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!

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, 2016/06/06).

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.

Nutty/Lemon/Coconut Bars

nutty/lemon/coconut bars

This recipe for nutty/lemon/coconut bars is from the mid-1960’s, given to me by my beautiful aunt Sheila.  She made them for her family, while living in East Glacier Park, Montana.

A decade later, after moving 90 miles away to Kalispell, this same aunt watched over me like a hen over her chick, as I was recovering from bulimia and anorexia then.  Having overcome much in her own life, she was willing to share her victories.  She approached her covering of me, as a humble friend, coming along side me gently. We spent numerous hours in each others company, usually over food, while we frequently perused the daily reading from her treasured God Calling, an inspired devotional written by two women in England.  How I recall our immense excitement over the accuracy, with which these prophetic, living words touched our souls!

Sheila loved good edibles.  From the seventies on, after her move to the city, however, her delight was to indulge in fine cuisine at restaurants, rather than spending the necessary preparatory time in a kitchen.  Her constant discovery of new establishments blessed us here in Portland, Oregon, where we both resided before she passed away in the 90’s.

Unlike my aunt, for me the height of indulgence in food is found in the strength imparted by the whole hands-on process, from the beginning to end stages, present in receiving nourishing substance.  This starts initially with the act of shopping, it intensifies as I press in over a stove, and it culminates in a grand finale as I partake of pleasures at the table.  For me, each level is essential in the mastery of the art of fine cuisine; likewise all require diligence in their practice,

For instance, shopping can bring joyful breakthrough, i.e., the hunting for specials at Fred Meyer recently benefited me greatly: the produce worker John and I were chatting, while he was doing his work and I was examining artichokes; he suddenly broke out excitedly, “I can teach you how to test this vegetable for freshness.”  He proceeded to show me how to squeeze its middle, instructing that if it flattens out it is past its prime.  Eagerly he promised that when watermelon season arrives, his expertise will be at its prime, for he never misses with this fruit-I can’t wait to share this tidbit with you also.

From the grocery store, I go to my kitchen, equipped with the best.  There I purpose to set my day’s thoughts aside, as I settle into cooking, striving for peace, which is critical, or mistakes get made, and our Father’s intended gratification is lost.

Julia Child comes to mind, with her passion for every aspect of fine food, especially her fervency in sharing her knowledge with the world; this can be seen clearly in her approach to helping young, aspiring chefs.  As with so many others, I was taken under her wings, with five encouraging letters in the 80’s and 90’s.  Her covering was a gift from God, who longs to envelop us with such protective shelter, as he did for me with my aunt in earlier years.  Indeed, I have become who I am today, by humbly receiving such guidance from authorities.

Sheila’s nutty coconut bars satisfy the child within, with their lemon savor; it’s my joy to share these with you.  Bon appetit!

finished product

Nutty/Lemon/Coconut Bars  Yields: about 30 bars.  Total prep time: 1 hr.

1 c plus 2 tbsp flour  (Bob’s Red Mill organic unbleached white flour is ideal.)

1/2 c butter, softened

1 1/2 c brown sugar  (Organic is preferable, available at Costco, also at Trader Joe’s in an 1 1/2 lb bag.)

1/2 tsp baking powder

2 large eggs, beaten

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp salt

1 c unsweetened coconut  (This is available in Bob’s Red Mill packages at most grocery stores, where it is also frequently sold in bulk.)

1 c pecans

1 1/2 c powdered sugar  (Organic can be found at Costco and Trader’s.)

1/3 c fresh lemon juice  (3 small/med lemons will be needed.)

