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, 2017/10/30, while that of canning can be found at Bean, Corn, and Avocado Salad, 2017/10/02.)

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, 2016/08/25).

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!

Laban Bil Bayd (Lebanese eggs baked in yogurt/garlic/mint sauce)

laban bil bayd and tabbouleh

This last of my Middle Eastern receipts laban bil bayd calls for eggs, baked in a thickened yogurt, which is seasoned with mint and garlic cooked in ghee.  This delightful dish is commonly used as part of the mezze, or the first course of appetizers.

Vegetable oils are almost 100% fat, while butter is an emulsion of 80% fat, 15% water, and 5% milk solids; vegetable fats are most commonly used for sautéing, due to their high smoke points, or temperatures at which they burn.  It is misinformation that adding oil to butter raises butter’s smoke point.

The flavor of butter is important in this recipe; thus, it calls for ghee, with the smoke point of about 400 degrees F (200 C), as compared to 250 degrees F (150 C) for regular butter.

Ghee is a form of clarified butter; these two differ in that the first is heated just a little longer, browning the milk solids, thus producing a subtle nutty flavor and aroma, with great resistance to rancidity.

The most common form of clarifying butter, the one used by most restaurants, varies from the more efficient method suggested here for home use, which is actually the preparation of ghee, rather than clarified butter.

Because such large quantities of butter are clarified in commercial kitchens, it is easiest to gently heat the butter to the boiling point of water; the water then bubbles to the surface, where the foaming milk proteins form also.  The water eventually evaporates, the bubbling stops, and the froth dehydrates, leaving a skin of dry whey protein; this skin of dry milk solids is next skimmed off the top.  Finally, the pure butterfat is ladled out, to remove it from the dry casein particles, which have sunk to the bottom of the pan.

This technique, however, brings much wasted product when preparing small quantities, because this means of  separating the fat from the top and bottom milk proteins also scoops up the butterfat.  Therefore it is best to follow this quick, traditional method for making ghee, when clarifying little amounts of a pound or less of butter at home.

This takes the above process a step further, by raising the final heat and browning these sunken whey proteins, then separating them from the pure butterfat by straining.  In this way, the resultant clear fat is completely isolated by easily pouring it through a coffee filter, or layers of cheesecloth.

The word ghee in Sanskrit means “bright”.  In India, it was traditionally made from butter churned from soured, whole cow or buffalo milk, known as yogurt-like dahi; this preliminary souring improved both the quantity and flavor-quality found in this clarifying process.  Today, Indian industrial manufacturers usually start this procedure with cream; nevertheless, it is said that sweet cream produces flat-tasting butter, which affects the character of the ghee.

Ghee is prevalent both in South Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines.  My first encounters with it were in my early catering and teaching days during the 1980’s, when I was preparing East Indian foods, such as curries and dal (lentils).

Presently I like to make large batches of it, for storing in my refrigerator where it keeps for months; thus, it is readily available for frying eggs, searing meats and vegetables, making sauces-such as hollandaise-and popcorn, as well as using it as dips for lobster, crab, and artichokes.  It greatly enhances the taste of all these foods.

Note: it is especially helpful to utilize high grade butter-such as Kerry butter from Ireland-in making ghee for a hollandaise sauce or dip for shell fish, as the flavor will be better.  This is due to the higher butterfat content in European butters (82-86%), contrasted with 80-82% in that of its American counterpart.

Join me in the great discovery of cooking with ghee, by first making this simple, seemingly innocuous egg dish that surprises with it powerful pleasure!

References:

Harold McGee, On Food History (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), pp. 36, 37.

https://www.seriouseats.com/2015/08/how-to-clarify-butter.html

https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2015/08/clarified-butter-recipe.html

https://altonbrown.com/clarified-butter-and-ghee-recipes/

finished product

Laban Bil Bayd (Lebanese eggs baked in yogurt/garlic/mint sauce)  Yields 6 servings.  Total prep time: 45-60 min (the length of time depends on if you prepare ghee with recipe, or have made it ahead, or have bought a ready-made version)/  active prep time: 25-40 min/  baking time: 20 min.  Note: may make third of the recipe to serve two, using a 5-oz carton of plain Greek yogurt.

1/4 c ghee, or clarified butter  (A prepared version is available at Trader’s, or follow step 2, to quickly make your own in 15 minutes.)

2 lg cloves garlic, minced

initial foaming of butter

1/4 c fresh mint, chopped  (May substitute 2 tsp dried mint.)

2 c plain Greek yogurt  (Greek yogurt makes this recipe great; it is important that milk products are whole and organic for optimum health.)

