  9. Serve with confidence!

Chocolate Mint Pie, Another Variation of Blum’s Famous Pie

chocolate mint pie

Let’s journey back to the mid-nineteen hundreds, with another variation of Blum’s coffee toffee pie.  My sister Maureen, who is a kitchen genius, created countless desserts, with this famous pie’s receipt as a basis; we served these in our family restaurant high in the Rocky Mountains, at the east entrance to Montana’s Glacier National Park, during its 50-plus years of operation.

While in San Francisco for my rare eye operation in the late 1960s, my bold mother asked Blum’s for their coffee toffee pie receipt (see 2017/08/21), which my sister expanded on over and over again; this exceptional mint pie is just one of the exquisite results of her ingenuity.  She made it with crème de menthe for the extensive dessert bar in our dining room; I, however, employ peppermint essential oil, which is healthier and more economical.

Many visitors arrive at my blog in search of information pertaining to Blum’s, which left its indelible mark on the history of San Francisco and American cuisine.  Before it closed in the 1970s, it was an upscale restaurant, serving exquisite desserts, candies, and lunch items.  I recall being fascinated with a pin-wheel sandwich there, which I saw with my one unbandaged, post-operative eye.  The swirling of white and dark bread was new and stunning to me back then.

The early ‘60s saw the ushering in of high-end cuisine for the growing middle class; this was introduced by Julia Child, teaching French cooking techniques; she became established in the kitchens of America, due to Jacqueline Kennedy’s placing a French chef in the White House.  This decade’s middle class had the money, as well as the developed acumen, to learn involved French cooking from Child, with all its vast richness-butter and more butter, cream, eggs, cognac.  1

My mother, however, was busy following Time-Life Books Foods of This World, creating foods of France and many other countries (see my 1960s French dinner, 2016/05/30).  This extensive sequel came out in 1968, as a result of the changes that Child had produced in the American palette.

Other food movements were rising along with this adoption of the gourmandise; one was the growth of fast food.  While we were spending three winters in Tucson in the early part of this decade, my parents took us kids out for hamburgers on their nights out with friends; we always preferred the burger at JB Big Boy-founded in 1961-over that of McDonald’s.  2

McDonald’s first opened its simple hamburger restaurant in 1948; nevertheless, it was with a building renovation in 1952 that they created the concept of fast food.  3  Likewise in 1962, their openness to change brought about fast seafood; this transpired when franchise owner Lou Groen creatively placed a Fillet-O-Fish sandwich on his Cincinnati menu.  He had a desperate need to increase his dwindling business, due to the meatless practices during the 40-day Lenten period, of the this Catholic-heavy population in southwest Ohio.  With this innovative addition being accepted by headquarters, a new era of experimentation and menu expansion took place for McDonald’s, as well as fast food as a whole.  4

Yet another trend in food was birthed in the 1960s; social unrest was on the rise, which my family was highly aware as we walked the streets of San Francisco, during my eye operation.  This brought about a generation devoted to Birkenstocks and bean sprouts that popularized vegetarianism and cooked-from-scratch foods.  (I, myself, produced much homemade granola in the late ’70s, during my personal reliving of the hippie movement.)  5

There seemed to be an apparent schism take place with the birthing of both gourmet and hippie food in America-while fast food was also growing ever predominant during these tumultuous years.  Nevertheless, all three of these food trends are still found to be thriving in our present day society, which has witnessed even greater diversity and imagination in its ever expanding movement of food, in the years leading to 2019.  American ailment, which was previously boring, is extremely exciting presently!  6

References:

  1. https://leitesculinaria.com/10348/writings-100-years-american-food.html
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JB%27s_Restaurants
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_McDonald%27
  4. https://www.thrillist.com/eat/nation/most-important-dishes-food-that-changed-america#slide24
  5. https://leitesculinaria.com/10348/writings-100-years-american-food.html
  6. Ibid.

Chocolate Mint Pie, a variation of Blum’s Coffe Toffee Pie  Yields: 1-10″ pie.  Total prep time: 1 1/2 hr, plus 1/2 hr for cooling/ active prep time: 1 1/4 hr/ baking time 15 min.

Note: this is best kept in the freezer for long-term use, cutting off pieces as needed; serve partially thawed for a favored ice cream-like texture.

1 c flour  (Bob’s Red Mill organic unbleached white flour is high quality.)

1/2 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; an inexpensive fine grind Himalayan salt can be purchased at Costco.)

3/4 c butter, softened

1/4 c brown sugar, packed down  (Organic is best; available sometimes at Costco and always at Trader Joe’s.)

3/4 c walnuts, chopped fine

2 oz Baker’s unsweetened chocolate, plus extra for garnish

1 tbsp water

1 tsp vanilla extract

3/4 c cane sugar  (Organic is ideal, best buy is at Costco, also available in a smaller quantity at Trader Joe’s.)

2 lg eggs, at room temperature  (If sensitive to raw eggs, may use pasteurized eggs for extra safety, which are available at some grocery stores.)