  1. baked crust

    Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  2. Cream butter and 1/2 c brown sugar in a bowl; add 1 c flour, over which baking powder is sprinkled evenly; work together with a fork, until it becomes mealy, like pie crust.  Pat this down firmly in the bottom of an ungreased 9” x 12” pan (this size pan is out-dated; you may substitute the equivalent in square inches, such as 2-8” x 8” pans; 2-9″ x 9″ pans, however, will be too large).  Bake for 12 minutes; then, remove from oven; see photo above.
  3. Meanwhile beat eggs well; mix in vanilla and salt; blend in 1 cup brown sugar, 2 tbsp flour, coconut, and pecans.  Spread this mixture over baked-crust (see photo below).  Return to oven and bake for 25 minutes more, or until golden brown (see photo at top of recipe).  Prepare frosting next.
  4. spreading coconut mixture over crust

    First, place 1 1/2 c powdered sugar in a medium bowl; then, measure and pour lemon juice over sugar; beat with a spatula until lumps are gone; set aside.

  5. When bars are through baking, immediately pour lemon frosting over top; cool before cutting.  How I love these!

Mor Monsen’s Kaker-Norwegian Christmas Cookies

plate of mor monsen’s kaker (my mother’s cake)

 

I took the winter off from college in 1973, to work at Big Mountain Ski Resort in Whitefish, Montana.  There in my small studio apartment’s kitchen, I first made these incredible bars, which are known for gracing Norwegian Christmases.

Scandinavian baking is in a class all its own.  These people are known to be masters of pastry as well as open-face sandwiches-often incorporating cardamom, rye, and saffron in their creations.   Presently, their culinary genius has reached new heights: numerous times in this past decade, Noma of Copenhagen has been the title winner of The World’s Best Restaurant; it promotes the popular New Nordic cuisine, which is a style of food that has gone beyond the boundaries of Scandinavia.

New Nordic is best known by the terms local and healthy.  In Norway, with a growing season that might last from June until August, it creatively uses the ocean, wild game, root vegetables, and cold-climate berries, such as the native cloudberry, which is highly valued in this country, as it can only be foraged, not cultivated commercially.

My simple, rich recipe exemplifies the culinary excellence of Norway; these lavish bars only call for currants and almonds, amidst the flour, eggs, sugar, and typical pound of butter.

Currants have an interesting history.  Today, these small dried seedless grapes, known as Zante currants, essentially come from the grape cultivar Black Corinth (Vitis vinifera), which is from the genus Ribes.  Related varieties, such as the White and Red Corinth (and other cultivars from the Black Corinth), are used rarely.

There are a total of about 150 categories in Ribes, including the above, as well as golden currants, gooseberries, and ornamental currants.  These various kinds are native to the northern latitudes of Europe, Asia, and North America, and within each individual species there are many cultivars-horticulturally derived plants, as distinguished from natural varieties-which have been developed over time.

Currants, which are most commonly dried, are generally referred to as Champagne grapes, when sold fresh, by U.S. specialty grocers.

The study of the origin of the word currant helps identify the history of our tiny fruit.  Written records of it initially date back to Pliny the Elder in 75 A.D.  A millennium later, we see the Middle English term raysons of couraunte, also known as raisins of Corinth (a region in ancient Greece which produced and exported these Ribes).

The word couraunte stands for (raisins of) Corinth, taken from the name Courauntz, which is of the Norman French dialect-a variety of speech used in Normandy and England in the Middle Ages-for this Greek region; this in turn comes from the medieval Old French Corinthe; thus, the dialectal name reysons de corauntz was first used for these grapes, when they were brought to the English market in the 14th century, from which the word currants eventually evolved.

In the 1600’s trade patterns shifted from Corinth to the Ionian Islands, particularly Zakynthos (Zante); thus, this small grape became known as Zante currant.

In 1854, the Zante currant the Black Corinth cultivar came via a trade ship to the United States, which eventually resulted in its commercial production in California; the related varieties the White and Red Corinth were established there in 1861.  (Presently, this state is one of the four major world producers of currants, with Greece covering about 80% of this total generation.)

Actually, trade ships were bringing varieties of Ribes to our soil as early as the 16th and 17th century; natural Corinth raisins, however, were indigenous here as well; the Native Americans had been harvesting them from the wild, long before any Europeans arrived, using them for medicines and dyes.

