Ropa Vieja (Omelette)

ropa vieja (omelette)

Our typical American cuisine was inspired by the familiar recipes brought over by English, French, Spanish, and Dutch settlers, as well as those of Scotch-Irish and German colonists, who followed these early immigrants; all of this European influence merged with the available Native American foods.  1

African slaves played a broad part in fashioning our distinctive Southern cookery; the mistresses of these slaves initially taught these, our people, receipts recalled from their individual heritages; then, with the Africans’ natural appreciation of and aptitude for cooking, prized dishes were developed, which were used in the strong social competition among the plantations.  These delicacies, which in large part formed this region’s cuisine, were not initially compiled in books for the public, but rather closely safeguarded within each family, due to the rivalry among these established settlements; thus, there were no Southern cook books until the first quarter of the 19th century.  A few recipes from this geographic area were preserved, however, in some American cook books, mostly those published in and around Philadelphia.  2

Mrs. Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife, printed in 1824, in Washington D.C., is an early example of a receipt book specializing in foods from the South.  It also includes some Northern recipes, as well as a few Spanish dishes, of which our Ropa Vieja omelette is one; this promising recipe boasts of only five ingredients, one of which is the garden tomato, and just a few succinct instructions; its simplicity makes it exceptional.  3

In On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee explains why this sweet-tart, botanical fruit tomato, which is used as a vegetable, has such great appeal.  He attributes this attractiveness to the unique flavor brought about by its low sugar content (3%), as well as the large amount of savory glutamic acid (as much as 0.3% of its weight), and ample quantities of aromatic sulfur compounds.  These two latter ingredients, present in ripe tomatoes, predispose them to complement the flavor of meats; this is because these two substances exist more commonly in animal flesh than fruits; thus, their rich presence in tomatoes allows for added taste to meat dishes.  Savory glutamic acid and sulfur aromas likewise bring out great depth and complexity in sauces and other food combinations; therefore, this particular produce can even replace meat in flavoring vegan dishes.  4

Tomatoes originated in the west coast desserts of South America.  Extensive varieties existed in Mexico by the time Hernando Cortez and his 400 Spaniards discovered this land in 1519.  The tomato was incorporated in American (and later European) cookery in various ways.  At the time of Cortez’ arrival, Mexicans used thin shavings of this green, unripe fruit in many dishes; they also mixed ripe tomatoes with chillis in a sauce to top cooked beans.  Subsequently, the Spaniards in Europe readily adopted this fruit in their cuisine.  5

When Francisco Pizarro began his bloody attacks in Peru in 1532, this South American land, with all its royal Incan wealth, was eating mostly a vegetarian diet of maize, potatoes (including sweet and manioc potatoes), squash, beans, peanuts, avocados, chillis, and our beloved tomato.  6

Some time later, the Italians were adding it to broths and soups, as noted by the Quaker merchant Peter Collinson in 1742.  Tomato sauce for pasta followed several decades hence.  7

Britain lagged behind Italy, in accepting this item, due to their long-held mistaken viewpoint, which had originated on the Continent, connecting it with a deadly nightingshade, being it was of this same family.   Not until the 20th century did the English acquired a taste for tomatoes, particularly canned tomato soup.  8

North America was almost equally slow in receiving this fruit, probably due in part to these same European misconceptions; they considered it to be lacking in nourishment and substance, as well as a cause for gout.  9

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the U.S began what was to become a wide acceptance of tomatoes, primarily due to the strong influence from the great Italian immigration then.   Nevertheless, their first appearance here was when Thomas President Thomas Jefferson brought back seedlings from a diplomatic trip to Paris; there the Parisians had just accepted this “love apple”, believed to be an aphrodisiac; their acceptance directly resulted from the effect Italian cooking had on French troops during the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century (see Spicy Sausages with Tomatoes & Turnips, 2017/09/25).

It is interesting to note that our third president had an extensive garden of 170 varieties of fruits and 330 varieties of vegetables and herbs; his grand kitchen utilized most of this produce, even producing ketchup for our epicurean leader, who primarily chose a vegetarian diet.  Ketchup at this time, however, was a vinegar-based condiment made from such ingredients as walnuts and mushrooms, not tomatoes.  10

Be sure to access my other tomato recipes: Parmesan Dover Sole (2017/03/27), Rosemary Eggs (2017/08/21), and Spicy Sausage with Tomatoes and Turnips (2017/09/25).

