Thursday, August 30, 2012

Winchester Center Bread and Butter Pickles.

On Sunday, Bob and I loaded up the last of my ancestral crap into a U-Haul and drove back to Washington. My house is being sold to a young man who almost certainly cannot afford it. But, hey, at this point, it will be the bank's problem not mine. Now our house looks like a second hand furniture warehouse, although Bob is doing his best to put things up in the attic. I am dithering.
But, Wednesday, I popped out of bed early (early when you are retired is 7:15) and drove off through rush hour traffic to the Bethesda Women's Farm Market. It was time for pickling. The farm market is a remnant of the days when the fields that now hold McMansions were sown with corn, alfalfa, and orchards. There are three or four vegetable purveyors but the rest of the booths sell flowers, photographs, baked goods and Indian food.
The first booth right next to the door is run by a comfortable looking woman who had the most enormous cucumbers you have ever seen. Rather than checking out the other booths, I plunged right in and started loading my bag with these mini baseball bat sized creatures. I bought 12 of them. The recipe called for 25, and I was pretty sure that the author had smaller cucumbers in mind.  With Hewlett's usual lack of specific information, it did not say what size cucumbers. The recipe called for 8 "small" onions. If you remember, I believe that a small onion is about the size of a ping pong ball. Cucumber lady didn't have small onions. She had softball size onions, undoubtedly gotten from a wholesaler. I bought 4.
I got home with my bag of outsize bounty and started to look into the jar question. I have been canning for 35 years. Bob and I used to go out to Prince George's County on Labor Day to pick tomatoes which were then made into sauce and canned. When the children were little I canned massive amounts of apple sauce. So I have canning jars. Sort of.
Sort of means the shelves in the basement are filled with Mason jar boxes. Some of them are full of jars. Some of them are empty. Some of them are filled with bags of lids and rings. It depends on the size. In recent years I have mostly been making condiments and sauces that I canned in the smallest, jelly jar size. And, I gave them away. So in June, when I made apple blueberry conserve, I had to scour the shelves in the pantry for jars. But pint jars we had in plenty. I was able to come up with a full dozen wide mouth pints. I popped the jars into the dishwasher, in order to keep the number of scalds at a minimum. Hint. Canning jars do have to be sterilized, but the dishwasher does an excellent job.
Then, as Hurricane Isaac flapped the trousers of the newscasters in New Orleans and the Republican delegates to the convention flapped their jaws, I pickled. I finally got the last batch sealed and cooled  Thursday afternoon. It's a great feeling.
Since I believe that people want to know the origins of the names of these dishes, here's what I found.
Winchester Center. Connecticut is in Litchfield County. LItchfield County is, in parts even more tony than Berkshire County. The nearest town to Winchester Center is Winsted, a distinctly lower crust precinct of an otherwise elevated locale. Winsted featured prominently on the list of towns my mother hated, along with Golden's Bridge, New York. Winsted had had a flood in the 1950s which swept away half the town. Every time my mother drove through Winsted, on her way to West Hartford, where she used to go shopping, she would express a wish that the flood had swept away the whole thing.
Anyhow, Winchester Center might be very nice. Despite a childhood spent driving though the highways and byways of Litchfield County on my way to field hockey games, softball games and the very occasional birthday party, I never happened upon it. Wikapedia does say that Ralph Nader is from there, although Winsted usually claims him as a native son.
But at some point, a native daughter produced these pickles. Now you know where the pickles were produced, I can also tell you why they are called bread and butter pickles. Maybe. One Wikapedia answer is, that during the Depression they were as common on the table as bread and butter. Another answer, on is that they tasted like bread and butter.
I would go for Wikapedia, myself. They taste like sweet pickles, not bread and butter.
Now, hints for the new canner. If you really think you want to do this regularly, get the equipment. You need a ten gallon aluminum pot with a rack to put the jars in, a jar lifter, which you use to fish the rings, lids and jars out of boiling water, and a wide mouth funnel, which keeps cleanup to a minimum. Most of this stuff should be available in your local hardware store. But don't wait until October. Buy now.
About this recipe. It says clearly, heat until it comes to just below the boiling point. Otherwise, as I can attest, the cucumbers get mushy. I would advise buying the pickle size cucumbers which are available now in farmers' markets. If you use yellow onions which don't seem to come in pingpong ball size, use three to four of the larger ones.
I am not going to reproduce the Ball Corporation's instructions for canning. However, follow their directions. I think it is okay to cut corners by washing your jars in the dishwasher, but sterilize the rings and lids in boiling water. More complete directions are available from Ball on There are many more home canning websites as well.

