Archive for the 'fruit' Category

Etsy Kitchen Histories: The Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich

pbj2An original recipe PB & J, made with crab apple jelly.

I love uncovering the origins of our everyday American favorites. Over on the Etsy blog this month, I trace the history of the PB&J, and cook up the original recipe.

The original peanut butter was more like the fresh ground stuff you can get at specialty stores today: thick, sometimes salty, but seldom sweet. It was used in savory combinations as commonly as sweet: with pimentos or watercress in fancy New York City tea rooms, or blended with sweetened condensed milk for better spreadability in the home. The peanut butter and hot sauce sandwich was popular through World War II (it’s making a comeback using Sriracha).

Read more here!

The History Dish: Pear Ice

Three frozen baby food blobs of pear ice.

If you love eating things that are slimy and gross, you’ll love Pear Ice.

This recipe is the last in the triumvirate of pear creations selected on We Dig Plants.  This one was my pick; I loved it because it was so simple.  From Buckeye Cookery, published in 1877, the recipe read: “Grate, sweeten and freeze well flavored apples, pears, peaches or quinces.”  Easy.  And it sounds like a wonderful way to enjoy pure pear taste.

But at the same time, it doesn’t make sense that I picked this recipe.  I hate grating.  I hate trying to hold on to slippery things while grating them.  I hate trying to grate that last tiny nub and grating bits of my finger in the process.  Grating is tedious and boring and I hate it.

I pared and cored good-sized bartlett pears and grated them.  It gave me about two cups of baby food-esque pear squish.  To that, I added 1/2 cup of white sugar, which ended up being a little sweet.  1/4 cup is advisable.  Then I threw the goop into my ice cream maker and let it do its thing.

It was frozen in less than 30 minutes and I dipped my spoon in to get a taste.  The flavor was good, sweet and peary. But the texture was appalling.  Simultaneously slimy and gritty, I make a “blech” face every time I swallowed a spoonful.

My roommate/guinea pig Jeff didn’t mind it; in fact, he liked it and ate a whole bowl.  Go figure.  Perhaps it’s a better recipe for apples or peaches.

The History Dish: Buttermilk Soup or “Pop”

Baked pears, thickened buttermilk, and fried bread.

On Sunday, I appeared on the Heritage Radio Network, chatting with Carmen Devito & Alice Marcus Krieg of We Dig Plants. We talked all about PEARS!  If you haven’t heard the show yet, go here and listen for free.   I dug up some pear recipes from the annals of history with the idea that we would pick one to try.  Well, we had a difficult time agreeing, so this week I’m going to cook up three very different 19th century pear recipes.

The first was Alice’s pick:  Buttermilk soup or “Pop.”   This recipe is odd. I’ve never seen a precedent for it: buttermilk is heated, mixed with pears, and poured over fried bread.  Check it out:

I needed some buttermilk education, so I naturally turned to that font of knowledge, Wikipedia.  I knew buttermilk as the bi-product of butter making: when cream is churned, the result is a solid (butter) and a liquid (buttermilk).  I knew that before seperation, fresh milk was often set in a cellar to seperate into milk and cream; what I didn’t realize is that this milk would also ferment because of naturally occuring bacteria.  This fermentation is what gives buttermilk its sour taste, although in modern production facilities we artificially inseminate pastuerized milk with a squirt of lactic acid bacteria.

Although the recipe doesn’t explicitly say to make a roux, I think it implies it.  The roux will thicken the buttermilk.

Buttermilk Soup or Pop

From Practical Sanitary and Economic Cooking by Mary Hinman Abel, 1890.

2 cups buttermilk
1 tablespoon flour
2 tablespoon butter
pinch salt
2 large pears (I used Bosc)
1/4 cup sugar (brown sugar would be good; maple syrup if you’re feeling adventurous)
1/2 tsp cinnamon (or spice of your choice)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Pare, core, and dice pears, then arrange in a baking tray (cake pan, etc).  Sprinkle with sugar and spice.  Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until tender.

