Tag Archives: Food History

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Happy Bastille Day! Stir up a Pot of Ratatouille

Are you wondering how to use your abundance of mid-summer tomatoes and zucchini, and celebrate Bastille Day at the same time?

One word: Ratatouille.

This tasty, colorful melange never fails to summon summer, while providing a few helpings of vegetables or a fool-proof side-dish that works with fish, chicken, lamb, noodles, and more. It works great hot or cold, and keeps well, refrigerated, for about two  weeks. Ever since I first lived on my own in college, it has been the rare period when I haven’t made some.

Food historians generally date ratatouille to 18th century France, and to the area of Provence, and the town of Nice, in particular. Its name hails from the French verb, touiller, which means “to stir, mix, or toss”.

My own ratatouille has changed a lot since the days when I cut cubes of zucchini and eggplant and set them to boil in a pot of canned tomatoes. It’s as if the recipe itself has both mellowed and allowed for more complication, just as a good pot of ingredients, over time, coalesces into an especially flavorful whole. Diehard ratatouille purists may insist on sautéing each ingredient separately, but here you get the same effect, while also saving a little time.

6 Tbsp. olive oil, or more as needed
1 onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, pressed
3 bell peppers, in assorted colors, chopped
1 large eggplant, chopped
2 medium zucchini, chopped
2 summer squash, chopped
20 or so olive halves
2 14 oz. cans tomato chunks, or equivalent fresh tomatoes
2-4 tsps. each oregano and thyme
Feta or parmesan cheese, optional

Place eggplant pieces in a baking dish.

Toss in 4 Tbsp. oil and bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until soft.

Heat remaining 2 Tbsp. oil in heavy skillet over medium high heat.

Add onions and sauté, turning occasionally, just until golden.

Add pressed garlic and sauté.

Mix in peppers, cooked eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, and olive halves.

Sauté whole for 10-15 minutes.

Add tomato chunks and spices and heat the mixture to just boiling. Reduce heat to medium and cook for another 5-10 minutes.

Serves 4-6 as a main course. The recipe can easily be halved or doubled. Serve plain, hot or cold, top with feta or a dry Italian cheese like parmesan, or spoon over pasta.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

 

Stir up (or cook down) some Colonial Apple Butter

applebutter1

In a world of wonderful jams and butters, apple butter might just be the ultimate slow food. Comprised of just a few natural ingredients, and no sugar, the best apple butter cooks most of the day over a low flame, so that the resulting mixture is wonderfully dense and has a rich, caramel-y taste. I’d been wanting to get in touch with my inner Colonial cook and make some, when a friend happened to bring over a bounty of Fuji apples from her backyard tree, and then another friend further inspired me by making amazing dried apples from her tree. (Lucky me!)

applebutter7

Apples were indeed plentiful in Colonial America. Alice Morse Earle’s book, Home Life in Colonial America, lists such dishes as apple-slump (baked apples under a cake topping), apple-crowdy (a turnover-like dessert), and something called apple-mose, along with various types of pies. The book quotes a Swedish parson writing home about the Delaware settlement in 1758:

Apple-pie is used throughout the whole year, and when fresh apples are no longer to be had, dried ones are used. It is the evening meal of children. House-pie .. is made of apples neither peeled nor freed from their cores, and its crust is not broken if a wagon wheel goes over it.

I washed the Fuji apples, appreciating their pretty shapes and colors. In Colonial country homes, it was not uncommon to hold an apple-paring, in which friends and neighbors came to help peel the crop of apples for winter’s dried apples, applesauce and apple butter. The ingredients for apple butter were put into large brass kettles, which were then hung in big, open fireplaces. The finished apple butter would be stored in barrels in the house’s basement. Quince and pear butters were made as well.

applebutter4

My apple butter is extremely easy to make, requiring only the ingredients you see above:

8 cups apples (a cup is approx. 2 small apples)

2 1/2 cups apple cider

1 Tbsp. honey

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. cloves

This recipe yields 2 jars of apple butter and can easily be doubled or tripled. I arrived at it through a combination of various vintage, Amish, and canning books, along with some trial and error.

applebutter3

1. Wash, peel and chop the apples into small pieces.

2. Place the apples into a large pot and cover with the cider.

applebutter5

3. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer.

4. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine.

applebutter6

5. Simmer on low heat, uncovered for 6 or more hours, or until the mixture cooks down to a paste. You may opt for occasional periods of slightly higher heat, if you find that your mixture remains too watery or if you want to caramelize some of the apples at the bottom of the pot.

This is the “inner Colonial” part — the long, slow cooking process and the fantastic way your house will smell and feel as you do it.

applebutter10

6. Using a wide-mouth funnel, ladle the mixture into jars that have been prepared for canning. (I boil them for 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.)

7. Seal the jars and boil them again, for 10 minutes. Let them sit for a day. (If you follow strict canning guidelines, you can store your apple butter for the future. If you do not, then you’ll want to eat the apple butter within a couple of weeks and store it in the refrigerator.) Please refer to the USDA canning guidelines, downloadable Guide 1, for more information on proper home canning.

applebutter9

Preserves and butters of all kinds make wonderful gifts and spreads, especially one like this, in which there is barely anything to get in the way of the wonderful, fresh, age-old Fall apple taste. Try apple butter on toast or crackers, with cheese, poultry, or even other fruit.

The colonial kitchen above is located at the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, VT. If you are able to get to this museum, I highly recommend it. It’s like no other — approximately 40 buildings on beautiful grounds house collections of folk art, paintings, quilts, dolls, design, and entire detailed re-creations of such staples of the past as apothecaries, blacksmiths, printing shops, train stations, one-room schoolhouses, and homes of many eras. Look for an upcoming post that details more about the one-of-a-kind Shelburne Museum.

In the meantime, enjoy your butter and fall!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

A Roundup of Halloween and Fall Fun

Everyone seems to be inspired by Fall and by Halloween, which comes at the exact height of the season. There is no shortage of wonderful blog posts and ideas about play, creativity, and celebration of this pivotal and lovely time of the year. I’ve gathered a few:

Fall’s bounty and beauty are explored by Mom in Madison

A roundup of Fall outdoor activities comes from Your Wild Child

Backyard Mama brings us ten ways to enjoy Fall

Make shrunken apple heads with Active Kids Club

Create a Sugar Sprite tradition for Halloween candy with Stephinie on Rhythm of the Home

A wonderful compendium of Halloween herb and food history and lore comes from The Herb Companion

From The Squirrelbasket: Halloween traditions, superstitions, and pumpkin carving

DIYLife weighs in on composting Fall leaves

Shivaya Mama describes experiencing peace and joy through watching children’s delight at jumping in Fall leaves

Have a glorious Halloween and Fall!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Make a Honey Spice Cake for a Sweet New Year and Fall

depotpumpkin

Honey is one of the world’s oldest foods. Ancient Egyptian tomb reliefs from as far back as the 3rd millennium B.C. show bees being smoked from their hives to produce it. Nomads and traders helped honey’s popularity spread worldwide, while it remained a prevalent sweetener in the Middle East, where it still often, and wonderfully, appears in Mediterranean, Arab and Jewish dishes.

Jews around the world traditionally celebrate their new year (which this year begins at sundown tonight) by dipping apples in honey, and by eating honey and spice cakes, the better to usher in a “sweet new year.”

And lots of people ring in Fall by making honeyed cakes of wonderful harvest ingredients like pumpkin, and warm spices like cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves.

This terrific and tasty honeyed spice cake recipe is from the San Francisco Chronicle. The resulting cake is at once dense, moist, and extremely flavorful.

Of course, you don’t need a new year or season to make this cake. Its firmness and ease of slicing makes it a natural for school lunches and after-school treats. It’s loaded with healthy ingredients and happens to taste especially good.

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman:
Pumpkin spice cake at the Mill Valley Book Depot


Happy Bastille Day: Stir up Some Ratatouille

Are you wondering how to use your abundance of mid-summer tomatoes and zucchini, and celebrate Bastille Day at the same time?

One word: Ratatouille.

200px-Ratatouille

This tasty, colorful melange never fails to summon summer, while providing a few helpings of vegetables or a fool-proof side-dish that works with fish, chicken, lamb, noodles, and more. Ever since I first lived on my own in college, it has been the rare period when I haven’t made some.