Peppermint essential oil, or mint flavoring of your choice

2 c heavy whipping cream  (Must be heavy, to whip properly.)

1/2 c powdered sugar  (High quality organic is available at Trader’s.)

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Few drops of green food coloring

Ganache

1 c heavy whipping cream  (Organic is important for health; available for $3.29/pint at Trader’s.)

8 oz (1 1/3 c) semi-sweet chocolate chips  (Trader’s carries some of high quality.)

1 tsp vanilla extract

  1. baked pie crust

    Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  2. Combine flour and salt; blend in a scant 1/4 c butter well with a fork until mealy in texture.
  3. Mix in brown sugar, chopped walnuts, and 1 oz chocolate, grated with a sharp knife.  Add water and vanilla; blend well.
  4. Butter a pie plate generously; press pie dough in a well-greased pan firmly with fingers. Bake for 18 minutes, or until light brown; begin cooling on a rack, for about 10 minutes, finish cooling in freezer (see photo above).
  5. Chill a bowl in the freezer for whipping the cream (the whipping of cream is greatly facilitated when utensils are ice-cold).
  6. Melt remaining 1 oz of chocolate over med/low heat, watching carefully as not to burn. Set aside and cool to room temperature.
  7. ganache

    Make ganache, by bringing 1 c heavy cream to a very low simmer, over med/low heat (should be very hot-steaming-not boiling).  Add 8 oz chocolate pieces and continue to cook, beating with a wire whisk, until mixture is glossy/shiny.  Remove from heat, add vanilla, set aside.  See photo.

  8. Check to make sure 1 oz melted chocolate (above) is still in liquid form; if hardened, gently add a little heat, being careful to melt it only, but not get it very warm. Beat 1/2 c butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer until creamy.  Gradually add 3/4 c cane sugar, beating well with each small addition.
  9. Add 1 egg-must be room temperature-mix on medium speed for 5 minutes.  (The following makes this preparation foolproof: it is important to have ingredients at room temperature, for if your kitchen is either really hot or cold, this mixture may curdle.  You can easily correct this: if it curdles or breaks because it is too hot, make the addition of the second egg a cold one, directly out of the refrigerator, to bring the filling back to its full volume.  If the

    filling

    butter/sugar/egg combination is too cold and curdles, warm the chocolate a little and mix this in before adding the second egg; then, follow the directions for beating.  Ideally when done, this should be like fluffy whipped butter or soft whipped cream, providing ingredients are room temperature, in a moderate kitchen.  In this way, you will never fail with this recipe!)

  10. Add second egg and beat for 5 more minutes, see above photo.
  11. Blend in cooled chocolate and several drops of peppermint essential oil, or to taste.
  12. Clean and place beaters in freezer for ease in whipping the cream.
  13. Fill the bottom of the cold pie crust with a layer of ganache, freeze ganache in shell for 10 minutes, see photo above. (May have to slightly warm ganache at this point, for easy pouring.)
  14. Meantime using frozen bowl and beaters, beat cream until it starts to thicken; add powdered sugar and several drops of peppermint essential oil, or to taste, and few drops of green food coloring.  Continue beating until stiff; set aside.
  15. Place filling on top of chilled ganache in pie shell; return to freezer for 30 minutes; see photo.
  16. Cover pie with whipped cream and garnish with drizzled ganache-may have to warm slightly for easy drizzling.  Top with chocolate curls, made with a sharp knife.
  17. May serve now, or freeze for future use.  When frozen, cover well with plastic wrap for storing; cut pieces as needed.  Serve partially thawed for optimum pleasure.

1960’s Josephines (a great hors d’ouvres)

Join me on a journey to the mysterious wonder-world of childhood foods with these josephines. which boast of green chillies.  At the end of this entry, I will explore the historical Pakistani  and Indian applications of chillies in their respective cuisines.

We can all relate to the thrilling memories of our particular favorites from mom’s best; these captivated our young hearts with taste thrills in our mouths, as well as simultaneous, soft sensations in our stomachs.  When faced with like foods today, we instantly return to these initial impulses from the treasuries of our early experiences.  Such comes to me double-fold, for not only did my mother supply these rich impressions, but my father-also a great cook-left indelible culinary marks on my soul.  Mom applied her expertise to the hosting of dinner parties, while Dad skillfully prepared food in our family’s restaurant-it was here we ate all our daily meals, while I was growing up.

Both parents were self-taught.  My mother lacked the normal advantages of learning cooking from her mother, who died of cancer when Mom was 11 years old (her father passed on two years later).  Hence being raised by nuns at a boarding school, she didn’t receive the normal, gracious “passing-down” of womanly skills; rather these were hard-won for her.

josephines

Everything Mom put her hand to, however, she mastered, for she knew the importance of “pressing-in” ardently-a trait I learned first-hand.  This included cooking in which she particularly excelled.  I grew up amidst the flurry of her entertaining many guests with gourmet foods.  She was always baking Irish oatmeal bread to go with her many feasts, often with foreign themes; this at a time when America was eating Spam, jello, canned vegetables, and the perpetual, “miraculous” Crisco.  (The history of shortening is in 1880’s Ozark Honey-Oatmeal Cookies, while that of canning can be found at Bean, Corn, and Avocado Salad.)