These Zante currants,  which were initially reported at the time of Christ, are presently hard to find.  In earlier days, I could find boxes of dried currants in many local supermarkets, but recently I can only find them in bulk at such upscale grocers as the national chain New Seasons, which also carries the seasonal, fresh Champagne grapes.

Try adding this dried delight to your next Waldorf salad, a batch of scones (see Scottish Oat Scones, 2016/06/20), or these superb Norwegian Christmas cookies.  Expect wonders!

References:

https://ag.umass.edu/sites/ag.umass.edu/files/fact-sheets/pdf/currants.pdf

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

https://1historyofgreekfood.wordpress.com/2007/10/02/raisins-currants-sultanas/

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/best-scandinavian-cookbooks_us_5756c7e2e4b07823f951302c

http://www.cookingbythebook.com/cookbook-reviews/cookbook-review-scandinavian-baking-by-trine-hahnemann/

cutting bars in triangles

Mor Monsen’s Kaker-Norwegian Christmas Cookies  Yields: 4 dozen bars.  Total prep time: 60 min/  active prep time: 30 min/  baking time: 30 min.   Note: these freeze extra well, to have on hand throughout the holidays.

1 lb plus 2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened

2 c sugar  (Organic is best; available at Costco and Trader Joe’s.)

4 lg eggs

1 tsp vanilla

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

distributing currants on dough

1 tsp salt  (Real Salt is important for optimum health; available in nutrition center at local supermarket.)

3/4 c almonds, chopped small (May purchase almond slivers for easy chopping.)

1 c dried currants

A large 11” x 16” cake pan*, or a 12” x 16” jelly roll pan  (May use a 9” x 11” pan, in addition to a 9” x 9” square pan.)

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Grease pan-see optional sizes listed above-with 2 tbsp butter; set aside.
  3. Cream pound of butter with sugar, until light and fluffy, using an electric mixer.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well with each addition; mix in vanilla.
  4. distributing almonds on top of currants

    Blend flour and salt easily, by shaking vigorously in a sealed gallon-size storage bag; then, add this to butter mixture, beating only until all is incorporated, to keep cookies from toughening; set aside.

  5. Chop almonds fine with a sharp knife, or use a food processor, by repeatedly pressing down on the pulse button, cutting any big chunks in half with a sharp knife.  Set aside.
  6. Spread batter evenly on greased pan; sprinkle surface FIRST with currants; see photo in list of ingredients; then, distribute almond pieces over the top of these; see photo above.  Press nuts and currants down into batter slightly with fingers, so they are embedded; see photo below.  (This keeps them from falling off the baked bars in crumbles.)
  7. Bake for 20-35 minutes, or until golden brown, time varies with pan-size.
  8. While bars are still hot-using an 11” x 16” pan-cut 4 rows across the width and 6 rows across the length; then, cut these squares in half; see photo of cutting technique at top of recipe.  (Amount of rows may vary with differing pan

    pressing almonds and currants into dough, to embed them before baking

    sizes.)

  9. These freeze really well, to have on hand throughout the holidays.  They are a treat!

Nutty Coconut Pie-a Variation of Blum’s Coffee Toffee Pie

nutty coconut pie

This nutty coconut pie is my sister’s inspiration from 1980, during her days of running our family’s restaurant, which she did along with my parents and brother; there her food genius produced wonders for the American public that traveled to Glacier National Park, our home.

Among Maureen’s sumptuous creations, this coconut pie was one of my favorites: it is her modification of Blum’s coffee toffee pie-a recipe we received in 1968, when I had a serious eye operation in San Francisco (see Blum’s Coffee Toffee Pie, 2017/08/14).  She ingeniously produced multiple variations of this basic receipt, which likewise thrill; their unique directions will follow over time.  You may make this dessert ahead of the holiday festivities; I prefer it partially frozen, which gives it an ice-cream-like texture.

