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.
Everything Mom put her hand to, however, she mastered, for she knew the importance of “pressing-in” ardently-a trait I learned first-hand. This included cooking in which she particularly excelled. I grew up amidst the flurry of her entertaining many guests with gourmet foods. She was always baking Irish oatmeal bread to go with her many feasts, often with foreign themes; this at a time when America was eating Spam, jello, canned vegetables, and the perpetual, “miraculous” Crisco. (The history of shortening is in 1880’s Ozark Honey-Oatmeal Cookies, while that of canning can be found at Bean, Corn, and Avocado Salad.)
On the other hand, my grandparents, on my father’s side, lived in a small house just behind our home, allowing for their constant, close presence. Grandma was a fantastic cook, accomplishing all by a sense of feel, with no recipes needed-a handful of this, a pinch of that. Nevertheless as with Mom’s maternal experience, Dad didn’t learn his methods from her, but rather his schooling was provided by a gigantic industrial cook book, brought to our restaurant by a traveling salesman in the early 1960’s (see Buzz’ Blue Cheese Dressing).
These heart-imprints, established as a result of my father’s disciplined efforts, literally soar when I presently encounter light buttermilk pancakes, exceptional potato salad, or a good doughnut, for these were institutions in his establishment; thus, such soul foods provide me with a quick transport back to the mid-twentieth century.
For me these Mexican-inspired Josephines carry this same weight, with recollections from Mom’s culinary domain. Hors d’ouvres were always a part of her feasts; this being one of our favorites.
As mentioned, 1960’s cooking employed lots of canned foods, with this recipe being no exception, as it calls for canned green chillies; originally this vegetable made its way from America to Europe, and beyond, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
Chilli peppers were first introduced in India by the Portuguese, where they added heat to curries. Curry is actually an English name, derived from the Tamil word kari, meaning “sauce”; thus, our English word indicates the basic Indian method of preparing food, utilizing their ever-present sauces.
Red and green chilies have long been present in both Hindu Indian and Muslim Pakistani cuisines. These social groups existed together in Kashmir for most of the 400 years prior to the 1947 formation of Muslim Pakistan; here both cultures relied on the basic dish of rice and either kohlrabi or a vegetable similar to our spring greens, which was flavored with red and green chilies. The Muslims enhanced this with garlic, while the Hindus added hing (asafoetidfa), distinguishing the two styles of preparing this food. A more marked difference in their diets, however, resided in the ratio of meat to vegetables, with Hindus eating far more vegetables than meat, while Muslims did the opposite.
This American receipt calls for chillies, long present in world cookery; not being fresh, these reflect the popularity of canned goods in the 20th century. Enjoy the ease of this hors d’ouvres with its great taste. Note: my niece Cammie retains our family’s fond memory, by creatively using goat cheese and gluten-free bread here, to meet her dietary needs. One way or the other, you will never forget this taste-treat!
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.
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
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.)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Grate cheese by hand, or with grating attachment for food processor (see photo above).
- Mix cheese and mayonnaise in a bowl; may store this in refrigerator in a sterile container for months.
- Add drained chillies, Tabasco, and salt to cheese mixture; set aside.
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).
- Bake in hot oven for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown (see photo at top of recipe).
- Cool slightly, cut, and serve. These are dynamite!