9 posts tagged recipes
Liz made some cookies with Martha. In case you missed it!
A guest post from ManHappenings!
I remember thinking it was a joke. You expect me to eat THAT? Something that color? That thick? That’s not soup, right Mom? It’s gravy…gotta be gravy. Right…?
But it was soup. And I would soon be enlightened to the fact that it was, indeed, the best soup.
A soup that I would come to yearn for in the cold months of every new year. A soup that I would pray for after the Easter ham was picked clean. A soup that I would freeze and eat sparingly so as to let it last.
A soup that immediately transported me back to my childhood—to that first leap of faith that I took in my mother’s kitchen. The first of many. To that initial blossoming of my taste buds, which lead to my ever insatiable and always adventurous appetite.
A soup that I now make, simply, miles from home, out of the wide and rustic country hearth and on the tiny stovetop of my Manhattan kitchenette.
That color. That thick. Just right. My mother’s split-pea soup.
1 bag split peas
8 cups chicken broth
1 onion, chopped
4 carrots, chopped
1 tsp thyme
1 T garlic powder
chopped ham or chicken (optional)
A guest post from Mara Conrad Tippett!
Some of my fondest childhood memories are of the clamming adventures my sister and I had with my grandfather, Reginald Conrad. He’d take us out on his boat to explore the harbors near his home in East Hampton: Napeague, Accabonac, and Three Mile. Upon returning with bushels of clams, my grandmother would get to work making clam pies. My great-grandmother’s recipe for clam pie is published in “A Full Century of Tip of the Island Cooking Wisdom 1896-1996” compiled by the Ladies Village Improvement Society of East Hampton, NY.
Clam Pie—Open hard clams to make 1 pt., drain clams and chop fine with 1 onion, put over fire and scald in clam juice with 1 pint of milk added; add 1 tblsp. sugar, 1 tblsp. flour with a little water, 6 milk crackers, crumbled. Make a rich pie crust and line pie plate; over the bottom sprinkle 1 tblsp. minute tapioca, fill with clam mixture and top with crust. Bake in 400 degree oven. Serve very hot.
—Mrs. William Conrad
(Mrs. Conrad’s clam pies are famous. One customer orders 20 at a time when leaving in the fall. She puts them down in the deep freeze for the winter.)
No one in the family seems to know how Margaret Yardley ended up on the pages of the Wilmington Sunday Star, but my guess is it wasn’t by accident. Grandma Sue has always made it very clear that Mrs. Potter was a forceful, sometimes intimidating woman. The two of them worked together at the Dorothy Bullitt dress shop on Ardmore Avenue in Chestnut Hill. It was an exclusive retailer for women of means, which Suzanne Simonin and Mrs. Potter had both once been. Grandma Sue, just eighteen but infectiously charming and self-possessed, was a good catch for any young man, despite her reduced circumstances. She had a good pedigree, but I suspect more importantly for Mrs. Potter, the makings of a good daughter-in-law. She was vivacious, attractive, and most of all, she was game. One weekend, Mrs. Potter invited Suzanne to accompany the family on a trip to Atlantic City. Suzanne, unaccustomed to the heavy drinking that the Potters introduced her to, took ill on the drive home and threw up in her hat. Mrs. Potter was wise enough to know that the Simonins would not thank the Potters for intoxicating their daughter to the point of regurgitation, so she telephoned the Simonins and informed them that Suzanne had taken ill and would be spending the night at the Potter domicile. The next morning, Mrs. Potter nursed a future Mrs. Potter’s first hangover with a homemade elixir and the mutual understanding that she was now part of the family. This is a long-winded way of explaining that Gima was a woman who generally got what she wanted, be it my grandmother for her son or a newspaper gig.
Cookbooks and women’s magazines were one of the few outlets of an aspiring female writer of the time, and Gima did her due diligence in the attempt to be recognized for her work. I imagine that a combination of gracious dinner parties and dogged legwork led to Gima’s winning a spot in the Wilmington Sunday Star’s new and improved women’s section. She makes her first appearance in the November 19, 1950 edition, with a letter about herself and her first episode of “Potter’s Kitchen.” She wrote two features almost every Sunday until the paper folded in 1954. There was some version of “Potter’s Kitchen”—sometimes you were “In Mrs. Potter’s Kitchen”—and “What’s Cooking in Delaware: Favorite Recipes from the First State” every Sunday. For the latter, Gima would convince a local housewife to allow her and a photographer to come in and observe while she made whatever delectable she was known for, be it the barbecued chicken of Mrs. John Brentlinger, of 5 Cragmere Road, or Mrs. Edwin Nielan’s guacamole.