References:

  1. Esther B. Aresty, The Delectable Past (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964), p. 181.
  2. Ibid., pp. 182, 183, 193.
  3. Ibid., p. 193.
  4. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), pp. 329, 330.
  5. On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: The Three Rivers Press, 1988, 1973), p. 206.
  6. Ibid., p. 214.
  7. Ibid., p. 207.
  8. Ibid., p. 207.
  9. Ibid., p. 207.
  10. www.monticello.org/site/house-and-gardens/historic-gardens

ingredients for ropa vieja

Ropa Vieja (Omelette)  Yields: 2 servings.  Total prep time: 25 min.  Adapted from an 1824 Southern recipe found in Esther B. Aresty’s The Delectable Past (New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1964).

2 large firm ripe tomatoes, cut in eighths, removing seeds and juice

2/3 cup shredded leftover chicken, ham, or beef

4 large eggs, beaten lightly  (May use 3 duck eggs, which are bigger than chicken eggs; for egg history, see 2017/08/21.)

2 tbsp butter

1 tbsp chopped parsley, optional

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

Fresh ground pepper, to taste

  1. cooked tomatoes

    Spray the optional parsley with a safe, inexpensive, effective produce spray (mix 97% distilled white vinegar and 3% hydrogen peroxide); let sit 3 minutes: then, rinse well.

  2. Prep the above ingredients.  Cut the tomatoes in eighths, gently scoop out liquid and seeds with a spoon (it not necessary to peel the tomatoes), place in a bowl.  Shred and measure the meat, set aside.  Beat the eggs, only until whites and yolks are lightly blended.  Rinse optional parsley well and chop fine.
  3. Over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a non-stick skillet.  Mix in meat, heating for 1 minute; add tomatoes; cook for 6 minutes, or until mixture is hot and tomatoes are somewhat softened, stirring occasionally (see above photo).
  4. Reduce heat to med/low; sprinkle parsley over cooked tomatoes and meat; pour beaten eggs over this mixture, quickly distributing the meat and tomatoes evenly in eggs.
  5. finished product

    Salt and pepper generously before covering; cover and cook slowly, until eggs are set on top (see photo).

  6. When done, you may remove any loose pieces of skin from tomatoes that appear on top of omelette; fold it over; cut in half to serve two people.

1950’s Pear Pie

Fresh pear pie

fresh pear pie

The history of sugar is intriguing, spanning the continents.  Here we will examine the major turning points in the background of this substance.

My mother gave her children the choice of birthday cakes.  I was hard put to choose between banana cake-see 2016/08/08-and fresh pear pie.  My soul still thrills with the beautiful taste of baked pears, rich crumb topping, and the best of pie crusts.

I am so health conscious; thus I have experimented with using sugar alternatives here.  Coconut sugar or sucanat (evaporated cane juice) can not compete with cane sugar in this receipt. Only sugar insures the right texture and flavor in pear pie.

Sugar has been around for the longest time.  Saccharum officinarum, sugar cane, originated in the South Pacific’s New Guinea and was subsequently carried by human migration into Asia.  Sometime before 500 B.C., people in India were producing raw, unrefined sugar.  1

Its first known reference was in 325 B.C., when  Alexander the Great’s admiral Nearchus wrote of reeds in India that produce “honey” without any bees.  The word sugar began to appear frequently in Indian literature around 300 B.C.  This Sanskrit word sarkara, meaning gravel or pebble, became the Arabic sukhar, which finally came to be sugar.  2

The use of Indian sugar cane spread.  Around the 6th century after Christ, it was planted in the moist terrains of the Middle East, where the Persians made sugar a prized ingredient in their cooking.  After Islamic Arabs conquered Persia in the 7th century, they took the cane to northern Africa and Syria; it eventually made its way to Spain and Sicily.  3

Sugar in Europe was barely known until around 1100, and it remained a mere luxury until the 1700’s.  The western Europeans’ first encounter with sugar was during their Crusades to the Holy Lands in the 11th century.  Shortly thereafter Venice became the hub of Arabic sugar trade for western Europe, while the first known large shipment went to England in 1319.  4

At first the western Europeans treated it like other exotic imports-e.g., pepper and ginger-strictly as medicine and flavoring: it was produced in small medicinal morsels, as well as preserved fruits and flowers.  These sweets or candy first began being made by apothecaries, or druggists, which were making “confections” to balance the body’s principles.  The word confection is taken from Latin conficere. meaning “to put together” or “to prepare”.  5