Winchester Center Bread and Butter Pickles

1 gallon cucumbers (about twenty-five pickling cucumbers)
8 small onions, chopped
1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup coarse salt
2 quarts ice cubes
4 cups sugar
3 1/2 cups cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
1 tablespoon celery seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 tablespoons mustard seeds

1. Wash the cucumbers and slice thinly into a large (crockery)  bowl or crock. Add the onions, green pepper and salt. Mix. Top with the ice cubes. (They take the bitterness out of the cucumbers.)Let stand at room temperature eight  hours. Drain. Rinse lightly.
2. Combine the remaining ingredients in a kettle and add cucumber mixture.Heat, stirring to dissolve sugar, until mixture comes to just below the boiling point. Pack into hot sterilized jars. Seal. (Read the Ball Corporation's instructions on sealing the jars.) Cool. Store in cool, dry, dark place. Makes ten pints.

Fried Clams (Gluten free)

For my last week in Massachusetts, I determined that I would knock off another clam recipe. I would eat them myself, dammit, if no one else wanted fried clams. I actually think Mrs. Curtiss would have liked them. Earlier this summer, she was reminiscing about having eaten fried clams at either Howard Johnson's or Friendly's. However, although we are buddies, I had already had her once to dinner, and I didn't feel like she would just want to drop over. So, clams solo.
The first issue with fried clams is opening the clam. It seems like last year or the year before Big Y had shucked clams. This  year, it had chopped, shucked clams, but not whole clams. So, I attempted to shuck. You might want to take shucking lessons from your friendly fish purveyor, if  you don't like nicks and scars on your hands. Clams are tight little mothers.
Clams have a very narrow slit near the place where the shell hinges. I attempted to stick a knife in the slit and pry. I was successful a couple of times, but mostly, the knife slid off and stuck me in my left hand, the one that was holding the clam. After I rinsed off the blood, I took another tack.
Clams open when heat is applied, so I put about an inch of water in a sauce pan and threw in the clams. They did generally open. A little. So then I had to pry around with the knife and cut through the hinge so I could really get in there and extract the clam.
Then there was the question of the batter. It calls for flour. I used Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free flour.
Then, there was the oil. Now, the recipe, with Hewlett's usual lack of detail does not specify how much oil. Fried clams, if you have never had them, are deep fried. They are supposed to be submerged in the oil and float around. So you need at least a quart. I had about a cup and a half, and didn't plan to buy any more since I was leaving and wanted to use stuff up and not have to transport it back to DC.
The effect was more like clam pancakes than fried clams. The dough flattened into little rounds and bubbled merrily in the fat, throwing up a perfect rain of spatters on my hands and my shirt. I tried covering my hands with an oven mitt but the mitt made it hard to maneuver the spatula.
Anyway, I produced 12 brown little clam pancakes, which I ate sitting on the sofa. Usually I set the table and sit down like a civilized person, but these got gobbled up before I got to the table.

Fried Clams

1 egg separated
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup flour
24 clams, shucked and drained of liquor (That's the clam gunk.)
fat or oil for deep frying

1. Beat the egg yolk with one-quarter cup of the milk. Stir in the butter, salt and four and beat until smooth. Gradually beat in remaining milk.
2. Beat the egg white until stiff but not dry. Fold into the batter. Dip each clam into the batter. Fry clams, a few at a time, in fat or oil heated to 375 degrees. Drain on paper towels. Makes three or four servings.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Shellbark Hickory Kisses (Guten free)