Thanks to funding from Elizabeth Gilbert, the scrapbook has been digitized in its entirety. As time and intern labor law allows, we’ll make excerpts available to you here, dear readers.
I approached the dessert section of At Home on the Range trepidatiously. The last time I’d really looked at Gima’s cookbook was as a teenager, when I was much more ambitious in the dessert department. It was the 80s, and death by chocolate was all the rage. Gima’s basic cakes and custards seemed lackluster, at best. I put her back on the shelf, and moved on to the chocolately seductions of the times.
Revisiting Gima’s cookbook all these years later, I pondered whether or not I’d erred as a teenager. Obviously, everyone errs as a teenager when it comes to dating, hairstyles, and acid-washed Guess jeans with leather patches. But had I been unfair in my dismissal of Gima’s desserts? While I wasn’t going to dispute her kidney stew prowess, had I overlooked her genius with chocolate cake? I decided a taste test was in order.
I believe that one’s success with chocolate cake is entirely audience-dependent. My maternal family of chocoholics would have disdained my flat, leaden effort. In fairness to Gima, I took liberties with her recipe, and the addition of mascarpone cheese was a no-no. But when combined with her serviceable boiled white icing, and graced with a heap of coffee flavored Häagen-Dazs, several Gilberts had no trouble clearing their plates. John and Nick, two of Gima’s grandsons, recognized this cake as a childhood friend, and were happy to welcome it home.
My childhood friend is caramel frosting. Chocolate cake, in any form, serves only as its delivery vehicle. So whether it’s the effort of a homemade cake, or a box of Duncan Hines Dark Chocolate Fudge cake mix makes little difference.
It was from my maternal grandfather, Gramps, whom I inherited a burning desire for the elusive, caramel sweetness of penuche. It was his traditional birthday frosting, and mine, too. But it’s a bitch to make, and Aunt Barby made no bones about her distaste for the temperamental nature of boiled frostings. So if I wanted penuche frosting, I was making it myself. I’d made it so many countless times that I’d not only taken the magic of its creation for granted, I’d come to resent it. And yet I continued to make it for every bridal shower, office party, and holiday hoedown that I was invited to, cursing myself and those who requested its presence.
But sometimes all it takes is gilding the caramel-frosted lily to remind you how delicious a tried-and-true recipe actually is. And sometimes, the way to gild that lily is with the addition of maple sugar. In Somerset, PA, while serving an appointment as the oral historian for the Flight 93 Memorial, I learned about the miracle of maple sugar. Pennsylvania supplies most of the maple syrup consumed in the United States (suck it, Vermont!). The folks of rural Somerset know their liquid gold. They also sell it in the museum gift shop. One slow workday, our friendly educational director showed me the alchemical properties of this amber delight. When it is put into a saucepan, brought to a boil, and allowed to cook—stirred vigorously, all the while—it will turn to maple sugar. From a liquid to a granular solid, before your very eyes. The very moment that you fear it will boil over and burn, it magically transforms into sugar. The first time I tried it in my caramel frosting, the transmutation of flavors made me feel like the Tycho de Brahe of desserts. This maple sugar can and should be substituted for brown sugar in any and every baking application. And that pot that you made the maple sugar in: guard it with your life. You have given yourself the tool to make the most ethereal batch of oatmeal you will ever consume. If you’re me, you will consume it greedily in the communal office kitchen, hoping that no one else sees your gluttonous weakness and takes it as a sure sign of your unsuitability for the job.
Maple sugar is something I wish I could have told Gima about. I’ve made caramel frosting using Gima’s recipe, and with maple sugar; it may be my maple bias, but I think I come out the winner. Gima’s writing radiates with her love of traveling, meeting new people and learning new recipes, from rabbit stew to Guadalcanal pigeon milk. Maple sugar would have delighted her.
ALEXA’S CARAMEL FROSTING
Melt one stick of butter over medium low heat. Add one cup brown sugar, or substitute up to 1/2 cup of it with maple sugar. Bring just to a boil, stirring; remove from heat. Add 1/4-1/3 cup light or heavy cream, even half and half, but not plain milk. Return to heat; bring just to a boil while stirring.