The medieval years brought sugary nonconfections to Europe, such as candied almonds, as well as the use of this substance in recipes for French and English courts.  The chefs of royalty employed sugar in sauces for fish and fowl, for candying hams, and in desserts of various fruit and cream/egg combinations.  Around 1475, the Vatican librarian Platina wrote that sugar was now being produced in Crete and Sicily, as well as India and Arabia.  Columbus carried the cane to what is now Haiti and the Dominican Republic in 1493, on his second voyage.  6

By the 18th century, whole cook books were devoted to confectionery, which had become an art no longer associated with medicine.  During this century, sugar consumption exploded in Europe, with the rise of colonial rule in the West Indies and the enslavement of millions of Africans, resulting in the sugar industry becoming the major force behind slavery in the Americas (one estimate holds that fully two-thirds of the twenty million African slaves worked on sugar plantations).  This industry saw rapid decline later in the 1700’s, with the abolition movements, especially in Britain; the other European countries followed, one by one through the mid-19th century, in outlawing slavery in the colonies.  7

Sugar, however, had now become a world staple.  Presently 80% of its production comes from sugar cane, while most of the rest is derived from sugar beets.  8

Wisdom and moderation are needed with this substance.  Today our nation consumes sugar in unhealthy amounts.  Personally I hold fast to the adage of Mary Poppin’s:  “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”  My standard is to substitute more beneficial sweeteners wherever possible.  However, there are times when only cane sugar will do.   My precious pear pie is one of them!

Enjoy this carefree, mess-free recipe.

References:

  1. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking  (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 648.
  2. James Trager, The Food Chronology  (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1995), p. 19.
  3. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking  (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 648, 649.
  4.  Ibid., pp. 648, 649.
  5. Ibid., p. 649.
  6. Ibid., pp. 649, 650.
  7. Ibid., pp. 650, 651.
  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sugarcane
Pear pie, whipped cream, and freshly ground nutmeg

pear pie, whipped cream, and freshly ground nutmeg

Pear Pie with Hot Water Pastry Crust  Yields: 1-10″pie.  Total prep time: 1 1/4 hr/  active prep time: 30 min/  baking time: 45 min.

1 1/4 c unbleached white flour  (Bob’s Red Mill is high quality.)

1 1/3  c whole wheat pastry flour  (May grind 1 c soft white winter wheat berries for 1 1/2 c total fresh ground whole wheat pastry flour, carefully measuring needed amounts.)

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

2/3 c oil  (Grapeseed or avocado oil is best, available inexpensively at Trader Joe’s and Costco.)

1/3 c boiling water.

1 c sugar  (Organic cane sugar id preferable; available in 2 lb packages at Trader’s, but more economical  in 10 lb bags at Costco)

1/3 c butter, softened

5 lg Bartlett pears, ripened  (May use Anjou pears as well, but Bartletts are best, must be ripened.)

1 c heavy whipping cream  (Lightly sweeten this with powdered sugar.)

Nutmeg  (Freshly ground is superb!)

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Blend unbleached white flour, 1 c of whole wheat pastry flour, and salt in a large bowl.
  3. Add oil and boiling water; mix lightly with a fork.
  4. Divide into two balls, one much larger than the other; cover balls with plastic wrap and place on hot stove to keep warm.  (You will need to use 3/5’s of dough for this single crust for a 10″-pie plate; may bake leftover 2/5’s of dough in strips with butter and cinnamon sugar.)
  5. Roll out the large ball of dough between 2-18″ long pieces of wax paper. Form a very large, oblong circle which reaches to the sides of the paper.
  6. Gently peel off the top sheet of wax paper; turn over and place piece of rolled dough, wax paper side up, over a 10″-pie plate. Very carefully peel off the second piece of wax paper.
  7. Patch any holes in crust by pressing warm dough together with fingers. Form rim of crust on edge of pie plate by pressing dough together gently, using excess dough from heavier areas to make up for areas where dough is sparse.
  8. Mix 1/3 c of whole wheat pastry flour and sugar in same bowl in which you made the pie crust.  Blend in butter with a fork, until mealy in texture.
  9. Sprinkle 1/3 of this mixture in bottom of unbaked pie shell.
  10. Fill crust with peeled pear halves.  Fill in spaces with smaller pieces.
  11. Evenly spread remaining flour mixture on top of pears.
  12. Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes.  Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for 30 minutes more, or until crust is golden brown.
  13. Cool, serve with whipped cream and freshly grated nutmeg.  Mouthwatering!