On the other hand, my grandparents, on my father’s side, lived in a small house just behind our home, allowing for their constant, close presence.  Grandma was a fantastic cook, accomplishing all by a sense of feel, with no recipes needed-a handful of this, a pinch of that.  Nevertheless as with Mom’s maternal experience, Dad didn’t learn his methods from her, but rather his schooling was provided by a gigantic industrial cook book, brought to our restaurant by a traveling salesman in the early 1960’s (see Buzz’ Blue Cheese Dressing).

These heart-imprints, established as a result of my father’s disciplined efforts, literally soar when I presently encounter light buttermilk pancakes, exceptional potato salad, or a good doughnut, for these were institutions in his establishment; thus, such soul foods provide me with a quick transport back to the mid-twentieth century.

For me these Mexican-inspired Josephines carry this same weight, with recollections from Mom’s culinary domain.  Hors d’ouvres were always a part of her feasts; this being one of our favorites.

As mentioned, 1960’s cooking employed lots of canned foods, with this recipe being no exception, as it calls for canned green chillies; originally this vegetable made its way from America to Europe, and beyond, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Chilli peppers were first introduced in India by the Portuguese, where they added heat to curries.  Curry is actually an English name, derived from the Tamil word kari, meaning “sauce”; thus, our English word indicates the basic Indian method of preparing food, utilizing their ever-present sauces.

Red and green chilies have long been present in both Hindu Indian and Muslim Pakistani cuisines.  These social groups existed together in Kashmir for most of the 400 years prior to the 1947 formation of Muslim Pakistan; here both cultures relied on the basic dish of rice and either kohlrabi or a vegetable similar to our spring greens, which was flavored with red and green chilies.  The Muslims enhanced this with garlic, while the Hindus added hing (asafoetidfa), distinguishing the two styles of preparing this food.  A more marked difference in their diets, however, resided in the ratio of meat to vegetables, with Hindus eating far more vegetables than meat, while Muslims did the opposite.

This American receipt calls for chillies, long present in world cookery; not being fresh, these reflect the popularity of canned goods in the 20th century.  Enjoy the ease of this hors d’ouvres with its great taste.  Note: my niece Cammie retains our family’s fond memory, by creatively using goat cheese and gluten-free bread here, to meet her dietary needs.  One way or the other, you will never forget this taste-treat!

References:

Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1988, 1973), p, 271.

James Trager, The Food Chronology (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1995), pp. 87, 88.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chili_pepper

https://cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/65202/what-was-indian-food-like-before-the-arrival-of-the-chilli-from-south-america

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kashmir

finished product

Josephines  Yields: about 1 1/2 dozen.  Total prep time: 45 min/  active prep time: 20 min/  baking time: 25-30 min.  Note: may make cheese/mayo mixture ahead, to have on hand in refrigerator.

1 c aged, grated cheddar cheese  (It is preferable to not use packaged shredded cheese; Mom always grated Sharp Cracker Barrel; I use imported, aged cheddars.)

1 c mayonnaise  (Best Foods is of high quality.)

1-7 oz can diced green chillies

easy grating of cheese in food processor

Tabasco sauce, about 8 vigorous shakes, or to taste

3/4 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is so important for optimum health; an inexpensive fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco.)

1 loaf French bread  (Trader Joe’s sells an ideal, organic 11.5-oz baguette for $1.99; this spread is enough for 2 baguettes.)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Grate cheese by hand, or with grating attachment for food processor (see photo above).
  3. Mix cheese and mayonnaise in a bowl; may store this in refrigerator in a sterile container for months.
  4. Add drained chillies, Tabasco, and salt to cheese mixture; set aside.
  5. bread spread with cheese/mayo mixture

    Split loaf of bread in half lengthwise, place halves on cookie sheet split-side up, and evenly spoon cheese spread on these surfaces (see photo).

  6. Bake in hot oven for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown (see photo at top of recipe).
  7. Cool slightly, cut,  and serve.  These are dynamite!

1950’s Boiled Raisin Cake

boiled raisin cake

The glorious Big Sky country of Montana was the recent setting for my mother Pat’s memorial, which holds the story of redemption.  This couldn’t have been more special, with family there from all over the state, as well as Washington, California, and Oregon.  It was a blessed reunion of next of kin and old friends, many of whom I hadn’t seen for decades.  My 94-year old mother, who was so eager to be with her Maker and my father, was smiling down from heaven, highly pleased with all our gaiety.

Needless to say, the food at this week’s many meals was the greatest.  My sister Maureen, who follows a ketogenic diet, is highly gifted in creating memorable ailments. (She trains people in ketogenic-style cooking and presently is writing a cook book, which includes beautiful creative desserts; I will promote it when it comes out.)