2. In a large saucepan over a medium-low heat, heat 1 tablespoon of butter and the flour to make a roux.  Cook until flour begins to brown.  Add buttermilk and salt, turn heat to medium-high.  Bring to a boil while stirring constantly, then turn heat off.  Add baked pears to buttermilk mix, stir to combine.

3.  Melt remaining butter in a small skillet and fry two slices of bread.  Remove to a plate and top with pear/buttermilk mixture.


The original author of the recipe warns that cooking buttermilk “brings out the acid,” but I found the taste of the finished product to be surprisingly mild, either as a result of being cut by the fat of the butter or the sweetness of the pears.  And frankly, I was skeptical of this recipe, and it was not my first pick to make.  But I was delightfully wrong: this is the perfect snack.  It’s like a delicious warm yogurt treat (tastes better than it sounds): the dairy was filling, the pears sweet, and when poured over hot, buttery bread, it’s just the right amount of food.  Highly recommended, four stars, etc. etc.  Try it.

On a completely  unrelated note, I wrote this post jamming to my friend Gregg Gillis’ (Girl Talk) new album All Day, available for download for FREE.  It is really, REALLY good.

Cocktail Hour: Cherry Bounce

My dear friend Eva has always wanted to taste Cherry Bounce, an infusion of dark, ripe cherries in bourbon.  Well Eva: this post is for you.

I had to commission my friend Mike in Cleveland to make the Bounce.  It involved fermeting things in jugs in dark cool places for months at a time. I live in a Tenement with two roommates. It’s not the ideal brewing environment.  Mike has a normal person house and is also an avid brewer.

Below is Mike’s account of Bounce creation; it will take about 3 months to infuse, so we’ll do a tasting around Christmastime.  The results will be a mystery until then!

Cherry Bounce

Adapted by Mike from Directions for Cookery By Eliza Leslie
Philadelphia: E.L. Carey & Hart, 1840.

  • 1 lb of Sweet Cherries (I used Bing)
  • 1 lb of Sour Cherries (I grabbed what they had, Pie cherries don’t come so easy to the local mega mart)
  • ½ lb of Brown Sugar (It’s closer to the old refined sugar than white sugar, and I like molasses)
  • 1.135 L of Bourbon Whisky (I had a 750 bottle of Wild Turkey 101, we needed to add 385 mL of filtered Cleveland tap water to make volume.)

I weighed out the cherries with my digital scale; hand pitted them and crushed them into the jar one by one. My mortar and pestle was far too small for all those pits, so I put them in a sandwich bag and used my meat tenderizer to crack them open (Pro tip: If you pit and crush cherries by hand, don’t wear a white shirt and use an apron). I got about 70% of them well shattered and the rest should at least be cracked.

Cracking the pits.

I added 385ml of water from a filtered tap source.

I next weighed out 8 oz. of brown sugar and mixed it with the cherries.

I added the bottle of Wild Turkey, sealed the lid, and wiped down the outside of the jar.

The jar sits in my basement near my lagering fridge and will be agitated daily throughout August.

I expect to yield approximately 2 pints at 70° proof.


Do you have a challenge for the blog?  A recipe you’ve always been curious about? A food you want to subject me to? A mystery to solve? Leave your requests in the comments on this post!

History Dish Mondays: Strawberry Cakes

The possible origin point of the strawberry shortcake.

I work on Saturdays and my morning path to mass transit takes me past the Roosevelt Island Greenmarket.  It’s run by a friendly Mennonite family, which is a sight for sore eyes for this Midwestern girl.  And it’s always stocked with the freshest, most delicious produce I have ever had.

Recently, the pints of bright red, sunshine-grown strawberries have been screaming at me to take them home.  So I handed over my dollars and bought them – because I wanted to try this recipe for Strawberry Cakes.

This recipe comes from Eliza Leslie’s 1847 cookbook The Lady’s Receipt Book.  It’s the oldest recipe I’ve found that resembles modern day strawberry shortcake: biscuits layered with mashed strawberries and topped with frosting.