Shellbark Hickory trees, which produce the shellbark hickory nut, are found in Ohio, southern Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky, Illinois, etc. They are not found in the Berkshires, and, in any case, not in August. Nuts are harvested in the fall. They can be purchased in late September from a website, However, Native Nuts is out of them now. Native Nuts describes shellbark hickory nuts as sweet, but hard to crack.
Anyhow, I was in a lather to (a.) knock off more recipes, and (b) use the egg whites produced by the rum pie. I was just waiting to acquire an egg beater before making these. A gentleman named Lock, who runs a gourmet food store in Great Barrington called Lock, Stock and Barrel, told me that the closest thing to a hickory nut that  you could actually buy in a store year round was pecans. So, technically, these are Pecan Hickory Kisses.
While these can be made in a summer rental, I don't advise it, not because of degree of difficulty, or necessity for odd implements, but because of the temperature. Shellbark Hickory Kisses are merangues, and meranges don't do well in hot weather. They lose their crunchy lightness and get gummy. I also don't advise putting them in a tin and leaving them for hikers on the Appalachian Trail for the same reason.
But, that was exactly what I did. I made them and was able to beat the egg whites without the cream of tartar. ( Cream of tartar just makes it easier to beat the egg whites.) It says to bake them seven to eight minutes. I found 10 to 12 minutes to be more accurate.
These cookies are very good. They have a buttery flavor that may have come from the pecans, despite there being no butter in the recipe. They are gluten free so I could actually eat a few without worrying about my hip. However, they are not a hot weather cookie. Since we were getting ready for our dinner party, I stuck them in the freezer and put them up on the trail on Friday morning when we were on our way to Mass MoCa.
Usually, it only takes 24 hours or so for the cookies to be completely gone. For various reasons, this did not happen with these cookies. Hikers might not have liked the gumminess. However I think the real reason is, there are fewer hikers. Three weeks ago, when I finished off New York State, I ran into 22 hikers in one day in one six mile stretch of the trail. Last week, when I went hiking with my husband in Connecticut, we met 10. Yesterday, when I did the section south of Falls Village, I met nobody.
On Sunday morning, I picked up the tin. It was about half full. Oh well, win some, lose some.

Shellbark Hickory Kisses

3 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup sifted confectioners' sugar
1 1/2 cups whole shellbark hickory nuts or other nuts broken into pieces

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. Beat the egg whites lighly until foamy and add the salt and cream of tartar. (See note.) Beat, gradually adding the confectioners' sugar.. Continue beating until the whites stand in peaks . Fold in the nuts
3. Scoop up bits of meingue with a teaspoon and push off onto a buttered baking sheet. Bake seven to eight minutes.
Makes about 2 dozen.

Rum Pie (Gluten Free)

On Thursday night Mrs. Curtiss came to dinner. Bob is up from DC for the week on vacation, which made preparations much easier. He  did the flowers, for example, much  better than I would have. I go out into the field and snip a few Black-eyed Susans and some Queen Anne's Lace and bingo, I'm done. He gets a huge handful, an immense bouquet, comprising six or seven different  blooms, and then tucks ferns around the edges. It's like having my own florist. He also did 90 percent of the cleaning up,  some of which can be fairly unpleasant, since it involves removing dog products with hot water and a scrub brush.                       
Then there was the question of the menu. As a Frenchwoman, Mrs. Curtiss appreciates good food, but she's not into fancy.  She also doesn't have the appetite she might have had 20 years ago. So we settled on lambchops, cold tomato soup, spinach salad, and rum pie for dessert. Rum pie is from the great state of Louisiana. Right now, in New England, I am down to kosher recipes and cold weather desserts.  There is another recipe in the cookbook which I made 29 years ago come October, chocolate rum pie, which I think I like better. This is just rum, egg yolks, sugar, gelatin and heavy cream. It does require an egg beater, which  Bob finally discovered in the third hardware store we inquired at.
The search for the egg beater went as follows. On Sunday, we had lunch in Lee, a nice, unpretentious little town with a  hardware store, which lies east of Stockbridge, and looked into a junk shop for a used  egg beater.  We managed to unearth one amidst the statues of the Virgin Mary, ugly lamps, etc. It was clearly old, probably dating from my child hood, and odd looking. However, the tag said 85 cents, so the price was right.  But when I took it to the cashier, he informed us that it cost $4.50. The whole point of buying stuff in a junk store is that you can save substantial money. No way, we said, politely.
 We went on our way down the street to Carr Hardware, where we did buy an outdoor table to hold our glasses  when we sat out on the grass in front of the apartment.  But again, no egg  beater. However, Bob tracked the egg  beater to earth at another Carr Hardware in Great Barrington on Monday.
Since I am attempting to live gluten free, and graham cracker crusts contain gluten, Bob suggested crushed almonds as a crust. It worked really well. I buzzed two cups of sliced almonds in the blender, added a tablespoon of butter and a little sugar, and there was the crust. This recipe has the best method for dissolving gelatin that I have ever run across. Most of the recipes that call for gelatin end up with the gelatin not really dissolved at all, so the  dish is not really gelled, but kind of mushy. This recipe intends the cook to use a double boiler. Well, summer rental limitations and all that, there was no double boiler. So I took a small glass  bowl, put it in a small pan containing an inch or so of water and turned the gas on low. The gelatin dissolved beautifully.
I had to save our one mixing bowl for the whipped cream, so I ended up beating egg yolks with a fork in my sister's glass serving bowls from her catering  business. Bob passed through the kitchen and inquired reasonably why I wasn't using the egg  beater. I replied that it was impossible to use an egg beater in a flat  bottomed bowl. The egg yolks which came from eggs from a farm stand, were huge and dark yellow to start with. I did not  beat them until they were lemon colored, but they did lighten a bit.
Then, it was time to put the egg beater into play to whip the cream. It is not difficult to whip cream with an egg beater. If you ever decide you want to live off the grid, but are into cooking, you don't need an electric mixer. I folded in the whipped cream and came up with a lovely looking pale yellow substance which I poured into my gluten free, and tastier pie shell, and shoved into the refrigerator. It met with Mrs. C's approval.