Today’s boiled raisin cake, however, dates back to my early childhood in the 1950’s; my mother probably found this well-known cake recipe in a popular magazine.  Maureen knows the original instructions by heart, to which I have added a few twists of my own, such as freshly ground flour-this is totally optional, but oh so good!

Pleasing the palate beyond words, this world’s easiest, foolproof cake is mixed in the saucepan in which you boil the raisins.  I couldn’t help but share it at this time, thus honoring my mother.

Death normally brings loss; Mom’s departing, however, promoted life and goodness.  Her long-term desire to be with Jesus and my father “Buzzy Baby” was finally granted; our Redeemer brought great liberty to many with her passing.

Food, friends, and faith were the best description of her earthly sojourn; thus, these attributes also marked her transition to heaven, for my sister Maureen labored to insure their presence at all our gatherings, thus commemorating our beloved mother-nothing was overlooked.  This week-long series of family events highly esteemed this great woman, with the actual memorial, in our village of East Glacier Park, being the height of the glory which was signified by her home-coming.

At this treasured celebration, I was able to reunite with many childhood friends-some of whom I hadn’t seen since the 1970’s.  During the reception, extreme laughter blessed us at one table, as we traversed memory lane, for we were recalling our shared employment at my parent’s restaurant.

So many people who came to memorialize Mom’s life had worked for my parents in their fifty-plus years of restaurant ownership; all were bearing rich, belly shaking stories.  It was at this respected establishment that I first learned my love for food, in which I have a unique approach of educating with health and history.

Here I note that the raisins in this cake receipt were most likely sun-dried on rows of paper in the vineyards for about three weeks, as is their most common form of production in the United States.  There are many thousands of grape varieties, which are of the genus Vitis V. vinifera.  Here in North America, we have about 25 native grape species, where in temperate Asia, there are about 10; the major source of wine and table grapes, however, is native to Eurasia.  About two-thirds of the world’s grapes result in wine; of the rest, about two-thirds are consumed fresh, with the remaining made into raisins. 1

Urbain Dubois published a recipe in his 19th century cook book, in which he ingeniously combined raisins and capers; presently, Jean-Georges Vongerichten has capitalized on this unique paring, enhancing it even further by pureeing it with nutmeg as a sauce for skate (this popular dish is on his restaurant menu). 2

Loving food and adventure, my mother would have appreciated this daring treatment of raisins.  You may experiment with this raisin/caper combination, or just securely rest in Mom’s proven boiled raisin cake.  (I suggest making the latter with white vanilla, which is ideal for white frostings-this uncommon flavoring was my recent gift from friends traveling to Mexico, the home of the world’s most outstanding, dirt-cheap vanilla.)

References:

  1. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 363.
  2. Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, Culinary Artistry (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley& Sons, Inc., 1996), p. 70.
  3. https://calraisins.org/about/the-raisin-industry/

finished cake after final frosting

Boiled Raisin Cake  Yields: 12 servings.  Total prep time: 1 hr & 50 min, with 45 min inactive prep time for cooling raisins, unless you boil them ahead of time, following step one/  active prep time: 20 min/  baking time: 45 min.

3 c flour  (Optional: may grind 2 c organic soft white wheat berries to make 3 c flour.)

2 c raisins

3 c water

1 cube butter

2 lg eggs, beaten

1 tbsp vanilla

2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 c sugar  (Coconut sugar has a low glycemic index; for health benefits, see Zucchini Bread, 2017/07/24.)

1 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; an inexpensive, fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco.)

1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 1/2 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp cloves

1 c pecan pieces, optional

Spray oil  (Coconut oil is best for flavor and health; Pam coconut spray oil is available in most stores; our local Winco brand, however, is far cheaper.)

Glaze:

2 c powdered sugar  (Organic is best; Trader Joe’s has 1-lb packages, where Costco has more economical, larger packets.)

1/2 c butter, melted

1/2 c cream  (Organic heavy whipping cream is better for your health.)

1 tsp vanilla

1/4 tsp salt

  1. easy mixing of batter

    In a 3-quart sauce pan, bring raisins to a boil in 3 cups of water over medium heat; cook for exactly 5 minutes; add butter.  Place in a sink full of cold water to cool quickly.

  2. If using fresh ground flour, grind wheat berries now.
  3. Make glaze by mixing above “glaze” ingredients, set aside.
  4. When raisins are cool, preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  5. Add flour and all other “cake” ingredients to pan; blend well; do not over-beat, however, as this toughens cakes and cookies.  IF grinding your own flour, be sure to let batter sit for 45 minutes, as freshly ground flour is coarser and absorbs the liquid more slowly.
  6. Pour batter into 9”x13” pan, which has been sprayed with coconut spray oil.
  7. icing cake the first time

    Bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean, and cake lightly responds when pressed with finger.