This recipe contains some lovely bits of prose:  “Rub with your hands the butter into the flour, til the whole is crumbled fine…Knead the dough til it quits your hands, and leaves them clean.”  It’s a beautifully written recipe, although the paragraph form renders it a bit impractical.

I was intrigued by how this recipe treated the fresh strawberries: “Have ready a sufficient qauntity of ripe strawberries, mashed and made very sweet with powdered white sugar…the strawberries, not being cooked, will retain all their natural flavor.”

Cutting out the biscuits/cookies.

When I prepped the dough, it came together very quickly; it was easy and kinda fun. But I did notice that there was no leavining in the recipe: no baking power or yeast to make it rise!  After I cut the biscuits and baked them, they came out of the oven looking very much as they had gone in: flat. I was worried they would be too dense and the berry sandwich would not work at all.  I thought that if you tried to take a bite, the berries would moosh out all over.

But here’s where I was surprised:  instead of being rock hard, the biscuits were buttery and crumbly.  Both in taste and texture, they resembled short bread cookies; which makes a lot of sense of of the name “strawberry short cake.”  It’s interesting that we’ve replaced these buttery disks with pound cake, angel food cakes, or a fluffy biscuit.

The cookie crumbled and mixed with the berries and frosting.  I ate my short cake sandwich moments after spreading it with strawberries and frosting it.  I was worried that the strawberry juice would make the cookies mushy and gross.  I was wrong again: when berries soak into the shortbread rounds, it makes for an even happier marriage of fruit and cake.  Try for yourself:

Strawberry Cakes

From The Lady’s Receipt Book by Eliza Leslie Philadelphia: Carey And Hart, 1847.

4 Cups Flour
4 Sticks Butter
2 Large Eggs (or 3 Medium Eggs)
3 Tablespoons White Sugar
Super Fine Sugar (to taste)
1 Pint Strawberries

1. Preheat over to 450 degrees.  Rub butter into the flour with your hands, much as you would when making pie crust, until it crumbles.

2. Beat egg until light in color, then whisk in sugar.

3.  Add egg to butter and flour, and knead with your hands in the bowl.  When the dough forms a ball, remove from bowl and place on a floured surface.  Continue kneading until dough is springy and keeps its shape.  If dough is too dry and crumbly, add a little cold water.

4. Roll out dough on a floured surface into a “rather thick sheet.” I rolled mine about 1/2 inch thick.  Cut with a tumbler or a biscuit cutter dipped in flour.  Place on a butterd, non-stick, or parchment lined baking sheet.

5. Bake for 20 minutes, until golden brown.

6. In the meantime, sort out a few lovely strawberries to adorn the top of the cakes.  Mash the remaining strawberries with super fine sugar to taste.  The amount will very depending on the sweetness of the berries.  I used about a 1/4 cup of sugar.

7. When the shortcakes are cool, split them (I did not do this step, I just made cookie sandwiches) and spread the center with mashed strawberries.  Spread the top and sides with a royal icing. Adorn with a whole, ripe strawberry.

The Gallery: What if Your Fruit Was Large and Terrifying

Eva has provided me with further evidence that Victorians had too much time on their hands.  She directed me towards this book: Fruit Figures, and How to Make Them.

The first is a giant, disembodied hand, made up to resemble an old woman.

However, these images do seem to be the inspiration for some contemporary artists.

History Dish Mondays: Peach Brandy

I have long dreamed of making peach brandy from scratch, a key component of my favorite summer-time drink: The Mint Julep. Too long have I made-do with “Mr. Boston.” The time is right for plump, ripe peaches, so I am seizing the day and attempting to infuse my own peach brandy.

I consulted Jerry Thomas for guidance:

I took two large, very ripe peaches, and smushed them up good, skins and all , with the bottom of a rocks glass. I spooned them into a mason jar, and then filled the jar with brandy to the top. I mixed it around a little bit to ensure a happy marriage of brandy and peach. Thomas recommends letting the mixture macerate for 24 hours, which means in the future this mixture could be made on relatively short notice. However, I’m going to Alaska tomorrow morning for two weeks. How could letting it sit a little longer possibly hurt? It could only improve the flavor, right??