Rum Pie

5 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup water
3/4 cup dark rum
2 cups heavy cream
1 baked nine-inch graham cracker pie shell
(or unbaked pie shell made of ground almonds, 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 tablespoon butter)
3 tablespoons raw sugar

1. Beat the egg yolks until they are thick and lemon-colored. Gradually beat in the granulated sugar.
2. Soften the gelatin in the water and add one-quarter cup of the rum. Heat over boiling water until gelatin dissolves. Pour the gelatin mixture into the yolks, stirring briskly. Stir in the remaining rum.
3. Whip the cream and fold it into the custard. Pour the filling into the pie shell and chill.
4. When filling is set, sprinkle the pie with the raw sugar and serve. Makes 6 servings.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Dutchie's Tossed Salad

Dutchie's Tossed Salad is from Texas, although there is nothing particularly Texan about it. By the way, Texas is included in the Southwest section, although Oklahoma is considered Midwest. Go figure. Anyhow, no chilies, beans, chili powder or any of that other southwestern stuff. It is a basic, multi ingredient salad. I actually prefer my salads to be more shall we say, mushy. I like stuff mushed up in ranch dressing or Caesar salad dressing. But if you prefer the oil and vinegar type of salad, this would be fine. The only draw back is the cauliflower is still lurking on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator nearly two weeks later. That's the problem with living alone.
The guests at the dinner party seemed okay with it. They, and I, enthused more about the corn on the cob Cricket brought but, hey, that was really good corn.

Dutchie's Tossed Salad

1 large head romaine lettuce, in bite-size pieced
1 cup raw cauliflower, roughly chopped
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup finely chopped carrots
6 red radishes, sliced
1 cup seasoned croutons
6 stuffed green olives
6 cherry tomatoes
Homemade Italian dressing

1. Combine all ingredients except dressing in a salad bowl.
2. Toss with the dressing just before serving.
Serves 6.

Lemon Ice Cream

I settled on Lemon Ice Cream for dessert because it didn't contain flour or require baking. It also did not require an ice cream freezer. My mother ordered an old fashioned, hand cranked ice cream freezer from Sears at one point during my childhood, and we made some fantastic ice cream. My family had a hand cranked French freezer called a Donvier, but I got rid of it about a year ago.
  Now, although the prefrozen product was delicious, foamy and delicately lemon flavored, it didn't come out  exactly as expected. In fact, it was chalky. I will explain what I think I did wrong. I may even go back and try this dessert again because it was so good in its nonfrozen form and so easy.
The directions say you can stir up the mixture when it reaches the mushy stage and then refreeze for a smoother mixture. Well, I got sidetracked watching the Olympics with Mrs. Curtiss while the dog beds were in the washing machine, and let the mixture freeze solid. Instead of just leaving it like that, I took it out to defrost a little while I ate lunch. By the time I stopped reading the New York Times and attended to the ice cream, it was back to liquid. So then, I put it back in the freezer, waited about ten minutes and stirred it. I have a feeling that all the freezing and thawing contributed to its unfortunate texture. So if you try it, make sure to pay close attention to the time if you plan to stir it before it freezes completely.
Another tip. Grate the lemon before you squeeze it. It's easier. I actually used an artificial sweetener, and it worked really well. I doubt that anyone could have distinguished the difference.

Lemon Ice Cream

3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
1 cup sugar
2 cups light cream
1/8 teaspoon salt
yellow food coloring

1. Add the lemon juice and lemon rind to the sugar and blend well.
2. Slowly stir in the cream, salt and one or two drops food coloring.
3. Pour into a freezing tray and freeze until firm. Or, mixture may be stirred when it reaches the mushy stage and then refrozen for a smoother texture.
Makes about three cups which is plenty for 4 people.