  8. When hot out of oven, immediately poke holes over the whole cake with a toothpick or skewer.
  9. Pour 2/3’s of glaze evenly on cake (see photo).  When cake has cooled, frost with remaining icing; see photo of finished product at top of recipe.
  10. This cake is dynamite, and it gets better as it sits over time!

The Best Corned Beef

corned beef and cabbage

In Ireland, they do not celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with corned beef and cabbage, but rather lamb or bacon, on what has long been a religious holiday there. Why therefore does the rest of the world, in particular the U.S., count this dish synonymous with this day that has become so filled with frolic?  It was through numerous developments that the Irish immigrants in America adopted this tradition, with its roots which are actually Gaelic.

Early Irish Immigrants Weren’t Eating Corned Beef

These immigrants first arrived here when fleeing the Great Famine, which was brought about by the European potato blight that desperately hit their homeland, starting in 1845.  They disembarked knowing only “about” the corn beef of their forefathers, and that differing greatly from what they began to eat in the U.S.

This dish has a complicated history.  Beef was originally not regarded as an option in the old country, but rather pork and bacon provided the rare meat at a meal (pig is still their favored animal to be bred only for food).  From ancient times on, the common Irishman regarded the cow as a work animal, consuming only its milk products, not its flesh; this latter was primarily reserved only for the wealthy few, and even for them, merely at celebrations and festivals.  Salting was their typical means of preserving meat.

English Cattle Acts Left Ireland with Surplus Beef

When the English conquered this country in the 16th century, the cow turned into a food commodity.  Since the time of Roman invasion, the English have had a voracious appetite for beef, hence their need to outsource for this.  After their conquest of the Gaelic land, tens of thousands of live cattle were exported yearly across the Irish Sea, until the mid-17th century, when a series of Cattle Acts enacted by the English Parliament put a stop to this export; thus, providing the fuel that ignited the Irish corned beef industry.  These Cattle Acts left Ireland with an inundation of cows, bringing meat prices down, and making it affordable and abundant for their salted beef production, their means of preservation; thus, now even the peasant could consume this food.

Term ‘Corned Beef’ Introduced

It was around this time that the term corned beef became popular, because of the large size of salt crystals used to cure it, for they looked like a kernel of corn.  The word kernel is derived from the Old English crynel, meaning seed or kernel, a diminutive of corn.

Rise and Fall of Popularity of Corned Beef from Ireland

Subsequently Ireland became known for its abundant, high quality salted beef, now called corned beef, which tasted more like salt than beef.  In addition to the overflow of cows due to the Cattle Acts, they also had access to the highest quality of imported salt, as their salt tax was one tenth that of England.  (In good corned beef, the quality of salt is almost as important as the cut of beef.)  The demand for this best-on-the-market, Irish corned beef soared in Europe and the Americas, spiking the price so high that the common Irishman could no longer afford to eat it; thus, the potato, which the English had introduced in the 1580’s, became their major food source in the Gaelic land.

This high, European and American demand for Irish salted beef continued until the end of the 18th century, when the North American colonies began producing their own; the glory days of Irish corned beef came to a close over the next 50 years; hence, the economy in Ireland was affected greatly.  This coupled with the Great Famine-brought by the European potato blight starting in 1845-resulted in great destruction in this land, as this plant disease completely destroyed the Irish food source.  As a result, about a million people sought refuge in America.  Being the land of plenty, they could now afford meat, a first in their lifetimes; that which they chose happened to be the affordable “corn beef”.  Here, however, it greatly differed from that of the corned or salted beef of their ancestors 200 years prior.

Irish Americans Celebrated  St. Patrick’s Day with Jewish ‘Corned Beef’ 

These immigrants settled in the urban centers of New York and Philadelphia, next to their Jewish neighbors, who had kosher butcher shops, where the Irish bought this product; the Jewish butchers used brisket, a kosher cut, for what they called corned beef.  Being a tougher cut, it called for the salting and cooking processes that rendered the extremely tender corn beef, with its exceptional flavors, such as we know today.  The Irish paired this with their beloved potato and the inexpensive vegetable cabbage.  This “Jewish” corned beef then became the celebratory meal for the American Irish on their religious holiday St. Patrick’s Day.  Time transformed this hallowed feast day into its present, grand celebration of Irish heritage.

American Preparations Old and New

Today this beef brisket-cut is generally cured or pickled by injecting seasoned brine (the brisket-cut comes from the area just above the front legs; it rests on top of the shank cut, which is immediately above these legs in the forefront).  Hence today most of our savory corned briskets never actually touch any salt grains, the size of corn kernels or otherwise, like that of the famous salted beef of old.

Though not the typical corned brisket of the former era, in The Hamilton Cookbook, 2017, Laura Kumin cites Richard Briggs’ 1792 recipe “To Stew a Brisket of Beef”, from The English Art of Cookery: “a pint of red wine, or strong beer, a half of pound of butter, a bunch of sweet herbs, three or four shallots, some pepper and half a nutmeg grated.”  Browned, boiled turnips were added at the end, after the liquor-or gravy-had been thickened with “burnt butter”.

