Beef steak pie

Last week saw us in Wisconsin, and this week we’re staying in the USA but heading further south, viz. to Carolina. “The Carolina Housewife; or, House and Home” was originally published in 1847 by “A Lady of Charleston”. In later editions the lady turned out to be Sarah Rutledge, daughter of Edwin Rutledge, the youngest man to sign the US Declaration of Independence and later governor of South Carolina.

“The Carolina Housewife” aimed to teach young housewives not necessarily how to cook, but to know the process of cooking so as to be able to instruct the servants. The book promises “principally, receipts for dishes that have been made in our own homes /…/ even those dishes lately introduced among us have been successfully made by our own cooks.” Rutledge’s preface also gives us a glimpse of the kitchen staff. This cookbook would be superior to French or English cookbooks found at the store, because “these are for French or English servants, and almost always require an apparatus either beyond our reach or too complicated for our native cooks.”

What I’m cooking this time is a meat pie.

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I don’t cook much with meat these days, preferring to save it for special occasions, and this was just that – a game night with some friends.

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Here’s what you need. Not pictured: frozen pie crust from the shop.

I cheated.

Also not pictured: Cards Against Humanity. But you always need that.

Slice the beef and pound well. I used about half a kilo of beef and finally got to use my tenderizing hammer which I’ve had lying around for a year or two.

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That was surprisingly hard work.

I made a spice mix of about half a teaspoon each of allspice and nutmeg, a few teaspoons of salt and a liberal sprinkling of black pepper. In hindsight I could have used more allspice and nutmeg. The cookbook has a recipe for ketchup, but I might make that another time – for now, I just used regular store-bought stuff, and also a chopped-up onion to spice the meat with as I layered it into the pie.

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The recipe then calls for Irish potatoes. Around the middle of the 19th century the most common variety of potato grown in Ireland seems to have been the Irish Lumper, which is apparently more waxy in texture than floury. Whether these are the ones eaten in Carolina at the time as well I don’t know, but I chose potatoes that would remain firm when boiled so that they’d slice nicely.

Finally, I poured in about 1dl of water, covered the pie with a crust and put it in the oven.

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220 degrees C for about 1 hour.

Unfortunately I found out, much too late, that of the six adults at the get-together two were vegetarians and one was allergic to gluten – but I successfully catered to 50%! Alas, Ms. Rutledge would have considered my efforts exactly what she wanted to avoid: a dinner “over which the mistress of the house cannot smile”.

I exaggerate. The pie was tasty, though a bit more ketchup would not have gone amiss. Both of my girls loved it and the older one waxed lyrical over how it was the best thing I’d ever made. She was a bit caught up in the moment.

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Tomato soup

Today we turn to the delightfully named cookbook “The Way to a Man’s Heart”, also know as “The Settlement Cook Book”, compiled by Mrs. Simon Kander and Mrs. Henry Schoenfeld in Milwaukee, Wisconsin back in 1903.

Now, let’s open this information up a bit. The Settlement Movement was a social reform movement popular around the last two decades of the 19th century and the first few decades of the 20th. The general idea seems to have been to set up settlement houses for poor people to live in where middle-class benefactors would visit regularly to give lessons in literacy, hygiene, cooking and whatnot. In the US settlement houses would usually house immigrants to help them integrate. The Milwaukee settlement house, where this book comes from, was founded by established German-American Jews for Jewish immigrants who’d arrived recently, mainly from Eastern Europe.

Elizabeth Black Kander was president of the Milwaukee settlement house, and she also taught cooking and nutritional diet to immigrant girls. To raise funds for the organization Kander compiled this cookbook, teaching its target audience about American food, setting the table properly, and the nutritional value of food. The book became so popular the settlement was able to build a new house for their work when the old one grew too small. The Settlement Cook Book went through dozens of revised editions, most of which were overseen by Kander.

The identity of Mrs. Henry Schoenfeld is more of a mystery. I did find one Henry Schoenfeld, a Milwaukee-born composer whose age fits in with the narrative and so this could be his wife, but I’m not a bit sure of it. I could see Kander going to her wealthy friends for patronage when she was trying to get the book published – much of it was funded by ads which are still in my reprinted edition.

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Just what I need!

Anyway, enough historical exposition and speculation and onwards with the tomato soup.

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The recipe says to use a can of tomatos, so I felt like it wasn’t much of a cheat to get some crushed tomatos from the shop. A quart is about one liter.

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I forgot to put the book in the picture.

Into the pot went about a kilo of crushed tomato, with some water, cloves, salt, sugar and a slice of onion.

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A slice? Seriously? That’s all?

I thought straining the soup was a bit superfluous, but did it anyway because I was told to. I’m an obedient cook.

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I have no filter that would make this look less suspicious.

In with the soda and butter. I was wondering what the point of the baking soda was. A bit of research suggests it’s something people do to counteract the acidity of tomatos – although this recipe also has sugar to mellow the taste so it might be unnecessary. At least the baking soda fizzed in an amusing manner when I poured it in. It turns out straining the soup wasn’t a bad idea after all, because the strained liquid was easier to thicken with flour than chunky soup would have been. I whisked the flour in, but you can also mix the flour with a little bit of water and then pour it in. Add chunks, serve.

The end result was a creamy soup that could have had more cloves in it for my taste. My picky older daughter deemed it “pretty good”, while my omnivorous younger daughter refused to have more than one spoonful.

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“Pretty good.”

Rusk

Today’s recipe comes from Eliza Leslie’s book “Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes & Sweetmeats”, published in Boston in 1828. It was the first of Leslie’s numerous books on cooking and other subjects, but I only own one so my options are limited here. She’s credited with being the first to use the term “cupcake”, but that’s not what I decided to make today. The recipe I went for this time around is for something called rusk.