Flamed Filet

Last week I had another dinner party. I invited my New York cousin, Cricket, and my old friends Marty and John. Marty and Cricket have a mutual interest in the Stockbridge Library, Cricket having donated books by  the yard to the library sale after her mother died, and Marty having sorted them. The menu underwent revision. I was going to do something with clams. Clam pie, fried clams, something. Well, that didn't meet with favor, so I thought lamb and eggplant would be good. Nope. So I finally ended up with this recipe from the great state of Missouri.
Now do not think for a moment that pioneer Missourians, or even their great grandchildren of the 1880s knoshed on this dish. When Hewlett asked for recipes, she didn't specify old recipes. She just asked for recipes, and this could as well have come from Manhattan as St. Louis or Kansas
City. But it was good, and gave me a reason to visit the Meat Market, a genuine, honest-to-God butcher shop that opened in Great Barrington a little over a year ago. It also gave me a chance to network on behalf of the real Berkshire farmer's son, a nice guy who has a herd of beef cattle on our acres but makes his real living driving a semi. They said they were always interested in talking to more farmers, so I passed on the butcher's business card.
I was thinking about borrowing (getting) the cognac from Mrs. Curtiss, but then had the bright idea of buying a miniature. Bingo. No $15 expenditure, no bottle of cognac cluttering up the shelves. The flaming didn't make as big a splash as I imagined when I read the recipe. I poured in the cognac and lit the match. Small flames. I poured in more cognac and lit another match. More small flames lasting for short time period. Possibly if I had lit the match at the table, the flames would have been more apparent.
The dinner party was fun. We sat outside  (something that is not possible in August in DC,) and drank wine and nibbled on gluten free hors oeuvres while the clouds sped overhead and the pines shaded us from the sunset. A lot of the conversation was about Stockbridge, where John and Marty lived for several years, and where Cricket has spent the summers since infancy. The farmer that rents Mrs. Curtiss's niece's acres, just down the road, had been spreading manure in quantity all day. An evocative smell of cow  poop had been permeating the field outside my place, but apparently, around sunset the wind changed and we were cow free. Now manure just reminds me of my childhood, spent shoveling the stuff, but I understand some people don't care for it, so I was just as glad not to be inhaling it.

Flamed Filet

4 small filet mignons, each about one-inch thick
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 pound mushrooms thinly sliced
1/2 cup scallions including green part
freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce or soy sauce
3 tablespoons cognac
4 toast points ( I left them out due to gluten intolerance)

1. Trim off any bits of fat from the steak.
2. Heat the butter in a skillet and brown the meat one one side. Turn the meat and scatter the mushrooms and scallions over it. Sprinkle with pepper. Cook to the desired degree of doneness, five minutes or longer.
3. Combine the Worcestershire or soy sauce and cognac and pour over the meat. Ignite the cognac. Stir all ingredients around in the sauce and serve the meat on toast points with the sauce poured over.
Serves 4.

St. Nikoloos Cookies

One might think, from the name, that these cookies have something to do with Christmas. St. Nikoloos--St. Nicholas, right. Well, they do, sort of. According to various sources on the Internet, St. Nikoloos cookies are Dutch. They are made either with cookie cutters, or with a mold, which these, thankfully are not, because I still don't have a rolling pin, or cookie cutters. They are made to celebrate St. Nicholas's Day, which is December 5. But, really, there is nothing overtly Christmasy about these cookies.
 These cookies are lacy and delicate, not cakey, like gingerbread cookies. I made them for the hikers on the Appalachian Trail. They seemed popular and were gone in 24 hours when I stopped by to pick up the tin and the bottled water. I used shortening instead of lard, because the Big Y supermarket in Great Barrington doesn't carry lard. The recipe says to bake them for 8 minutes. They took at least 15 before they were sufficiently done to come off the cookie sheet in one piece. They require waxed paper, but probably you could wrap the dough in foil or plastic wrap. About the buttermilk. I just used regular milk because I was damned if I was going to clutter up my refrigerator with a quart of buttermilk. You could add a dab of vinegar to the regular milk to get it to be more like buttermilk.
By the way, these are easily attempted and carried off in a summer rental. All you need is a cookie sheet.

St. Nikoloos Cookies

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup lard or shortening
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/ cup chopped nuts

1. Day before, beat the butter, lard (or shortening) and sugar together until creamy. (You don't need a mixer to do this. I used a fork.) Sift together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and baking soda and add with the buttermilk and nuts to the creamed mixture.
2. With the fingertips, work into a dough. With floured hands, shape the dough into two long rolls, each one inch to one and one-half inches in diameter. Wrap in wax paper and refrigerate overnight.
3. Next day, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
4. cut the rolls into one-eighth-inch slices and place on  an ungreased baking sheet. Bake until light brown, about ten to fifteen minutes. Cool on a rack. Makes three dozen.