The following is my sister’s modern recipe, which calls for braising, resulting in super tender morsels of meat.  Enjoy this effortless receipt, while wearing the green this year.

References:

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/is-corned-beef-really-irish-2839144/

http://www.foodandwine.com/fwx/food/complicated-irish-history-corned-beef

http://www.kitchenproject.com/history/CornedBeef.htm

Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1988, 1973), pp. 289-291.

Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 2004, 1984), p. 175.

Laura Kumin, The Hamilton Cookbook (New York, Nashville: Post Hill Press, 2017), pp. 90, 91.

glazed meat

Corned Beef Brisket  Yields: 6-8 servings.  Total prep time: 7 1/4 hr for 3 1/2-lb brisket/  active prep time: 30 min/  cooking time: 7 hr (or 2 hr for each lb of meat).

3 1/2 lb corned beef brisket

1 lg yellow onion  (Organic vegetables are best.)

8 extra lg cloves garlic, or the equivalent

6-8 red or Yukon gold potatoes, cut in halves

1 1/2 lb green cabbage, cut in sixths or eighths, leaving root on

1-1 1/4 lb carrots, cut in large pieces

2 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; an inexpensive, fine grind Himalayan salt is available in bulk at Costco.)

Yellow mustard

Brown sugar  (Organic is best; available at Trader Joe’s or Costco.)

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees; take veggies out of refrigerator to warm.
  2. preparation for initial braising

    Rub seasonings from spice packet on brisket.  Place in oven-proof stock pot with onions and garlic.  Barely submerge in water (see photo); cover with lid and braise for 1 hour in oven at 375 degrees; then, lower temperature to 325 degrees, if brisket is normal size of 3 1/2 to 4 lbs-if brisket is larger, only lower heat to 350.  Cook meat for 6 hours for 3 1/2 lbs.  The TOTAL cooking time should be determined by figuring 2 hrs per lb (this time includes that needed for the replacement of vegetables for the meat the last hour of cooking); thus, a total of 7 hours for a 3 1/2 lb brisket).

  3. 1 1/3 hour before serving, spray vegetables with an inexpensive, safe, effective vegetable spray (a mixture of 97% distilled white vinegar and 3% hydrogen peroxide); let sit 3 minutes; rinse really well.  Scrape carrots with a sharp knife (this preserves vitamins, as opposed to peeling); cut in halves or large pieces; peel the potatoes; if large, cut in halves.  Cut cabbage in sixths or eighths, leaving the root on, and set this aside separately.
  4. 1 hour before serving, remove brisket from braising water, place in a baking dish, covered with tin foil, and set aside.  This should be extremely tender; if not, put a little liquid in bottom of dish, cover well with foil, and place back in oven while veggies are cooking (see photo below).
  5. preparing brisket for further cooking if needed

    Turn the heat up to 375 degrees.  Add potatoes, carrots, and salt to hot broth, cover with additional water, and return to oven to cook until tender, checking periodically.  As vegetables are done, remove to a baking dish, with small amount of broth in bottom, cover with foil, and place in oven to keep warm.

  6. Add cabbage to pot 30 minutes before serving if you like it soft; for a crisper version, add 20 minutes before dinner.  (Be sure to check vegetables to see if cooked, remove to baking dish as needed, and return to oven to keep hot.)
  7. About 30 minutes before serving, prep the glaze, by generously spreading yellow mustard over brisket, sprinkle with brown sugar, and place in oven at 375 degrees.  Bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until it bubbles and glaze is formed (see photo at top of recipe).
  8. Cut meat, cover with foil, and place back in oven, if not ready to serve yet.  When all cooking is done, turn oven down to 200 degrees for keeping meal hot.
  9. To serve, place on platter or plates and surround with vegetables (see initial photo).  This dish is best accompanied with Irish Soda Bread, last week’s post.

Irish Soda Bread

Irish soda bread

Following is a family recipe for the best Irish soda bread and information on soft and hard flour, as well as details on what happens to gluten in the the kneading process.

There are two varieties of wheat flour: soft and hard.  This recipe uses the soft whole wheat pastry flour, with low-gluten content; cake flour, which is the other soft flour, is even lower in this mixture of plant proteins.  Hard, all-purpose, or bread flour is the other variety, which is high in gluten.

All wheat flour contains two proteins, gliadin and glutenin, which combined form the gluten.  When dough is initially mixed, these proteins are mangled and knotted together in a relatively unorderly fashion.  Kneading lines these up; bonds are developed between neighbors; thus, gluten chains form, creating the surrounding substance within which the dough can develop.  In this way strength and structure are established, which trap gases and allow the dough to rise; this process is critical in producing a good loaf of yeast bread.