As a child, I loved coconut: my father’s coconut cream pie, the favored coconut Russell Stover Easter eggs in our yearly baskets, and fresh coconut-to mention but a few of my titillating experiences with that food.

This fruit of the Cocos nucifera has been regarded as the jewel of the tropics; in which it often has been called the tree of life, for their people have depended on it not only for food, but shelter, and much more-every part of it has been used for both culinary and non-culinary purposes.

The powerful coconut originated in India and Southeast Asia; with the floating properties given by its light shell, it apparently was propagated independently by marine currents, on every subtropical coastline, transcending both hemispheres.

Historians also agree that it traveled the world at the hands of men; sea-faring Arab traders most likely brought this treasure to East Africa long ago (they actively were obtaining it from India by the 8th century AD).  These same traders were responsible for its introduction to Europeans on the trans-Asian Silk Road; the Venetian adventurer Marco Polo was among those who encountered this food; he named it “Pharaoh’s nut” in Egypt in the 13th century.  Beginning in the early 1500’s, this prized fruit made its way back to Europe following such explorer-colonizers, as Portuguese Vasco da Gama.

Our prolific coconut evidently floated to the New World shores, where it prospered in its tropical lands; in addition, the European adventurers brought it to the Caribbean and Brazil, from whence it further spread to the American tropics.

For instance, in 1878, the merchant vessel Providencia, carrying this fruit from Trinidad, ran aground the coast of Florida; this resulted in a drastic change in the landscape, which became inundated with palm trees; nevertheless, the coconut didn’t change the economy much here, as was the frequent occurrence in other locales, where multiproducts resulted.

The coconut product, which interests me most, is oil, for I use this extensively in my cooking.  Many believe that this is the healthiest of all oils for our internal bodies, as well as being ideal in external beauty regimens.  Among its helpful health benefits are weight loss, boasting the immune system, and “oil pulling” in detoxifying and cleansing the body.

Here, however, I choose to elaborate on its exceptional cooking qualities, for it has the greatest resistance to oxidation (spoilage), when heated, of any oil on earth; this is due to its 92% saturated fatty acids, which represents the highest percentage in any oil.  This effectual make-up provides extraordinary protection against heat and the formation of free radicals, which are associated with many diseases, such as cancer.  How is this?

Saturated fats are full of hydrogen atoms in their carbon atom chain, giving them a durable molecular structure; thus, they can be heated to high temperatures, resisting oxidation.  They are crucial for maximum health for this reason-among other sound benefits, which I haven’t room to address in this entry.

On the other hand, monounsaturated fatty acids lack a pair of hydrogen atoms, while polyunsaturated fatty acids are missing two or more.  Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids are highly unstable and prone to oxidation, without the durable molecular structure, as found in all saturated fatty acids.

Trans fat and interesterified fat are manufactured fat molecules that don’t exist in nature; they were generated in an attempt to get more solid, stable fatty substances (examples are Crisco and margarine).  Both these types should be avoided all together (for more on the history of Crisco, see 1880’s Ozark Honey-Oatmeal Cookies, 2017/10/30).

In a natural way, coconut oil achieves these objectives, which man was seeking by forming these fake fats.  Coconut, as the most saturated of all oils, is superlative both in being naturally stable/solid and in having an abundance of health attributes, over and above all other oils on the market, in my estimation.

As I have always loved the taste of coconut, I additionally find this oil enlarges the flavor of my foods.

Unsweetened dried coconut enhances our already delightful nutty coconut recipe.  By reducing this pie’s over-all sweetness, it allows for the full impact of the fruit.  (This unsweetened flake is available in bulk in many upscale grocery stores, as well as at our local, inexpensive Winco.)

May I encourage you to slow down and smell the roses: allow yourself the luxury of the time required to produce this memorable pleasure-a gift from God, made with the ease of my sister’s foolproof directions.