Food historians generally date ratatouille to 18th century France, and to the area of Provence, and the town of Nice, in particular. Its name hails from the French verb, touiller, which means “to stir, mix, or toss”.

My own ratatouille has changed a lot since the days when I cut cubes of zucchini and eggplant and set them to boil in a pot of canned tomatoes. It’s as if the recipe itself has both mellowed and allowed for more complication, just as a good pot of ingredients, over time, coalesces into an especially flavorful whole. Diehard ratatouille purists may insist on sautéing each ingredient separately, but here you get the same effect, while also saving a little time.

4 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, pressed
3 bell peppers, chopped (2-3 colors)
1 large eggplant, chopped
2 medium zucchini, chopped
2 summer squash, chopped
20 or so olive halves
2 14 oz. cans tomato chunks, or equivalent fresh tomatoes
2-4 tsps. each oregano and thyme
Feta or parmesan cheese, optional

Coat eggplant pieces in 2 Tbsp. oil and bake in a baking dish, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, until soft.

Heat remaining 2 Tbsp. oil in heavy skillet over medium high heat.

Add onions and sauté, turning occasionally, just until golden.

Add pressed garlic and sauté.

Mix in peppers, cooked eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, and olive halves.

Sauté whole for 10-15 minutes.

Add tomato chunks and spices to just boiling. Reduce heat to medium and cook for another 5-10 minutes.

Serves 4-6 as a main course. The recipe can easily be halved or doubled. Serve plain, hot or cold, top with feta or a dry Italian cheese like parmesan, or spoon over pasta.

Photo: wikibooks.org

A Slow Classic Reprint, first run 7/14/09

Dye Eggs like the Ancients with Plant Dyes

The ancient Romans had a saying, Omne vivum ex ovo, “All life comes from an egg.” In spring, we celebrate new birth and spiritual rebirth, much the way people have been doing for centuries — from Persia to Polynesia, India to Africa, Central Europe to Central America — and much of the ritual centers on the egg.

In a wonderful piece on spring rituals in the Huffington Post, Donna Henes writes that, in spring:

It is as if the great egg of the whole world has hatched.

The ancient Persians may have been among the first to dye their eggs, which were used in springtime festivals almost 5,000 years ago. Ukrainians and other Slavic people, in Eastern Europe, were also among some of the first ancient people to decorate eggs and use them in their sun worship and spring ceremonies.

The Ukrainians created especially elaborate designs for their eggs, which are called Pysanky.  This is a wonderful history of Pysanky, an ancient practice that lives today and influenced other cultures to decorate and give eggs — from the Medieval Europeans to the 1800s Pennsylvania Dutch, who brought egg-dyeing from Europe to the U.S. and in turn influenced druggist William Townley to create commercial egg dyes for his Paas Dye Company, which is still in business today. (The word Paas stems from Passen, the Pennsylvania Dutch word for Easter.)

Below, decorated Ukrainian Pysanky:

1880s customers clamored for William Townley’s egg-dyeing tablets, but of course the ancients used natural dyes from plants, roots, coffee and tea, and those are still wonderful and fun to use today. They also result in stunning, natural colors.

My friend Molly de Vries at The Fabric Society wrote a beautiful post about dyeing eggs using natural plant dyes. She used onion skin, turmeric, blueberries, cabbage, and grape juice. I’ve gotten nice results with beets. She includes complete and simple instructions for making your own dyes and creating festive dyed eggs. Her site is also filled with inspiration and pretty pictures about this and other projects.

The DTLK Kids site also has lots of ideas for unusual egg-dyeing projects and ways to create patterns and designs on your dyed eggs.

If you wish to take egg-dyeing to a whole other level, this is a terrific how-to site for exploring elaborate Ukrainian Pysanky designs, which are often created with layers of different colors, using small bits of candle wax where you don’t want the color to penetrate — a technique that resembles batik.

Enjoy your celebration of spring.

Dyed Egg Photos by Molly de Vries.

Ukrainian Egg Photo – Museum of the Pysanka, Kolomiya, Ukraine. Photo by Lubap.