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Today’s ingredients.

Nowadays rusk refers to a hard biscuit or dried bread, sometimes used as teething food for children. Leslie’s rusk, though, looked more like something akin to a sweet, yeast-leavened bun.

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After some calculations I went with the following ingredients:

110 g sugar

110 g butter

450 g flour

one egg

3,6 dl milk

30 g yeast

1 tablespoon of rose water

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

I followed the recipe fairly closely. Milk and butter went into a pan and got warmed up to a suitable temperature for yeast. 37 degrees C, to be exact, but since I didn’t have a thermometer I went with the traditional “that feels pretty warm when I stick my finger into it” measuring method.

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Make sure you don’t stick your finger into anything scalding-hot.

I measured the flour into a bowl, poured the buttery milk in, followed that with the sugar (the addition of which is not mentioned in the recipe – I’m looking at your editor here, Miss Leslie), egg, yeast and spices. I used my hand to work the dough, rather than a knife. The amount of yeast was pure guesswork. One wine-glass should equal about 1,2 dl, which is way too much yeast in the form I know it. In Finland we bake sweet buns known as pulla, and I extrapolated what sounded like a suitable amount of yeast based on what I know of yeast-to-liquid ratios in pulla. I turned out to be on the money with the yeast, but where I went astray was the amount of flour. After 450 g, my dough looked like this:
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This is not turning into little thick round cakes any time soon.

Either I had my measurement conversion wrong, or the rest of the flour was supposed to go in while kneading the dough on the table. I ended up adding more and more flour until I was happy with the consistency. I didn’t measure it, but I’m guessing about 200 grams more flour went in until I was satisfied.

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I was satisfied.

I formed the dough into little round cakes about 8 cm across and 2 cm thick and set them to rise. They puffed up nicely, and about 12 minutes in an oven heated to 180 degrees C was sufficient to give them an appetizing colour. Opening the oven was a heady experience – the rose water gave the oven, and the finished rusk, a lovely fragrance.

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This little fellow was a delightful new acquaintance.

The rusks were lovely. They were not overly sweet, the scent of the rosewater stimulated the palate already before you took a bite, and the taste of roses was subtle enough to complement rather than overpower the taste of the bun. Bravo, Miss Leslie!

The King of Oude’s omlet

Today’s recipe comes from Eliza Acton’s book “Modern Cookery for Private Families”, published in 1845 in England. The immensely popular book saw numerous editions, and I’m using a modern reprint of the 1855 edition. The book includes chapters on everything from soup and vegetables to preserves and pickles. “The King of Oude’s omlet” shows up in the last chapter of the book, a special section on “foreign and Jewish cooking”.

Acton wrote during a time when the British East India Company was expanding its rule over the Indian subcontinent, and Oude refers to the region of Awadh in Uttar Pradesh in northern India. By 1845 Awadh was under Company rule with “the king of Oude”, or nawab, being but a nominal figurehead – the nawab at the time, if you were curious like me, was Amjad Ali Shah.

So what sort of dish got passed from Oude across the oceans all the way to Britain? Here’s Acton’s recipe, with my additional notes in square brackets:

Whisk up very lightly, after having cleared them in the usual way, five fine fresh eggs; add to them two dessertspoonsful [20 ml] of milk or cream, a small teaspoonful of salt, one – or half that quantity for English eaters – of cayenne pepper, three of minced mint, and two dessertspoonsful of young leeks, or of mild onions chopped small. Dissolve an ounce and a half [40 g]  of good butter in a frying-pan about the size of  plate, or should a larger one of necessity be used, raise the handle so as to throw the omlet entirely to the opposite side; pour in the eggs, and when the omlet, which should be kept as thick as possible, is well risen and quite firm, and of a fine light brown underneath, slide it on to a very hot dish, and fold it together “like a turnover,” the brown side uppermost; six or seven minutes will fry it. This receipt is given to the reader in a very modified form, the fiery original which we transcribe being likely to find but few admirers here we apprehend: the proportion of leeks or onions might still be diminished with advantage: – “Five eggs, two tolahs [22 g] of milk, one masha [1 g] of salt, two mashas [2 g] of cayenne pepper, three [3 g] of mint, and two tolahs [22 g] of leeks.”

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Here’s what you need. Salt and butter, too. And you don’t need the book, I just gave you the recipe.

Now, to start with, I was happy with the clarity of my eggs. I also couldn’t find an entry on clearing eggs in the cookbook, so I was left in the dark on the subject of egg clearing. I recommend doing a Google search for “clearing eggs”, you get a rather interesting selection of links ranging from egg warehouses to something called shamanic bodyworking. If at some future point I find out what Acton means, I’ll come back and explain it.

I’m not explaining shamanic bodyworking. You’re on your own with that.

Once you get past the eggs, though, it’s a very straightforward recipe. Whisk, chop mint and leek, toss it all in, fry it up. The amount of butter gave me pause, but I went for it. There was certainly no danger of the omelette sticking to the pan, but there was also more butter floating around than I would be comfortable with using on a daily basis. But hey, i only do this sort of cooking once a week, so lard it up. Being a wuss when it comes to hot food, I used half a teaspoon of pepper “for English eaters”.

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Yup, that’s an omelette alright.

The result was delicious. The mint added a lovely freshness to the food, and my palate was happy with the mild bite that half a teaspoon of cayenne gave it. The original Indian recipe has closer to two teaspoons of cayenne, so if you try it that way, let me know how it turns out!

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