Unlike yeast bread, such manipulative action is minimal in its soda counterpart, providing for little  gluten development; its soft flour, being comparatively low in these proteins, produces a quick bread with its own appeal, which is a fine, tender crumb.  Being fast to prepare, it must be eaten with haste as well, as it becomes stale swiftly.

Irish soda bread has simplicity and a basic composition; it is leavened with the rapid-acting chemical baking soda, and as it has been said, brief mixing minimizes its gluten development.  This luscious loaf may be enhanced by adding either raisins or currants (see Mor Monsen’s Kaker, 2017/11/27, for the history of currants).

It is an understatement to say that my mother Pat, who now resides in heaven, loved her Irish heritage while sojourning on earth: I grew up, during every March, with a month’s worth of corned beef and cabbage.  On St. Patrick’s Day itself, sometimes there were scrambled eggs colored with green food dye, or toilet bowl water tinted likewise, and always a mandatory wearing-of-the-green.  (She would have to dash in the bathroom to revive the toilet water following each use.)

Mom will always be remembered by all, for her passion for green; year-round she favored this color in her clothing, home decorations, and above all God’s splendid paintings in nature.

I am honoring her during her month, by sharing our family’s recipes for Irish Soda Bread and of course, corn beef and cabbage, which will be next week’s entry.  Irish soda bread is a quick bread, traditionally made without fat; it generally calls for soft flour-made from soft winter wheat berries-which is marketed as whole wheat pastry flour.

References:

Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), pp. 521-523, 537-538, 549-550.

https://www.thespruce.com/the-science-of-kneading-dough-1328690

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheat_flour

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kneading

http://www.sodabread.info/history/

bread with Kerrygold butter from Ireland

Irish Soda Bread Yields: 10-12 servings.  Total prep time: 45-55 min/  active prep time: 20 min/  baking time: 25-35 min.

3/4 cup milk  (Alternative milks will do, or may purchase buttermilk.)

8 squirts from plastic lemon ball, for souring milk

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour  (Bob’s Red Mill flour is high quality; may grind 1 1/3 cup organic soft winter wheat berries, to make 2 cups fresh flour.)

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

3 tbsp sugar  (Organic is best; available at Trader Joe’s, or more inexpensively, in a 10-lb package at Costco.)

4 tbsp butter, softened

1/2 cup raisins or currants  (Currants available in bulk at upscale grocers, such as the national chain New Season’s.)

Spray oil  (Pam coconut spray oil is ideal; our local Winco brand, however, is far cheaper.)

  1. cutting butter into flour until mealy

    Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  2. If grinding fresh flour, begin to do so now with 1 1/3 c soft winter white wheat berries; wait to preheat oven with this option.
  3. Sour milk by placing it in a medium bowl, squeezing about 8 squirts from lemon ball over surface; set aside.
  4. In a large bowl blend flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugar, with a fork.
  5. Cut 3 tbsp softened butter into flour mixture, until mixture is mealy and butter is well incorporated (see above photo).
  6. dough after kneading for 1 minute

    Stir in soured milk and raisins or currants.  Knead dough gently for 1 minute,  flouring counter and hands to keep dough from sticking.  See photo.  (Note: if grinding flour fresh, be sure to let dough sit in bowl, covered, for 45 minutes before kneading, to absorb excess moisture present in the coarser fresh-grind.)

  7. Form into a round loaf and place on a cookie sheet sprayed with oil.  With a sharp knife, cut an X on top of loaf about 1/2-inch deep.  Optional: dot with softened butter (see photo below).
  8. Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until golden brown and there is a hollow sound when tapped on bottom; see top photo.  Cool on rack.
  9. loaf ready to be baked

    This is best served with imported Irish Kerrygold butter-this treat is available many places, but the best buy is at Costco, when in stock.

Prune Cake, A Cake to Be baked in Secret (Keeps Well if You Hide It)

prune cake

My mother loved to entertain; she went to elaborate ends preparing for her dinner parties, many of which had international themes-for these foreign affairs she often employed recipes from the Time-Life Books collection Foods of the World, which came out in 1968 (see 1960’s French Dinner.

Though I don’t know its origin, this prune cake was among my favorite desserts that Mom served to her many guests.  I recall her making it in the sixties; perhaps she acquired it from beloved friends while we were living in Tucson, Arizona, during several winters in this decade.

Its subtitle boasts: A Cake to Bake in Secret (Keeps Well if You Hide It).  How true this is, for this confection melts in one’s mouth, with its butterscotch glaze seeping into the entire cake; thus, it stays moist for weeks, if you don’t eat it first.

In the hot Mediterranean countries in Biblical times, drying was the most expedient way for preserving fruit and vegetables; grapes became “raisins of the sun”, plums became prunes, dates and figs likewise intensified in flavor as they shriveled up.  There, this basic technology employed the powerful sun, with either spreading the juicy produce out on trays or the rooftop, or burying it in the hot sand; this latter means of preservation became apparent at the beginning of time, with naturally dried fruit, which had fallen from trees and vines in the hot dessert.