Read Part 2: Egg Dyeing Workshop

Stir up (or Cook Down) some Colonial Apple Butter

applebutter1

In a world of wonderful jams and butters, apple butter might just be the ultimate slow food. Comprised of just a few natural ingredients, and no white sugar, the best apple butter cooks most of the day over a low flame, so that the resulting mixture is wonderfully dense and has a rich, caramel-y taste. I’d been wanting to get in touch with my inner Colonial cook and make some, when a neighbor happened to bring over a bounty of Fuji apples from her backyard tree.

applebutter7

Apples were indeed plentiful in Colonial America. Alice Morse Earle’s book, Home Life in Colonial America, lists such dishes as apple-slump (baked apples under a cake topping), apple-crowdy (a turnover-like dessert), and something called apple-mose, along with various types of pies. The book quotes a Swedish parson writing home about the Delaware settlement in 1758:

Apple-pie is used throughout the whole year, and when fresh apples are no longer to be had, dried ones are used. It is the evening meal of children. House-pie .. is made of apples neither peeled nor freed from their cores, and its crust is not broken if a wagon wheel goes over it.

applebutter2

I washed the Fuji apples, appreciating their pretty shapes and colors. In Colonial country homes, it was not uncommon to hold an apple-paring, in which friends and neighbors came to help peel the crop of apples for winter’s dried apples, applesauce and apple butter. The ingredients for apple butter were put into large brass kettles, which were then hung in big, open fireplaces. The finished apple butter would be stored in barrels in the house’s basement. Quince and pear butters were made as well.

applebutter4

My apple butter is extremely easy to make, requiring only the ingredients you see above:

8 cups apples (a cup is approx. 2 small apples)

2 1/2 cups apple cider

1 Tbsp. honey

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. cloves

This recipe yields 2 jars of apple butter and can easily be doubled or tripled. I arrived at it through a combination of various vintage, Amish, and canning books, along with some trial and error.

applebutter3

1. Wash, peel and chop the apples into small pieces.

2. Place the apples into a large pot and cover with the cider.

applebutter5

3. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer.

4. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine.

applebutter6

5. Simmer on low heat, uncovered for 6 or more hours, or until the mixture cooks down to a paste. You may opt for occasional periods of slightly higher heat, if you find that your mixture remains too watery or if you want to caramelize some of the apples at the bottom of the pot.

This is the “inner Colonial” part — the long, slow cooking process and the fantastic way your house will smell and feel as you do it.

applebutter10

6. Using a wide-mouth funnel, ladle the mixture into jars that have been prepared for canning. (I boil them for 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.)

7. Seal the jars and boil them again, for 10 minutes. Let them sit for a day. (If you follow strict canning guidelines, you can store your apple butter for the future. If you do not, then you’ll want to eat the apple butter within a couple of weeks and store it in the refrigerator.) Please refer to the USDA canning guidelines, downloadable Guide 1,  for more information on proper home canning.

applebutter9

Preserves and butters of all kinds make wonderful gifts and spreads, especially one like this, in which there is barely anything to get in the way of the wonderful, fresh, age-old  Fall apple taste. Try apple butter on toast or crackers, with cheese, poultry, or even other fruit.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Quince Dubbed “Poster Child of Slowness”

quince by 4028mdk09

Folks in various Slow Food circles are suddenly rallying around the quince, which I featured on my site just a week ago.

Possibly with us since Biblical times, the quince was traded at middle eastern crossroads before making its way around the Mediterranean and across the Atlantic to Thomas Jefferson’s garden, only to become relatively neglected in more recent eras.

That seems to have changed, as the somewhat homely fruit has recently become the improbable star of cookbooks, restaurants, and home cooks.

Ben Watson, an author and food activist with Slow Food USA, proclaimed, “The quince is the poster child of Slowness. It’s lovely and fragrant but pretty much inedible unless transformed by peeling, coring and cooking. I think it is poised for a comeback.”

Watson has been involved with Slow Food’s Ark of Taste project, which is an extremely exciting effort to catalog and promote all kinds of delicious foods that are in danger of extinction as we move toward mass production of fewer varieties of foods. I urge you to visit the Ark of Taste web site to see tantalizing photos and learn about wonderful heirloom fruits and other foods, and where to find them.