References:

  1. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), pp. 508, 509.
  2. Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1988, 1973 by Reay Tannahill), pp. 141, 220n.
  3. http://www.coconut-oil-central.com/
  4. http://www.aramcoworld.com/en-US/Articles/January-2017/Cracking-Coconut-s-History
  5. https://www.livescience.com/54901-free-radicals.html

a piece of nutty coconut pie

Nutty Coconut Pie, a Variation on Blum’s  Yields: 1-9” pie, 8 servings.  Active prep time: 2 hr/  inactive prep time for setting up: 1/2 hr.  Note: can be kept in the freezer for long-term use, cutting off pieces as needed; serve partially thawed for a favored ice cream-like texture.

1 1/2 c nuts, chopped small and roasted

1 3/4 c unsweetened coconut flakes, toasted  (Available inexpensively in bulk at our local Winco.)

1 c unbleached white flour  (May choose to grind 2/3 c organic soft winter white wheat berries to make a total of 1 c fresh-ground flour.)

1/2 tsp salt  (Real Salt is important for optimum health; available in health section at local supermarket.)

1/2 c plus 3-4 tbsp butter, softened

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

1 oz unsweetened chocolate, grated  (Baker’s will do.)

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’s.)

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

1 c heavy whipping cream

1/3 c powdered sugar  (High quality organic is available at Trader’s.)

Instant vanilla pudding mix, only if needed as a stabilizer  (Be sure to have on hand for quick correction.)

Ganache

1 cup heavy whipping cream

8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips, or bittersweet chocolate of your choice  (These chocolate chips are available at Trader Joe’s.)

1 tsp vanilla

  1. finished ganache

    If grinding fresh flour, do so now.

  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place nuts on a cookie sheet in hot oven for 7 minutes, watching closely as not to burn; set aside to cool.
  3. Distribute coconut in a pan with edge; bake until golden brown, about 5-7 minutes, stirring mid-way; set aside.  Leave oven on.
  4. Place bowl for whipping cream in freezer to chill; this greatly facilitates the whipping process (keep beaters at room temperature for filling).
  5. Make ganache-see list of ingredients above-by bringing cream to a very low simmer, over medium/low heat (should be very hot-steaming-but not boiling); add 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 above.
  6. filling beaten to perfection

    Combine flour and salt in a large bowl; blend in well 4 tbsp butter with a fork, until texture is mealy (only 3 tbsp will be needed if using fresh-ground flour).

  7. Mix together with flour: brown sugar, 3/4 c cooled nuts, and 1 oz unsweetened chocolate, which has been grated with a sharp knife.  Blend in water and 1 tsp vanilla.
  8. Butter a pie plate generously; press pie dough in pan firmly with fingers. Bake for 20 minutes in preheated oven at 350 degrees; cool in freezer.
  9. 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 addition.
  10. Add 1 egg; mix on medium speed for 5 minutes; beat in second egg

    layer of ganache on crust

    for 5 minutes more.  (Ideally when done, this filling should be like fluffy whipped butter or soft whipped cream; see above photo. The following makes this preparation foolproof: it is so important to have ingredients at room temperature; if your kitchen is either very hot or cold, this mixture may curdle; this is easily corrected, by beating in 3 tbsp of instant vanilla pudding mix-more may be needed to reach the desired soft, full-bodied consistency.  In this way, you will never fail with this recipe!)

  11. Wash and freeze beaters, along with bowl, for whipping cream with exceptional ease.
  12. Pour a thin layer of ganache on bottom of cooled pie crust-about 1/2 inch thick (see photo above); set the rest aside for garnish (leftovers can be refrigerated indefinitely in a glass jar; great, warmed, over ice cream).  Place crust back in freezer for several minutes.
  13. Fold 3/4 c nuts and coconut into filling, SAVING 1/4 c coconut for garnish.
  14. filled pie

    Spoon filling evenly into pie crust (see photo); let mixture set-up by freezing for 1/2 hour.