Allow pan to cool to lukewarm; you can also put it over an ice bath, but don’t bring the temperature down too much, as mixture should still be quite loose.
Gradually beat in powdered sugar just until you reach spreading consistency. While the original recipe calls for two cups, I think it far too much. Start with 1/2 cup and work up from there. Too much sugar will overwhelm the delicacy of the maple. If it gets too stiff while frosting, you can warm the frosting gently (too much and it can separate). This should make enough to frost and fill a nine-inch cake. You can also double it, which is my general advice. Much will be lost to tasting while frosting.
I like to refrigerate the cake, and serve it just slightly chilled. It is also worth making a tester so that you can shove the warm frosting down your gullet on the back of a warm, tiny cake.
Our first submission/guest post!
Mix a handful of ground beef with mayonnaise, mustard, sweet pickle relish, salt, and pepper. Spread thickly on a slice or two of white bread, like Pepperidge Farm. Top with sharp cheddar, and broil until meat is fully cooked and cheese is all bubblycheesy. Mmm.
My grandmother, Suzanne Simonin Potter, or as I call her, Grandma Sue, has slowly but surely declined into dementia over the course of the last decade. While lacking short-term memory, she has no difficulty identifying Gima when we look through family photos. “That’s my mother-in-law!” is the usual exclamation that accompanies a Gima sighting. I am fortunate to have a few original copies of At Home on the Range, including Grandma Sue’s. Gima inscribed the book in her distinctive hand: “For Susie so that she need never hear again about how ‘mother used to cook’!” It was the only cookbook to grace her kitchen.
Grandma Sue’s copy is well used, if not necessarily well loved. The linen boards long ago parted from their binding; the end papers are covered in my grandmother’s careful, copperplate notes. POT ROAST, p. 34, is underlined in pencil. Gima’s accompanying introduction describes it as my grandfather’s favorite, so it makes sense that this, of all recipes, received Grandma Sue’s dutiful attention. The corner is folded over; the pages are splattered. These are telltale signs of good eating to come.
My grandfather, Grampa Shel, was a career naval officer, and much of At Home on the Range was written while he was at sea during WWII. While Gima herself says, “we’re not…a sentimental family”, Pot Roast à la mode Sentimentale is the closest she comes to sentimental in any of her writing. This pot roast makes me a bit sentimental, too. Unlike my cousin Liz, I didn’t grow up on Gima’s food. It doesn’t evoke homey memories of family dinners and reminiscences of our shared great grandmother. The double whammy of Gima’s death and my grandparents’ divorce effectively severed my father—and thus me—from the Potter family for the next thirty years. I suspect that Grandma Sue’s interest in making pot roast died not long after her marriage. Subsequently, my youth was pot-roast free.
I would love to tell you that this pot roast will change your life, or bring your youngster home safe from the war, as Gima seems to have believed. I think the strength of this pot roast isn’t so much the unique flavor as the memories that Gima and each subsequent generation has come to equate it with. It is hard to go wrong when you soak meat in good wine, brown it in fat, and cook the crap out of it.
My greatest culinary interest in Gima’s pot roast was her direction to brown the meat in suet. I knew of suet only as those odd white blocks covered in seed that you’re supposed to put outside for tiny birds in need of bulking up. Tiny birds in Baltimore steal puffer jackets from preemies, so there’s no need for it here. I found “beef kidney suet” in a corner of the Wegman’s frozen foods section that I had overlooked on my 8000 previous visits. It was cheap and disturbing looking. Turns out, suet is the fat surrounding the kidney. How unpleasant.
What to do with this giant, foul blob of hard fat resembling Spock’s pained alien friend, the horta? Mind melding with the suet didn’t work, so I went with Google. I decided that grating it was going to be nasty, and opted for rendering. I stuck it in a saucepan, turned it on low, and hoped for the best. It took a good thirty minutes for all of the fat to melt away from the remaining bits of sinew? Cartilage? Vein? I don’t know, and don’t want to know. I tipped those gray bits down the disposal and ground them up. Gima probably had some recipe, somewhere, that made good use of those cow nubbins for marmalade or a meat paste.