1 lg egg white, beaten to froth

2 tsp corn starch

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

White pepper, to taste

6 eggs

  1. foam subsides, just before raising heat

    Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

  2. May use a prepared version of clarified butter (an 8-oz jar is available for $3.99 at Trader Joe’s), or make a batch of ghee by melting 1 c of high quality, unsalted butter in a small, heavy-bottom saucepan over low heat.  Raise heat to medium and cook until an even layer of white whey proteins forms on top (see photo in list of ingredients).
  3. Continue cooking until milk solids break apart, and foam subsides, about 3 minutes, temperature will be 190 degrees (see photo above).
  4. Turn heat up a little, cook until second foam rises (2-3 more minutes, or until it reaches 250 degrees), and butterfat is a golden color (see photo below).  This process may be easily done without using a thermometer.  Ghee is finished at this point; watch carefully, as the dry casein particles-settled on bottom of pan-will brown quickly.  Next, gently strain butterfat, through a coffee filter-or 6-8 layers of cheesecloth-into a heat-proof dish (see photo at very bottom).  Cool and transfer to an air-tight container, keeping out all moisture; store in refrigerator; lasts for months.
  5. ghee finished, as it foams a second time

    Chop mint-if using fresh-and garlic.

  6. Measure ghee (samneh) into a small saucepan, heat on med/low, add mint and garlic, and cook until garlic is golden brown.  Stir this frequently, watching carefully so as not to burn.  Meanwhile proceed to next step.
  7. Beat egg white until frothy (see photo below); an electric mixer hastens this process.
  8. Place yogurt in a heavy saucepan, adding salt, cornstarch, and foamy egg white, to which a final beat is given (if making a smaller recipe of only two servings, be sure to use just one third of whites).  CAREFULLY STIR IN THE SAME DIRECTION, until thoroughly combined.
  9. egg whites beaten to froth

    Continuing to stir in the same direction, cook over medium heat until it starts to boil.  Lower heat and simmer gently until thick, about 3 minutes.  Greek yogurt thickens more quickly than regular yogurt; if making a smaller portion, this will thicken very fast!

  10. Pour hot yogurt in an oven-proof dish (or evenly divide into

    separating milk solids from ghee through a coffee filter

    individual oven-proof bowls).  Spread out to completely cover the bottom of dish.  Break eggs on top of this mixture, spacing them evenly if using a larger dish.  Pour flavored ghee over eggs.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, until eggs are hard (see photo of finished product at top of recipe).  Serve immediately for an incredible palate-pleasing experience!

Tabbouleh (Lebanese parsley and burghul salad)

tabbouleh

Tabbouleh is the second in this series of three recipes, coming from my 1980’s cooking class on Middle Eastern cuisine.  Our 21st century food processor affords an easy preparation of this healthy, traditional taste-treat, a recurrent dish in my kitchen.

For all 32 years I have lived in Oregon, I have been indulging in this treasured salad at the Mediterranean establishment Nicholas’, one of my favorite Portland restaurants.  Presently it has three locations in our metropolitan area, with my current choice being the upscale version on N.E. Broadway, with its comfortable decor.

Nicholas’ original place on Grand Ave-Portland’s first Middle Eastern restaurant-was, however, a mere hole in the wall until the late-nineties when it was first remodeled.  The owners opened its two other locations in 2003 and 2010, with the exact same menus and prices, but with much more modern, “posh” environments.

When I started going to the original eatery on Grand, before its remodel, I would be instantly transplanted back to the romance of the small cafes I knew in impoverished Peru-there I had the opportunity to study Peruvian food for three weeks in 1985 to augment my food history business (see Bolitos de Chocolat y Coco, 2016/11/28).  Even though I like more comfort now, it was actually this original Nicholas’ restaurant on Grand that thrilled my heart the most, with its quaint poverty contrasted by incredible food-oh the glorious, abundant food!

Back then, with pride in my city, I always took my out-of-town visitors to my three favorite restaurants: Bread and Ink, The Original Pancake House (listed as one of James Beard’s top ten in the nation in the 70’s), and finally Nicolas’-all of these have been serving great food since my 1986 arrival.  Hands down, my guests always proclaimed the exquisite, poorer Nicholas’ as by far the best.

In those early days, our order always remained the same: humus, tabbouleh, and falafels, all of which came with their ever-present, gigantic, hot-from-the-oven pita bread, crowding the entire center of the table.  Though only consisting of three individual servings, this elegant, vegetarian repast was so abundant that if there were less than four of us, we took leftovers home-all for a pittance.  My guests marveled at the quality of both the food and experience, for it was definitely like being transported to a Third World country.

Age has mellowed me some, for today I love to frequent the more dignified Nicolas’ on N.E. Broadway.  Still wowing my guests with its exceptional food, I now order their incredible chicken kabobs, humus, and tabbouleth, of course, while ending with their exceptional baklava.  This amply pleases my friend’s great expectations, which I have encouraged, for there is great romance here-though perhaps not as pronounced as that of their captivating 1980’s café.