  15. Meanwhile, using ice-cold utensils, beat cream until it starts to thicken; add powdered sugar and vanilla; continue beating until stiff.
  16. When filling is set, cover pie with whipped cream; drizzle ganache over top; garnish with toasted coconut (see very top photo).
  17. If keeping for long-term use, be sure to freeze uncovered; then, cover extra well with plastic wrap.  I love serving this partially frozen for optimum pleasure.

1880’s Ozark Honey-Oatmeal Cookies

Ozark honey-oatmeal cookies

My library holds many old cook books, some copyrighted in the 1800’s; I also have a number of facsimiles, exact reproductions of the originals.  These aren’t considered costly with collectors, but are highly valuable to me, with their precise historical evidence required for my work.

A number of these republications help me with my need for early U.S.A. food history.  For instance one illuminates the 18th century: American Cookery, by Amelia Simmons; this was the first truly U.S. cook book, with such strictly American dishes as Indian pudding, Indian slapjack (pancakes), and johnnycake (flat corn cakes).  All early cook books, that were published on our soil, prior to this 1796 publication, were actually reprints of English cook books, none of which contained American ingredients such as: cranberries, clams, cornmeal, shad (fish of the genus Alosa), terrapin (turtles), etc.  Interestingly, recipe books were not in demand in our young country, where rivaling colonial plantations jealously guarded their family’s treasured receipts, and rich city dwellers adhered to their individual Old World cooking traditions.

In a recent cooking class, I taught Ozark Honey-Oatmeal Cookies from one of my facsimiles: the Silver Dollar City Edition of Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book, by Maria Parloa, which Washburn-Crosby Co. published in Boston originally, in 1880.  Its facsimile was issued at an unknown date during the 20th century, by General Mills, the successor to Washburn-Crosby Co.  Access the fascinating history of Maria Parloa, her cook books, these two flour mills, and this period cuisine at my following entries: 1800’s Escalloped Salmon (2017/04/17), 1880’s Minced Cabbage (2017/04/24), and 1880’s Clam Chowder (2017/01/30).

These cookies call for shortening; its definition is fat used in cooking, made from animal, vegetable, or compound manufactured substances.  Examples of the latter are margarine, discovered in France in 1869, and Crisco, which is a hydrogenated vegetable oil, created in America in 1911; Crisco usually comes to mind when shortening is mentioned today.

The term shortening, however, first surfaced in the early half of 18th century; it is considered to be American.  As far as cook books are concerned, it appeared in several of Amelia Simmons’ recipes in American Cookery, 1796, such as johnnycake and “another plain cake”, though she doesn’t define the word.

In the April 6, 1892 edition, the New York Times promoted Cottolene, as a “New Shortening…a vegetable product far superior to anything else for shortening and frying purposes”.  This, the first hydrogenated vegetable oil, was primarily used as a cooking medium, in some households.

In June of 1911, Procter and Gamble began selling hydrogenated cottonseed oil, as Crisco (short for “crystallized cottonseed oil”); they discovered this shortening in their quest to generate a raw material for soap, through a technique that had its origins in 1897 France.  Because of an intense promotional campaign, it became the first popular national shortening product of its kind (this ingredient is extremely prevalent in 20th century recipes).  To this day, Crisco remains the best known brand for this item in the U.S.; there are other well-known brands in a number of other countries.

These Ozark Honey-Oatmeal Cookies allow for a healthy means to satisfy our sweet tooth, for they are made with such powerful foods as: organic oats, semi-sweet chocolate chips, organic raisins, unsweetened coconut flakes, pumpkin seeds, nuts, raw honey…In place of refined sugar, I use the healthy alternative coconut sugar.  The recipe from this 1880’s cook book calls for shortening, which probably referred to either butter or lard initially, though those baking from its facsimile, in the 20th century, would have used then popular Crisco; I leave this choice up to you.

This recipe is easy to make and is extremely good!  Enjoy.