So I’ve just covered the jar, and pushed it to the back of the fridge. See you in two weeks, Peach Brandy! When I return, I will strain the liquid, and mix some cocktails.

A Proliferation of Jellies

I’ve been recently inundated with Jelly.
My mom gave a sampler set of jellies from the historic Knott’s Berry Farm, which has been famous for their jellies since the 1920s and is now some sort of Cedar Point-style amusement park…it’s all very confusing and odd.
So far, I’ve had the apple cinnamon and the strawberry; both were excellent.
My friend Mark, who has shared my recent interest in foraging, harvested mulberries off a tree in his yard. On the occasion of my last visit, he presented me with a jar of mulberry jam.
My friend Ryan just returned from a two-month bike trip around Finland. Before he left, I asked him to bring me back something typically Finnish. He gifted me this package of jelly, made from some mysterious albino berry.

I’m not quite sure what to do with them all, except maybe have a toast party.

History Dish Mondays: Little Citron Puddings

I did more research on the uses of American citron (see my previous post), and discovered it tended to be used in the same way as many candied fruits: in cakes (particular wedding cakes) and cookies. I came across the recipe for Little Citron Puddings, which seemed unique but not out of the ordinary, and relatively simple to make. I decided to give it a whirl.

The next day, I took a teacup of custard out of the fridge and gave it a taste. At first, I thought the citron didn’t offer any flavor except gelatinous and sweet. But after trying a few bites of custard sans citron, I realized it really did add some depth of flavor that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The custard was a good consistency, the nutmeg delightful, and the tea-cup container pleasing and convenient. However, it just wasn’t really…good. It lacked a certain something, and the texture of the citron was a tinch repulsive.
I’m thinking that American citron is one of those Victorian dishes I just can’t get behind. But I’d be curious to try the same methods with a real citron, to see if it’s more flavorful.

History Dish Mondays: American Citron

A sweet preparation of American citron.

There’s a recipe I come across again and again in 19th century cookbooks: Citron, or American Citron. The earliest recipe appears in the first American cookbook, American Cookery by Amelia Simmons:

Citron, I’ve discovered, is a cirrus fruit native to southern Asia. The pulp is inedible; instead, the rind is cut up and preserved. I supposed it was generally unavailable in early America, so watermelon rind was used as a substitute.
I found a few recipe in later 19th c cookbook that suggest brining citron, like a pickle. So I decided to make two batches, a sweet preparation and a savory.
American Citron (sweet)
From American Cookery (1796) by Amelia Simmons.
1 quarter watermelon, fruit and skin removed, sliced into 1 inch chunks
1/2 cup sugar.
Place watermelon rind slices and sugar into a pot, cover with water, and bring to a slow boil. Boil for about two hours, or until tender. Pour into a canning jar and seal, cool in refrigerator for at least two hours.
American Citron (savory)
Based on a recipe from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp celery seed
1/4 tsp mace
Bring ingredients to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Arrange rind slices in a jar. Pour hot brine into a jar until rind is completely covered and seal jar. Refrigerate until cool, about two hours (or up to 1 week).

For canning, I used an old spaghetti sauce jar and a canning jar that some face cream came in (I washed it). When I opened up the jars the next day, I was surprised to find that the steam had created a tight seal on both jars, including resealing the spaghetti sauce jar. I’ve never canned before, so these things amaze me. I sampled both citron preparations: the preserved citron was soft and almost completely transparent. It tasted like sugar melon and feet. The pickled citron was crunchier, but also a little slimy. I remembered reading some 19th c recipes that warned against the slime, and recommended soaking it in a brine, rinsing it, and brining it again to get rid of it. My bad.

The odd part about citron is that there are many more recipes for preserving it than how to eat it, or what to eat it with. Now that I’ve successfully made citron, I have to figure out what the hell to do with it.

American citron, brined.