Tabbouleh is mostly widely known as a Lebanese recipe, though it is popular throughout the Levant, the large area east of the Mediterranean Sea, including such countries as Lebanon, Syria, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, present-day Israel, etc.  The Levantine Arabic word tabbule is derived from tabil, which means “seasoning”; its literal translation is “dip”.  This salad is traditionally a part of the mezze, or first course of appetizers; it originated in the mountains of Lebanon and Syria, where they have favored qadb, or edible herbs, in their diet since the Middle Ages.

One of tabbouleh’s main ingredients is burghul, or bulgur, an ancient preparation of wheat-usually durum; it is made by partially cooking wheat berries, then drying them, producing a glassy hard interior.  Next, they are moistened again to toughen the outer bran area; then, ground into large chunks, removing the bran and germ in the process, while leaving the endosperm.   These pieces are then sifted and classified according to grade.  Coarse burghul (to 3.5 mm across) is commonly used in pilafs and salads, while a fine burghul (o.5 mm) is utilized in making sweets, such as puddings.  This particular wheat product is most prevalent in the Middle East and North Africa.  It has both long-shelf life and a quick-cooking features, thus making it is an ideal, basic ingredient for this time-tested salad.

References:

https://www.britannica.com/topic/bulgur

http://cobornsdeliversblog.com/2015/02/03/demystifying-ancient-grains-bulgur/

Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 468.

finished product

Tabbouleh (Lebanese burghul and parsley salad)  Yields: 6 servings.  Total prep time: 35 min plus 1 hr for chilling.

3/4 c burghul, bulgur wheat  (Available in bulk at our local Winco, or organic burghul may be found at the national upscale New Season’s.)

2 c chopped curly parsley, 1 lg bunch  (Organic is best, which is only slightly more expensive.)

1 bunch green onions, chopped

2 firm, ripe med tomatoes  (May use organic Roma tomatoes, which are relatively inexpensive.)

Scant 1/4 c fresh lemon juice  (2 small lemons needed.)

1/4 c olive oil  (Avocado oil will also work; good olive oil, however, is more flavorful and really healthy when not heated to high temperatures, which makes it carcinogenic.)

1/4 c fresh mint, chopped  (May substitute 2 tsp dried mint, or to taste.)

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

1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper, or to taste

  1. juicing lemons the easy way

    Boil 1 1/2 c water, stir in burghul, set aside to cool.

  2. Clean parsley, onions, and tomatoes with an inexpensive, safe, effective vegetable spray (combine 97% distilled white vinegar with 3% hydrogen peroxide).  Let sit for 3 minutes; then, rinse well in a sink full of water three times.
  3. Juice lemons, by first rolling them on counter, pressing down hard with hand, to loosen meat; extract juices; set aside. (See above photo of easy hand-held juicer, available at our local Bob’s Red Mill.)
  4. Break stems off parsley and place in a food processor.  Chop small, by repeatedly pressing the pulse button-this may also be done with a knife, which is more laborious.  Place in a large bowl.
  5. Chop green onions (may include the green part, in addition); add to bowl.
  6. For ease in slicing, cut tomatoes with the skin side down (see photo below).  Mix in with parsley and onions.
  7. chopping tomatoes so to conserve juices

    Place lemon juice in a glass 1-c measuring cup (should be a scant 1/4 c); fill the rest with olive oil to measure 1/2 c.  Add mint, salt, and pepper; beat well with a fork.

  8. Drain burghul when cool, add to vegetables, pour beaten dressing over top, and blend well.  Chill for 1 hour before serving (see photo of finished product at top of recipe).  This is so healthy and good!

Munazalla (a Syrian lamb, eggplant, and tomato dish)

munazalla

This prized dish came to me in the early 1980’s, during my initial catering days in Billings, Montana; there I taught this recipe, the first in this series, in one of my cooking classes, as part of a complete Middle Eastern dinner.  It still graces my table today, especially when I am trying to impress guests, as it is par excellence.

Its origin is Syrian; thus, recently I was excited about serving it to company, with an Assyrian heritage, not understanding that these are two very different cultures. Research proved their distinct differences: Syria, officially known as the Syrian Arab Republic, is a nation in southwestern Asia, on the eastern Mediterranean coast, with the capital of Damascus.  This delicious dish is from that republic, birthed in 1946, which was originally part of an ancient country, by that name, of western Asia that also included Lebanon and the Palestinian region.

On the other hand, Semitic Assyria was an ancient empire, which was by far larger than the early country of Syria.  This was considered to be the greatest of the Mesopotamian empires, which had its start at the beginning of creation, as accounted for in the second chapter of Genesis.