References:

  1. Facsimile of Amelia Simmons, American Cookery, 1796 (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1965), pp. 57, 58.
  2. Silver Dollar City Edition of Maria Parloa, Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book (Minneapolis: Washburn-Crosby Co., 1880); this facsimile was reproduced by General Mills at an unknown date  in the 20th century.
  3. Esther B. Aresty, The Delectable Past (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964), pp. 183-186.
  4. http://www.foodtimeline.org/shortening.html
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shortening

mixing oatmeal into dough in stages

1880’s Ozark Honey-Oatmeal Cookies  Adapted from a recipe in General Mills’ 20th century Special Silver Dollar City Edition of Maria Parloa, Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book (Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1880).  Yields: 4 1/2 dozen.  Total prep time: 1 hr.

1 3/4 cup flour  (May grind 1 1/3 cups organic hard red spring wheat berries-I choose this berry for its high protein content-this makes 2 cups of flour; BE SURE to remove 1/4 cup of flour, after it is ground, for the required 1 3/4 cup.)

1/2 cup butter, or shortening

1 1/4 cup sugar  (I use coconut sugar for its health benefits.)

2 large eggs

1/3 cup honey

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt  (Real Salt is important for health; available in nutrition center at local supermarket.)

2 cups oats  (Organic is only slightly more expensive; so much healthier.)

1/3 cup unsweetened coconut flakes  (Available inexpensively in bulk at our local Winco.)

1/3 cup pumpkin seeds

1/3 cup nuts, chopped

1/3 cup raisins  (Organic is important; available reasonably at Trader’s.)

1/2 cup chocolate chips  (High quality, semi-sweet chocolate chips are available at Trader Joe’s.)

Parchment paper, wax paper, and 2 cookie sheets

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. If grinding your own flour, begin to do so now.
  3. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar with a fork; beat in eggs, one at a time; blend in honey.
  4. placing dough on parchment paper

    Stir salt and baking soda into flour in another large bowl.  (May place these ingredients in a sealed gallon-size storage bag and shake vigorously.)

  5. Mix this flour mixture into the shortening/sugar/eggs; do not over beat the dough, as this makes cookies tough.
  6. Stir coconut, pumpkin seeds, nuts, chocolate chips, and raisins into this mixture, distributing evenly.
  7. Mix half the oats into this dough gently (see photo at top of recipe); add other half; stir with a large rubber spatula or spoon, just until blended.
  8. Using a teaspoon, drop dough 2 inches apart on parchment-paper-covered cookie sheet, shaping rounds roughly with fingers, as you go (see above photo).
  9. Place pan in preheated oven for about 9-10 minutes, or until golden brown.
  10. Meanwhile start a second pan, by shaping dough on another piece of parchment paper.
  11. When first pan is done, immediately start baking this second pan.
  12. cookies baked to perfection

    Cool baked cookies on cookie sheet for 2 minutes.  Remove and place them on a large piece of wax paper (see photo).

  13. Using a new piece of parchment paper, prepare the third pan of cookies, to be ready for the oven as soon as second batch is done; repeat until all the dough is used.  (Pans should be cool before spooning dough on them.)
  14. These freeze well, to have on hand for healthy snacks.

Blum’s Coffee Toffee Pie

Blum’s coffee toffee pie

The following is the colorful story of the arrival of Blum’s coffee toffee pie in my family’s history; more over, it marks the beginning of the hand of Providence saving me for my work as a food historian.

Without any doubt, our lives have purpose, for we are created to fulfill specific works that only we are equipped to do.  My calling, as a writer of food history, has taken shape over my entire life.  Many times death has tried to steal this precious gift from me; my mother’s prayers, however, have covered me with the required protection, for without prayer God’s hands are tied.

My first monumental memory of our Father’s intervention was in 1967, when I incurred a near fatal concussion from a car accident.  Mom’s simple faith brought me back from what spelled destruction: I was neither dead nor a vegetable, as doctors were declaring.  Though I didn’t yet know Jesus personally in 1967, Mom’s steadfast heart acted as my shield and miracles occurred.