I poured the melted suet, now tallow, into an ice cube tray, calling to mind a 1970s family craft night of candle making, and reserved Gima’s requested four ounces for browning. And brown I did. The resulting smell of the suety Maillard reaction was so tantalizing, in fact, that I thought, “Why not brown the vegetables, too?” Well, here’s why: dumping cold, slightly damp vegetables into boiling hot kidney fat results in a greasy splatter which will blister and burn whatever exposed flesh is nearby. Two weeks later, I am still picking flakes of scorched skin from my forearm. But my pot roast suet burn is one little connection to a Potter past I once longed for, and leads me to wonder what might have been.
The Potter hesitancy to tackle things that don’t come naturally portends a life free from ball-related sports, successful marriages, long-term employment, and, in my case, yeast-dependent baked goods. My bread never, ever rises. Practice might make perfect, but we Potters wouldn’t know. I simply haven’t bothered trying to make bread in the last thirty years or so.
According to my father, Sheldon Potter IV, Potters have a predisposition for bread making. Dad spent a significant amount of time in Gima’s kitchen as “the beater and the whupper”—“whupper” being the technical term for the performer of a variety of kitchen duties such as pounding meat, sifting flour, and kneading dough.
My father, all Potter, flunked out of college on his first run-through. But that didn’t keep him from a number of interesting jobs. Prior to my birth, he served as cameraman for a local television variety program, The Jeanne Carnes Show, in Erie, Pennsylvania. On one episode he was called from behind the camera to demonstrate the art of Swiss braided egg bread to a rather hefty woman in a muumuu. Hearing of his appearance on television led me to make two (erroneous) assumptions: first, that my dad was a world-famous bread-baker; second, that being his daughter, I would also be a natural at bread baking.
I was not similarly gifted. At eight years old, I lacked both an understanding of yeast chemistry and the upper body strength to effectively knead dough. My efforts resulted in hard, flat, inedible oblongs. My father did not attempt to instruct me in the error of my ways. Glancing at my unleavened results, he instead made a biting comment along the lines of “how kind of you to think of your Israelite brethren during Passover” before sliding back under his Lotus Europa. Thus endeth Adventures with Yeast.
Fast-forward some thirty years, and the reissue of At Home on the Range. The time had come for me to face my foe. I thought “if anyone can get me through bread making 101, Gima can.” I scooped, I sifted, I kneaded for the “ten minutes” Gima demanded—I even timed it!—and was pleased to end up with the “satin-smooth elastic mass” she promised. Had Gima been alive to advise me, I feel she would have also divulged that, for a woman in her forties, vigorously kneading bread undoubtedly results in tremendously sweaty breasts. (Note to anyone whose 36Cs are now a 40 long: don’t bother showering before bread making.) As it turns out, Gima’s bread recipe will rise to the exact top of Yellow Bowl. I took it as a very promising sign.
I decided I would try my hand at Gima’s dinner rolls and cinnamon buns, too. Actually, the decision was basically made for me—her recipe yields four loaves and I only own two loaf pans. Why not transform it into other things, which is exactly what she tells me to do? So only half the dough went into bread pans, where it rose beautifully, covered, on the top of my 250° range.
Gima’s dinner rolls could not be any easier. She instructs you to take your bread dough and roll it into balls “the size of an English walnut.” I wasn’t sure what made a walnut “English” (I hoped that American ingenuity hadn’t morphed our version of the walnut into a supersized monster). In the end, I went with something resembling a golf ball. I bathed the golf balls in melted butter, and nestled their golden bottoms in concentric circles in a cake pan. This turned out to be an excellent decision. The cake pan was the perfect size and, after baking, the dinner rolls simply pulled away from their buttery brethren without anguish at the filial loss. And Gima’s direction to slightly underbake and then reheat at dinnertime was spot on.
As for Gima’s cinnamon buns, which I fashioned from the remaining dough, they rose like champions, rallied by the addition of fats and sugar. I’m hard pressed to think of a baked good not improved by the addition of a nut, so I added a cup of chopped, toasted pecans to the interior of my jellyroll.
While I was burbling about with these other yeasty distractions, something happened to my loaves. Whereas they were once gloriously overflowing their pans, now they were deflated. In my heart, I knew that I had once again flunked bread. I baked the sunken loaves anyway, and felt myself to be a soulless disappointment to my dead great grandmother when I removed them, still flat, from the oven. But the bread smelled good, and after eight hours, I was damn hungry, and needed fortification to face the mountain of dishes. Oh Gima, I am the girl you think I am—I cut off a hunk, slathered it in butter, and munched away happily.