More on quince’s comeback, history and harvesting can be found in this delightful Los Angeles Times piece.

Also just in, courtesy of Food News Journal: “French foodie Stevie Parle turns to Provence for a perfect quince crumble.” This from the Guardian. (His crumble actually looks and sounds to me like a crisp, which coincidentally is my favorite dessert. I’ll have to try to make some!)

Quinces Ag Research

They Dined on Quince ..

quince by 4028mdk09

In Edward Lear’s playful love poem, The Owl and the Pussycat, the title characters “went to sea in a beautiful pea green boat”. On their wedding night, “they dined on mince and slices of quince” and, yes, ate them with a runcible spoon.

While I don’t know what Lear’s mince was (if anything), the ancient-appearing, squat-pear-shaped, crunchy and little-used quince may be one of the oldest fruits in existence. Early traders traveled from the Tigris Valley to Isfahan, in what is now Iran, for quinces, honey, saffron, apples and salt. Those foods were combined with grapes, pomegranates, cinnamon, rhubarb and figs back at the trading crossroads of Bagdad.

Of these foods, quinces are thought to be one of the most ancient — it’s possible that Eve was tempted not by an apple but by a quince. (And wouldn’t this knowledge have raised the quince’s profile?)

Quince by David W

The evocative fruit made its way to the Mediterranean and to New World, appearing in the garden at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. I’ve been only somewhat aware of quince, having had quince sorbet and quince jam (which was wonderful, something like a sweet-tart apple-pear) , but not much else. I’d noticed the beautiful, sensuous fruit stitched into Medieval tapestries in museums.

So when the folks at Food News Journal found themselves with a bounty of fresh quinces on their hands, and asked their readers for a quince recipe, I had limited experience with the fruit, but was as curious as they about what to do with it. (I was also charmed by the idea of calling for recipes rather than wasting fruit.)

Quinces Ag Research

I found quince compotes and, of course, jam, which I’d like to try, but my curiosity was especially piqued by this Quince Tarte Tatin from Epicurious, precisely because I like apple desserts so much and substituting the somewhat exotic quinces for the recipe’s traditional apples seemed interesting.

My recipe was chosen, and Shelly Peppel of Food News Journal reports that the resulting tart smelled delicious. “It had a bubbling brown crust, and the caramel was bubbling around the edges in a buttery broth that sent me straight to heaven,” she wrote.

So now I’ll have to try it. Who knows? If enough of us start cooking with quinces, we can re-popularize this historical, romantic fruit.

236809

Photos: Wikimedia 4028mdk09/Public Domain, David W./Public Domain, Ag Research/Public Domain, Brian Leatart/Bon Appétit

Make this Honey Spice Cake for a Sweet New Year and Fall

depotpumpkin

Honey is one of the world’s oldest foods. Ancient Egyptian tomb reliefs from as far back as the 3rd millennium B.C. show bees being smoked from their hives to produce it. Nomads and traders helped honey’s popularity spread worldwide, while it remained a prevalent sweetener in the Middle East, where it still often, and wonderfully, appears in Mediterranean, Arab and Jewish dishes.

Jews around the world traditionally celebrate their new year by dipping apples in honey, and by eating honey and spice cakes, the better to usher in a “sweet new year.”

And lots of people ring in the fall by making honeyed cakes of wonderful harvest ingredients like pumpkin, and warm spices like cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves.

This terrific and tasty honeyed spice cake recipe recently appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, just in time for our good friend and fabulous cook Sandy Waks to try it out for a Jewish New Year gathering last week. It was very meaningful to slow down and gather around her table, which brimmed with fresh, often biblical, foods — Sandy’s also a fantastic gardener — and warm, interesting company, and to stop and give thanks and blessings for the new year.

Of course, a year, or even a season, needn’t be starting to make this cake. I intend to make it many times this fall. Dense cakes like this one pack well for school lunches and other times, are loaded with healthy ingredients, and just taste yummy.

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman: Pumpkin spice cake at the Mill Valley Book Depot

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