The preservation of my life was the first wonder, but another ensued.  Due to the concussion, the part of my brain that controlled my oblique eye muscle was severely damaged, resulting in intense double vision.  At that time, there were only three doctors in the U.S. that could perform the needed operation, then with only a 50% chance of any correction.  Thus in the spring of 1968, we were off to San Francisco, where Dr. Paul at University Hospital perfected my sight completely!  As always, Mom’s prayer life brought rich dividends.

This surgeon took my eye out of my head to shorten the errant muscle, so I saw this lively city with only half my vision, as a patch covered the deep blood-red of that where his skillful hands had been.

As we walked these lively streets, we witnessed our nation’s struggle to discover love through the hippie movement.  Every day we nurtured our hungry souls at the beloved Blum’s; this confectionery, bakery, and restaurant began charming San Francisco in the 1950’s; it closed in the 70’s.  There we devotedly indulged in its famous coffee toffee pie; my strong mother bravely asked for the recipe, which they gave her.  (They must have given it to many others as well, for numerous variations are now available on-line.)

Through its development, by my family over the decades, this recipe has emerged in ways that are outstanding, making its preparation simply foolproof.  Among many improvements, we freeze this pie for long-term use, preferring it only partially thawed, which gives it an ice cream-like texture.  Numerous other tips make my summer dessert a pure joy, to be made with ease.

Celebrate, with me, God’s good and entire provision in our lives; receive this outstanding historical receipt!

Blum’s coffee toffee pie

Blum’s Coffee Toffee Pie  Yields: 1 pie.  Total prep time: 1 1/4 hr, plus 2 1/4 hr for cooling/  active prep time: 1 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 cup flour  (May choose to grind 1/3 cup organic, hard red spring wheat berries and 1/3 cup organic, soft winter white wheat berries to make a total of 1 cup of fresh ground flour.)

1/2 tsp salt  (Real Salt is important for optimum health; available in health section at local supermarket.)

3/4 cup butter, softened

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

3/4 cup walnuts, chopped

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

1 tbsp water

1 tsp vanilla extract

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

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

8 tsp instant coffee

2 cups heavy whipping cream

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

  1. grating of chocolate

    If grinding fresh flour, do so now.

  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  3. Combine flour and salt; blend in a scant 1/4 cup butter well with a fork until mealy in texture.
  4. Mix in brown sugar, walnuts, and 1 ounce chocolate, grated with a sharp knife (see photo); add water and vanilla; blend well.
  5. Butter a pie plate generously; press pie dough in well-greased pan firmly with fingers. Bake for 15 minutes, or until light brown; begin cooling on a rack, for about 10 minutes, finish cooling in freezer.
  6. While crust is cooling, melt 1 ounce of chocolate over medium/low heat, watching carefully as not to burn. Set aside and cool.
  7. When chocolate is room temperature, beat 1/2 cup butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer until creamy.  Gradually add 3/4 cup cane sugar, beating well with each addition.
  8. Add 1 egg; mix on medium speed for 5 minutes.  (The following makes this preparation foolproof.  It is so important to have ingredients at room temperature; 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 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 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!)
  9. assembling of pie

    Blend in cooled chocolate and 2 tsp of coffee.

  10. Add second egg and beat for 5 minutes more.
  11. Place filling in cold pie crust; freeze for 2 hours.  Meantime place a large bowl and beaters in freezer as well (the whipping of cream is greatly facilitated when these are ice-cold).
  12. When pie is frozen, beat cream until it starts to thicken; add powdered sugar and 2 tbsp coffee; continue beating until stiff.  Cover pie with whipped cream and garnish with chocolate curls.
  13. Return to freezer.  When frozen, cover well with plastic wrap.  Cut pieces as needed; serve partially thawed for optimum pleasure.