Such sun-drying methods didn’t work well in the cooler climates of Eastern Europe; thus, more sophisticated means of dehydrating developed here.  Beginning in the Middle Ages, in Moravia and Slovakia, special drying-houses were filled with wicker frames, on which prepared fruit was laid out; constantly-burning stoves, underneath these frames, produced the necessary dry heat to transform the food.

Those in medieval Scandinavia discovered that cool, crisp air, aided by a stiff breeze, could be utilized to dry Norwegian stokkfisk-cod that had been gutted and hung to dry on wooden racks.  This dried ailment provided these people with an almost indestructible, cheap food reserve.

During this time, means for food preservation were also developing in England.  The rich Englishmen, however, had cool stillrooms, where they candied nuts and citrus peel and bottled fruits-present day canning methods were discovered in the early 19th century-and made marmalades, jams, and sweetmeats.  (In Webster’s, this last item is any delicacy made with a sweetening agent; “meat” here refers to food-sweet foods-such as candied fruit).  Indeed, the English employed the art of candying, or preserving with sugar, although they adhered to many alchemical superstitions and “secrets”, such as walnuts should be preserved on June 24th, St. John’s Day.

This memorable cake calls for dried plums that have been resuscitated.  These stewed prunes, along with the rich butterscotch glaze oozing into the whole, allow for an incredibly moist dessert that keeps for weeks, providing it is hidden from sight.

Bee Wilson, Consider the Fork (New York: Basic Books, 2012), pp. 218, 219.

Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1988, 1973), pp. 54, 180, 181.

prune cake

Prune Cake  Yields: 12 servings.  Total prep time: 1 1/2 hr/  active prep time: 30 min/  baking time: 1 hr.  Note: this recipe calls for a 9” tube pan, with a removable bottom.

2 c flour  (Bob’s Red Mill organic unbleached white flour is ideal, or may grind 1 2/3 c organic soft winter white wheat berries, to make 2 c fresh flour.)

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; an inexpensive fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco.)

1 1/2 tbsp cinnamon  (Our local Fred Meyer-Kroger-store has an excellent organic Korintje cinnamon in bulk.)

1 1/2 tbsp nutmeg

1 1/2 tbsp allspice

1 c oil  (The original recipe calls for corn oil, but I use grapeseed oil, as it can be heated to high temperatures without damage.)

1 tsp vanilla

1 1/2 c sugar  (May substitute coconut sugar, which has a lower glycemic index, see health benefits at Zucchini Bread, 2017/07/24 .)

3 lg eggs, beaten

1 c buttermilk

1 1/3 c dried, pitted prunes, soaked and coarsely chopped  (This may be done ahead, see step 3.)

1 c walnuts, chopped

Hot Butterscotch Glaze

1 c sugar  (Cane sugar is important here; organic is best.)

1/2 c buttermilk

1/4 c butter

1/4 c lite Karo syrup  (For easy pouring, rub measuring cup with butter first.)

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp vanilla

  1. 1980’s nutmeg grinder

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  2. If using optional, freshly ground flour, begin grinding wheat berries now.
  3. Pour boiling water over prunes; let sit for 13-15 minutes, or until soft, but not mushy; drain, cool, and cut fruit in halves.
  4. In a sealed gallon-size storage bag, vigorously shake flour, baking soda, salt, and spices, or stir well with a fork.  (This recipe calls for LOTS of spice; freshly ground nutmeg is superb; see above photo for my 1980’s nutmeg grinder.)
  5. Mix oil, 1 tsp vanilla, and 1 1/2 c sugar together in a large bowl; beat in eggs, one at a time; mix in flour mixture and buttermilk alternately.  Stir in the prune halves and nuts.  (If using fresh ground flour, know that it is a coarser grind and thus absorbs moisture more slowly; therefore, if grinding flour fresh, be sure to let batter rest in bowl for 45 minutes before baking, to absorb liquids.)
  6. glaze at soft ball stage before rolling together with fingers

    Pour batter into an ungreased 9” tube pan, with a removable bottom.  Bake for 1 hour, or until a toothpick comes out clean, and cake lightly responds when pressed with finger.  Meanwhile get ready to cook the glaze.

  7. In a medium saucepan, measure the ingredients for the butterscotch glaze.  Set aside, until 10 minutes before cake is done.  After cake has been baking for 50 minutes, boil glaze over medium heat, until a candy thermometer registers 235 degrees F, or a soft ball is formed (using a clean spoon, place a small amount of the cooked sugar in a cup of cold water; then, squish together with fingers to form a soft, pliable ball that doesn’t hold its shape,  see photo above).
  8. Immediately pour hot glaze over hot cake; piercing it repeatedly with a skewer or toothpick, so it can easily soak up glaze (see photo below).
  9. piercing glazed cake with skewer

    After cooling on rack, slide a knife down all sides and under removable bottom; then, gently transfer pastry to plate.

  10. Remember this is a cake to be baked in secret, for it keeps a long time, if you hide it.