This Syrian lamb, eggplant, and tomato recipe, calls for well-known cilantro, which is the leaf of the plant Coriandrum sativum, while the spice coriander is its seed.  Cilantro, sometimes botanically referred to as coriander, is said to be the most widely consumed fresh herb worldwide. As a native to the Middle East, its seed was found in the tomb of King Tut (I got to see the tour of these ancient Egyptian remains in Seattle in the mid 1970’s).

Early on, this plant was taken to China, India, and Southeast Asia, and later to Latin America, being highly favored in all these regions.  In the New World, cilantro replaced culantro, Eryngium, its relative with a similar taste which is indigenous to Central and South America.  The latter has larger, thicker, tougher leaves, than those of the cilantro plant, with its rounded, notched, tender greenery; nevertheless, the flavor in both is almost the same.  Culantro, or saw-leaf herb, is still used in the Caribbean, but is most commonly found in Asian cuisine, especially that of Vietnam.

Coriander leaf, cilantro, is sometimes described as having a soapy aroma; for this reason, it is not very popular in traditional European cooking.  The main component of the aroma is a fatty alehyde, decenal, which is very reactive; thus, this herb quickly looses this sense-element when heated.  As a result, it is used most predominantly in uncooked preparations, or as a garnish.

This low-cholesterol herb, which is a good source of dietary fiber, has a practically non-existent caloric value, and it is high in minerals (including potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, and magnesium) and vitamins (such as A, C, K, E, and B vitamins).  Its health benefits are highly acclaimed by experts.  Among many health-promoting characteristics, it is said to: rid the body of heavy metals, lower bad-while increasing good-cholesterol, help reduce swelling caused by arthritis and rheumatic diseases, lower blood sugar levels, and provide antioxidant, antiseptic, disinfectant, and antibacterial properties.

As with traditional Europeans, this leaf’s pungency is offensive to me; thus, for flavoring in our munazalla, I give the option of substituting ground coriander seed, with its simultaneous flowery and lemony tastes.  Who knows?  This superb receipt may even excel more with fresh cilantro, for those who love it.

References:

The Holy Bible, KJV, Genesis 2:14.

Harold McGee, pp. 390, 407, 408.

https://draxe.com/cilantro-benefits/

https://articles.mercola.com/herbs-spices/cilantro.aspx

Munazzala (a Syrian lamb, eggplant, and tomato dish)  Yields: 5-6 servings.  Total prep time: 2 1/3 hr/  active prep time: 1 hour/  inactive cooking time: 1 1/3 hr.

10 large minced garlic cloves, or the equivalent

1 lb ground lamb  (Our local Grocer Outlet generally has a great deal on lamb.)

1/4 tsp allspice

1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper

1 1/4 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink or Real Salt is important for optimum health; an inexpensive fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco.)

2 tbsp oil  (Coconut or avocado oil is best, as olive oil is carcinogenic when heated to high temperatures.)

1 lg onion, chopped

2 lb eggplant

4 med tomatoes

1/3 c cilantro, chopped  (May substitute 1 1/2 tsp ground coriander, or to taste.)

  1. forming meatballs

    Spray vegetables with an inexpensive, safe, effective vegetable spray (combine 97% distilled white vinegar with 3 % hydrogen peroxide).  Leave spray on for 3 minutes; then, rinse well.

  2. Mince garlic cloves by hand, or in a food processor; set aside.
  3. Using your hand, combine: lamb, 1/4 of minced garlic, allspice, pepper, and 3/4 tsp salt in a bowl; form meatballs the size of cherry tomatoes (see above photo).
  4. Over medium heat, fry meatballs in 1 tbsp hot oil, stirring with spatula until they stiffen.  Add chopped onion and cook until golden brown; drain fat and set aside (see photo).  Deglaze pan with small amount of water, scraping fond, or

    cooked meatballs and onions

    cooked-on juices, off bottom of hot pan with a spatula.  Set aside.

  5. Chop eggplant in small cubes (see photo below).  Heat remaining tbsp of oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat.  When a small piece of eggplant sizzles in oil, mix in remaining eggplant; add 1/4 c water, cover, and cook until pieces begin to soften, stirring occasionally.  Be sure to cover pan.
  6. Cut tomatoes in small chunks, chop cilantro-dried coriander may be substituted.
  7. chopping eggplant

    Mix meat, remaining garlic, tomatoes, cilantro, and 1/2 tsp salt into partially cooked eggplant.  Cover, reduce heat to med/low, and cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.  (After cooking for 1 hour, if preparing for company, you may wish to set this mixture aside, before the final 15-20 minutes of cooking).

  8. Raise heat to medium, adjust seasonings, and cook uncovered for 15-20 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed, stirring frequently.  (See photo of finished product at top of recipe.)
  9. Serve with pleasure!

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!